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Deer hunting guide: Winter probably affected Grand Rapids area deer herd

GRAND RAPIDS — Deer, especially northern Minnesota deer, are adaptable animals. Because of where and how they live, a deer that doesn’t adapt is a deer that doesn’t survive.

Last winter the deer in north-central Minnesota were forced to adapt to a winter that seemingly would never end. Most of the deer adapted well but some didn’t.

“On April 18 we still had 18 to 24 inches of snow on the ground and if you are a deer, that’s not good,” said Grand Rapids DNR Area Wildlife Manager Perry Loegering. “The biology of the animal dictates that deer need high quality food by April 1 and to have high quality food you need bare ground.

“When you don’t have those conditions you have a chance of mortality in the fawns and in some of the does. And in the Grand Rapids area we experienced some of that mortality,” Loegering added.

It is customary for the does in the Grand Rapids area to produce and raise two fawns but this year DNR officials are seeing many does with only one offspring.

“Those sightings indicate that one of the fawns wasn’t able to survive. We expected to see some deer dying (because of the extended winter) and, in the forested areas, when you combine last winter’s conditions with the lower quality of the habitat and the presence of wolves, we have to be cautious about this year’s hunting harvest.”

A year ago Loegering designated permit areas 197 (the Leech Lake Reservation) and 169 (north and east of the reservation) as lottery zones, offering 1,500 antlerless permits in 197 and 3,000 in 169. He continued that practice and duplicated those permit numbers this season in an attempt to maintain the current population.

“This year the strategy was to stay the course,” Loegering said. “We believe that the deer population is on the low side. We were conservative last year and we will be again this year. The hope is that the does are still there and will have the chance to be productive.”

Decades of managing deer populations have taught DNR officials that the population numbers can best be manipulated by tweaking the proportion of does in the herd. When the doe numbers are low officials can employ the antlerless permit tool. When there is an overabundance of antlerless deer in the population, DNR wildlife managers can institute managed or intensive harvest regulations.

“When the population is low the strategy is to conserve the part of the population that has the potential to produce deer,” Loegering said. “There is plenty of habitat to go around and when populations are low there is no competition for the good food sources. The range (in north-central Minnesota) should be able to support deer very well.

“I’ve spent time in our permit areas and it looks to me like the deer population is thin,” Loegering added. “We don’t have a deer behind every tree but you never know how the season is going to turn out. We don’t think the deer population went down from last year and the model isn’t showing that it is increasing. I suspect that hunters will see a similar season to last year.”

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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