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Last updated: November 2015
Minnesota firearms hunters registered 118,599 deer through the second weekend of firearms deer season, up from 104,785 from the same period in 2014, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“Hunters are seeing more deer this year as we continue to build deer populations across much of the state,” said Steve Merchant, wildlife populations and regulations program manager. “We’ve again issued a conservative number of antlerless deer permits, and because of this, many hunters are seeing deer they can’t shoot. However, patience this year should translate to more harvest opportunities in the future.”
Final numbers from the first 10 days show that the number of deer registered rose 13 percent from 2014. Buck harvest during the first 10 days of the firearms season was up 18 percent from last year, indicating that the population has in fact grown from its low point two springs ago.
Zone 1 total firearms harvest was up 14 percent, Zone 2 was up 17.5 percent and Zone 3 was up 7 percent. Buck harvest was up significantly in all zones.
Minnesota firearms hunters registered 68,401 deer during the first three days of firearms deer season, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“Hunters are seeing more deer this year as we continue to build deer populations across much of the state,” said Steve Merchant, wildlife populations and regulations program manager. “We’ve issued a conservative number of antlerless deer permits, and because of this, many hunters are seeing deer they can’t shoot. However, patience this year should translate to more harvest opportunities in the future.”
Final numbers from the first three days show that the number of deer registered rose 6.3 percent from 2014. Buck harvest during the first three days of the fireams season was up 8.5 percent from last year.
Zone 1 total firearms harvest was up 8.2 percent, Zone 2 was up 5.9 percent and Zone 3 was up 3.2 percent.
The DNR is projecting the 2015 total deer harvest to be between 140,000 to 155,000 deer. The 2014 total harvest after last year’s conservative season was just over 139,000.
In much of Minnesota, the deer season continues through Sunday, Nov. 15. Additional deer will be harvested during the northern rifle zone season, which continues through Sunday, Nov. 22; the late southeastern season, which runs Saturday, Nov. 21, through Sunday, Nov. 29; and the muzzleloader season, which begins Saturday, Nov. 28, and continues through Sunday, Dec. 13.
New this year, hunters can preview an interactive deer information tool being developed by the DNR at www.mndnr.gov/deermap. This map is the first step toward launching an online application that delivers useful information hunters need and want. Hunters are encouraged to take a look at the application, discuss it and provide DNR with feedback.
More information on deer management can be found at www.mndnr.gov/deer.
Anglers fishing Upper Red Lake this winter will be able to keep three walleye – one more than last winter’s limit – and those fish can be from a broader size range.
Effective Tuesday, Dec. 1, the daily bag and possession limit for Red Lake will be three walleye, only one of which may be longer than 17 inches.
Last winter, anglers could keep two walleye, one of which could be longer than 26 inches. All walleye 17-26 inches had to be immediately released.
“In fall assessment netting by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, there was high walleye abundance and large numbers of fish from 12 to 21 inches,” said Gary Barnard, DNR Bemidji area fisheries supervisor. “The coming winter’s less restrictive regulations are based on the excellent status of Red Lake’s walleye fishery.”
The DNR and the Red Lake Band have developed a joint harvest plan that governs walleye harvest on an annual basis. The harvest plan was recently revised for the first time since the walleye fishery reopened in 2006 after being closed in the 1990s due to overharvest.
Harvest regulation options were the topic at a Red Lake Citizen Advisory Committee meeting in late September.
“The Citizen’s Advisory Committee wholeheartedly endorses the new winter regulations for the 2015-2016 ice fishing season,” said Advisory Committee member Joe Corcoran. “We are optimistic these regulations will be successful at keeping walleye harvest within the established target harvest range for the winter season.”
Deer hunters are reminded about changes in 2015 that affect when licenses purchased after a season is open are valid.
A deer hunting license purchased after a season is open is valid the same day of purchase if purchased prior to legal shooting hours. If the license is purchased after legal shooting hours, then the license is valid the following day.
“The language is unclear in the 2015 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook about when deer hunting licenses are valid, so we want to elaborate on this,” said Steve Merchant, wildlife populations and regulations manager.
What changed from last year? Last year, hunters needed to wait two days to hunt if they bought a deer license after a season opened. Also, there was no ability to buy a license before shooting hours and hunt that same day.
Deer licenses can be purchased at DNR license agents across Minnesota, by phone at 888-665-4236 or online at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense. For lists of license agents in each Minnesota county, see www.mndnr.gov/licenses/agents.html.
