REGIONAL— Early results from the 2018 firearms season are looking a bit disappointing, at least from the point of view of the hunters. Through the critical first weekend, the deer harvest is down …
REGIONAL— Early results from the 2018 firearms season are looking a bit disappointing, at least from the point of view of the hunters. Through the critical first weekend, the deer harvest is down 14.6 percent statewide, although it’s running on par with last year in northern St. Louis and Lake counties.
That’s somewhat in contrast with pre-season projections for an increased deer harvest after four straight milder-than-average winters. The Department of Natural Resources had also liberalized hunting rules, allowing hunters to take more antlerless deer.
Hunter success varied by region and permit area. Zone 100, which includes all of northeastern Minnesota, experienced the largest decline, down 21.5 percent from last year. Locally, most permit areas saw little change in the total harvest, although PA 119 was an exception, with a 46.6-percent jump in registrations. PA 108 saw a 1.4-percent increase, while PA 177 saw a jump of 1.7 percent over 2017. PA 176 experienced a 2.5-percent decline in registrations, while PA 118 was off 24 percent.
A number of factors are likely playing into the somewhat slower-than-expected registrations. Wet conditions in agricultural regions of the state have slowed the corn harvest, providing deer more protection from hunters. And across the state, this year’s earlier-than-average opening day could be playing a role, said Tower Area DNR wildlife manager Tom Rusch. He noted that hunters have reported less deer movement than a typical opener, which suggests the rutting activity hadn’t yet peaked as of opener. “We tend to see the best deer movement between Nov. 6 and 11,” said Rusch. “We just weren’t there, yet.”
Rusch said he expects hunters to see more active deer this coming weekend and that hunters shouldn’t put too much stock in the numbers from opening weekend. “Bucks will continue to ramp up their movement in the next week as they transition into the chasing and searching phase of the rut,” he said.
Rusch also expects to see an increase in the antlerless harvest, which was down 16 percent statewide and 28.8 percent in Zone 100 over opening weekend. “By the second weekend, hunters tend to be less selective,” he said. “Unless weather becomes a negative factor, I think the second weekend is going to be good for those still in the woods.”
While the weekend weather outlook looks generally dry, hunters will face considerably colder conditions than opening weekend, when hunters enjoyed light winds and high temperatures reaching into the upper-thirties. This weekend is forecast to bring gustier winds and highs only in the low-to-mid-twenties, with overnight lows in the teens.
Hunters will likely be aided by the light coating of snow which fell across much of the area on Tuesday night and Wednesday, which will allow for improved tracking and possibly improved visibility if the wind blows the snow from tree and shrub branches. Continued cold and generally dry weather is forecast through the upcoming week.