MARSHALL - Everything appears to be lining up just right for a big deer opener in southwest Minnesota when the season opens Saturday.
DNR biologists say deer populations are stable across much of the state, and Marrett Grund, research group leader at the DNR's Farmland Wildlife Population and Research Group out of Madelia, said this weekend has all the makings of a big day for deer hunters.
"I think the hunting will be really good this weekend and throughout the hunting season," Grund said. "Numbers are up, particularly in southwest Minnesota."
Grund said this weekend's weather also bodes well for hunters, with no rain or strong winds in the forecast.
"If it's good, sunny conditions, 40 degrees, that typically allows hunters to go out and have a successful hunt," he said. "It's good, average weather for this time of the year."
Southwest Minnesota took the brunt of the snow-making weather system that moved through Tuesday, as anywhere from 5 to 10 inches of snow fell. By Saturday, most of that snow could be long gone, but if any of it holds on until the weekend, chalk that up as another early-season advantage for hunters.
"Not only for tracking, but it also allows hunters to see deer a lot easier from farther away," Grund said. "Typically, when there is snow on the ground, it does favor the hunter to some degree, but I expect a lot of it to be pretty patchy by the weekend."
The only disadvantage for some hunters could be that some fields around the area are still holding corn, which Grund said provides good habitat cover for deer.
"It does create some problems for hunters, but I'm not expecting that to be a big issue. It should be good conditions in terms of the crop harvest."
Grund said the DNR has been conservative with its deer management strategies in the last few years. He said deer numbers in this part of the state have gone up to the point where the DNR is receiving more crop depredation complaints from farmers.
"We're trying to keep deer numbers more stable," Grund said. "About 2007, 2008 is when we started becoming more conservative with our deer management strategies; the buck harvest in particular last year in southwest Minnesota was up, so we're expecting a fairly high harvest in southwest Minnesota this year.
Last year, Minnesota's nearly 500,000 deer hunters harvested 186,000 deer, the DNR said. Minnesota's deer harvest has varied widely during the past 50 years. In a historical context, the DNR said, too many deer were taken during the 1960s, forcing the closure of the deer season in 1971 and a rebuilding of the deer herd from the 1970s through the 1990s. The highest deer harvest occurred in 2003, when 290,000 deer were taken as part of an effort to reduce the deer herd.
Today, the DNR manages the deer population based on goals established with public input.
The firearms deer season concludes Sunday, Nov. 24, in Series 100 permit areas, which cover much of northeastern Minnesota. In Series 300 permit areas, which cover the southeastern corner of the state, the first season ends Sunday, Nov.17, but a late season opens Saturday, Nov. 23, and concludes Sunday, Dec. 1. Firearms season ends Sunday, Nov. 17, in Series 200 permit areas, which cover the remainder of the state.