Minnesota's half-million deer hunters have killed about 70,000 deer since the firearms season opened Saturday -- a 4 percent decline from last year, but about what wildlife officials expected.
That number will increase because hunters have until the end of the season to register their deer.
Still, harvest likely will be down because the Department of Natural Resources tightened the availability of permits for antlerless deer in many areas, said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager.
Fifty-eight percent of the deer taken so far were bucks -- up 8.5 percent from 2011. The antlerless deer harvest is down 20 percent. At this pace, hunters might harvest about 170,000 deer, which would be an 11 percent drop from the 192,000 killed last year.
Big bucks in southeast
The antler-point restrictions imposed three years ago in southeastern Minnesota are having a big impact this year, as bucks that weren't killed the past two years have grown. Buck harvest is up 17.5 percent.
"There's far more legal deer in the population than last year,'' Cornicelli said. "In terms of putting a big pulse of big bucks in the population, this is the year it happens. You'll see another big jump next year.''
Even hunters on public lands are finding large 2- and 3-year-old bucks, Cornicelli said. "It has leveled the playing field,'' he said.
Hunters will be surveyed this fall to determine if they want to keep the experimental restrictions, and the Legislature is expected to weigh in on the issue.
Deer license sales up
The DNR has sold 446,000 deer hunting licenses so far, about 10,583 -- or 2.4 percent -- more than this time last year and the highest since at least 2000. Also, firearms license sales to 10- and 11-year-olds increased by 1,151 (13.7 percent) from last year. And the agency sold 48,184 regular youth licenses, up 600 from last year and the highest number since 2003, when those licenses were first offered.