CASS LAKE -- Firearms deer hunters planning to hit the woods and fields of the Leech Lake Reservation this fall will need one of the 750 antlerless permits that DNR officials allotted for area 197 if they have plans to harvest an antlerless deer. The same situation, only with 500 permits issued, holds in permit area 169 which is east of the reservation.

Hunters in area 110, which is north of the reservation, however, will have the option of taking a buck or an antlerless deer because that area has been designated a hunter’s choice zone.

In addition to the 750 permits the state issued for area 197, the Leech Lake tribe also allocated about 1,000 to its members so a total of about 1,750 antlerless deer could be taken throughout the reservation.

“We work in consultation and compromise with the reservation,” Mark Spoden, Department of Natural Resources area wildlife manager based in Grand Rapids, said of the deer management scheme.

As is the case in many other northern Minnesota permit areas, deer numbers in 197 will be greater near the urban areas and on private property than in the 724 square miles of public land.

In 2018, about 26 percent of the firearms hunters were successful, and the harvest included 1,037 bucks, 206 does and 66 fawns. The area, which includes 59 percent woody cover, 29 percent open water and nine percent grasslands and wetlands, attracted about five hunters per square mile.

With a Winter Severity Index (WSI) of 117, there probably wasn’t a significant loss of deer due to the cold and snow.

That might not have been the situation, however, in area 169 where the deer continually battle high hunting pressure, have relatively few areas where they can find refuge, constantly have to be on the lookout for wolves, bears and other natural predators, and usually have to deal with excessive snow and stinging cold.

“More than 30 inches of snow fell in 169 this winter and it hung there into spring,” Spoden said. “We have always been conservative (with management options) in 169. There are areas with higher deer populations but there are areas with lower populations, and you have to look at an area as a whole (in terms of management).”

The conservative management approach resulted in a reduction of the antlerless permits from 1,000 a year ago to 500 this fall, still enough to allow some antlerless harvest while sufficiently limiting to protect the overall health of the herd.

The deer usually fare better in permit area 110, which is roughly bordered by Blackduck to the south and Waskish to the north. Much of the area features forests and the zone is interspersed with conifers, hardwoods and aspen. It also has its share of agricultural land.

That mixture results in spots of great deer habitat and some areas that are less than ideal, so the pockets of thriving deer populations can be scattered.

Deer should have fared well last winter and reproduction this summer should have been strong.

A year ago hunters had a 39 percent success rate and with this season’s hunter’s choice management designation, another successful deer season should occur.