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Deer hunting guide: Deer, wildlife adapt to spring forest fires in Park Rapids area

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PARK RAPIDS — In April a forest fire blazed through 7,100 acres south of Park Rapids. The fire destroyed a handful of buildings and altered the natural landscape and the animals that called that landscape home.

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What was once deciduous and coniferous forest is now dominated by new growth and, from the perspective of a deer, the changes have been mostly beneficial.

“The deer did a pretty good job of getting away from the danger (during the fire) and, after the fire, things greened so well that it provided good forage for the critters that were there,” said DNR wildlife technician Greg Henderson who is based in Park Rapids.

“Hunters will notice a difference in the landscape. The fire did burn a small management area but most of the fire was on private land.”

After the fire swept through the 7,100 acres the land owners had choices to make. Many of the pine trees that were touched by the flames have been harvested for timber and those areas now are open.

And, other areas that once were wooded have now been converted to potato fields.

“There will be changes to the deer and to the hunters because the deer do not have as many places to hide,” Henderson said.

“There are some pretty big changes south and east of Park Rapids because of the fire and the new agriculture but most of the changes occurred on private land.”

Park Rapids DNR Wildlife officials manage permit areas 241, 258, 259, 287 (Itasca State Park) and parts of 246 and those areas produce some of the best deer hunting in Minnesota. Each year the mix of agriculture and forest result in high deer harvests and Henderson expects similar results this fall.

“We have a very good mix of habitat with the agriculture areas and enough swamps to provide escape cover,” he said. “Much of the land is private and the landowners can dictate, to some extent, how many deer are taken.”

Those areas also offer relatively liberal hunting options as areas 246, 258 and 259 are hunter’s choice zones (a hunter may take a buck or a doe), area 241 is managed (a hunter can take up to two deer) and area 287 is intensive harvest (a hunter can take up to five deer).

“In area 241 we still have a good deer population but many of the lots are in private ownership and around the Park Rapids area those smaller ownership lots make access to hunters more difficult,” Henderson said.

“Even in areas that offer managed hunting, we find that very few people across the state take two deer,” he continued. “We get quite a few calls every year from landowners who have small lots where deer seek refuge during the season and we could stand to see even more harvest in those areas.

“But, as bigger blocks of timber get subdivided, access for hunters becomes even more difficult and because of that there is far less hunting pressure in those areas.”

Consequently, the deer thrive much to the delight of some and the scourage of others.

“The dilemma is always the different perspectives of people as to how many deer are too many,” Henderson said. “For some guys seeing 15 deer isn’t enough and for others it’s way too many. Deer hunters are passionate folks and it is hard to please everybody.”

If hunters in the Park Rapids area were satisfied with last year’s season, they probably will be happy with the 2013 hunt.

“Because of the hard winter we did see some mortality and we did get some calls last winter from people reporting dead deer, mainly fawns,” Henderson said. “We didn’t see any widespread losses and the deer were able to bounce back.

“Our recruitment was pretty good this spring and the deer numbers will resemble what they were last year. With the late opener the timing of the hunt should also be good for deer activity, provided we have the good weather.”

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Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200
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