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Survey gives deer hunters a chance to be heard

By Gary Bartsch

Deer hunters in southeastern Minnesota need to be aware that we are at a pivotal point in Minnesota deer management. We have the opportunity this year to make significant improvements in the hunt and the southeast Minnesota deer herd, which will help to guarantee successful hunts for the next generation.

Over the next few weeks, the Minnesota DNR will conduct a mail survey to gauge how hunters in southeastern Minnesota feel the deer herd should be managed. This survey will give you a unique opportunity to have a role in future Zone 3 deer management.

Past deer management strategies for this region have been very successful in building deer herd numbers. But now it is time to reevaluate the strategy and move toward change that will better conform to current attitudes of sportsmen and women, landowners and the health of the deer herd.

The traditions in hunting run very strong in most deer camps, yet the changing hunter attitudes, land-access issues and deer population dynamics require adjustments to current conditions. This survey allows us the chance to participate in adapting to changing times.

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Bluffland Whitetails Association (BWA), a not-for-profit conservation organization centered in southeast Minnesota, has felt strongly that it is important to work closely with the Minnesota DNR in molding future deer management. After evaluating several different deer management strategies in other states, it is evident that the most successful programs have come about through close working relationships between the hunting communities and the state game management officials.

BWA has worked toward improved deer management practices, based upon sound scientific research by wildlife professionals, which can produce a healthy, balanced deer herd without reducing hunter opportunities. A balanced deer herd will benefit hunters, landowners and the public and ensure a brighter future for whitetails and whitetail-related recreation.

Following are the four main issues and deer management strategies BWA has been working towards over the last ten years.

Timing of the hunt

One of BWA’s main concerns has been the timing of the hunt. Minnesota has the earliest gun hunt of all upper Midwest states. This early gun season during the rut places substantial harvest pressure on the buck population. Moving the start of the gun season later will diminish harvest pressure on the buck population and will ensure more does are bred by mature, dominant bucks, thereby improving the genetic health of the deer herd.

Cross tagging of bucks

Minnesota is one of the few states that still allow unlimited cross-tagging. BWA strongly feels that cross-tagging for bucks is an outdated tradition for present herd dynamics. With this change, hunters would still be able to cross-tag for does and could still hunt with friends and family. Dr. Marett Grund, Minnesota DNR farmland research biologist, feels that eliminating cross-tagging for bucks would save 6-10 percent of yearling bucks.

Antler point restrictions

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Nearly half of states with whitetail deer herds have some form of management for deer quality. The most common program focuses on antler point restrictions (APR). A few years ago, the state of Missouri, which has a very similar herd to our state, implemented APR in a sizable portion of their state. This program was instigated by hunter requests. The program was successful beyond their expectations, and is now implemented across most of the state. This program increased doe harvest, increased buck age structure, and is supported by more than 80 percent of hunters. According to Lonny Hansen, chief deer biologist for Missouri, they are now considering moving the season dates later, to build upon the success of antler-point restrictions. BWA has not promoted APRs as a first-choice deer management strategy, but after analyzing successes in other states, it would be an improved strategy over the current southeast Minnesota season structure.

Youth hunts

BWA implemented the first gun youth hunt in Minnesota a few years ago. We feel strongly about expanding this opportunity for youth to culture and enhance future hunting traditions.

We strongly encourage you to visit with your fellow members of the hunting community to stress the great opportunity we have at this time to make significant and positive changes in southeast Minnesota deer management strategies.

For more information, visit BWA’s Web site at www.blufflandwhitetails.org

Gary Bartsch is president of Bluffland Whitetails Association’s board of directors.

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