Time to rebuild

Two deer graze near the DNR buildings at Soudan Underground Mine State Park in this photo from May 5.

For the first time in 20 years, area archery and youth hunters will not be able to shoot an antlerless deer in any of the three Minnesota deer seasons — riffle, muzzleloader, or bow.

Last week, the DNR’s Tower Area office announced the decision to make all nine of it’s deer permit areas bucks only across the board.

In addition, all permit areas in the arrowhead east of a rough line from Duluth, to Nashwauk, to International Falls are also bucks only in 2014.

Tower area deer management permit areas include the Quad Cities, lie in St. Louis and Lake counties, and are comprised of areas 108, 117, 118, 119, 122, 127, 176, 177 and 178.

“We want to get the word out early that it’s bucks only,” said Tom Rusch, area wildlife manager. He says more details will be available next month.

Since the last time it was bucks only up here, we’ve witnessed highs and lows in the number of antlerless permits issued across the northland.

Areas went from no does, to intensive harvest (the ability to harvest five deer), to managed (two deer limit), to hunter’s choice, to lottery and now back to bucks only.

It may seem to some like the DNR was all over the map, and too many deer were harvested, which has put us in this position.

Or, the question for some might be, “why did they allow so many antlerless deer to be killed?”

But, for those who may be critical of the DNR’s management strategy over the last two decades, I’d ask you to consider this.

It’s a complex endeavor to manage such an animal, and throw in the unpredictability of winter’s wrath and other variables, it seems almost like an impossible task.

Although it may appear that many deer made it safely through the winter, it’s a fact that poor nutrition and stress due to the conditions has had an adverse effect on this year’s fawn production.

Rusch said he’s only seen eight fawns in the field so far this year — down significantly from past years. And, he’s seeing single fawns with does, or no fawns with does; which is an indicator to the health of the herd. “In a good year I’d be seeing twins or even triples,” he said.

Here’s the controlling factor, and something that has been made clear to me. It’s all about how you manage the does.

Controlling the antlerless harvest works for both increasing and decreasing the population.

In the mid-1990s, when the last bucks only classification was sanctioned, regulating the doe harvest helped bring the numbers up over the next several years. Couple that with mild winters, and the deer were thriving — to near record numbers in the early to mid-2000s.

Then, by allowing more does to be killed, the management plan was to bring the population back to established goal numbers.

Now, the population is below goal, and a conservative harvest has been implemented this season to help increase the numbers.

It’s a head-scratcher, and an ever-changing balancing act for the wildlife managers. After the booming number of deer in the area 10 years ago, Rusch said, “I never imagined we’d be back here again.”

Deer are too precious of a resource, and we need to do whatever is necessary to preserve their future.

When in doubt, go bucks only!

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Traditionally, archery hunters have been able to tag an either-sex deer, and youth hunters under 18 could tag the same in any lottery area without a permit.

Bucks only is a difficult pill to swallow, and hard to believe, since we’ve come to accept these privileges as an automatic each year.

Yet, it’s easy to believe because of the severe winter our state’s most highly regarded wild animal endured last year.

In fact, four of the last six years, with two in a row, has really taken a toll on the deer of northeastern Minnesota.

These area permit designations will personally affect me this year, since I both bow hunt and have a child under 18.

When possible, I enjoy taking a deer each year because I like the pursuit and delight in eating venison.

And, now, with a son entering the age to deer hunt, he may have to wait until the population stabilizes and the DNR lifts the bucks only mandate.

Why? Plain and simple, for most deer hunters, hunting bucks only this season will make for a “go home empty” result.

However, this decision isn’t bad news to me, I respect the DNR for making this bold move.

I don’t see how any hunters in the area could be surprised, or take offense to it.

I love deer hunting more than any other outdoor sport, but I want to make sure we preserve this resource; making sure the herd is managed to healthy population levels.

Not just for me, but so those young deer hunters can have an opportunity to pursue the white-tail, just like I have over the past 25 years, and wish to continue doing.

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