Nearly half a million firearms deer hunters are preparing for the firearms deer season that opens Saturday, Nov. 6, and offers the opportunity to spend time outdoors with friends and family, find adventure outdoors and put venison in the freezer.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ wildlife managers report favorable weather so far this year and good opportunities to harvest deer in most areas. Currently, managers report dry conditions that can improve hunter access due low water conditions in wetlands, floodplains and small water bodies. Dry conditions are also resulting in greater fire danger, and deer hunters are advised to be careful with any heat source that can cause a spark.
Hunters need to know the boundaries of the deer permit areas and any chronic wasting disease regulations that apply where they hunt. Detailed information about each permit area and CWD area can be found on the DNR’s interactive deer map. Additional information about CWD areas, carcass movement restrictions and voluntary sampling can be found at mndnr.gov/cwd.
Southern deer report
Weather conditions for deer and other farmland wildlife were favorable in 2020-21. Winter conditions were mild once again with above-average temperatures and lower than typical snow depths. Spring and summer precipitation was below normal and led to widespread drought conditions throughout much of the state beginning in summer but easing by fall. Drought conditions had no measurable impact on the deer herd and fawn production was good.
Despite the drought conditions, overall habitat is in good shape. River floodplains, which offer some of the best deer habitat and deer hunting in the southern region, had two consecutive years to recover from persistent flooding. These floodplain habitats are once again offering excellent cover for deer, which bodes well for deer hunters.
Upland grassland areas and wetland basins are in good shape as well, and hunters may encounter lower water levels or completely dry wetland basins.
Overall deer populations are strong throughout the southern region. All deer permit areas underwent a new round of population goal setting and harvest strategies are aligned to meet new deer density estimates.
As always, the largest wildcard in this landscape in determining overall deer harvest is the amount of standing crop remaining in the field during firearms deer season. Crop harvest usually improves hunter success by increasing harvest opportunities, as greater numbers of deer begin using other habitat as cover instead of standing corn.
Central deer report
Following the summer drought, much of the central region remains dry despite some recent rainfall that has allowed a green-up of vegetation going into fall. Many areas with small bodies of water or wetlands are dry or low, which will improve hunter access. Acorn production has been decent in some areas but marginal to spotty in others, and some of the red oaks are dropping acorns. With the dry conditions, early season hunters are experiencing fewer mosquitos and other bugs compared to previous years.
Deer populations are robust in central Minnesota and are above to well-above goal levels throughout nearly all central Minnesota deer permit areas. Many permit areas allow a hunter to harvest up to three deer.
Wildlife managers in central Minnesota urge deer hunters to take advantage of bonus licenses to harvest antlerless deer to help manage deer populations.
Crop harvest appears to be continuing on track or even a couple weeks ahead of usual in the central region and it’s anticipated that the majority of the crops will be harvested by the start of firearms deer season.
Northeast deer report
Winter 2020-21 weather was generally mild throughout the northeast region, although the winters previous to this one were more severe. Because white-tailed deer are adaptable and highly mobile, this year’s drought is not expected to negatively impact deer populations.
Drought conditions are expected to increase access opportunities in some areas like wetland, stream and lakeshore habitats, but in general, hunter access due to local surface water impacts is expected to be close to normal.
Long-term trends in forest management have less impact on the deer herd when conditions are mild or normal because deer are able to move easily to find food and cover. During severe winters, thermal cover and forage availability become more important. Deer populations are typically higher on private land as opposed to public land.
Hunters are expected to encounter the most deer in areas of mixed habitat where there is a blend of forest and open fields of private land. Areas farther north with extensive public lands are still struggling to recover from past harsh winters.
Bag limits will be conservative again this fall in most deer permit areas to give local deer populations the chance to grow more in areas where their numbers are still below the established, publicly vetted population goals. The DNR will be reviewing deer population goals for additional deer permit areas in the northeast region this winter.
Northwest deer report
The 2020-21 winter was mild and deer survival was good in most of northwestern Minnesota. The region has been abnormally dry most of the year, but recent rains in some areas are helping put some moisture on the landscape. Barring any major rainfall, access to public land should be better than average due to low water in ditches and wetlands.
Deer populations are stable and generally in good shape. There are plenty of deer on the landscape and hunters who do their homework and spend time in the woods and fields should have plenty of opportunities to harvest deer.
Many deer permit areas in the region have two- or three-deer limits, and hunters are reminded to check the regulations for the permit areas they hunt. Crop harvest is well ahead of schedule, so hunters should not expect any corn to still be in the ground during firearms season opener.