Minnesota’s largest deer hunter group says the state’s whitetail population goal-setting process is seriously flawed and should be changed or scrapped.

“It’s a mess,” said Craig Engwall, executive director of the 15,000-member Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. “My gut feeling is that it was stacked against hunters.”

The Department of Natural Resources currently is reviewing whitetail population goals in 40 permit areas in the northeast, north-central and east-central regions of the state. Citizen advisory teams were formed and met in February and March. It’s part a of three-year process begun last year by the DNR to review deer populations in all 128 permit areas.

But Engwall said members of his group who served on the latest advisory teams complained that the process limited their recommendations.

“The DNR refused to allow teams to make recommendations for population increases above 50 percent,” Engwall said, though some areas clearly could sustain greater whitetail population increases. The deer harvest was .66 per square mile in one permit area, and .78 where Engwall hunts, he said.

“It’s pretty logical that it could increase 100 percent [in those areas] over the next five years,” he said.

Several advisory group members wanted increases much greater than 50 percent in some permit areas, Engwall said. But the advisory groups were given five choices regarding deer populations: no change, 25 percent or 50 percent reductions, or 25 percent or 50 percent increases.

“The failure of DNR to even strive for increases above 50 percent reflects a self-defeating attitude that is not remotely responsive to the desires of Minnesota deer hunters,” Engwall wrote in a letter he sent to DNR officials last week outlining his concerns.

The DNR also required the groups to have an 80 percent supermajority to make recommendations, which Engwall said also was problematic. It gives those with minority positions too much influence, he said.

“If a group couldn’t get the 80 percent supermajority, it would officially have no recommendation,” Engwall said. Two advisory teams failed to make recommendations.

“We think they [DNR] have significant procedural flaws,” he said.

Leslie McInenly, the DNR’s big game program leader, said officials wouldn’t comment on Engwall’s letter until they had talked to him. “We want to respond to them [MDHA] directly,” she said.

That hunters want more deer isn’t surprising. Last year’s whitetail harvest of about 139,500 was the lowest kill in 25 years. Hunters have told legislators and DNR officials that the deer herd was reduced too much several years ago, following a similar deer population goal-setting process completed in 2005-07.

Said MDHA member Doug Appelgren: “I’ve been hunting for more than 40 years, and I hardly saw any deer last season. Most of my neighbors didn’t see a deer. It’s been the worst we’ve seen it.”

Engwall has told the DNR he would like the agency to manage for a yearly deer harvest of 225,000 by 2019.

The five advisory groups for those 40 permit areas have made their recommendations, though Engwall would like to see the process reopened. He recommended the groups vote using a supermajority of two-thirds, and that they be allowed to recommend a deer population increase greater than 50 percent.

The DNR is accepting public comments on the recommendations through April 15. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr eventually will approve recommendations, and the DNR is expected to announce final population goals by June.