Three mild winters in a row have really helped the state’s deer population rebound after a couple of harsh winters in a row before that killed large numbers of whitetails, especially in northern Minnesota.
If you’ve lived and hunted in this neck of the woods over the past three decades, you are familiar with this up and down nature of the sport.
Regardless of how the Department of Natural Resources manages the herd, winters that start early and end late are incredibly hard on whitetail deer.
Because of all this unpredictable weather influenced population fluctuation – along with predation issues (i. e. an ever increasing and emboldened wolf population) - the DNR has to adjust the way they manage the herd on a yearly basis.
Local wildlife managers are left with that unenviable task and use a number of different tactics and tools to measure the population and then set license requirements.
They are responsible for doing this over various different Permit Areas (PA) across the state and this year – locally at least - there were three designations they could give a PA: Lottery, Hunter Choice or Bucks Only.
In the past there has also been the designation of Intensive, when populations skyrocket in certain areas.
• Bucks Only means the deer population is significantly below goal and the management objective is to increase.
• Lottery means the population is below goal and the management objective is to continue population increase
• Hunter’s Choice means the population is at or near goal and the management objective is to maintain current population level
• Managed means the population is above goal and the management objective is to slightly decrease population.
• Intensive means the population is significantly above goal and the management objective is to decrease the population.
But just because a PA is designated a certain way based on outlook doesn’t mean everyone who hunts in that particular area will be successful.
According to Tower Area DNR Wildlife Manager Tom Rusch, deer population recovery takes time in forested habitats and local populations always vary within the larger permit areas.
For example, deer populations are generally higher in permit areas to the west and south of Tower (176, 177 and 178) and lowest in permit areas to the east and north (108, 117, 118, 119, 130 and 131).
Still, wildlife managers can make reasonable predictions based on estimates and history.
Rusch said the statewide season framework this year is more liberal than 2016, designed to maintain the population at population goals.
Antlerless deer harvest quotas are set to achieve the deer population goal for each permit area. Harvest will be less conservative in the permit areas at or above established goals.
“Modifying antlerless harvest through permit regulations is the best way to reduce, maintain or rebuild our deer populations, ” Rusch said.
The following is Rusch’s outlook for hunters in northern Minnesota across the various Permit Areas for the 2017 Firearms deer season, which opened Saturday and ends on Nov. 19.
• PA’s 176, 177, and 178 are the most productive areas in the Tower area and account for the majority of the annual harvest. Hunters will likely see and harvest more deer in these permit areas than they did in 2016. Fawns produced in 2016 will be this year’s spikes, forks and six pointers and will improve prospects for the future.
• PA’s 108, 119, 118, 117, 130, 131, and 132 are less productive with rocky, thin or wet soils. Hunters will harvest more deer in these permit areas, too, with the “Hunters Choice” option to harvest antlerless deer. Fawn production was also good - generally a mix of single fawns and twins observed. As a result, population recovery takes longer in these permit areas.
• Permit area 177 around Cook, 176 North of the Iron Range and 178 South of the Iron Range. These permit areas on the west and south end of the Tower work area always show the strongest deer population recovery and bounce back first. The mix of fields and forest are the key.
• Permit areas 130 East of Hoyt Lakes and Whiteface Reservoir, 108 West of Orr and Kabetogama, and PA 118 along the Echo Trail are at population goal in 2017.
• PA 132 is a new permit area between the Iron Range and Duluth. Large blocks of contiguous forest in these permit areas with limited or no agriculture fields limit fawn production and slow population recovery.
• PA 131 around Isabella and PA 117 East of Snowbank Lake in the Boundary Waters Wilderness have very low deer populations. These permit areas have our strongest moose populations.
• PA 119 Orr-Kabetogama-Crane Lake is Bucks –Only. This permit area also has low deer numbers and has been slow to recover from recent tough winters.