TOWER – Through the first few days of the 2019 firearms deer season it would seem hunters are finding less success to start this 16-day run than at this time last year throughout much of the area.
However, it is hard to get a solid feel for how things are going since the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a new online harvest report that is providing more timely information than in years past.
What that means in terms of comparisons is that last year’s first harvest report only included kills registered over the first two days of the season while this year’s numbers reflect the tallies through 7 a.m. Tuesday – roughly four days-worth of hunting.
The web site, which went online this year, showed a statewide harvest through Nov. 12 – the season opened on Saturday – of 96,756 deer through Wednesday morning.
Locally, if one were to look at last year’s numbers over two days compared to the first three days of this year, it appears the harvest is down in many local permit areas.
For example, this year through Monday in Deer Permit Area (DPA) 178, which covers much of the Iron Range south of Highway 169 and stretches from Highway 65 between Nashwauk and Meadowlands, to the Moose Line road from Hoyt Lakes south to Highway 130, hunters have tagged 846 deer.
Last year after two days 958 deer were harvested and in 2017 that number (over the course of opening weekend) was 894.
In DPA 176, which covers just about the same number of miles but north of Highway 169, hunters have harvested 503 deer so far as compared to 613 in 2018 and 629 in 2017 (both over two days).
In DPA 177, north of Highway 22 and including Cook all of the Lake Vermilion area, hunters have harvested 508 deer so far. Last year it was 530 through two days and in 2017 it was 521 through two days.
Other harvest numbers so far this season include: DPA 130 (115); DPA 131 (34); DPA 118 (331); DPA 119 (161); DPA 132 (124); and DPA 117 (6).
In total, according to Tom Rusch, DNR Wildlife Manager for the Tower Area, preliminary numbers indicate 2,628 deer were harvested in the nine Tower Area Deer Permit Areas as of Tuesday morning.
Of those, 2,072 were adult bucks (78.8 percent) and 556 were antlerless deer (21.2 percent).
“The majority of the Tower Area harvest was adult bucks with a conservative number of antlerless permits available in most permit areas. Hunters reported rutting activity with bucks on their feet cruising and chasing doe,” Rusch said.
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 prior to the opener.
Only two permit areas are designated Hunters Choice (buck or antlerless), 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.
Of the statewide harvest, 58.2 percent or 56,304 of the deer harvested were adult bucks while 41.8 percent or 40,452 were antlerless.
Rusch said opening day weather was a “classic northern Minnesota opener with light snow on the ground and crisp temperatures in the 20s and low 30s and sunshine.”
The next three days exceptionally cold and included wind and snow – three things that tend to keep hunters out of the woods or at least limit their time in the stands.
The season ends Nov. 24.