RUSHFORD — Mitch Boyum peered inside a barrel outside Pam's Corner Convenience Store on the south side of Rushford and saw several deer heads in plastic bags.
"Good," said the Department of Natural Resources conservation officer. Archery hunters in the area had shot some deer Sept. 14, the opening day of the season, and they had placed the heads inside the barrel to be tested for chronic wasting disease, just as regulations required.
He also got word that a special dumpster in Preston now contained the remains of several deer shot by bow hunters who boned out their deer, taking the meat but leaving the carcasses. Again, they knew and were following the rules.
“It's a good beginning,” said the veteran CO.
It told him hunters seem to know what to do as the DNR expands where it tests for CWD as well as rules about what hunters can shoot and what they must do with deer in much of this region. Rules this year will generally allow hunters to shoot more deer, but they'll need to follow a fairly complex procedure after doing so.
CWD, an always-fatal neurological disease, was first found in one wild doe near Pine Island in 2010, but no new cases were found there despite thousands of tests. The disease, however, was found in the Preston area in 2016, and thus far, 49 more infected deer have been found in that area and to the east.
Hunting regulations have evolved since the discover of CWD in southeast Minnesota, and this year, there are some big changes. One is that there are now two CWD zones.
The first is called the Southeast CWD Deer Management Zone, containing permit areas that are now numbered 643, 645, 646, 647, 648, 649 and 655. Basically the zone is southeast of U.S. 14 from Kasson east to Utica and north to Minneiska and south from Kasson to Adams.
This zone includes the city of Rochester.
Some of the biggest rule changes in the zone are:
• Antler-point restrictions are suspended, so all bucks are legal to shoot.
• Cross-tagging is allowed, so one person can to shoot antlered bucks for the whole party.
• Hunters are allowed to take an antlered buck with a bow, regular firearm and muzzleloader.
• Hunters must submit all deer harvested for testing. The DNR will have people at several stations during the firearms season, but archery and muzzleloader hunters must submit samples themselves. Those who shoot trophy deer can cape out and remove antlers of deer before putting them in the self-service barrels, Boyum said.
• Hunters may harvest an unlimited number of antlerless deer.
The other new zone is called the Southeast CWD Control Zone, and it actually is in two parts. One part, consisting of units 343 and 344, is north of the management zone and is bordered on the north by Pine Island and Plainview and includes the Whitewater WMA. The other, unit 255, is west of the Management Zone and ranges from from Hayfield west to Blooming Prairie and south to Iowa. This area includes the Austin area.
In these areas, hunters must submit all deer harvested the first two days of A and B firearms seasons and after that, they may elect to go to self-service stations if they want their deer tested.
Antler-point restrictions are also suspended in this zone, but hunters many harvest just one antlered buck. Cross tagging is allowed.
There are also new rules about transporting deer. Hunters are urged to read all updates on the DNR website.
Another important rule in both of these zones is that the use of any attractant scents has been banned. Products that mask a hunter’s scent are allowed, as long as they don't have a food base or any hormones or urine.
Salt blocks are prohibited, even if they contain no apples, molasses or grains. And it should go without saying that all baiting is prohibited, as is recreational feeding of deer.
A COMPLICATED JOB
As Boyum drove around the Rushford area Sept. 15, finding only small-game hunters and trout anglers, he said the new rules will mean more calls and questions for him.
But he doesn’t mind, and he isn't worried about hunters being overwhelmed. Rules have been changing steadily for several year, and hunting traditions have evolved with them. “Year after year hunters are learning more about CWD, because we are living with it.”
He cautions hunters that ignorance of the rules won't be an excuse, and he doesn’t plan to be lenient with hunters who don’t follow the new rules. Instead, enforcement will be as it always has been -- decisions are based on the situation.
Boyum said he's confident the vast majority of hunters will comply. “They are doing something they enjoy," he said. “The last thing they want it to have some problems.”
The ban on attractants won’t hurt success rates, he said. “Our hunters are good enough that they will have success without it. Minnesota has good deer hunters.”