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At or above the goal: DNR aims to reduce deer numbers in northwestern Minnesota

Three deer are spotted near the intersection of Yellowhead Road Southwest and Lassie Lane Southwest in October 2016. (Pioneer file photo)

BEMIDJI—The deer herd in northwest Minnesota has shown a steady increase during the past few years and some people think the time has come to slow that progression.

"We are starting to hear issues of too many deer," said Erik Thorson, the Minnesota DNR's acting big-game program leader. "We are at or above goal (in many northwest Minnesota permit areas) and that's why we are being more liberal with the hunting regulations. Our objective is to reduce the herd and get it back to the goal numbers."

After a pair of relatively severe winters earlier this decade, the deer numbers dropped to 15 deer per square mile in parts of northwest Minnesota. Currently, however, the population has rebounded to as many as 19 to 22 deer per square mile.

"That's a good indication of what is happening in the northwest and how quickly a deer herd can recover with good weather and restrictive harvest," Thorson said. "It's hard to predict the future but (right now) the deer herd has recovered nicely."

Managing Minnesota's deer herd is a continual process and the many variables that affect the herd throughout the year make the task very difficult.

"There's lots of time and effort put in by the DNR wildlife staff when it comes to managing the deer population," Thorson said. "For us, it's a year-round endeavor. Every day we deal with something that affects the deer population.

"Our primary goal is to manage the deer populations at the local level," he continued. "Each year we want to manage (the deer herd) to allow the population to increase to the goal, or to reduce the population to meet the goal. But we also know that weather is variable and that the deer population is variable."

The overall deer management plan was influenced by the public who offered their insights and views to DNR staff. Those two-way communication lines are important to the process and DNR officials plan to keep them open.

"There was lots of input and energy behind our deer management plans. A real focus of the plan is to offer people opportunities to talk with the DNR about the management," Thorson said. "Hunters appreciate knowing where we're coming from. They appreciate our effort to explain the reasons and the logic of our decisions. And we appreciate hearing from them. The shared communication is a win-win for everybody."

To stay within the population goals for the various deer permit areas, DNR officials have established an average annual statewide deer harvest target of 200,000. Minnesota hunters have not killed 200,000 or more deer since 2010 when 207,313 deer were taken. A year ago, however, hunters flirted with that figure as muzzleloader, firearms and archery hunters combined to tag 197,768 deer.

Barring unforeseen adverse weather conditions, hunters should be able to top the 200,000 mark this fall as DNR officials have liberalized the regulations in many of the permit areas, including most of those in northwest Minnesota.

Some permit areas that were designated bucks-only last year will be hunter's choice this season. Some hunter's choice areas in 2017 have been upgraded to "managed" status (up to two deer) this fall. And there are many more permit areas offering intensive regulations (three-deer limit) this season.

"This year we have quite a few more 'green' areas (intensive harvest) on the deer hunting map that were 'red' (managed) last year. (The additional hunting opportunities) are the result of more favorable winter weather and the recent restrictive harvest regulations that were in place," Thorson said. "Last year the firearms harvest in northwest Minnesota was up considerably and we expect it to be even higher this year."

Complete details of the state's deer management plan can be found on the DNR website. The site includes population models, past deer harvest, hunter success rates, results of hunter and landowner surveys, establishment of deer population goals, winter severity, an interactive deer map and many more details about the status of the state's deer herd.

Information on each individual deer permit area, including an overall view of the deer population for that area, is also available.

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