MARSHALL - In an effort to reduce the statewide harvest of antlerless deer and rebuild the deer population across much of the state after a couple bad winters, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday said hunters should expect a very conservative 2014 deer hunting season.
In 69 of Minnesota's 128 deer permit areas, hunters must be chosen in a lottery to shoot an antlerless deer. Only bucks can be hunted in 14 areas. In 38 areas, hunters have the choice of shooting a doe or a buck.
Bonus permits allowing hunters to shoot more than one deer may only be used in seven permit areas and for some special hunts.
"This is the most conservative deer hunting season we've had in over two decades," said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife populations and regulations manager. "This is the result of two consecutive very difficult winters we had. Also, we co-sponsored some deer listening sessions and heard clearly from hunters that they had some real concerns about the deer population."
Leslie McInenly, big game program leader for the DNR, said many hunters were concerned about current deer densities and their hunting experiences in recent years.
"This past winter only added to those concerns, so this year's conservative approach will protect more antlerless deer, reduce the statewide harvest and allow the population to rebound," McInenly said.
McInenly said hunters can only harvest one deer in 95 percent of the state, including in southwest Minnesota. To shoot a doe, McInenly said, hunters may have to apply for a permit in areas where they haven't in the past and, in some places, no antlerless harvest will be allowed.
Ken Varland, area wildlife supervisor for Region 4, said hunters in this area won't see much of a difference from past years. There will, however, be a roughly 12-percent reduction in permits issued, he said.
Hunters in northeastern Minnesota will be most affected by this year's management action. That area has been designated bucks-only. In bucks-only areas, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any hunter, including those with archery or youth licenses. McInenly said most of these areas are now below goal and that this year's conservative approach is consistent with the DNR's long-term commitment to manage deer populations at established goal levels.
Merchant said the reduction in harvest this year could be in the tens of thousands. This year's harvest could go down to 150,000 or even 120,000 because of the vast bucks-only areas. Projections like that trigger his confidence that the deer population will rebound. The last time a widespread bucks-only stamp was put on the state was in 1996 and 1997. A few areas in southwest Minnesota went bucks-only once in the early 2000s.
"We are going to see our deer herd grow as a result of this," Merchant said. "This isn't new for us."
Hunters can enter the lottery for antlerless permits beginning Friday, Aug. 1. The deadline to apply is Thursday, Sept. 4. Hunters may apply using both their firearm and muzzleloader licenses. If hunters are selected for both licenses, they must select the one season in which they want to shoot an antlerless deer.
The DNR has in the past went the other way when it comes to the deer population by aggressively working to trim the deer herd, especially in northern Minnesota. Merchant said, however, the DNR's conservative approach to this year's season has more to do with the last couple winter seasons, not because hunters have taken more deer than usual during the last decade.