REGIONAL—More young bucks and the first significant number of antlerless permits issued in northern St. Louis County in three years should help to boost hunter success when the regular firearms …
REGIONAL—More young bucks and the first significant number of antlerless permits issued in northern St. Louis County in three years should help to boost hunter success when the regular firearms deer season gets underway on Saturday. Exceptionally mild weather, with sunny skies and high temperatures forecast to reach the mid-50s, should also make it one of the most pleasant opening weekends in many years.
The area deer population is in the midst of a recovery following severe winters in 2013 and 2014, when high winter mortality drastically reduced the deer herd across much of northeastern Minnesota. But two historically mild winters since have allowed the population to begin to recover. “The fawn crop was large for the second year in a row,” said Tom Rusch, wildlife manager in the DNR’s Tower area office. “Does came through winter in excellent condition,” said Rusch. “The majority of winter had less than 15-inches of snow which led to increased deer mobility, low winter severity, and decreased predation.”
Following mild winters, does will often give birth to twins, which helps boost a population recovery, according to Rusch. Even so, the deer population in most permit areas in the region remains below goal, which is why the DNR continues with a fairly conservative bag limit for hunters, except within primary moose range where the DNR intentionally manages for low deer numbers.
As in most years, the deer population recovery is most evident on the south and western fringes of the Tower work area, particularly in permit areas 176, 177, and 178, where habitat is more favorable to deer. Those three permit areas account for the majority of the annual harvest in the Tower area, notes Rusch, and hunters should harvest more deer in these areas than last year, in part because male fawns from 2015 will now be of harvestable age. “They’ll be this year’s spikes, forks and six-pointers,” said Rusch.
Points north and east of Tower, such as permit areas 108, 117, 118, 119, and 122, will see a more limited recovery, predicts Rusch. These are heavily forested regions with thin soils and harsher winter conditions, where the impact of earlier harsh winters was more severe and where the recovery has been slower to take hold. Deer populations in these areas remain below goal.
Still, Rusch notes that habitat quality can vary significantly even within individual permit areas and he said hunters can substantially improve their odds of success with advanced scouting to determine where deer activity is occurring.
Deer activity can be somewhat unpredictable during the deer season, since it coincides with the “chase” period of the annual whitetail rut, when bucks travel extensively in their pursuit of does.
“Breeding activity should peak during mid-season as the annual rutting season transitions into the reproductive phase and then deer movement typically slows down,” said Rusch.
DNR officials are advising that field conditions across the region are exceptionally wet, which means hunters may find standing water in low areas where they haven’t encountered water in the recent past. That could limit access to hunting areas and deer stands and it could impact deer movements across the landscape.
“Normally accessible spots in low terrain will be difficult to access this year,” said Rusch. “Logging road and trail access is difficult in lower areas this year and may be inaccessible for wheeled vehicles in many areas.”