One of the most visible positions at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is vacant.

The agency is seeking a new big-game coordinator — a key post that steers deer management decisions affecting a half-million deer hunters and is a lightning rod for controversy.

Leslie McInenly, who has held the job the past three years and helped set controversial deer population goals, recently was promoted to habitat team supervisor. The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and Minnesota Bowhunters Inc. are among those who have been critical of the goal-setting process. In fact, the legislative auditor is examining the DNR’s overall deer management and expects to report to the Legislature this winter.

The new big-game coordinator will have to deal with all of this, and more.

“We will be advertising for the job shortly, and hopefully we’ll get some good candidates,’’ said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager.

He expects it will take months to hire McInenly’s replacement.

“Last time, it took me almost two years [to hire someone],’’ Merchant said. “I’d like to find someone with a lot of technical skills, but also someone strong on human dimensions — working with the public. One of the big challenges of managing deer is that everyone has an opinion.’’

The DNR set deer population goals this spring for 40 of 128 permit areas in the state, but postponed similar work on 54 remaining areas scheduled to be examined in 2016, pending the outcome of the legislative audit.

“One of the big things we’ll have to do is look at the auditor’s findings and see if there are things we need to do differently,’’ Merchant said.

McInenly replaced Lou Cornicelli, who held the job about 10 years.

Did you know?

• Minnesota’s archery deer season opened Saturday, and hunters registered 1,220 deer through Sunday. They registered 1,327 deer on opening weekend last year. The DNR sold about 63,000 archery licenses through the weekend, compared to 62,000 last year.

• Conservation officers reported ruffed grouse hunters battled heavy foliage over the weekend, making shooting birds difficult.