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AREA DEER OPENER PREVIEW: Deer numbers up throughout region

PARK RAPIDS — Year-in and year-out, some of the best deer hunting in Minnesota can be found in the Park Rapids area.

A terrain that features a mixture of agriculture and forests creates perfect habitat for the adaptable animals and, during the past two years, mild winters have resulted in a stress-free lifestyle.

"There should be more deer everywhere in our work area," said Park Rapids area DNR wildlife manager Erik Thorson. "We had a mild winter and this spring we had a bumper crop of deer. There was also good reproduction this summer so I am expecting hunters will see more deer. And our regulations reflect that increase."

Thorson was able to liberalize the regulations in most of the permit areas within his jurisdiction, offering hunter's choice in areas 258, 298, 246 and 172, managed in 259 and intensive harvest in 241.

"We are as liberal, or more liberal, than last year," Thorson said. "Hunter's choice is popular and we always like to offer that or a managed regulation. With hunter's choice and managed there is more opportunity and hunters don't have to remember the deadline (to apply for an antlerless permit)."

Area 241 will be under the intensive harvest regulation this fall and hunters will be able to take a buck and two does. Much of the area is privately owned and features wonderful habitat.

"It has been a great deer producer year after year," Thorson said. "We think we are above goal in area 241 and we feel it is important to harvest antlerless deer to better manage the population."

The deer are also thriving in area 259 which is north and east of Park Rapids and is governed by a managed regulation that allows a buck and an antlerless deer.

"Area 259 is, arguably, one of the most productive forested areas in the state," Thorson said. "It produces deer every year and we are trying to put the reins on the population growth."

Ample public land exists in 259 but if you want to get away from the crowd, timing is everything.

"There are big blocks of forest and you can find a spot that is a long way from anywhere," Thorson said. "But 259 also is a very popular deer hunting area so if you want to get away from everybody, you will want to hunt the non-peak times."

Hunter's choice regulations are in place in areas 298, 258, 246 and 172 and in the latter two permit areas, successful hunters will have to offer their deer for CWD sampling during the first two days of the season.

"The CWD testing is precautionary," Thorson explained. "CWD was found in a deer farm in Crow Wing County and our testing is part of the management plan. We haven't done any CWD sampling around here in a while and I think this is a good thing to do, just to check to see if we have any (CWD) in the area.

"Last year, our harvest was up 10 percent and I expect, with the increased population we have and the more liberal regulations, to see an increase again this year," Thorson added.

The deer populations in most of the areas east of Bemidji also have improved and DNR acting area wildlife manager Mark Spoden of Grand Rapids has also liberalized most of those permit area regulations.

An exception is area 197 which follows the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation where deer densities remain relatively low. The Leech Lake Band also offers a lengthy either-sex hunting season to its members and DNR officials work in concert with the band to manage the deer population.

"The deer are still recovering in 197," Spoden said. "With the tribal harvest and our regular harvest, we cooperate (with the deer management). Our antlerless permit numbers are issued in consultation with the tribal officials and this year we issued 500 (the same as last season)."

Pressure can be high early in the season in 197 but spots for a stand can be found and some nice deer roam the thick forest land.

"You see some large bucks every year that are able to survive opening weekend and the previous seasons so, no matter when you hunt, deer will be around," Spoden said. "If you are looking for a spot to hunt, I suggest you drive around early in the season to see where the hunters are distributed and return to those spots during the week when the other hunters are gone. There is an opening push the first few days of the season but the pressure slows after that."

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