Deer hunting numbers are down

Published 2:10 pm Saturday, November 16, 2013

Column: Woods and Water, by Dick Herfindahl

During this past week, I’ve heard mixed reports from some of our area deer hunters. There seems to be a healthy deer population in our area, and a few of the hunters that I know of who have gotten their deer. Although I’m not a deer hunter, I still enjoy hearing the stories.

I was invited to attend the first governor’s deer hunting opener in the Brainerd area a few years back, and that is where I was introduced to deer camps and what they mean to hunters and their families. It’s not all about shooting a deer; it’s the whole package. On that opener, I had the opportunity to accompany a couple of Department of Natural Resources officials as they drove from deer camp to deer camp checking with hunters to see how their hunt was going. The one thing that I noticed was the camaraderie between the hunters, and after speaking with a few of them, I knew there was a special bond that made this annual event a huge part of their lives.

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We stopped and spoke with one young girl who had just turned 15 who said she had been allowed to go to deer camps in the past, but this was the first year she said she had been allowed to go to deer camps in the past, but this was the first year she was allowed to hunt. She was really excited to be on her first hunt, which I believe it was like a coming of age thing for her.

I attended many of the governor’s fishing openers in the past, but the deer hunting opener introduced me to a whole different ballgame. Deer hunters are a very close-knit group of folks, and the deer camp was a way of bringing friends and families together for the traditional hunt.

My son Brian likes to bow hunt for deer, and looking back at it, his interest in archery started at a fairly young age. If you are an archery hunter, the season lasts from September through the end of the year. There is more time to hunt, but the degree of difficulty is greater. His uncle Lynn got him started deer hunting with a bow at a fairly young age. He was invited to go along with Lynn and some of his hunting buddies to Colorado to bow hunt for elk. This was probably his acceptance into that circle of friends who enjoy the sport of bow hunting.

One cool crisp sunny fall day, Brian asked me if I’d like to take a ride with him to the Bricelyn area, so he could show me where he did most of his bow hunting and do a little scouting at the same time. After spending time with him that day, I could see why he got so much enjoyment out of spending time in the woods, waiting for that special time when that big buck would appear. I don’t believe there is a more peaceful feeling than when you spend time in the woods watching nature at work.

Minnesota hunters harvested 77,008 deer during the first three days of the firearms season, down 8 percent from 2012, according to the DNR.

Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader, said a slightly smaller harvest over the first three days was not surprising.

“Last year, opening weekend weather was almost ideal and the state’s corn harvest was virtually complete, she said. “So given Saturday’s roaring winds of up to 30 mph, which tends to restrict deer movement, and more available deer refuge areas due to pockets of standing corn, the harvest is about what you’d expect.” In some areas, she said, about a quarter of the corn crop was not yet harvested.

Around the state, opening day hunting conditions included snow in the north and gusty winds and overcast skies most everywhere, turning nicer on Sunday. The harvest was down 19 percent in the northeast, 4 percent in the southeast and 6 percent for the remainder of the state. Because hunters have 48 hours to register a harvested deer, final opening weekend numbers for 2013 will be greater than those reported today.

With improving weather conditions this week, the DNR still expects the final 2013 harvest to be similar to last year when about 185,000 deer were taken.

The firearms season continues through Sunday for all but northeast Minnesota, which extends it until Nov. 24. There is also a late southeast firearms season that runs Nov. 23 to Dec. 1.

The cold weather we experienced last week put a temporary damper on the area fishing. With a warm-up, I’m sure we will once again see a few hardy folks fishing the channel between the lakes. The perch and walleye bite had been pretty good up until the cold-spell hit.

Until next time, hunt safe and enjoy some of our areas many natural resources. It’s always time well spent when you spend it in our great Minnesota outdoors.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers, because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.