The number of deer shot by Minnesota hunters after the first nine days of the firearms deer season is down about 9.5 percent from last year, preliminary numbers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources show.
According to Erik Thorson, acting big game program manager for the DNR in Park Rapids, Minn., hunters through Sunday had registered 132,633 deer, down from 146,537 last year.
The biggest drop was in the 100-series permit areas of northeast Minnesota, where preliminary numbers showed a 17.7 percent decline. Hunters in the northeast registered 37,715 deer through Sunday, Nov. 11, compared with 45,851 last year.
In 200-series permit areas, which includes much of northwest Minnesota, hunters registered 85,497 deer through Sunday, preliminary numbers show, down 6.2 percent from 91,193 last year. The bright spot was southeast Minnesota, Thorson said, where the harvest after the first nine days was down only .3 percent, at 8,776, compared with 8,802 last year.
It's difficult to pin the decline on any single factor, considering the DNR offered more liberal bag limits in several permit areas this year. Weather likely affected hunter success at various times during the firearms season, Thorson said. Hunters in southeast Minnesota encountered rain most of the opening weekend, he said, while a fair amount of corn remains standing in the southeast and central parts of the state.
In addition, this year's deer opener was about the earliest ever, which likely meant even more standing corn on the landscape, Thorson said. Minnesota's firearms deer season by law opens the Saturday closest to Nov. 6, which this year was Nov. 3.
"There's quite a variety of things going on around the state I don't fully understand," Thorson said of the decline in deer harvest. "Certainly, opening weekend, the first three or four days are the primary drivers of what the overall deer harvest will be. About 70 percent occurs in those first three or four days."
The nine-day season in the 200- and 300-series permit areas of Minnesota ended Sunday, Nov. 11, while season in the 100-series permit areas of northeast Minnesota continues through Sunday, Nov. 18. A late season in the 300-series permit areas of southeast Minnesota opens Saturday, Nov. 17 and continues through Sunday, Nov. 25.
The onslaught of cold and snow that hit northern Minnesota going into the second weekend of season likely benefited deer movement and improved visibility and tracking for hunters who could withstand the elements, Thorson said.
The temperature Saturday morning in some parts of northern Minnesota dipped to 0 degrees, and in some places, even below 0.
"I think that colder weather the second weekend probably kept some hunters out of the woods," Thorson said. "I heard pretty good hunting reports from folks that hunted during the week and during the second weekend. There just wasn't as many hunters out after the big show was over on opening weekend."