The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources put a restriction on bag limits this deer hunting season to revitalize the antlerless population. Little did it know its efforts would be reinforced by row upon row of standing corn throughout the state.
Preliminary numbers show that about 5 percent fewer deer have been harvested in Minnesota this season. Minnesota deer hunters have harvested about 96,000 deer since the firearms season opened Nov. 7, the DNR said.
The number is consistent with expectations from the DNR, which predicted the harvest would be down from last year as a result of slightly smaller deer herds and fewer opportunities for hunters to take a deer of either sex. And then there's the ripple effect from fields full of corn well into November.
"Obviously it was a little tougher this year because of all the standing corn," said Bob Meyer of the Marshall DNR office. "That, and most everybody had to shoot just one antlerless deer this year. Between those two things, it was a little tougher going."
Unofficially, the statewide antlerless harvest is down about 14 percent from last year; the buck harvest is down 2 percent, the DNR said.
"In general, the buck harvest is down a little bit, which makes sense given all the standing corn," said DNR big game coordinator Lou Cornicelli. "Our antlerless count is down on purpose because we cut quotas and changed a lot of areas where once you could take multiple deer, now you can take just one. So we took a whole bunch of antlerless off the table. It's not at all a surprise that it's down."
Official deer harvest data for the 2009 season come out today.
Besides agriculture's effect on this year's season, another major reason for the slight decrease in harvested deer is the stricter limits that reduced, in many areas, the number of deer you could take from as many as five to one. Dennis Simon, a spokesman for the DNR, said limits were made too liberal around 2005 when people in many parts of the state complained there were too many deer. Since then, deer populations in some areas have dropped 10 to 50 percent.
Although some hunters say the limits are too strict because there are more than enough deer for the taking, Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said the DNR did a good job of reducing the herd size, and now just needs to maintain a good population balance.
''From a management standpoint, the DNR's been doing a good job. Now it's the public saying, well, maybe we don't want that few deer. Maybe we want more deer again,'' Johnson said. ''So it's that yo-yo back and forth that we're seeing in play right now.''
Cornicelli said recent warm, dry weather benefitted hunters in agricultural areas of the state because farmers have been actively harvesting corn, which has been providing escape cover for deer. Last week only 23 percent of the state's corn had been harvested compared to the five-year average of 83 percent.
The number of harvested deer from 2006-08 followed a similar trend than the three prior years. Numbers from 2003-05 declined yearly after spiking at 290,000 in 2003. In 2006, the number of harvested deer shot back up above 250,000, but, like the previous three-year trend, tailed off to just above 200,000 harvested deer in 2008, a year that saw more than 412,000 licensed deer hunters. Instead of following that trend this year and shooting back up like it did in 2003, it seems the total number of harvested deer will fall for the third year in a row.