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Minnesota deer harvest down double-digits

After the slowest start to season since 2014, weather could spur the lowest harvest in 40 years.

Morning in the deer stand
Fewer Minnesotans were hunting this year compared to last and far fewer have been shot so far. Deer registrations statewide are down 19% so far this season and down 21% in the 100-numbered deer permit areas that include all of Northeastern Minnesota.
Clint Austin / 2011 file / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The first reports from the 2022 Minnesota firearms deer season looked bleak as of Wednesday, with statewide registrations down 19% from last year over opening weekend. But dig a little deeper and the numbers look even worse.

In the 100-numbered deer permit areas that include all of Northeastern Minnesota, the opening weekend harvest was down 21% from last year and 37% from the five year average, according to data released Wednesday from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. And realize that’s a pretty low five-year average to compare against, way down from say 15 years ago.

In the 200-series area — which covers all of northwestern, western and central Minnesota — the weekend harvest was down 19% from last year and 25% from the five-year average. The 300-series areas in southeastern Minnesota saw a decline of 19% from last year and 28% from the five-year average.

Barb Keller, big game program leader for the Minnesota DNR, said this is the lowest opening weekend harvest since 2014, which came after the Polar Vortex winter of 2013-2014 that was unusually cold and snowy across the Midwest and which caused significant deer mortality.

In most years, half the total harvest occurs over opening weekend. This year’s opening weekend harvest was only 51,329 statewide and it now appears the firearms deer harvest could possibly remain below 100,000 for the first time since 1982 if the forecast for wet and windy weather holds true.

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“I only have firearms-specific harvest numbers going back to 1989, and it has not fallen below 100,000 anytime since then,” Keller said. “My guess is it must be 1982, when the total deer harvest was 99,052.”

“I hate to make predictions as I’ll only prove myself wrong, but it doesn’t bode well that we’re continuing to have rain through the week,” Keller added.

Minnesota deer harvest tag 2022
A site tag for the Minnesota firearms deer hunting season sits unused Wednesday, the fifth day of the season. The number of deer registered by hunters is down 19% compared to the same time last year.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Weather appears to have played a big role in the lower harvest and registrations so far this year, with rain and high winds over many areas of the state either keeping hunters out of the woods or keeping deer out of harm's way, or both.

More heavy rain this week, accompanied by high winds and heavy snow in some areas Thursday and then frigid cold temperatures for this weekend, likely means the harvest numbers won’t improve much through the end of the season, which is Nov. 20 for the 100 permit areas

It was expected that harvest numbers would be down some in the 100-numbered deer permit area, especially the far north where another in a series of deep-snow winters cut into deer survival. Antlerless permits were reduced or again withheld entirely for many areas in Northeastern Minnesota in an effort to allow the herd to rebuild.

“Weather (so far this season) was obviously the big factor,” Keller said. “I certainly don’t think we had a reduced deer population. … Except from the Duluth area north where the winters have been very hard lately.”

“Weather (during the hunting season) affects both deer movement and hunter effort,” Keller added. “Heavy rain can affect deer movement but mostly plays a role in hunter effort. Strong wind… has the potential to affect deer movement. … It is more clear that if hunters don’t have a hunting spot in the right place to play the wind, hunter success and effort can go down.”

The DNR has a goal of roughly 200,000 deer shot annually through all seasons — including archery, muzzleloader and special hunts — but hasn’t hit that goal for more than a decade. Hunters came close in 2020, at 197,315 deer registered, but haven’t topped 200,000 since 2010.

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License sales down, too

Firearms deer hunting license sales in Minnesota were down 2% through the Monday after opening weekend, according to data from the DNR.

Some 392,271 licenses had been sold through Monday compared to 398,717 in 2021.

This year’s sales are down 12% from just a decade ago, in 2012, when 446,210 licenses were sold through the first Monday of the season.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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