TOWER – Heading into the 2020 firearms deer opener, Department of Natural Resources wildlife managers predicted it would be a slow season for many northern Minnesota hunters after a few harsh winters in row put a serious dent in the area whitetail population.
After the first four days of the season, which opened last Saturday, those predictions have proven to be mostly correct.
In Zone 100, which covers northeastern Minnesota, hunters had bagged 20,520 deer through 7 a.m. Wednesday. Eighty percent of those harvests were bucks, while the other 20 were antlerless.
The low harvest rate wasn’t unexpected, rather it is by design as DNR officials took a conservative approach to this season by designating many of the 11 local Deer Permit Areas “bucks-only) and only offered a limited amount of antlerless tags in “lottery” areas in an attempt to bring deer population back up to population goals in most if not all the DPA’s in the Arrowhead.
What wildlife managers – and hunters for that matter – didn’t see coming were the unseasonably high temperatures on Saturday and Sunday that probably also contributed to a slow start to the season. Highs in the low 70s negatively impacted daytime deer activity and harvest on both Saturday and Sunday, Tower Area DNR Wildlife Manager Tom Rusch said.
Statewide, through Wednesday, 102,618 deer had been harvested, up slightly from last year at this time when hunters had downed just over 96,000.
Most of the positive production comes from central Minnesota, particularly Zone 200, where 65,732 deer were taken over the first four days.
Through the first two days of the season the statewide harvest was down 21 percent from the same timeframe in 2019. Locally through the first two days, it was down 28 percent in Zone 100 from last year.
The firearms season in Zone 100 runs through Sunday, Nov. 22.
The fact that the tally was down from last year during this year’s opening weekend pretty much guarantees that the statewide harvest will be down at least 21 percent by the end of season if not more.
Tower Area DNR Wildlife Manager Tom Rusch said opening weekend traditionally accounts for 50% of the entire harvest each year.
The 2020 season follows a third tough winter in a row and one wildlife officials are sure was hard on white-tails – particularly the young.
As a result, the local herd is mostly below population goals in all 11 of the local Deer Permit Areas, from the Tower work area west to Itasca County.
Rusch said before the season that field staff were reporting below average fawn reproduction in heavily forested areas for the 3rd consecutive year. This is a result of back to back deep snow winters from 2018 to 2020.
The harvest through Wednesday morning in three popular local DPA’s (2019 four-day numbers in parenthesis), paint the picture:
DPA 178: 691 (896).
DPA 176: 329 (503).
DPA 177: 250 (508).
Other harvest numbers so far this season include: DPA 130, 68; DPA 131 -15; DPA 118 -245; DPA 119 - 153; DPA 132 - 82; and DPA 117 – 9.