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Minnesota deer harvest surpasses 110K, northwest down 9%, preliminary DNR numbers show

There was concern after the first three days of season that Minnesota's statewide firearms deer harvest might fall below 100,000 for the first time in years.

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Minnesota deer hunting success rallied after a slow 2022 firearms season opener, but preliminary numbers from the first nine days of season are down 11% from 2021, according to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Contributed/Minnesota DNR
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Minnesota’s deer harvest was down 19% after the opening weekend of the state’s firearms deer season, but hunting success bounced back the second weekend, statistics from the Department of Natural Resources show.

Hunters had registered 110,435 deer through the first nine days season – Nov. 5 through Nov. 13 – based on preliminary numbers from the DNR. That’s down 11% from last year and 17% below the five-year mean.

Traditionally, the bulk of Minnesota’s firearms deer harvest occurs the first three days of season, but strong winds Nov. 6, the second day of season, kept many hunters out of the field and likely restricted deer movement, as well.

READ MORE HUNTING COVERAGE:
After numerous attempts to get close enough to go “hands-on” with the bucks, it was determined the only safe way to dislodge the antlers was with a well-placed long-gun round.

By definition, the winds Nov. 6 reached gale force levels, said Blane Klemek, acting Northwest Region wildlife manager for the DNR in Bemidji. The National Weather Service defines gale force as sustained winds of 39 mph to 54 mph.

Blane Klemek.jpg
Blane Klemek, acting Northwest Region wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji.
Contributed / Blane Klemek

“I was out hunting, and (Nov. 6) was a very, very windy day,” Klemek said. “The deer were hard to find and I think a lot of people probably – it’s just bad hunting in those conditions.”

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In much of northwest Minnesota, at least, that was followed Thursday, Nov. 10, by “veritable blizzard” conditions, with 40 mph winds and nearly a foot of snow in some areas, Klemek says.

There was concern after the first three days of season that the statewide firearms deer harvest might fall below 100,000 for the first time in years, but that wasn’t to be the case.

In the 200-series permit areas, which includes much of northwest and west-central Minnesota, hunters registered 74,253 deer through the nine days of season, preliminary numbers show. That’s down 9% from 2021 and 21% below the five-year mean. Season in the 200-series permit areas ended Sunday, Nov. 13.

Hunters in the 100-series permit areas of northeast Minnesota, where season continues through Nov. 20, registered 25,218 deer through the first nine days of season, down 16% from last year and 35% from the five-year mean.

Hunters in the 300- and 600-series permit areas registered 10,959 deer, preliminary numbers show. That’s up 2% from 2021 but down 14% from the five-year mean.

As of Wednesday, Nov. 16, Minnesota hunters had registered 137,122 deer between the various seasons, including the archery, youth, early antlerless and regular firearms seasons.

Quiet season in GF area

North Dakota’s deer season to date appears to be pretty uneventful in the Grand Forks area, a local game warden says.

“I guess if I had to say anything, I’d say I’ve seen less hunters this year than previous years and less deer killed, personally,” said Blake Riewer, district game warden for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Grand Forks.

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On the upside, violations also are down so far, Riewer says.

North Dakota’s deer gun season opened at noon Friday, Nov. 4, and continues through Sunday, Nov. 20.

The decline in hunters comes as no surprise, Riewer says, given gale-force winds on Sunday, Nov. 6, and near-blizzard conditions that clobbered the area on Thursday, Nov. 10.

“Probably a lot of that’s due to weather,” he said. “I don’t blame hunters for staying home and watching football when it’s blowing 40 miles an hour.

“We had some pretty nasty weather to start the season, but we’ve got another weekend left, so we’ll see what happens. I don’t want to jinx it.”

Deer hunters in Unit 2B this year for the first time faced a baiting ban. Game and Fish implemented the ban as part of its standard response plan to chronic wasting disease after CWD was found last fall in a single whitetail buck shot near Climax on the Minnesota side of the Red River in Polk County.

