BEMIDJI -- Firearms deer hunters in the Bemidji area should experience a productive season this fall as the deer population continues to thrive because of relatively mild winters and the animals’ ability to expand their numbers when the conditions are favorable.

“Because we’ve had two nice winters in a row, there should be lots of yearlings and 2-year-olds,” said Bemidji area Department of Natural Resources wildlife supervisor Dave Rave. “And I’ve also talked with many people who have seen nice bucks in their field cameras.”

The continued expansion of the deer population is a result of many factors but leading the way is back-to-back mild winters, at least from the deer’s perspective.

“Last winter we had our share of snow and cold but none of it arrived until after Jan. 1,” Rave said. “We had a Winter Severity Index of 4 going into January, which means that the deer were in fantastic shape going into the new year. And we also were fortunate that the winter broke in mid-March. It’s the years that we have winter extend into May that are tough on the deer.”

DNR officials measure the winter’s potential impact on a deer population through the Winter Severity Index (WSI), which adds a point for every day with at least 15 inches of snow on the ground and another point for every day that sees a temperature of 0 degrees or colder.

“If you do the math, we need a WSI between 160 and 180 to have a harsh winter,” Rave said. “Last year in the Bemidji area the WSI was 128 and we didn’t feel that the winter was a significant event at all. The bucks were in very good shape going into the winter and we think they did fine. We also feel that the does came out of the winter in very good shape and (from a population standpoint) it is the does that we are most worried about.

“Some of the most vulnerable deer might die after a WSI of 100 and we, maybe, lost a few of the late fawns last winter,” Rave continued. “But, typically, we don’t think of a bad winter with a high percentage of mortality in the population until the WSI hits 160 and, overall, last winter we think we had very little mortality of the deer.”

Because the deer, especially does, entered this spring in good shape, Rave believes this season’s fawn production should be high.

“We think that most of the adult does had double fawns and most of the young does had single fawns, so we suspect that the deer population doubled in June,” Rave said. “And I would guess that we have more deer now than we did last year.”

Bonus tags

Hunters should reap the benefits of the expanded deer herd this season and, once again, they will be able to harvest two deer if they want extra meat in the freezer. Deer hunting permit area 184 includes Bemidji and will be governed by the “managed” option for the second consecutive season. The managed designation offers a second license for hunters who would like to harvest an additional antlerless deer. The primary license can be used on either a buck or an antlerless deer but the bonus tag must be used on an antlerless animal.

The timing of this fall’s hunt also should benefit the hunter as the Zone 1 firearms season starts Saturday, Nov. 9, and continues through Nov. 24.

“Last year, the season began on Nov. 3 (as early as it can be), it was quite mild, the deer were not in rut and the deer didn’t move,” Rave said. “The timing of the deer season is better this year. This fall we will open the season during the rut and if we have cool and crisp weather (lows around 20 degrees, highs around 35 degrees, clear and little wind), we should have a very good opener. There are lots of deer and my position is that, statewide, we should kill more deer this year than last. And we probably will also kill more deer in Area 184 than we did last season.”

For more information on the 2019 Minnesota firearms deer hunting season, consult the Minnesota hunting and trapping regulations handbook.