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Dennis Anderson

Star Tribune

DNR: More deer, but another "conservative'' season in offing

Northern Minnesota hunters will again be restricted to bucks-only this fall.

The DNR said Tuesday that more deer are being seen in the woods than a year ago. Still, hunters will be restricted in their overall take this fall, the agency said, in attempt to further boost deer numbers.

Hunters have complained in recent seasons that they have seen relatively few deer, in part due to recent tough winters up north, and in part, some hunters claim, to mismanagement of the herd by the DNR.

In response, the DNR is trying to rebuild the herd by restricting harvest, particularly of does.

Here's what the DNR said Tuesday, while noting that, in  areas where antlerless permits will be issued by lottery, hunters can apply beginning Saturday:

“The 2015 deer hunting regulations will be quite similar to last year, with one-deer limits in most of the state,” said Leslie McInenly, big game program leader for the DNR. “Hunters should check the 2015 regulations early, because in the majority of areas, hunters will need to apply for a permit to shoot an antlerless deer.”

In 70 of Minnesota’s 128 deer permit areas, hunters must be chosen in a lottery to shoot an antlerless deer. Only bucks can be hunted in 14 areas. In 29 areas, hunters have the choice of shooting a doe or a buck. Bonus permits allowing hunters to shoot more than one deer may only be used in 11 permit areas and for some special hunts. In three southwestern areas, the DNR is restricting antlerless harvest to youth hunters only.

Hunters can buy deer licenses and apply to the lottery for antlerless deer permits starting Saturday. The deadline to apply for the lottery is Thursday, Sept. 10.

“Given the mild winter for most of the state and reduced harvest last year, we anticipate that hunters will be seeing more deer when afield, and we are already hearing from people that they are seeing more deer this summer,” McInenly said. “We are continuing a conservative harvest approach in order to raise deer numbers consistent with our recent goal-setting process.”

The 2015 season marks the second year of a management approach to rebuild deer populations.

Northern Minnesota hunters will again feel the impact of a bucks-only season. In bucks-only areas, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any hunter, including those with archery or youth licenses. Similarly, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any adult hunters in youth-only antlerless areas. However, as a result of 2015 legislation, new this year is an exception allowing either-sex harvest by any hunter age 84 and up or by hunters who are residents of veterans’ homes.

Another change this year is the return of youth-only antlerless harvest for a few areas in southwestern Minnesota. The measure is designed to increase populations into goal range in areas where antlerless harvest under the lottery system hasn’t been restrictive enough to increase deer numbers.

Details on buying a license
All hunters who purchase licenses by Sept. 10 are automatically entered into the lottery if they declare a lottery deer permit area. Those who do not wish to harvest an antlerless deer are encouraged to purchase their license after the lottery deadline. Hunters may apply using both their firearm and muzzleloader licenses. If hunters are selected for both licenses, they must select the one season in which they want to shoot an antlerless deer.

Deer hunting licenses, lottery applications and special hunt applications are available at any DNR license agent, by telephone at 888-665-4236 or online at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense. Lottery winners will be notified in October.

Permit area breakdown

Bucks-only deer areas in 2015 are permit areas 103, 108, 111, 118, 119, 152, 169, 176, 177, 178, 181, 183, 199 and 203.

Youth-only antlerless deer areas in 2015 are permit areas 234, 237 and 286.

Lottery deer areas in 2015 are permit areas 101, 105, 110, 117, 122, 126, 127, 155, 156, 157, 159, 171, 172, 173, 179, 180, 184, 197, 208, 210, 221, 222, 224, 229, 232, 235, 238, 242, 246, 247, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 258, 259, 260, 261, 262, 263, 266, 267, 268, 269, 270, 271, 272, 273, 274, 275, 276, 278, 279, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 288, 289, 290, 291, 294, 295, 296, 297, 298 and 299.

Hunter choice deer areas in 2015 are permit areas 201, 209, 213, 218, 219, 223, 225, 230, 233, 239, 240, 248, 254, 255, 256, 257, 264, 265, 277, 292, 293, 338, 339, 341, 342, 344, 345, 347 and 348.

Managed deer areas in 2015 are permit areas 114, 214, 215, 227, 236, 241, 287 and 343.

Intensive deer areas in 2015 are permit areas 182, 346 and 349.

