REGIONAL— Hunters have taken fewer bucks in 2017 than at this point of the regular firearms deer season last year, but a 142-percent increase in the harvest of antlerless deer has boosted total …
REGIONAL— Hunters have taken fewer bucks in 2017 than at this point of the regular firearms deer season last year, but a 142-percent increase in the harvest of antlerless deer has boosted total registrations in the North Country by 14 percent.
“The bucks are out there, but the rut is just weird,” said DNR Tower Area Wildlife Manager Tom Rusch. “Weird” isn’t the kind of scientific term typically deployed by most wildlife biologists, but it aptly describes a year in which many hunters are reporting seeing plenty of deer, but relatively few antlers.
Rusch said he’s one of those hunters, and he’d yet to bag his deer with less than a week to go in the regular firearms season. He said many hunters have reported seeing less sign of rutting activity than usual for this time of year, which likely accounts for the huge spike in the antlerless harvest. A significant increase in the number of antlerless permits issued this year in the DNR’s Tower work area (which encompasses much of northern St. Louis and Lake counties) along with the shift of some zones to hunter’s choice, are also contributing to the jump in antlerless registrations.
So far, the buck harvest is down 15 percent overall, and that’s not always attributable to hunters opting to take antlerless deer instead. In Permit Area 119, for example, where hunters were again limited to bucks only, deer registrations through the first two weekends totaled just 257, compared to 420 last year.
Heavy snow may have played a role in the decline, as much of PA 119, located north and east of Orr, was hit with heavy snow in late October, which bent down trees and broke branches, sharply limiting access in the forest. Some reports from around Elephant Lake indicated snow depths of a nearly a foot and half, which kept some hunters from accessing their usual hunting areas and likely made deer movement difficult as well. Snow showers on opening day followed by subzero temperatures later in the week likely reduced hunter effort as well. Last year, by contrast, hunters enjoyed unseasonably mild weather for the first week of the season.
“And part of it is the moon,” said Rusch. The opener coincided with a full moon, which means deer tend to be most active at the times of day when hunters aren’t out in their stands. While deer are normally considered “crepuscular”, which means most active during early morning or evening, their activity patterns can change dramatically under a full moon. Under such conditions, Rusch said deer are most active at night and during midday. That’s a time when many hunters head back into their hunting camps for lunch, but it means that many are missing the best hours of the day for deer movement.
Deer registrations in the Tower work area were largely in line with statewide totals, where registrations were up 10 percent from 2016. Of the deer harvested, 54 percent were bucks, compared to 63 percent during the same period in 2016.
Based upon the number of antlerless permits available and the number of permit areas that allow multiple deer to be taken, the DNR is still projecting the 2017 total deer harvest to be around 200,000. The 2016 total harvest was 173,213.