What’s the best place in Minnesota to shoot a whitetail when the state’s firearm deer season opens Saturday?
From your hunting blind or deer stand, of course.
As any hunter worth his or her blaze orange clothing can attest, whitetails aren’t distributed equally across Minnesota’s landscape. There are areas with high densities, low densities and many more in between.
The accompanying data, which shows deer harvest per square mile in 2012, indicates the wide disparity, ranging from more than nine deer per square mile killed in permit area 602 (a chronic wasting disease zone with no bag limits) to 0.06 per square mile in permit area 117 in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (where there are few deer and fewer hunters).
The statistics generally reflect where deer densities are high and low, but there are other factors. “It also reflects our management strategies, too,’’ said Leslie McInenly, Department of Natural Resources big game program leader. Bag limits and the availability of antlerless deer vary, depending on that management strategy. And hunting pressure affects the per-square-mile harvest, too.
That said, here’s a look at five permit areas in five different regions that stand out:
Permit area 210
Harvest: 3.65 per square mile
This permit area near Erskine, Fosston and Bagley has one of the highest harvest rates in the northwest, and, of course, there’s a reason. It has the right mix of agriculture, woods and wintering cover, said Shelley Gorham, DNR area wildlife manager in Bemidji.
The eastern part of the area is in the highly productive transition zone between field and forest. “That really provides good habitat for deer,’’ Gorham said. “That transition zone is where we find higher numbers of deer on the landscape.’’
The western portion is more agricultural, with fields of corn and soybeans dotted with many lakes; the east is heavily forested. More than a dozen wildlife management areas provide habitat and public hunting opportunities. Gorham said there might be another reason for 210’s high deer harvest: Hunters who normally hunt in neighboring “lottery” areas might go to 210 to shoot a second deer.
Permit area 178
Harvest: 3.89 per square mile
This sprawling area extends south from the Iron Range towns of Aurora, Virginia, Chisholm and Nashwauk, and includes vast amount of public forest, including Cloquet Valley State Forest. Though it’s in northeastern Minnesota, it has a mix of farmland and forest that resembles a transition zone, meaning it has better habitat than some areas farther north and east.
“There’s also a lot of black spruce bogs; that’s habitat too,’’ said Dawn Plattner, DNR assistant area wildlife manager. “And it’s outside the moose zone,’’ she said. That means it is being managed to hold more deer per square mile — 14 — than other areas in the arrowhead, where deer densities are kept lower because of the moose population there.