There are additional fees for telephone and Internet transactions. Hunters who purchase licenses by phone and Internet will receive their deer license and tags by mail, which can take three to five business days to arrive, so hunters who choose these options should allow enough time for delivery. Hunters must have a valid deer license and tag in their possession when hunting deer.
Hunters need to be familiar with deer hunting regulations, which are available at any DNR license agent or online at www.mndnr.gov/regulations/hunting.
Anglers may keep one walleye between 18 and 20 inches or one longer than 28 inches when ice fishing begins on Mille Lacs Lake this winter.
The winter walleye regulation goes into effect on Tuesday, Dec. 1, and extends through Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources decision reflects the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee’s desire to keep winter fishing open all season.
“The clear consensus among committee members was to implement a conservative regulation allowing fishing to continue throughout the winter without the risk of closure,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief. “We believe this regulation meets that criteria.”
If winter walleye harvest approaches the established cap, catch-and-release will be implemented so angling can continue.
The DNR made the decision after considering three regulation options it presented for committee discussion on Wednesday, Oct. 21, in Garrison. Discussion among committee members provided the DNR with good input and positive direction, reinforcing the DNR’s belief that the regulation protecting small walleye was the wisest choice.
During last year’s ice fishing season, Mille Lacs anglers could keep two walleye from 18 to 20 inches, except one out of those two walleye could be longer than 28 inches.
“We’re all working together to assure great winter opportunities while staying conservative enough to ensure the long-term health of the fishery,” said Dean Hanson, advisory committee co-chair and owner of Agate Bay Resort on Mille Lacs Lake. “The 2013 walleye year class will provide some great catch-and-release action, and folks still will have the opportunity to harvest a fish.”
DNR staff will monitor creel data every two weeks during the winter. If angler walleye harvest appears likely to exceed this year’s 5,000-pound cap, catch-and-release walleye fishing would go into effect. State anglers harvested 3,100 pounds of walleye last winter.
Tribal biologists and the DNR agreed Oct. 15 to set the winter harvest cap for state anglers at 5,000 pounds after September fish assessment data showed that pounds of spawning-age walleye and numbers of walleye from the 2013 year class were above established benchmarks.
“The committee stressed members’ support for a conservative management strategy that helps ensure the future health of the lake,” Pereira said. “The DNR fully supports that approach.”
Consistent with the committee’s discussion, the DNR also will reduce the limit of northern pike on Mille Lacs from 10 to five, with one fish longer than 30 inches allowed. Anglers may only keep a northern longer than 30 inches if they have caught two pike shorter than 30 inches and have both in immediate possession.
The pike regulation goes into effect on Dec. 1 and continues through Sunday, March 27, 2016. Its intent is to provide anglers with additional opportunity to catch and keep fish on Mille Lacs.
More information about Mille Lacs Lake management is available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake.
About the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr appointed 17 Minnesotans representing diverse perspectives and interests to the newly formed advisory committee to give the DNR input on fisheries management programs and related issues for Mille Lacs Lake.
“We wanted to promote more citizen and community engagement in fisheries decisions on the lake,” said Landwehr. “These dedicated people bring an important perspective to our work and will help the DNR make decisions that will shape the lake’s future.”
Members of the committee will contribute to the broader understanding of biological, social and economic aspects of the Mille Lacs fishery and will develop recommendations on potential approaches and regulations to solve identified issues.
Committee members represent diverse interests: local business and tourism; tribal and academic; and local county officials.
More information about the committee members is available at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake under the tab “Building a Future.”
The 2015 elk hunts in northwestern Minnesota wrapped up on Sept. 20 with another successful season in the Kittson County area. Five of seven hunters harvested nice-sized bulls.
Two zones were open to hunting, and all permits were bull only. In the Caribou-Vita herd (Zone 30), which migrates between northern Kittson County and Manitoba, two permits were issued and both hunters successfully harvested antlered bulls on public land. A 7x8 bull was taken on land owned by The Nature Conservancy and a 6x7 bull was taken with a bow on the Caribou Wildlife Management Area.
In the Kittson-Central herd (Zone 20), located near Lancaster, three of five permits were filled. Hunters harvested three 5x5 bulls, all on private land. One of them was taken with a landowner permit.
“It was another excellent elk hunt for northwestern Minnesota,” said Ruth Anne Franke, Karlstad area wildlife supervisor. “The hunters were thrilled to have the opportunity to harvest an elk in this state. All elk hunts in Minnesota are a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Franke added that hunters commented on the hospitality of the local landowners and appreciated their willingness to allow hunting on their property.
