It’s difficult to take a buck, and taking care to do it legally adds to the challenge

Staying legal while deer hunting in Minnesota can be tricky. Laws and regulations governing everything from tagging a downed deer to registering and transporting it must be followed. Hunters also must be aware of clothing requirements — how much blaze orange is enough? — which firearms are legal and where, and what can and can’t be said over cellphones among hunters in the field. Following is a summary of rules governing Minnesota whitetail hunters that will be important to know when the state’s 2015 deer season opens early Saturday.

Tagging a deer

Before a deer is moved after being killed, a hunter must validate his or her tag by notching the date and time the animal was killed. The tag needn’t be attached to the animal if the hunter intends to drag it from the woods by hand. Affixing a validated tag to a downed deer is required, however, before the animal is moved either by or into a mechanized vehicle. This could be a pickup or a four-wheeler. Additionally, if a deer is going to be dragged from the woods by a four-wheeler, or carried by such a machine, a tag must be attached.


Deer must be registered within 48 hours of a kill. This can be done by phone, online or at a big game registration station.

Shooting hours

“We get a lot of calls from hunters who call in on other hunters who shoot early or late,’’ said DNR enforcement division operations manager Maj. Greg Salo. “Hunters who do so can’t hide from it. You can’t do it quietly.’’ Hunters should refer to timetables in the back of the DNR big game hunting regulations booklet, Salo said. “And don’t forget to add or subtract the appropriate number of minutes for the place you’re hunting to determine legal shooting times.’’


For deer hunting, Minnesota generally is divided into areas that allow rifles, and others that allow shotguns only (and hunting handguns). Safety is the point: Most shotgun zones are dominated by open agricultural areas, where rifle bullets could in some instances travel great distances. This is less true in the North Woods, where rifles are legal. Legal calibers are .22 centerfire (not rimfire) and larger. Shotguns must be .410 and larger. Note also: Hunting handguns can be used in shotgun zones. But beware: AR-style rifles absent their removable stocks, thus making them pistol-grip firearms, are in most instances legally defined as handguns, and thus are legal in shotgun zones. The same firearm with its stock, so it can be shouldered, is in Minnesota a rifle and can’t be used in a shotgun zone.

Communicating electronically

No electronic device — walkie-talkie, cellphone, drone or other — may be used in Minnesota to assist in the taking of deer. Conversations on these are allowed among hunters when the topic, for example, is one hunter saying to others, “I’m cold,’’ or “I’m heading back to camp.’’ But saying, “I’m cold. I’m heading to camp through the cornfield to see if I can push a deer to you,’’ is illegal. Said Salo: “It all comes down to what information is being communicated.’’


“Hunters should know that in no way can drones be used to scout or otherwise take a deer, not by tracking, or by any other means,’’ Salo said.


Taking a deer in Minnesota is defined as pursuing, shooting, capturing, trapping, snaring, angling, spearing or netting wild animals, or placing, setting, drawing or using a net, trap or other device to take wild animals. Taking also includes attempting to take wild animals or assisting another person in taking wild animals.

Blaze orange

If a deer hunter wears a hat, it has to be blaze orange. (But hats aren’t required of deer hunters.) Fifty percent camouflage blaze orange is legal also. One item above the waist covering the torso must also be blaze orange or camouflage blaze orange. Sleeves and gloves are excluded from blaze requirements.

Hunting with kids age 10 or 11

An adult must be in immediate control of the young hunter and must possess a deer license. Licenses for hunters age 10 or 11 are free but required. Kids age 10 and 11 needn’t possess a firearms safety certificate. But adult mentors must have one, in addition to a license. Kids must shoot their own deer.

Party hunting

Hunting in groups, or a “party,’’ is legal, and group members can shoot deer on another party member’s tag. But all members must be in the field together. How close to one another? Generally, on a contiguous piece of land, meaning not separated by a road. Keep in mind that crossbow hunters, otherwise legally in the field during firearms deer season, can’t party hunt with firearms hunters.


During archery season, crossbows can only be used by hunters with disability permits or those older than 60. In firearms season, any licensed hunter can use one.

Shooting from roads

Minnesota big game hunters can’t shoot from, over or across a road, or from a road right of way, meaning, generally, ditches.


Agricultural land in Minnesota can only be entered or crossed with permission; it needn’t be posted against trespassing. Wooded areas must be posted, otherwise access is allowed. “But if you don’t know whose land it is, you shouldn’t be on it,’’ Salo said. Hunters may enter any land to retrieve their hunting dog but cannot bring a firearm. Hunters may also enter agricultural land to retrieve game but must leave if asked.


Any food product or byproduct that is hunted over constitutes baiting. Most deer attractants sold in sporting goods stores meet this definition, usually because they have one or more forms of sugar in them. A pure salt block or pure mineral block is legal. Poachers caught baiting risk losing hunting privileges and gun.

Lend or borrow a license

Hunters must possess and hunt using their own licenses. Purchasing licenses for friends and/or one or more family members and using them to tag deer not legally killed by those people is a violation. Similarly, loaning one’s license is illegal.

Dollar value of deer

Fines for hunting and/or killing deer illegally vary. Most deer are valued by the state at $500, with trophy bucks (those whose antlers measure more than 135 inches) valued at $1,000.