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Change in portable deer stand law set for WMAs in northwest Minnesota

A new regulation is in effect this fall in northwest Minnesota that allows deer hunters to leave as many as two portable deer stands unattended in wildlife management areas throughout the hunting season, providing they follow certain guidelines.

That could create conflicts between hunters because portable stands are considered public once they're left on WMA lands.

"We're going to see if we have issues with people occupying other folks' stands when they're there because they become public once you put it out there," said Jeremy Woinarowicz, conservation officer for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Thief River Falls. "Anybody can sit in it."

Woinarowicz's work area covers part of the region covered by the new regulation, which includes the northwest corner of the state roughly north of Thief River Falls and west of Warroad, Minn.

A complete outline of the area covered by the regulation is available on the DNR website at mndnr.gov.

Stand by definition

A portable stand for the purposes of the regulation is defined as a stand that must be able to be carried or moved by a single person in a single trip, Woinarowicz said. Wheeled fish houses or deluxe shelters assembled one wall at a time aren't allowed.

In addition, all stands must be clearly marked with the owner's name or DNR license number and easily visible from the ground.

That creates another potential problem.

"I'm afraid I'm going to have issues of 'Well, I'm going to take my stand down now. You have to get out of it; it's mine,' " Woinarowicz said. "They can show that it's theirs because they have to leave their name on it, as well."

Minnesota law traditionally has required hunters to remove portable deer stands at the end of every day on WMA lands. That law remains in effect everywhere except the area in northwest Minnesota, where portable stands can be left on WMAs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31.

"In most of the state, leaving stands overnight on WMAs is not allowed and they must be removed at the end of the day," Bob Welsh, DNR wildlife operations manager, said. "Users of most WMAs will not see a change in stand regulations this year."

Other guidelines

As part of the rule change in northwest Minnesota, portable stands can't be put up on WMA lands before Nov. 1, and the regulation applies only licensed deer hunters.

In other words, coyote hunters, birdwatchers or anyone else who isn't licensed to hunt deer can't leave the stands on WMA lands for the extended period, Woinarowicz said.

"You have to be using it for deer hunting," he said.

Hunters can put only two stands on a given WMA, but they can put up to two stands on other WMAs within the area, as well.

Another concern is that hunters will start putting portable stands out too early, Woinarowicz said. That would be a violation, just as it remains unlawful to leave portable stands overnight on WMA lands elsewhere in the state. Historically, leaving stands overnight on WMAs has been a common violation, said Greg Salo, assistant director of the DNR Enforcement Division.

"We have this regulation in place to prevent some users from preempting others from the opportunity to use WMAs on a first-come, first-served basis," Salo said.

Time will tell whether that becomes a problem with the new regulations in northwest Minnesota or whether the rule expands to other parts of the state.

"I'm just hoping there's no conflicts with people arguing over stand locations or stand usage," Woinarowicz said. "That would be my main concern."

For more information, check out the 2017 Minnesota Hunting Regulations Guide available at electronic license outlets or online at mndnr.gov.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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