With more shooting opportunities still to go, mild weather and a larger deer herd have contributed to a 13 percent overall increase in Minnesota’s whitetail harvest, according to preliminary statistics compiled by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“The numbers reflect a really good deer season,” said Steve Merchant, the DNR’s wildlife population and regulations manager. “When we get good weather, people stay out deer hunting longer and they get more deer.”
The increase in deer kills this year has been largely built on a more dynamic buck harvest, partly because seasonal regulations still put antlerless deer off limits in many areas. The goal of “bucks-only’’ zones is to boost overall herd size with greater fawn production.
From the start of this year’s season through Tuesday, 120,011 deer have been registered in Minnesota compared to 106,169 for the same period a year ago, Merchant said. The increase of 13 percent was achieved with only 1 percent more hunters than a year ago. That’s based on license sales data as of Sunday.
In the northern forest region, including the Arrowhead, hunters have killed 19 percent more bucks than a year ago. In the southeast, where an extended firearms season opens Saturday, the buck harvest is up 14 percent. And in the rest of the state, hunters have taken 17.5 percent more bucks so far than a year ago.
The increases follow a couple of down years in the size of Minnesota’s deer harvest due to severe winters, lower reproduction and what some say was excessive harvest. While the story this year has been positive, the overall harvest pales compared with the 290,000 deer killed in 2003, the largest take in state history.
Merchant said the continuing limitations on shooting antlerless deer in some areas of the state is part of the DNR’s “very conservative strategy’’ to increase herd size in the long term. The agency’s deer management practices were loudly criticized earlier this year after successive seasons in which hunters were seeing fewer deer, especially up north. The criticism prompted the bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission this year to call for an evaluation of the DNR’s methods. A report by the state legislative auditor is expected in the spring.
Final deer harvest numbers for 2015 will be compiled in early January.