The elk season was timed to coincide with the elk rut (breeding season), and elk were actively bugling. This gave hunters the opportunity to locate the bulls by listening for their bugles, and test their bugling (calling) and stalking skills.
Once again, a hunting season was not offered in the Grygla area where herd numbers remain below the population goal of 30-38 elk. The Grygla herd continues to decline, as observers recorded 18 elk during this past winter’s annual survey – which is down from estimates of 20 elk in 2014 and 28 in 2013. The herd hasn’t been hunted since 2012.
Elk management in Minnesota
The DNR is currently updating its elk management plan for 2016-2020, which will include a public input process before it is finalized. The plan will address population goals, landowner concerns about crop damage and opportunities to hunt and view elk. Three public input meetings will be scheduled later this year in the Grygla, Lancaster and Twin Cities areas.
As part of the planning process, the DNR convened two elk consensus work groups, one for the two Kittson County herds and one for the Grygla elk herd. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr appointed the work group members, who represented a broad spectrum of stakeholders.
The DNR’s goal is to maintain a free-ranging, wild elk population in northwestern Minnesota. The department envisions a healthy population that offers recreational and economic opportunities while actively addressing conflicts between elk and people. Habitat and herd structure would be maintained, while hunting seasons would be used to help manage problem animals and herd size.
Information on Minnesota’s elk and the current management plan is available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/elk/.
Conservative deer season in 2015 will continue to build population
Following a milder winter and a conservative deer season last year, hunters this fall may see more deer on the landscape during the archery deer season and while scouting for the Saturday, Nov. 7, firearms deer opener, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“Hunters will experience another conservative deer season in 2015,” said Steve Merchant, wildlife populations and regulations program manager with the DNR. “This year, they may see deer they can’t shoot, but this helps provide more opportunity in the future. We are continuing to build the deer population across much of the state, and we do that by harvesting fewer antlerless deer.”
For the 2015 season, one-deer limits remain in most of the state. This season will mark the second year of a management approach to rebuild deer populations based on goal setting and listening sessions that indicated a desire for more deer in many areas.
“For most hunters, it’s rewarding to see deer while hunting,” Merchant said. “So far in many areas, the season looks favorable for both deer sightings and the opportunity for harvest, based on reports from the fields and forests.”
Acorns have been dropping over the past couple weeks, providing food for deer and also giving hunters areas to focus on for hunting and scouting. Deer are shedding their reddish-brown summer coat in favor of the coarse grey coat of fall and winter. In many parts of the state, crop harvest is just beginning, which is a week or two later than normal.
The DNR strongly advises hunters to review new deer hunting regulations, permit area designations and boundary changes. Current and up-to-date information is available on the deer hunting Web page at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/deer. Information about deer management and deer population goal setting is available at www.mndnr.gov/deer.
Hunting season notes
Deer numbers in the northwestern region appear to be up from last year. Last winter brought mild temperatures and little snow. A conservative 2014 deer season with a low number of antlerless permits issued has resulted in more does and fawns on the landscape. Hunters can expect to see more deer from the stand this year.
The northwestern region offers a variety of youth and adult deer hunting opportunities at most of the region’s state parks and at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge. The cities of Bemidji and Fergus Falls manage archery hunts, Red Lake Falls offers a deer hunt, several of the scientific and natural areas offer a variety of deer hunting opportunities, and there is a deer hunt for people with disabilities in Orwell Wildlife Sanctuary. Nearly two-thirds of the state’s wildlife management area acres are in the northwestern region and are open for deer hunting as well.
In northeastern Minnesota, last winter wasn’t mild, but it was milder than average. However, compared to some other areas of the state, a deer population recovery in the region can be slower because of factors including a shorter growing season, fewer fawns per doe on average, fewer deer per square mile, winter severity and predation.
In the southern portions of the northeastern region, winter severity was not as extreme, but population numbers are still below target and are being managed for increases.
Duluth and some Iron Range communities will hold special in-town hunts to reduce the number of city deer. Permit areas around the Aitkin and Brainerd areas will generally be designated as lottery with a limited number of antlerless tags issued, and more permit areas will be restricted to bucks-only the farther one travels north. Permit areas in the moose range are designated lottery to maintain lower deer populations.
