TOWER – Deer hunters set to hit the woods and fields of Minnesota this weekend could be greeted with ample deer movement and a good chance at bagging a nice animal as the 2019 season starts at what should be the peak of the annual whitetail rut.
The northern Minnesota season (Zone 1) officially starts at one-half hour before sunset on Saturday and ends one-half hour sunset on Sunday, Nov. 24.
Tom Rusch, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Manager for the Tower area, said Nov. 9 is the latest the season can start by law (opening day is based on state statute) and that deer should be in the “chasing phase” of the rut, which should peak during the first full week.
In theory, that means bucks will be on the move during daylight hours, as they look to mate with does.
“Breeding activity generally peaks in the second and third weeks of November then the annual rutting season transitions into the reproductive phase and deer movement typically slows down,” Rusch said. “Hunters can expect good deer numbers and deer movement during the firearms season. We should see excellent deer activity with the latest opening day possible.”
Weather and location have a lot to do with hunter success but in general opening weekend around the state usually sees the most hunting pressure and the highest harvest numbers and sets the tone for the overall season.
Rusch’s office is forecasting a deer population that is rebounding from the severe winters of 2013 and 2014 and is now on the low end of established population goals for Deer Permit Areas (DPA) in Northern St. Louis and Lake Counties.
However, wildlife managers are reporting the deer herd is on the lower end of established population goals in most permit areas, Rusch said via email, adding that fawn reproduction was fair to good in most permit areas this year.
“Deer populations are rebounding very well across the area, but scouting in advance, to find deer activity, will pay dividends. Deer observations and sign are not evenly distributed across the forest,” Rusch said. “Field staff are reporting a good fawn crop for the fifth consecutive year in most permit areas. This is a result of a moderate winter in 2018-19, although February had brutal snow conditions. The majority of winter had at least 15 inches of snow which decreases deer mobility and increases wolf predation.”
Luckily, Rusch added, the deep snow pack melted in early March and pregnant does came through winter in pretty-good condition.
Rusch said that generally hunters can expect to see lots of young deer - spikes and forks will be very common on the game pole – and with the cooler weather patterns heading into November deer have been feeding heavily in prime food sources such hay fields, recent cutovers, food plots, rural yards and along mowed roadsides and road kills increased drastically.
“I think the Fall and the cooler weather pattern bodes well for this season. Opening weekend weather is always pivotal because those who days are when the most hunters are on stand,” Rusch said. “History has shown that clear, cool weather with temps between 25 and 40 produce good deer movement and deer harvest.”
Still, weather patterns – and predictions - can change in a hurry, one weather-related fact heading into the season is undeniable – it is really wet in the woods right now and hunters should keep that in mind.
“Eveleth has had 9.13-inches of rain since Labor Day weekend. Tower has had 9.57-inches and Ely 9.75-inches,” Rusch said. “Back roads and trails (two-tracks and un-improved woods roads) are really bad. Plan to walk some areas you would normally drive or ATV to. They will be, soft, muddy and/or impassable in places. Scout ahead or you might get buried be axle deep opening morning.”
Antlerless tags were limited this season as the 2019 deer season framework is still conservative in northern St. Louis County, in response to slower overall population growth, Rusch said.
Only two permit areas are designated Hunters Choice (buck or antleress), five are Lottery (antlerless permit needed), and two are still Bucks Only.
According to wildlife officials, three of the last five winters have been worse than average, as measured by the DNR Winter Severity Index. As a result, fawn production has been lower than it would have been with mild winters, slowing population recovery in some areas. Since 2013, five of seven winters have been tougher than average.
Winter severity, predation and antlerless deer harvest are the most significant mortality factors in northern forest deer management, in that order.
Good habitat is also very important, Rusch said.
“Deer population recovery takes time in forested habitats. Local populations always vary within the larger permit areas,” Rusch said. “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).”
The Hunters Choice designation includes 177 and 117. These two permit areas are within established population goals. DPA 177 has is over-populated in some private land agricultural areas.
The Lottery designation includes deer permit areas 176, 178, 118, 130 and 131. These permit areas are at the low end of population goals. The lottery deadline was Thursday Sept. 5 and all permits have been distributed.
Two permit areas are still “Bucks-only”, 119 and 132. The population in those permit areas are below goal and limited by poor quality winter cover which is impacting survival in tough winters.
The bag limit is one deer in all nine local permit areas and bonus permits cannot be used in any of these permit areas. Bonus permits are issued when the population is over goal.
Tower area season forecast
Rusch said DPA’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 2018. Fawns produced in 2018 will be this year’s spikes, forks and 6 pointers and will improve hunting prospects for the future.
Deer Permit Areas 119, 118, 117, 130, 131, and 132 are less productive with rocky, thin or wet soils. Hunters will likely see a few more deer in these permit areas, too. Fawn production was also good, generally a mix of single fawns and twins observed. With lower fawn production (twinning rates) and poorer habitat, population recovery takes longer in these permit areas, Rusch said.
State-wide, the season framework is more liberal than 2018. It is designed to maintain the population at population goals and harvest 200,000 deer annually and antlerless deer harvest quotas are set to achieve or maintain the deer population goal, for each permit area.
Deer Registration and license info
• In 2019, 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 https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/stations.html. Check your deer license for the phone number or internet address.
• A legal buck is a deer having at least one antler three-inches long. Buck fawns, sometimes called button bucks or nubbin’ bucks, are not legal bucks.
• Resident Firearms Deer Licenses are $35 in 2019.
• 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.