For the most part, Riewer says, hunters have complied with the ban, with only a couple of minor exceptions. The warden says he hasn’t written any citations for baiting violations in 2B, a unit that runs along the Red River from Grand Forks to south of Fargo.

“I chose education, being it’s the first year of it,” Riewer said of the baiting ban in 2B. “But that obviously will change as time goes on.”

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Anecdotally, Riewer says he’s been seeing more deer the past few days.

“I think the rut just kind of got started here,” he said. “I wasn’t seeing a lot of deer driving around that first week of the season, but starting about last Wednesday or Thursday, it’s kind of picked up for rut activity and just seeing deer out in the daytime running around.

“I think that will help people have a little better success.”

North Dakota doesn’t require hunters to register their deer but instead compiles a harvest estimate based on a mail survey it sends to a random sample of hunters.

CWD case near Bemidji disheartening

The discovery of a presumed positive case of CWD in Minnesota Deer Permit Area 184 south of Bemidji was disappointing, said Klemek, the acting wildlife supervisor for the DNR’s Northwest Region in Bemidji.

The presumed positive case in a wild deer was “quite a few miles south” from the site of a domestic deer farm near Hines, Minn., north of Bemidji, where deer carcasses had been dumped and the herd eventually depopulated after animals tested positive for CWD in 2021.

“There isn’t any knowledge as far as I know how this happened, and these things are happening around the landscape,” Klemek said. “That random one last year in Polk County, a wild deer that was harvested during the youth season, had CWD.”

Sampling last fall, along with a late CWD hunt and additional sampling during this year’s deer season, hasn’t turned up any additional positive cases in Polk County yet this fall.

Because of the preliminary result south of Bemidji, the DNR will make self-service sampling stations available in DPA 184. If the preliminary positive is confirmed, the DNR will take additional management actions per the agency’s CWD response plan, which may include late special season hunting and targeted culling.

Sampling of harvested deer in DPA 184 was mandatory opening weekend of the firearms deer hunting season, Nov. 5-7. So far this fall, more than 1,200 deer have been sampled in that area and test results for approximately 700 deer have been received, with one deer preliminarily testing positive for the disease. Preliminary test results from the remainder of the sampled deer in that area are expected this week.

Statewide, DNR crews sampled more than 6,000 deer for CWD during the opening weekend of the firearms deer season.

North Dakota CWD sampling update

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has sampled “just over” 1,000 deer so far this fall for CWD, collecting deer heads as part of its hunter-harvested surveillance program.

The testing effort this fall focuses mainly on units in the western half of the state, along with Unit 1 in north-central North Dakota and 2B in the Red River Valley south of Grand Forks.

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A North Dakota CWD sampling site is shown in this undated photo.
Contributed/North Dakota Game and Fish Department

The sampling in 2B is part of the state’s CWD response plan after the neurological disease fatal to deer, elk and moose was found last fall in an adult buck near Climax on the Minnesota side of the Red River in Polk County.

“The first weekend was good – it was about what we expected,” said Brent Weston, wildlife health biologist for Game and Fish in Bismarck. “I think the weather kind of put a damper on people’s excitement to go hunting the second weekend so we didn’t get quite as many heads as normal.”

Blizzard conditions that hit much of the state Thursday, Nov. 10, dumped as much as 17 inches of snow in the Bismarck-Mandan area, with pockets of up to 20 inches in places.

“Usually, the second weekend is busiest but I’m thinking that we might get even more next weekend now,” Weston said Wednesday, Nov. 16. “I don’t think many hunters were out last weekend with the blizzard.”

Game and Fish has a crew of about a half-dozen personnel who work with the sampling process, picking up deer heads at all of the different collection sites around the state and taking them to the department’s wildlife lab in Bismarck. Crews then remove lymph nodes from the deer heads and ship them to the Montana State Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in Bozeman for testing.

Results should be available in a few weeks, Weston said.

North Dakota has 70 confirmed cases of CWD, all in wild deer, with a high percentage of those cases occurring in the past decade. The disease in North Dakota first was documented in Unit 3F2 in the southwest part of the state.

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 bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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