The final firearms deer harvest in permit area 184 dropped 55 percent from a year ago while the buck harvest increased 8 percent, according to figures compiled by the DNR officials.
Although it was a significant decline Bemidji Area DNR Wildlife Supervisor Shelley Gorham wasn't surprised to see those numbers, especially considering that permit area 184, which has Bemidji at its center, switched from a managed area last year to lottery this fall.
"Some people might drop their jaw when they see a 55 percent decline in the overall harvest but the buck harvest numbers indicate that the deer population is stable and the harvest is sustainable," Gorham said.
"Right now there is nothing to be concerned about in terms of the deer population but winter is just beginning and this year winter has come early."
Area 197 (the Leech Lake Reservation) also switched to lottery from last year's managed status and the harvest there dipped nine percent. In areas 209 and 210 (west of Bemidji) DNR officials maintained the intensive harvest status this year and those areas experienced increases of 2.6 percent in 209 and 11.2 percent in 210.
In permit area 110 (north of Bemidji), which was managed this fall, the harvest increased 40 percent but those numbers are skewed because area 110 experienced a significant increase in acreage this year.
"The nature of the beast is that you are going to have a drop in harvest when you go from managed to lottery as we did in 184," Gorham said. "In recent years we purposely reduced the deer herd and that has created density differences among the permit areas and within the permit areas.
"I have heard that some hunters saw deer in numbers that were similar to past years," Gorham continued. "And some individuals told me that there are no deer out there. In some places, especially on private land, deer were plentiful and hunting was effortless. In other places, especially on public land, deer may have been hard to find."
The early onslaught of winter could impact the deer population as much as hunting did.
"We'll see how this winter goes," Gorham said. "It is conceivable that we could start counting WSI (winter severity index) days this week and that would be very early."
The WSI is calculated by adding one number to the total for each day that is 0 or below-zero (farenheit) in temperature and each day when there is 15 inches or more of snow on the ground.
A total reading by the end of winter of 100 or more indicates a winter that could have impacted the deer population.
A year ago the Bemidji area WSI ended at 111. The WSI was 2 as of Dec. 6 and by Christmas it reached 14. During January the WSI increased to 78 and at the end of February it was 99.
Deer hunting continues for archery hunters through the end of the year while the muzzleloader hunting season begins Saturday and extends through Dec. 12.