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File photo: Hunter on deer opener.

Doug Smith, Star Tribune

Minnesota firearms deer season harvest down

  • Article by: STEVE KARNOWSKI
  • Associated Press
  • December 9, 2013 - 5:14 PM

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota's firearms deer hunters haven't been as lucky as last year, according to preliminary figures released Monday.

Firearms hunters killed about 148,400 deer from when the season opened Nov. 9 until a late season closed in southeastern Minnesota on Dec. 1, the Department of Natural Resources said.

Excluding the late season, hunters killed about 144,000 deer during the main season, down 6 percent from 153,000 in 2012. Southeastern hunters took 4,400 deer in the late season, down 600 from the 5,000 last year.

Overall, Minnesota's firearms, muzzleloader and archery hunters have registered 164,500 deer as of last Wednesday. Before the season, the DNR had expected hunter success would be similar to 2012, when they killed about 185,000 deer.

Steve Merchant, the DNR's wildlife population and regulations manager, said a lower deer population is likely the main reason hunters haven't fared so well, though the weather was a factor, too.

The season opener was windy, while it was rainy and windy the next weekend. Bad weather can limit deer movement, as well as discourage hunters from spending as much time in their stands. And the deer population was already down because of the harsh winter of 2012-13, which led the agency to reduce the number of does hunters could kill in northern Minnesota.

"We were quite conservative in the number of antlerless permits we gave out in the north," Merchant said.

The muzzleloader season remains open through Sunday, while the archery season closes Dec. 31.

What's left of those seasons isn't likely to change the numbers much given the wintry weather that's settled in across the state, Merchant said.

"There's a few people out there and they'll take a few deer, but our numbers aren't going to jump up or anything," he said.

Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, concurred that the lower deer population is the main factor in the lower harvest. He said success also had a lot to do with the particular area of the state. There have been fewer signs of deer in areas where harvest limits had been set high to bring local populations down, he said. And he said he believes the wolf population is also a factor in northeastern Minnesota.

Johnson said he's hearing from hunters that they want the state to produce more deer. He said the DNR is likely to respond to that by reducing the antlerless harvest.

"I think that's where we're going to see it going: a much more conservative harvest until we get the deer population built back up a bit," he said.

Minnesota's late wolf hunting-and-trapping season remains open, too. Hunters and trappers had registered 23 wolves in the northwest zone as of Monday, 16 in the northeast zone and none in the east-central zone, compared with late-season targets of 89, 33 and 10 respectively. The DNR will close each zone individually if the targets are close to being met before the season ends Jan. 31.

"We're not taking a lot of wolves on a daily basis so I think the wolf season will stay open a while yet," Merchant said, but added that hunters and trappers still need to check the DNR's website to make sure.

This is Minnesota's second wolf season since the animals came off the endangered list. The DNR lowered the overall target to 220 wolves this time for the two-part season. Hunters killed 88 in the early season. Last year's overall target was 400, and the final count of wolves killed was 413.

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