DNR regional wildlife managers give rundown of what deer hunters can expect

Hunters looking forward to higher deer numbers this season

Hunters will have additional opportunities to harvest deer this season thanks to a series of mild winters and conservative hunting regulations, which have resulted in rebounding deer populations across Minnesota. 

Firearms deer season opens Saturday, Nov. 4, and there are 130 permit areas in 2017. Information about each permit area can be found on the DNR’s interactive deer map at mndnr.gov/deermap, and includes wildlife manager reports, regulations, and statistics about deer harvest and populations on a local scale.

Northwest deer report
John Williams, northwest region wildlife manager

More deer on the landscape in the northwest region should help hunters better enjoy the season and have good prospects for a successful hunt.

Another mild winter on top of the previous two mild winters has largely enabled deer populations to be at or near goal levels in most permit areas. Fawn production was also good this year; another indication of does coming through the winter in good health.

Recent rains have filled basins that were previously dry due to drought-like conditions in late summer, and water levels are up on many of the marshes and lakes in the region. Hunters should be prepared to deal with wetter than average conditions if they are hunting in or need to cross lowland areas.

In general, hunters will be able to harvest more deer. In several permit areas the designations changed to allow more overall harvest. Some permit areas moved from a designation of lottery, which requires hunters to apply in advance to shoot an antlerless deer, to a hunters choice designation that allows a hunter to use one license to shoot either a buck or antlerless deer.

Other permit areas changed designations from hunters choice to managed. In permit areas designated as managed, hunters can harvest two deer through use of a regular license and a bonus antlerless permit. Permit areas that did stay in the lottery designation this year may have more permits available than in previous years.

Northeast deer report
Dave Olfelt, northeast region wildlife manager

Three consecutive, relatively mild winters have contributed to good fawn production and high numbers of twin births. Snow depth was moderate throughout much of the region and a relatively early green-up of forage has supported deer that appear to be in excellent physical condition.

Where good habitat exists, deer populations are approaching or are at established population goals. While deer are not evenly distributed within permit areas because of habitat differences and varying levels of hunting pressure, harvest regulations have relaxed in many northern Minnesota permit areas to allow more deer harvest. Duluth, several Iron Range cities and some state parks continue to hold special hunts to reduce deer numbers.

Rain and wet conditions have persisted throughout much of the fall season. Hunters may find water in areas that are typically dry this time of year and forest road access may be difficult or impassable in some locations.

Hunters in far northeastern Minnesota’s primary moose range should review the new deer permit area maps for boundary and numbering changes.

Central deer report
Jami Markle, assistant central region wildlife manager

“Deer are everywhere” is a common refrain across the central region this fall. Deer populations seem to have bounced back from a decline following the severe winter of 2013-2014.

In fact, many deer permit areas in the region have met or are above population goals, meaning more permits will be available this fall. With rebounding deer populations and ample hunter opportunities, wildlife managers are anticipating a strong harvest in 2017.

Deer look healthy as they shed their reddish summer coats for the more muted gray-brown tones that will carry them through the winter. Summer habitat conditions were ideal with an excellent growing season and plentiful native forage and cover. Does with twin fawns seem to be the norm rather than the exception this year.

Wildlife managers and landowners have noted an abundant acorn crop in the central and southeast portion of the region this fall which will keep deer feeding and browsing in the oak woods.

Wet conditions in late September and early October have postponed agricultural harvest so hunters may see standing crops well into the firearms season. Fall leaf drop is reported to be later than normal in the southern part of the state, but by early November sightlines should be opened up and the forest floor will have a new layer of fallen leaves. Buck scrapes and rubs are starting to appear and hunters can expect to see deer movement and patterns change as the rut approaches.

Many permit areas in the central region are designated as managed this year, allowing harvest of two deer through the use of a regular license and a bonus antlerless permit. Five permit areas are designated as intensive, which allows for harvest of three deer using additional bonus permits. There are additional harvest opportunities in the 601 metro deer management area and the 603 chronic wasting disease management zone, both of which offer harvest of an unlimited number of antlerless deer.

Southwest deer report 
David Trauba, southwest region wildlife manager

Two consecutive mild winters coupled with past conservative harvest strategies have allowed deer numbers to increase throughout southwestern Minnesota. In addition, wildlife managers reported good fawn production. As a result, more antlerless permits were provided for this fall’s hunting season. However, permits numbers continue to be low in select permit areas, mostly in extreme southwest, due to the loss of Conservation Reserve Program acres. Managers in these permit areas are having a difficult time increasing deer numbers due to limited habitat availability.

Conversely, hunters need to be aware that permit areas 281 and 290 moved to a hunters choice designation for the first time due to an abundance of deer along the Minnesota River corridor.

Two wild cards for hunters will be the amount of standing crops and river flooding. Historically the amount of standing crops drives opening weekend hunter harvest along with weather conditions. Large rainfall amounts in mid-October have resulted in flooded fields and river flooding. Crop harvest is behind schedule but this can change very quickly so it is too early to predict what amount of crops will be in the field, if any, before opening day. However, hunters should prepare for high water in select river corridors; the high water can influence deer use of these habitats. Many deer have been forced out of the river valleys into the surrounding uplands. As always, hunters need to scout and adapt to conditions.