Hunters will come away with fewer deer this upcoming season in Minnesota than any time since the early 1980s, according to state conservation officials.

“By design, this year’s deer harvest will be one of the lowest we’ve seen in decades,” Leslie McInenly, big game program leader for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said Monday.

“In fact, our total harvest this year may end up coming in around 120,000,” McInenly said, far below the 170,000 bagged last year.

The 120,000 estimate, if it holds, would be the lowest total killed since 93,045 were bagged in 1982, according to DNR records.

The key reasons for the lower estimate this coming season? Hunters can only pursue bucks in some parts of Minnesota, fewer antlerless permits were offered and a one-deer bag limit rules most of the state.

This year’s estimate takes into account the harsh winter of 2013-14 and what the DNR said was “public interest in growing the population.”

History shows that deer populations can respond fairly quickly when hunting limited, particularly when combined with more moderate winters.

The last time Minnesota deer hunters’ kill was below 150,000 was 1997, when hunters bagged 143,000. The state’s record deer kill was 290,000 in 2003.

Bowhunting season began Sept. 13 and runs through Dec. 31. The firearms season opens Nov. 8 and runs through most of the month, depending on the region of the state.

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