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DNR, MDHA hold listening session on deer concerns

Deer hunters in west central Minnesota expressed concern over Minnesota’s deer population during the fourth of six “listening sessions” the Minnesota DNR and Minnesota Deer Hunters Association jointly hosted in Morris on Tuesday, March 26. (Bob King / Duluth News Tribune)

Deer hunters in west central Minnesota called for a shortened hunting season and restrictions on killing young bucks to help build up Minnesota’s dwindling deer population.

Representatives with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the MDHA joined about 50 hunters in Morris on Tuesday for the fourth of six “listening sessions” around the state.

These sessions were designed to share information about how the DNR sets their deer numbers and gather information from hunters and residents, “people who are out in the field,” about how the deer population is doing, said Denis Quarberg, state chairman for MDHA.

DNR modeling sets population goals

The DNR uses statistical modeling to monitor deer populations across the state, explained Gino D’Angelo, DNR deer project leader. Numbers are based on initial population estimates and the birth and death rates each year.

To help keep the models accurate, DNR staff do five or six aerial surveys each year to count deer in the wild, as well as complete spotlight surveys along vehicle routes. When compared to the average buck harvest in a given area, analysis shows that these methods do a “very good job” of estimating populations, said D’Angelo.

DNR staff make management decisions based on these estimated populations and deer population goals that were set across the state in 2005 through 2007, said Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader.

“In the early 2000s we had really high harvests – an unsustainably high harvest because we had the higher populations and we were fairly aggressive in our management,” said McInenly. “In recent years, most folks have been feeling the population is down and our harvest is down because we’ve become more conservative.”

A process for revising the population goals is already underway across the state. McInenly said the DNR will be revisiting goals in west central Minnesota in 2016 for the fall 2016 hunting season.

The 2014 deer hunting season will likely be more limited.

“It’s been a tough winter in Minnesota this year, so we expect to have a more conservative hunting season for deer in 2014,” said Paul Telander, DNR wildlife section chief.

Tough decisions needed to improve numbers

Although DNR estimates indicate that deer numbers are within goal ranges for most areas, the hunters said the deer population is dwindling and suggested a variety of ideas for improving the health of Minnesota’s deer population.

“I’d really like to see more mature bucks, but at this point we need to see more deer,” said Kurt Amundson of Starbuck. “At this point I think the DNR needs to make some tough decisions.”

One suggestion reiterated by several attendees was a limited hunting season.

“The deer get pounded from the middle of September to the first of January – shorten the seasons, you don’t need that much time,” said Gary Anderson, president of the Pomme de Terre chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA).

Kevin Jost of Hancock said hunters of all varieties need to give a little bit for the better of the overall population.

“If we all give a little bit, whether we shotgun hunt, archer hunt or muzzle load, it will be beneficial for everybody,” said Jost.

Jost also noted that many of the wildlife areas where deers could get food and shelter have been disappearing. Without habitat, deer have a difficult time surviving the hunting season and the winter.

Telander said the DNR will be posting summaries of each of the meetings online. Online comments are also being accepted at