A year of fewer deer

Minnesota outlook The Department of Natural Resources is predicting another good deer season with plenty of opportunities when Minnesota's 500,000-or-so hunters take the field Saturday morning. The DNR estimates the state's deer population at abo...

Randy Kreil

Minnesota outlook

The Department of Natural Resources is predicting another good deer season with plenty of opportunities when Minnesota's 500,000-or-so hunters take the field Saturday morning.

The DNR estimates the state's deer population at about 1 million and expects the season will be similar to 2001, when hunters shot 207,000 whitetails. Minnesota's deer harvest peaked at 290,000 in 2003, the result of liberal hunting regulations enacted to control high deer populations that occurred after a series of mild winters that began in the late 1990s.

"There's certainly not the deer we had five or six years ago," said Stuart Bensen, DNR conservation officer in Erskine, Minn. "There's still plenty of deer, it's just that we got used to seeing 20-30 deer in a day; now, you'll probably see 10-15, which is still good."

Deer numbers now are at goal levels across most of the state, and the DNR has reduced bag limits in some areas. In northwest Minnesota, for example, only permit areas 101 -- the bovine TB zone -- and 209 and 210 have "intensive" regulations that allow hunters to purchase as many as five licenses.


Many permit areas still have "managed" designation, allowing hunters to buy two licenses. And new this year, a "Hunter Choice" option in several permit areas allows hunters to take one either-sex deer. The DNR describes Hunter Choice as a lottery deer area without a lottery.

The state's deer season continues through Nov. 20 in northern Minnesota and through Nov. 13 in the northwest and other parts of the state. A late season in southeastern Minnesota is set for Nov. 19-27.

Minnesota notebook

• The DNR is encouraging Minnesota hunters to buy their licenses early to avoid long lines or issues with the electronic license system that might result from high sales volume. Deer licenses cost $27 for residents and $141 for nonresidents. Info: or (888) 646-6367.

• Most corn, which offers standing cover and can significantly affect the deer kill, likely will have been harvested by Saturday's opener, and last winter wasn't so severe that deer populations were significantly affected.

• Trespassing is the biggest issue landowners have with hunters, and the DNR reminds hunters the best way to avoid problems is to "always ask first." Trespass penalties range from a $50 civil fine to a criminal penalty of a several thousand dollars, confiscation of vehicles and hunting equipment and revocation of hunting privileges for two or more years.

• The Min-Dak Border Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association again this fall will be collecting deer hides as part of its Hides for Habitat program. Drop boxes will be set up at Orton's Point Tesoro, Cabela's, and Sportsman's Taxidermy Studio.

• Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge will be open to deer hunting Saturday through Nov. 13 with the exception of 1,100 acres in the southwest corner of the refuge that will be closed Friday-Jan. 1 because of wildfire activity. The refuge is located in Permit Area 203, which includes the refuge, along with Elm Lake, Eckvoll and Mud Lac wildlife management areas. Preseason scouting will be allowed from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. Info: (218) 449-4115 ext. 204


North Dakota outlook

The high deer populations North Dakota hunters saw for more than a decade are a thing of the past, state wildlife officials say.

North Dakota's 16½-day deer gun season opens at noon Friday and continues through Nov. 20.

The Game and Fish Department this year offered 109,950 licenses, down from 116,775 last year and the lowest number since 2001. Three consecutive severe winters, several years of aggressive doe harvests to reduce the population and less quality habitat all have contributed to fewer deer on the landscape.

"It's not all gloom and doom," Randy Kreil, wildlife division chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck, said in an interview with the department's Tom Jensen in an episode of the "Outdoors Online" website video program. "We still have plenty of white-tailed deer out there, it's just that it's not the banner years we've been used to."

Kreil said hunters still have good whitetail opportunities but can expect to work harder for the deer they shoot. "It's just going to be a season that I think is going to typify what future years are going to look like," he told Jensen.

The outlook is less optimistic for mule deer, Kreil said in the interview, and biologists documented low fawn production last spring.

EHD outbreak will affect southwest N.D. hunting


An outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, in southwestern North Dakota whitetail herds will affect deer hunting opportunities in that part of the state, and more than 13,000 white-tailed deer license holders are eligible for refunds, the Game and Fish Department said.

Hunters with white-tailed deer licenses in units 3B1, 3D1, 3E1, 3F1, 3F2, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 4F have the option of turning in those licenses for refunds. The department also suspended the sale of first-come, first-served deer tags in units 3F1, 3F2 and 4F on Oct. 21.

Kreil said the decision to offer refunds is based on evidence of "moderate to significant" whitetail losses in some areas, which might affect hunting success.

EHD, a naturally occurring virus that is spread by a biting midge, is almost always fatal to infected whitetails, while mule deer usually don't die from the disease. The EHD virus is not known to affect humans. In addition, the first hard freeze typically kills the midge that carries and transfers the EHD virus, which will slow or halt the spread of the disease.

Kreil said hunters in the affected areas should make local contacts to determine the extent of deer mortality before deciding whether to turn in a license. Large areas of affected units had no reports of whitetail deaths, Kreil said.

"The whitetail population has not been decimated and in many areas a good harvest is still needed," he said.

The last time Game and Fish made license refunds an option for hunters because of an EHD outbreak was in 2000.

Hunters who want a refund on their whitetail tags should turn in the license, along with a note requesting a refund due to EHD, to the Game and Fish Department's Bismarck office no later than Thursday. Envelopes postmarked Nov. 3 will be accepted.



N.D. deer notebook

• Can't find your North Dakota deer tag? Marty Egeland and Gary Rankin of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department will be issuing replacement licenses from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at the state Highway Patrol office, located at 1100 N. 47th St., Suite 200, in Grand Forks. North Dakota's deer gun season opens at noon Friday.

• Deer regulations are unchanged from recent years, with the exception of a new law that allows hunters to use crossbows during the deer gun and muzzleloader seasons. Crossbows remain illegal, except by special permit, during the regular archery season.

• The Game and Fish Department again will be testing hunter-shot deer for chronic wasting disease in 12 hunting units, including units 2C and 2D in northeastern North Dakota. Deer also will be sampled from units 2H, 2I, 2J1, 2J2, 2K1, 2K2, 3A4, 3B3, 3C and 3F2. Drop-off points in eastern and northeastern North Dakota include the district Game and Fish office and Goldade Processing in Devils Lake, Aneta Meats in Aneta, Market on Main Meats in Edinburg, Baier Body and Glass in Fordville, Bob's Oil and Ted's Taxidermy in Grand Forks, Hickory Hut in Langdon, Glenn's EZ Stop in Larimore, Jim's Super Valu in Park River, Weber Meats in Reynolds and Walhalla Co-op.

• Hunting big game over bait in North Dakota is prohibited on all state owned or managed wildlife management areas, all U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national wildlife refuges and waterfowl production areas, U.S. Forest Service national grasslands and all North Dakota state school, state park and state forest service lands. The governor's proclamation relating to chronic wasting disease also prohibits hunting big game over bait on both public and private land in deer Unit 3F2.

• Hunters with a deer license in Unit 3F2, where chronic wasting disease has been found, cannot transport a deer carcass containing the head and spinal column outside he unit unless it's taken directly to a meat processor. The head can be removed from the carcass and transported outside the unit if it is to be submitted to a CWD surveillance drop-off location or a licensed taxidermist. Info:

Sources: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, N.D. Game and Fish Department


Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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