DNR hopes to stabilize deer heard this year

Published 3:55 pm Saturday, November 7, 2009

The firearm deer hunting season opened Saturday, and thousands of hunters were out statewide.

The Department of Natural Resources expects 290,000 to more than 300,000 deer licenses statewide each year, but the number of deer trying to elude those hunters is harder to determine.

The deer population in the area peaked about ten years ago, causing the DNR to take steps to reduce the population, and the DNR met their population goals a few years ago, said Jeanine Vorland, area wildlife manager with the DNR. She said the DNR has since decreased the availability of any sex licenses.

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This year, the goal is to stabilize or slightly increase the deer herd, Vorland said.

“We’re trying to balance it,” Vorland said. “It’s both a science and an art because you’re dealing with social issues. People like to have enough deer around for people to see and have a fun time hunting, but not so many that they cause serious depredation or damages to crops or other areas. It’s a balancing act.”

The estimates in the Austin area are for about two to three deer per square mile before the fawns are born. Once the fawns are born, that number could jump to about five deer per square mile, Vorland said.

That number varies across the county, and Vorland said there could be more deer in one spot and fewer in another.

“It varies across the landscape based on the habitat that’s available,” She said. “If you have better habitat, you’re going to have better deer per square mile.”

One area that could have a high deer population is standing corn, which provides cover and a food source.

Vorland said the DNR is developing more advanced techniques to estimate the deer population, as she described the current DNR numbers are an educated guess.

“There’s no real precise count of deer that we have at our fingertips,” Vorland said. “It’s basically estimates based on our harvest levels and kind of a gut feeling for what we’ve seen and which direction it’s trending.”

The DNR has committees of citizens around the state that help determine whether the deer population should increase or decrease. The committee for south-central Minnesota is made up of about fifteen people, and that committee includes a representation of different people, not just hunters.

This year, that committee indicated the DNR should try to slightly increase the deer population after a series of measures to decrease the population the past few years.

“That was an endorsement that’s time to stop the decline and try to regrow the deer herd a little bit,” Vorland said.

Such recommendations are important in this area because of the landscape, Vorland said.

“The harvest was fairly high, but in Mower County, Freeborn County, this area, the deer are relatively vulnerable to hunting pressure because the habitat areas tend to be relatively small,” Vorland said.

While the DNR will enact some minor restrictions to increase the deer population, Vorland said she hopes hunters have a good season.

“I hope people have a fun time and think safe,” she said.