Department of Natural Resources wildlife managers will meet at some point this month to discuss the 2020 deer hunting season – specifically the antlerless harvest – and chances are they will conclude that after one of the harsher winters in recent memory, there won’t be a lot of doe permits offered in northern Minnesota.

Tower Area DNR Wildlife Manager Tom Rusch released his office’s final Winter Severity Index numbers this week and the numbers say the 2019-20 winter season ranked in the top 10 for severity over the past 50 years in northern St. Louis and Lake Counties.

If you’ve spent any time north of the Laurentian Divide this past week then you know the numbers speak the truth as there is still up to at least a foot of snow on the ground under the trees in some areas in and around Tower, Embarrass and Ely.

What it all ultimately means is a lot of deer most likely didn’t make it through the season and the population in many of those Deer Permit Areas (DPA) will be down and ultimately that will lead to a conservative hunt.

“Antlerless harvest restrictions are the best way to increase deer populations over time,” Rusch said. “Adult buck harvest has minimal effect on population change, so season closure is not recommended as a management strategy.”


The winter severity index has been utilized by the Minnesota DNR for over 50 years as a statistical metric for analyzing and comparing winter’s impact on white-tailed deer in northern forest deer habitat.

The WSI index accumulates one point for each day where temps are below zero and one point for each day there is more than 15 inches of snow on the ground, as measured in a mature aspen stand from Nov. 1 to May 30.

For the Tower and Ely area (DPA 176), a WSI score of 115 is considered average. This year the Tower DPA scored a 166 (as of April 6). In the Eveleth area, (DPA 178), the WSI score was 132. Deer Permit Area 177 (near Greaney) scored a 143.

What’s interesting to note is that in DPA 176, snow days accounted for 100 points and that was the main driver this season.

“One hundred snow-days greater than 15-inches is a brutal winter for deer,” he said.

Rusch added that since 2008, there have been five winters over 150 WSI at Tower resulting in a plummeting population. From 1998 to 2010, there was just one winter greater than 150 WSI.

“Deer are at the northern extent of their range in northeast Minnesota. Snow depth is the biggest limiting factor. Deep snow persisted from December into late March and early April like the long winters of 2013-14 and 1995-96,” Rusch said. “Malnutrition and starvation are a direct result of when the WSI exceeds 100 and increases incrementally with the WSI index.”

Rusch added that by northern St. Louis County standards, it was actually a mild winter temperature wise, but on the flip side, a stretch of 40- and 50-degree temps in early March followed by some cold weather created a thick crust and that was also detrimental to the white-tail population.

“This tipped the balance in favor of predators. Wolves, bobcats and coyotes could stay on top while deer break through the crusted layer. With an increase in sun angle, March snow conditions favored the predators. Deep snow and poor physical condition make deer more vulnerable to wolf predation,” he said.

According to DNR wildlife officials, the end result of a harsh winter like we experienced will have some of the following effects on the deer population:

•Fawn production will decline significantly. Does in a compromised physical condition give birth to fawns in poor condition that then have high mortality rates

•There will be higher than normal wolf mortality. Deep snow and poor physical condition make deer more vulnerable to wolf predation. Fawns are smallest and are most vulnerable. Adult bucks, run down by the fall rut, are also more vulnerable. Adult does fair the best but still suffer higher mortality as winter progresses into March and April if snow does not recede.

•Deer Populations will decline, and hunter success will likely decrease this fall.

•Population recovery takes time and mild to moderate winters. Fawn production will improve following milder winters and the population will rebound


Bear hunt applications due May 1

Prospective bear hunters have until Friday, May 1, to apply for a bear hunting license.

Applications for the 2020 season should be submitted online at the DNR website or via telephone at 888-665-4236.

A total of 3,575 licenses are available in 13 permit areas. Bear licenses cost $44 for residents and $230 for nonresidents, and there is a $5 application fee. The season is open from Sunday, Sept. 1, through Sunday, Oct. 18.

Lottery winners will be notified by June 1. The deadline to purchase licenses awarded by lottery will be Thursday, Aug. 1. Any remaining unpurchased licenses will be available over the counter starting at noon on Aug. 5.

New for the 2020 season, the DNR has made a change to bear permit area 45. The southern portion of permit area 45 has been subdivided to create a new bear permit area (451) to allow additional bear hunting opportunities. Area 451 licenses are not awarded by lottery drawing and will be available to any eligible hunters starting Wednesday, Aug. 5. Bear hunters in permit area 451 do not need to apply in the lottery.

An unlimited number of bear licenses also will be sold over the counter for the no-quota area that includes east-central and far northwestern Minnesota.

No-quota licenses are valid only in the no-quota area. Hunters with a no-quota license can harvest one bear.

The number of available bear permits is increasing modestly in the southern and western portion of bear management areas. Overall, bear permit numbers for quota areas remain mostly unchanged this year, to allow bear population numbers to gradually increase and support a robust bear population.

Bear hunting information is available at


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