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DNR deer decision: Bad for hunters, good for deer

11-08 03 Timm deer hunt jw .jpg
Laurie Timm talks with Tony Sather of Princeton on Saturday on Timm's farm in the Whitewater River Valley. Timm shot a doe later that afternoon, but many hunters across the state are struggling to fill their tags.
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Before hunters took to the woods on Saturday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources predicted the 2014 deer season will go into the books with the lowest total kills in decades.

That prediction likely will hit the bull's-eye.

Through the first three days of the statewide firearms deer season, hunters registered just 54,000 deer, compared to about 84,000 at this point last year. When special hunts and archery-killed deer are added in, hunters this year have tagged 67,000 deer, compared to 100,000 at this point last year.

The decline isn't an accident. The deer population is down, especially in northern Minnesota, and in an effort to rebuild the herd, the DNR is limiting hunters in most of the state to one deer. The goal is a total deer kill of 120,000.

By way of comparison, in 2003, Minnesota hunters killed nearly 300,000 deer, and from 2000 through 2008, hunters never failed to kill at least 200,000 deer. Given the slow start this year and a cold weather forecast, this year's tally might fall short of 100,000.

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But all the news is not grim, especially in southeastern Minnesota. Hunters in this corner of the state aren't seeing as many deer as they typically would, but some of the bucks they're encountering are the kind that make palms sweat and knees shake.

Coyote Creek Gun & Archery in Rochester is a big-game registration station, and owner Craig Reichel said hunters are happy with the deer they're bringing in.

"Most guys are saying that the overall numbers of deer are down, but the bucks they're seeing and shooting are really nice," he said. "A lot of guys are passing on small deer to wait for a big one. We've had some deer come in that field-dressed at 250 pounds. It's like they shot a steer."

Jake Lawrence, owner of Larry's Taxidermy in High Forest, also said hunters are bringing in some big bucks.

"We've gotten some really nice heads, including some real bruisers," he said. "There might not be as many deer out there, but guys are shooting some huge bucks."

Of course, people who register a deer tend to be happy with their experience. For plenty of hunters, however, this is turning out to be a disappointing season.

In the northern half of the state, conservation officers report many hunters simply stayed home last weekend, and those who went out saw very few deer. In southeastern Minnesota, reports are mixed. Hunters around Winona, Rushford and Plainview reportedly did quite well over the weekend, while those around Red Wing and LaCrescent had less success. Reichel said he's talked to several "good, experienced hunters on private land" who hadn't seen a single deer.

Those who still have tags to fill face a tough weekend, with wind chills that could dip below zero. Deer tend to move more in cold weather, but relatively few hunters have the fortitude to stay in their stands in such conditions.

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"The weather will scare half the hunters out of the woods this weekend," Reichel said. "When the temperature hits 13 degrees, the fair-weather hunters will stay home."

The first firearms deer season in southeastern Minnesota ends Sunday. The second season is Nov. 22-30, followed by the muzzleloader season that ends Dec. 14. The archery deer season ends Dec. 31.

Related Topics: HUNTING
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