With the 2018 Firearms deer season opener less than a week away, hunters across Minnesota are no doubt busy making last minute preparations.
But after all the gear is packed, the rifles sighted and the shooting lanes cleared, what should we expect heading into the 16-day season (which opens Saturday, Nov. 3).
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, in particular and in relation to where most of the readers of this column will be hunting, the whitetail herd in northern Minnesota looks pretty healthy.
Tom Rusch, DNR Wildlife Manager for the Tower Area, said this week that officials are forecasting a deer population that is recovered from the severe winters of 2013 and 2014 in Northern St. Louis and Northern Lake Counties.
“Wildlife managers report the deer herd has rebounded nicely and is now within the population ‘sweet spot’ established for our area, ” he said. “The last four winters have been mild to moderate, as measured by the DNR Winter Severity Index. As a result, fawn production has been excellent with twin fawns the norm in the better areas. ”
Winter severity, predation and antlerless deer harvest are the most significant mortality factors in northern forest deer management.
And because the herd is healthy, the DNR is offering a much more liberal season in regards to the number of deer one can harvest depending on Permit Area.
In the Tower work area, one permit area is now designated “Managed”, five are “Hunters Choice, ” only two are “Lottery” and one is “Bucks Only. ”
The “Hunters Choice” designation, which allows hunters to shoot one deer of choice - either-sex - with an over-the-counter license, includes PA”s 176, 178, 117, 130, and 131.
According to Rusch, those permit areas are within established population goals.
Permit Area 177 is highly productive and the herd has grown rapidly, Rusch said, so it has been designated “Managed, ” which means hunters can harvest one either-sex deer with an over-the-counter license and have the option of harvesting a second deer (antlerless only) with a bonus permit.
The “Lottery” designation, where hunters needed to apply for an antlerless permit by Sept. 7, includes deer permit areas 118 and 132. Those PA’s are at the low end of goals.
Only PA 119 is “Bucks-Only” because the population there is below goal.
The bag limit is one deer in all nine local permit areas except 177, which is two and regardless of where you hunt in Minnesota, the statewide buck limit is one.
“Deer populations are rebounding very well across the area, but scouting in advanced, to find deer activity, will pay dividends. Deer observations and sign are not evenly distributed across the forest, ” Rusch said. “Hunters can expect to see lots of young deer. Spikes and forks will be very common on the game pole. These are 18 month old bucks. ”
Rusch offers the following to hunters:
Deer population recovery takes time in forested habitats. Local populations always vary within the larger permit areas. 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 (117, 118, 119, 130, 131 and 132).
PA’s 176, 177, and 178 are the most productive areas in the Tower area and account for the majority of the annual deer harvest. Hunters will likely see and harvest more deer in these permit areas than they did in 2017. Fawns produced in 2017 will be this year’s spikes, forks and six pointers and will improve hunting prospects for the future.
PA’s 119, 118, 117, 130, 131, and 132 are less productive with rocky, thin or wet soils. Hunters will likely see more deer in these permit areas, too. Fawn production was also good, generally a mix of single fawns and twins observed. With lower twinning rates, population recovery takes longer in these permit areas.
Hunters should plan for very wet field conditions across the area. Fall has been extremely wet. Standing water is common in low areas. Normally accessible spots in low terrain will be difficult to access in 2018. Logging road and trail access is difficult in lower areas this year. Swamps, low areas and crossings are inaccessible for wheeled vehicles in many areas.
Water levels (lakes, rivers and streams) are high for this time of year (late October). Scout ahead of time for local conditions in your hunting area and use appropriate discretion.
Resident Firearms Deer Licenses are $35 in 2018.
Resident hunters 84 years old and older can shoot a deer of either sex in any permit area.
A deer license purchased after the opening day of the season is valid the first day after it is issued.
In 2018, hunters can again register their deer on-line http://Licenses.dnr.state.mn.us, by phone (888/706-6367) or at the traditional walk-in registration stations.