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Deer hunting guide: Later opener could provide more opportunities

The calendar dates for the opening weekend of the Minnesota firearms deer hunting season can vary. Last year opening day was early as hunters headed to their stands on Nov. 3. This fall, however, opening day has been pushed back a week to Nov. 9 and hunters could reap the benefits of the later start.

A few years ago Tom Sturza of the Minnesota DNR Area Wildlife office in Park Rapids examined deer killed during the winter, most of them victims of collisions with vehicles. Among the studies he undertook was one which determined when the does were bred.

His research indicated that most of the deer were bred between Nov. 15 and Nov. 17 and, according to Park Rapids Area DNR Wildlife technician Greg Henderson, that timing should work in the hunters’ favor this season.

“The chasing phase would have been just prior (to mid-November) so the deer should be chasing during the first weekend of the hunting season this year,” Henderson said.

“The season is opening a little later this year and that later start should provide good movement of the deer, provided we have good weather.”

The weather is always the great unknown when it comes to opening weekend. The vast majority of the deer are harvested during the first three days of the season and, especially in areas with relatively low deer densities, the harvest numbers escalate when the weather is nice because hunters are prone to spend more time in the woods.

The permit areas around Grand Rapids are among those with low deer densities although the population figures are similar to last year’s.

“I’ve been in my permit areas and in many of them the deer population appears to be thin,” said DNR Area Wildlife Supervisor Perry Loegering who is based in Grand Rapids. “We don’t have a deer behind every tree. I don’t think our deer population went down at all since last year but the population is on the low side.

“This year the management strategy was to stay the course,” Loegering continued. “The population is on the low side but it is stable.”

Staying the course meant designating permit areas 185, 110 and 197 as lottery zones. Those three areas also were governed by the lottery system in 2012.

Each area is managed as one huge parcel but those areas also include a variety of land types. The private agriculture areas usually contain more deer than the forested zones and hunters who are working the private land tend to have more success than their counterparts who are spending their time perched on a portable stand on public land.

The group I spend opening weekend with hunts in dense forest areas of public land. A 40-yard shot is considered long because of the thick underbrush and any deer we encounter will be on red alert. We can relate to Loegering’s assessment of the deer herd. We know where the deer should be but we also know that in recent years the number of deer has dropped.

Despite the limited prospects for success, we’ll be in our trees on Nov. 9. We know that there aren’t many deer where we hunt but we also know there are a few. The later start to the season should work to our benefit. If the deer are chasing, their paths may lead to our hiding positions. And when the deer does come near the stand, we will be ready.

At least, that’s the plan.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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