Minnesota’s statewide deer harvest during the first four days of the state’s firearms deer season was down 6% from 2020 and 7% below the five-year mean, statistics from the Department of Natural Resources show.

In statistical terms, mean refers to the average of a data set. Minnesota’s firearms deer season opened Saturday, Nov. 6.

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Hunters registered an estimated 75,534 whitetails during the first four days of the firearms season, Barb Keller, big game program leader for the DNR in St. Paul, said Friday, Nov. 12. The cumulative harvest so far this fall, including archery, the October youth deer season and the firearms season to date, is 108,158, Keller said.

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The estimated harvest for the firearms season through Tuesday, Nov. 9, represents a rally from the first two days of season. According to DNR statistics, hunters registered 58,370 whitetails during the opening weekend, a drop of 11% from the opening weekend in 2020. Harvest estimates tend to lag behind actual numbers because hunters have 48 hours to register their deer.

The biggest drop for the first two days of season occurred in the 100-series permit areas of northern Minnesota, where hunters registered 13,222 deer, down 20% from last year and 22% below the five-year mean.

In the 200-series deer permit areas, hunters registered 38,545 deer opening weekend, down 10% from 2020 and down 16% from the five-year mean.

The only increase for the first two days of season occurred in the 300-, 600- and 700-permit areas farther south, where hunters registered 6,603 deer, up 10% from last year and similar to the five-year mean.

By region, hunters in the DNR’s Northwest Region registered 18,423 deer on the opening weekend, down 12% from 2020 and down 19%, when compared with the two-year mean.

Opening weekend tallies in other parts of the state were as follows:

  • Northeast: Hunters registered 12,768 deer, down 12% from 2020 and 22% below the two-year mean.

  • Central: 18,208 deer were registered, down 10% from 2020 and 15% below the two-year mean.

  • Southwest: 8,971 deer, similar to last year and down only 1% from the two-year mean.

Regional breakdowns through Tuesday, Nov. 9, weren't immediately available.

Anecdotal reports from opening weekend suggested a slower opener, driven in part by balmy November weather that made the deer less apt to move. Still, the decline was unexpected, said Todd Froberg, acting big game program manager for the DNR in Altura, Minnesota.

“I think it is fairly surprising that it is down that much considering license sales were very similar, down 1% total” from 2020, Froberg said Wednesday, Nov. 10, in an email. “Weather was warmer than average but not outrageous, crop harvest was ahead of schedule from last year, and we didn’t have too harsh of a winter anywhere. (There) should have been good numbers of deer in most places.”

Perhaps, he said, last year’s COVID-driven bump in deer harvest was real.

Despite the drop in opening weekend numbers, Froberg says he expects the harvest to catch up and level off by Sunday, Nov. 14, the last day of season in 200-series, 300-series and most 600-series deer permit areas. Based on Tuesday's update, that is already happening. The firearms deer season in 100-series permit areas and permit area 604 continues through Sunday, Nov. 21.

Minnesota hunters registered 159,762 deer during the 2020 firearms deer season for a success rate of 33.1%, DNR statistics show, up from 150,743 deer and a success rate of 31.2% in 2019.

Overall, Minnesota hunters had registered 79,106 deer so far this fall as of Wednesday, a number that includes archery but does not include special hunts.

– Brad Dokken

Sara Larson of Thompson, North Dakota, with the whitetail buck she shot Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, while hunting near Fordville, North Dakota. Contributed / Jim Hejlik
Sara Larson of Thompson, North Dakota, with the whitetail buck she shot Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, while hunting near Fordville, North Dakota. Contributed / Jim Hejlik


Deer tales: Thompson woman shoots first deer

Good things come to those who wait, as the old saying goes, and such was the case for Sara Larson of Thompson, North Dakota, who shot her first deer, a whitetail buck, Monday, Nov. 8. Sara, who just turned 21, was hunting with her uncle, Jimmy Hejlik, near Fordville, North Dakota, when she shot the buck.

“Sara failed to get a deer during the North Dakota youth season a few years ago,” said Grandpa Jim Hejlik of Fordville, who submitted the photo. “She has applied every year and finally was able to get a license this year.”

And a dandy buck, to boot!

– Brad Dokken

Beltrami CWD sampling falls short of goal

Sampling efforts in the surveillance zone near a Beltrami County deer farm that tested positive for chronic wasting disease last spring appear to have fallen just short of the DNR’s goal to collect 1,800 samples for testing.

The testing operation wrapped up Tuesday, Nov. 9, said Blane Klemek, Northwest Region wildlife manager for the DNR in Bemidji. Klemek was part of a DNR crew working the surveillance zone from opening day through late Tuesday.

After the deer farm tested positive last spring, the DNR designated the area as a CWD “surveillance zone” and implemented mandatory testing of deer shot opening weekend in Deer Permit Area 184 and all or parts of adjacent permit areas 110, 169 and 197.

