Hunters have their say on deer rules

Scott Bjornson, of Hayfield, speaks in support of antler point restrictions Wednesday at a public imput meeting hosted by state Sen. Jeremy Miller.

WINONA — Bill Macey, a deer hunter from Elba, brought a unique set of views to a public meeting in Winona on Wednesday night.

He was one of more than 125 people who came to the Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical Student Center to share their thoughts on antler-point restrictions and the ban on cross-tagging for bucks, two new deer-management rules were implemented by the Minnesota DNR last year in southeastern Minnesota. The rules are supposed to be in place for a three-year trial, but Rep. Steve Drazkowski, a Republican from Mazeppa, is leading the fight to overturn them after one year.  

When Macey's turn came at the microphone, he delivered a split decision. "I believe that with the antler-point restrictions, we should use a voluntary approach," he said. "A long time ago my hunting group instituted our own set of APRs in the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area. We've shot a lot of big bucks, and we've passed on a lot of small bucks. You don't need APRs to shoot a big buck on public land."

But he has no time for people who fill each other's buck tags. "It doesn't make sense," he told a panel of DNR officials and legislators, including Drazkowski and Sen. Jeremy Miller, a Republican from Winona who organized Wednesday's meeting. "If I shoot a buck, I'm done. We won't shoot a buck for each other." 

The vast majority of speakers, however, saw the two rules in very black-and-white terms. They like both, or they despise both.


Among those in the the former camp was Scot Bjornson of Hayfield, who wants the experiment to run its course. "This is a test run," he said. "I don't see how you can be more fair than that. And really, these rules cover all of southeastern Minnesota, so is it fair for 1,000 people from Winona to go grab a legislator and try to undo the 10-year process that created these changes? What does it say that these people are willing to pull out every trick in the book to kill this?"

Several other speakers joined Bjornson in speaking directly to Drazkowski, criticizing his attempt to essentially overrule the DNR's deer biologists.

But on the other side were hunters like Troy Brugger of Rollingstone, who cautioned that if Minnesota begins growing more big bucks, the average hunter might not like what would happen next. "You'll create more leasing and less opportunity to hunt," he said. "We all like having big bucks around, but not the problems that come with them."

Members of southeast-based Bluffland Whitetails Association are leading the fight to keep the new rules in place, which aligns them with the DNR. On the other side is the Minnesota Deer Hunters Assocation, whose members repeated the theme of voluntary deer management:  "Educate, don't regulate." 

Caught somewhere in the middle are farmers, who as commodity prices go up, are seeing the state's large deer herd take a big bite out of their wallets. The message they delivered on Wednesday was that regardless of the rules, they need hunters to kill more does.

"The losses to farmers right now are far exceeding what the DNR is getting in license fees," said Rod Sommerfield of Mazeppa." He advocates charging a high price for a buck tag, to encourage people to shoot more does -- and perhaps protect young bucks. "If you make the premium for a buck tag high enough, then who in their right mind would burn that tag on a fork horn?"

DNR big-game coordinator Lou Cornicelli made the case that in states where antler-point restrictions are in place, the harvest of antlerless deer typically will increase. That didn't happen last year, but he said poor weather kept hunters at home during the two weekends when the antlerless harvest should have been high.

He also objected to the suggestion that the DNR is catering to the wishes of trophy hunters. "This is not a trophy management effort," he said. "I stand firmly behind that."



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