Current and up-to-date information is available online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/deer. Information about deer management and upcoming deer population goal setting during the next two years is available at www.mndnr.gov/deer.

                             

DNR cuts Mille Lacs walleye limit to one for the first time

For the first time in history, Mille Lacs anglers will be restricted to one walleye, due to the lake's record-low walleye population.

One walleye 19- to 21-inches long or one over 28 inches will be allowed on Mille Lacs when fishing opens  Saturday, May 9, and an extended night fishing closure will again be in effect beginning the Monday after the opener.

The night fishing ban will be enforced from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., beginning May 11, and extend to Tuesday, Dec. 1.

The 2015 regulations for Mille Lacs Lake are:

• Walleye: Limit one and the fish must be 19- to 21-inches long or longer than 28 inches.
* Northern pike: Limit of 10. One fish may be longer than 30 inches only if two fish shorter than 30 inches are caught on the same trip and in possession.
* Bass: Limit of six smallmouth and largemouth bass in combination. Only one smallmouth bass may be longer than 18 inches.

The Mille Lacs 2015 walleye safe harvest level was reduced from 60,000 to 40,000 pounds so more fish potentially survive and spawn to improve the walleye population, the DNR said. State anglers can harvest up to 28,600 pounds of walleye.  Eight Chippewa bands can harvest up to 11,400 pounds of walleye.

Last year, Mille Lacs anglers could keep two walleyes 18- to 20-inches long or one longer than 28 inches.

“This set of regulations is designed to minimize the likelihood that a catch-and-release only walleye fishing regulation would be needed later in the season to stay within the state’s safe harvest allocation,”  Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief said.

The northern pike regulation change was suggested and supported by the Mille Lacs input group. Angling  for northern pike runs  May 9 through March 27, 2016.

“There was too much pressure on large northern pike last year when anglers and spearers could harvest one fish longer than 30 inches without restriction,” Pereira said. “So this year we’re experimenting with an earn-a-trophy concept that requires anglers to harvest more abundant smaller fish before they can take home a big fish.”

The smallmouth bass season begins May 9 and allows Mille Lacs anglers to harvest smallmouth bass until the last Sunday in February 2016. Anglers may keep six smallmouth and largemouth bass in combination, but only one smallmouth bass may be longer than 18 inches.

“The continuation of liberal northern pike and smallmouth bass regulations speak to the fact these species can withstand additional pressure because their populations are at or near record highs,” Pereira said. “The current walleye regulation and the extended night fishing closure will protect upcoming year classes of young walleye and adult spawning stock, and help ensure the harvest stays within the safe harvest level.”

There will be two exceptions to the night fishing ban this year for muskie and bow fishing. Beginning Monday, June 8, muskie anglers may fish at night with artificial lures longer than 8 inches or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches. Bow fishing for rough fish only also will be allowed at night beginning June 8 provided no angling equipment is in a boat.

“Night muskie fishing and bow fishing for rough fish are popular on Mille Lacs,” Pereira said. “Last year, all boats had to be off the water at night. This year, we’ave listened to stakeholders and adjusted the regulations to accommodate night fishing methods that are expected to have no impact on the walleye we’re trying to protect.”

Pereira said this year's Mille Lacs regulations reflect significant fish population changes in the lake. Walleye numbers are at a 40-year low. Northern pike numbers are at record highs. The smallmouth bass population has been increasing since the 1990s. Tullibee and perch populations, both important forage species, are relatively low.

“We’re encouraged by walleye hatched in 2013,” Pereira said. “That year class shows strong signs that more of those fish are surviving and will mature.”

Other factors contributing to the changing fishery on Mille Lacs and possibly influencing the survival of young walleye, the DNR said, include clearer water that may limit suitable habitat and increase vulnerability to predation, longer growing seasons related to climate change that may favor other species, and the indirect impacts of a variety of invasive species in the lake, including zebra mussels, spiny water fleas and Eurasian watermilfoil.
   
“Mille Lacs is a system under change and portions of that change began even prior to the intensive management that began in the late 1990s,” said Pereira. “The good news is that we have more than enough spawning walleye and a history of solid egg and fry production. What we need is for the walleye that hatch to grow into strong year classes for anglers to catch. That has’t happened since 2008. That’s why we are focused on protecting small walleye and our ample but declining walleye spawning stock.”

More information on Mille Lacs management can be found at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake.

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