Hunters who frequent the Pillsbury State Forest in Cass and Crow Wing counties can expect to encounter active salvage logging operations and other cleanup activities throughout the fall and winter. The activity follows a severe wind storm July 12 that toppled trees in portions of the state forest and surrounding area between Brainerd and Nisswa.
Hunters in central Minnesota should expect to see more deer than last year although many of the permit areas will continue to have restrictive harvest regulations in order to achieve new population goals. The exception is the metro 601 permit area that will again allow for unlimited antlerless deer harvest.
In the far southeastern permit areas (346 and 349), an intensive harvest strategy will allow for harvest of up to five deer. These permit areas will also have an early antlerless season that runs Thursday, Oct. 15, to Sunday, Oct. 18, providing opportunity to harvest additional deer.
Opportunities abound for deer hunting in the southeast during the regular archery, two firearms and muzzleloader seasons. Once again, 300-series permit areas will be open to a special youth season over the weekend of the annual statewide teachers’ conference when many students do not have school from Oct. 15-18.
In southwestern Minnesota, deer permit areas 234, 237 and 286 will have a youth-only antlerless season in 2015. With the exception of youth, veterans’ home residents and hunters 84 years or older, all other hunters are restricted to harvest legal bucks only in these areas. The DNR took this step to bring up deer numbers in these areas because even conservative antlerless quotas the past several years have resulted in antlerless harvests too high for herd growth.
With three duck hunting zones in effect in Minnesota, hunters in the Central and South duck zones are reminded of closed dates in those zones that split the season into two parts to provide more hunting opportunity later in the fall.
The waterfowl season in the Central Duck Zone (south of Highway 210) will be closed from Monday, Oct. 5, through Friday, Oct. 9, and then reopen Saturday, Oct. 10.
In the South Duck Zone (south of Highway 212), the waterfowl season will be closed from Monday, Oct. 5, through Wednesday, Oct. 14, and then reopen Thursday, Oct. 15, which coincides with a long weekend off for many students.
Goose season is also closed in the central and south duck zones when duck season is closed.
Opening weekend report
Over the opening weekend of waterfowl season that began Sept. 26, duck numbers were good and hunter numbers were similar to last year. Blue-winged teal, wood duck and mallard comprised most of the harvest, according to Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“As always, results varied throughout the state, but overall I’d say it was a very good opening weekend – especially with the shirt-sleeve weather, which isn’t conducive to duck hunting,” Cordts said.
Lac qui Parle Refuge had the second best opening day in 26 years with 3.6 ducks per hunter. Big White Oak Lake had the best opener in at least 15 years with three ducks per hunter. Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Roseau River WMA, Big Rice WMA near Remer, and Swan Lake all averaged more than two ducks per hunter and above their long-term averages for opening day.
“The outlook for the rest of the season remains good, athough there will be the typical lull until new birds migrate into the state,” Cordts said. “Migrant ring-necked ducks will soon begin to build in numbers in northern Minnesota. Teal and wood ducks will still be fairly common in southern Minnesota this weekend.”
For more information on waterfowl hunting, including waterfowl migration reports, see www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.
Hunters in portions of southeastern Minnesota can harvest antlerless deer in an early antlerless season from Thursday, Oct. 15, to Sunday, Oct. 18, in deer permit areas 346 and 349 in Winona, Houston and Filmore counties.
“There are high deer densities in localized areas of southeastern Minnesota, and in these areas there will again be an early antlerless hunt,” said Steve Merchant, wildlife populations and regulations manager for the Department of Natural Resources. “Numerous private landowners in these areas are experiencing deer damage to agricultural crops, and they may need help from hunters to harvest additional antlerless deer.”
Hunters should be aware that public land is limited in the early antlerless hunt areas. Hunters need to ask permission to hunt private lands.
This is the third year the DNR has implemented an early antlerless season in specific portions of southeastern Minnesota. Again this year, the early antlerless season coincides with the four-day special youth deer season. Unlike last year, deer permit areas 346 and 349 will be open in their entirety.
In the early antlerless hunt, only antlerless deer may be taken, and hunters may use up to five early antlerless permits. Deer harvested during the special season do not count toward a hunter’s statewide limit during the regular season. Early antlerless permits cost $7.50 for residents and may be purchased wherever hunting licenses are sold.
All deer harvested during this season must be tagged with an early antlerless permit. Hunters also must have a valid archery, firearms or muzzleloader deer license.
For more information on deer hunting, see www.mndnr.gov/hunting/deer.
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