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Fewer Minnesota doe permits in some areas after deep-snow winter

The deadline to buy a license to enter the antlerless permit lottery is Sept. 8.

A deer crosses a stream.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Monday announced details of the upcoming 2022 deer season, which will again see fewer antlerless deer permits available in Northeastern Minnesota after yet another deep-snow winter.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Deer hunters across Minnesota will have about the same opportunities to bag a deer or two this fall compared to last, except in parts of northern Minnesota, where a deep-snow winter pushed the Department of Natural Resources to reduce the number of antlerless deer permits in an effort to rebuild the herd.

DNR wildlife managers released the details of all 2022 deer hunting seasons Monday — the first day that deer hunting licenses went on sale.

Don't look now, but some seasons start Sept. 1.

“Overall, it looks pretty similar to what we saw last year,” Barb Keller, big game program manager for the DNR, said of both the state’s deer population and hunter opportunities.

Statewide, the DNR has increased the bag limits for 28 deer permit areas with 90 areas the same limit as last year and reduced bag limits in 12 areas, mostly in northern Minnesota.

The DNR can reduce the number of deer that hunters harvest by imposing bucks-only hunting restrictions in some areas and by reducing the number of antlerless permits available in other deer permit areas, moves intended to allow deer numbers in those areas increase.

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deer permit areas.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

“In some areas of northern Minnesota, severe winter conditions have impacted low deer numbers, so hunter opportunity in these areas is designed to help stabilize or increase those populations,” said Kelly Straka, the DNR’s Wildlife Section manager.

Deer permit areas 118, 119, 130 and 132 from just north of Duluth to the Ontario border will be bucks-only again this year, as is area 111 south of Baudette, while most of the 100-numbered deer permit areas have limited antlerless permits available this season.

Winter severity index numbers are creeping up across northern Minnesota.

For example, for deer permit area 181 just northwest of Duluth, the DNR reduced the number of antlerless permits available by lottery from 1,500 in 2021 to just 300 in 2022. In area 126 along the North Shore in Cook County, antlerless permits were reduced from 100 last year to just 25 this year.

Hunters in the immediate Duluth metro area will again have a three-deer limit this fall, while hunters to the south, in Carlton and Pine counties, will be able to shoot a buck or a doe without an antlerless permit.

New this year, hunters in and around the Grand Rapids area, where two wild deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease last winter, will be required to have their deer tested for CWD by the DNR during opening weekend of the season when most deer are taken.

Deer hunter
Hunters cross much of Northeastern Minnesota will be limited to bucks-only deer hunting or reduced antlerless permits available during the 2022 deer hunting season as the DNR works to rebuild the herd after a tough, deep-snow winter for deer.
Sam Cook / 2013 file / Duluth News Tribune

The area also will be open to a more liberal, two-deer limit per licensed hunter with no antlerless permit required. The area has been renumbered as deer permit area 679. There are also CWD management areas around Crookston (area 661) and north of Brainerd (area 604.)

Also new this year, hunters participating in state park hunts or hunting in state scientific and natural areas will be required to use non-toxic bullets.

Deer populations continue to be at or even above the DNR’s goals in much of northwestern, central and southeastern Minnesota where hunters in many units will be able to harvest two, three or, in some areas, as many as five deer during the season without any antlerless permit needed.

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The firearms deer season for all of Northeastern Minnesota’s 100-numbered areas will run Nov. 5-20. The season for the 200- and 300-numbered areas runs Nov. 5-13. The statewide archery season runs Sept. 17 through Dec. 31. The statewide youth deer hunt will be Oct. 20-23. The statewide muzzleloader season will be Nov. 26 through Dec. 11.

Firearm and muzzleloader hunters who want to harvest antlerless deer in a permit area designated as “lottery” must purchase their license by Sept. 8. They will be automatically entered into the lottery for the permit area or special hunt area they declare. No application is needed to take antlerless deer in permit areas with either sex, two-deer limit, three-deer limit or five-deer limit designations.

CWD testing options expand

DNR officials say they have moved to a statewide approach to CWD management after the Grand Rapids positive cases and other positive deer in northwestern Minnesota.

One of 54 deer shot by sharpshooters carried the disease.

Hunters will be able to submit samples through taxidermists who are partnering with the DNR or by dropping off deer heads at self-service sampling stations to test for chronic wasting disease. Other options available include using mail-in CWD kits (hunters remove the lymph nodes from deer themselves), dropping by one of the DNR-staffed sampling stations during the opening weekend of firearms season or making appointments at area wildlife offices within CWD zones at any time during the deer hunting season.

Hunters will not be able to move whole deer carcasses out of CWD zones until they receive a negative test result.

Hunter numbers dropping

Hunters in Minnesota harvested 184,698 deer in 2021 by all types of hunting, down from 197,315 in 2020. The harvest this century has ranged from a high of 290,525 deer in 2003, after a string of warm, low-snow winters (the biggest deer harvest in state history) to a low of 139,442 in 2014, after back-to-back deep-snow and cold winters. The DNR has a general goal for annual deer harvest of 200,000 but hasn’t hit that goal since 2010.
One of the reasons fewer deer are being shot in recent years is because there are far fewer hunters in the field. The DNR sold 465,4141 deer hunting licenses of all types in 2021 (some hunters purchase more than one license) which is down more than 28% from the peak of 648,800 licenses sold in 2003.

While the disease is not believed to transfer to humans, CWD remains an issue.

“The biggest concern I have is the loss of the hunters we have had and will continue to have” because of concerns over CWD, said Dennis Quarberg, president of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. “Trying to get new hunters into the sport when there is a potential disease out there is not good.”

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The number of hunters is plummeting in Minnesota, Wisconsin and nationally.

A string of harsh winters

But in Northeastern Minnesota the biggest factor in the deer population, and deer harvest, is winter weather, especially deep snow. As the News Tribune first reported in February, the winter of 2021-22 was the sixth winter out of the past 10 — and three out of the last four — that has been unusually snowy in parts of northern Minnesota, a string not seen since the 1970s. It was the sixth year of the past 10 when the Department of Natural Resources winter severity index climbed into the severe category for large swaths of the Northland.

Deer numbers can rebound fast if given a string of several mild or even normal winters in a row. That happened after several brutal winters in the 1990s, when a string of very mild winters in the early 2000s led to all-time record high deer numbers, even as wolves also thrived. But that hasn't happened lately. Repeatedly snowy winters and steady wolf predation have prevented Arrowhead region deer numbers from rebounding over the past decade.

Unlike moose, with longer legs, deer didn't evolve to live this far north, where snow gets this deep — they only moved into the region after logging and fires a century ago.

Studies show about 10% of deer die during a normal winter in the northwoods, and mortality goes up, in some cases to 40% and more, as the snow piles up and the winter severity index increases. In addition to outright deaths in deep-snow winters, does often won’t carry fawns to term, or have just one fawn instead of two, a factor that also keeps the population from rebounding faster.

Wildlife experts note that areas with agricultural fields offer a quicker snowmelt and faster green-up in spring and will allow more deer to survive even severe winters compared to heavily forested areas. That’s why hunters don’t have to go very far south and west of Duluth to find much lower winter severity indexes and much higher populations of deer, even with relatively high numbers of wolves.

Get more information

The DNR will host a free, live webinar Wednesday at noon to further explain and answer questions about the 2022 deer season. Preregistration is required at dnr.state.mn.us/fishwildlife/outreach/index.html.

More information on deer hunting is available at dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/index.html .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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