While the state's deer population was reported Tuesday to be up, thanks to the recent mild winter, firearms hunters going afield beginning Saturday are expected to kill fewer deer this season than the 190,000 recorded last year.

The reason: The DNR has issued fewer antlerless permits this year, in an attempt to rebuild the state's deer herd.

Hunters in northern, central and southwest Minnesota complained to wildlife officials in a series of meetings held earlier this year that too many deer had been killed by hunters in recent years, in part contributing to whitetail population downturns in those areas.

As a result, the DNR this year required hunters to enter a lottery for antlerless permits in many areas of the state where last year they could be purchased at will.

Steve Merchant, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife programs manager, has said the harvest could be as low as 170,000 this year.

If that prediction holds, the 2012 harvest will go down as the smallest since 1998, when 159,000 deer were killed by hunters.

Last year, Minnesota's nearly 500,000 deer hunters took 192,300 deer, down from 207,000 in 2010. Cornicelli estimated the deer population this year at about 1 million.

The firearms deer season concludes in northern Minnesota on Nov. 18 and on Nov. 11 in the rest of the state.

A late season in southeastern Minnesota, which stretches from Watertown in the north to Caledonia in the south, runs from Nov. 17-25.

danderson@startribune.com • 612-673-4424