DNR crews collected 1,677 samples during the opening weekend surveillance effort, Klemek said.

“We came close,” to our surveillance target, Klemek said. "It's hard to say what hunter compliance was like, but at ground zero, the Blackduck sampling station collected the most samples of any of the 21 stations."

– Brad Dokken

N.D. CWD sampling update

A “decent” number of hunters dropped off deer heads for testing in parts of North Dakota hunting Unit 2B during the opening weekend of deer season after the Game and Fish Department set up last-minute dropoff sites in Fargo, Hillsboro and Grand Forks following the surprise finding of CWD in a healthy-looking buck taken last month southwest of Climax, Minnesota, during Minnesota’s youth deer season.

“We had about 20 people come to get their deer sampled in Hillsboro on Saturday and Sunday,” said Charlie Bahnson, wildlife veterinarian for Game and Fish in Bismarck. Game and Fish had staff onsite in Hillsboro over the weekend to remove the lymph nodes from deer for sampling. That way, hunters could still retain the deer heads for mounting.

Dr. Charlie Bahnson, wildlife veterinarian, North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
Dr. Charlie Bahnson, wildlife veterinarian, North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

In addition, Bahnson said, about a dozen deer heads were dropped off at each of the collection sites in Fargo and Grand Forks.

“Overall, the whole opening weekend was kind of slow for all of the units we’re doing surveillance on,” Bahnson said. “This next week and weekend will be pretty telling. By that time, people have got their animals boned out, and sometimes, it can take a few days for the head to actually get to our collection sites.”

On the Minnesota side of the river, the DNR collected about 25 samples at drop sites in Climax and Nielsville during the first few days of the firearms deer season, according to Seth Goreham, acting wildlife research manager for the DNR. Hunters dropped off 30 deer heads, he said, but five were fawns and couldn’t be used. Deer must be at least 1 year old to be tested.

The last-minute surveillance efforts on both sides of the Red River resulted when a man hunting with his daughter during Minnesota’s youth deer season paid for CWD testing out of pocket for the mature buck his daughter shot, and the results unexpectedly came back positive last week.

No cases of the disease fatal to deer, elk and moose had ever been reported in the area.

Whether testing efforts will remain in place for future deer seasons will depend on the outcome of this year’s surveillance, biologists on both sides of the river said.

Bahnson of Game and Fish said he’d like to see more samples collected.

“Overall, I think it’s probably a little too early to draw conclusions on where we’re at exactly for numbers,” Bahnson said.

– Brad Dokken

Armstrong co-sponsors CWD legislation

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-North Dakota, recently co-sponsored federal legislation to help combat chronic wasting disease, the contagious neurological disease that’s fatal to deer, elk and moose.

Introduced by Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wisconsin, and Glenn Thompson, R-Pennsylvania, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act will improve research and management aimed at reducing the spread of CWD, according to a news release from Armstrong's office.

The bill unanimously passed the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday, Oct. 21, and now awaits consideration on the House floor.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong
Rep. Kelly Armstrong

“CWD is a serious threat to deer herds in North Dakota and across our country,” Armstrong said in a statement. “The Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act brings scientists, local officials, and hunters to the table to help manage and prevent the spread of CWD. It is important that we better understand the implications of this disease for the well-being of wildlife and to preserve our state’s hunting heritage for generations to come.”

The bill authorizes $70 million annually from Fiscal Year 2022 through Fiscal Year 2028 for research and management of CWD, with the money to be split evenly between the two purposes. Funds will be administered through cooperative agreements.

Several wildlife and sportsmen organizations support the legislation, including the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, National Wildlife Federation, Boone & Crockett, National Deer Association, North American Deer Farmers Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Mule Deer Foundation.

– Herald staff report

Montana sees muley bucks still in velvet

An abundance of mule deer bucks still in velvet this hunting season in north-central and northeast Montana may be suffering the effects of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, the Billings Gazette reported.

Caused by a biting midge that thrives during drought conditions, EHD hits white-tailed deer the hardest but may affect testosterone production in mule deer bucks, according to the Billings Gazette story.

“We saw several mule deer in velvet brought by the Havre check station this year, and many more were reported by hunters,” Scott Hemmer, a biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Havre, Montana, told the Gazette. “We have seen this phenomenon happen in Montana after past outbreaks of EHD, and past research has suggested a possible association between EHD and antler irregularities in deer, and other abnormalities like hoof sloughing.”

Areas along the Missouri River in North Dakota were hit especially hard by EHD this fall, and localized cases also were encountered for the first time along the Red River near Warsaw and Drayton, North Dakota. The outbreak was severe enough in some western North Dakota hunting units that the Game and Fish Department offered deer license refunds for hunters who wanted them. The outbreak along the Red River wasn’t extensive enough to warrant refund offers, Game and Fish officials said.

– Herald staff report