Inaugural youth deer season leads to record number of licenses
Nearly 5,700 young deer hunters harvested a deer during the Minnesota DNR’s first statewide youth season, Oct. 17-20. The tally represents a 77 percent increase from the 2018 youth deer season when the hunt was limited to fewer areas. “We know that a number of youth license-buyers won’t be hunting until the regular firearms deer season, but the large increase in harvest reflects the great response to this new opportunity,” said Barbara Keller, big game program leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Positive early hunting experiences go a long way toward starting or continuing a rewarding fall tradition.” Before opening day of the Minnesota’s first statewide youth deer hunting season, 21,211 youth licenses had been purchased, up more than 50 percent from last year at the same time. After the first day of the season, the total increased to 27,960 youth licenses. A total of 7,896 licenses purchased through the youth season were for first-time license holders. The first regional youth deer hunting season happened in 2004 in northwestern Minnesota. Over the years, youth deer hunting season expanded to 28 deer permit areas in parts of southeastern and northwestern Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro area where deer are most abundant. For more information, visit the DNR’s youth deer hunting page.
SOURCE: Minnesota DNR
Smart safety choices may have saved duck hunters’ lives
When Alec Stark and his duck hunting buddies pushed off from shore in the predawn darkness of a brisk Saturday a couple weeks ago, they weren’t thinking about much beyond their collective hope the birds would be flying. Their blind was tucked out of the wind, so they spent the next few hours in relative comfort, passing the time chatting and watching the sky over North Long Lake near Brainerd. Around mid-morning they packed the decoys, put away their guns and started back toward the access. The sky was spitting snow and the wind was howling now, a piercing, 24ph gale that whipped the lake’s surface into a frenzy. Rather than cross the lake, the group decided to stick closer to the shore. Even so, their 16-foot boat took on water as the waves crashed over the bow. It quickly became clear if they were going to make it to shore, it wouldn’t be in the boat. They threw their decoys overboard, hoping to use them to float, and then jumped in the cold water, kicking hard for shore. But it was a decision they’d already made that morning – to wear their life jackets – that may have saved their lives. “Without the life jackets, we wouldn’t have been able to swim back. And had we not already been wearing them, there wouldn’t have been time to put them on,” said Stark, 24. “The shock of the cold water – you can’t even think. You’re just trying to breathe.” Stark, who also was wearing waders, flipped onto his back when he hit the water and started for shore. As soon he was in water shallow enough to stand, he used his cell phone to call 911. All four hunters exhibited signs of hypothermia upon making it to shore, so the waiting North Memorial ambulance brought them to the hospital. The Crow Wing County Recreational Division and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Eric Sullivan also assisted at the scene. “This story easily could have had a different and tragic ending,” Sullivan said. “Their preparation on the front end likely saved their lives. They wore their life jackets and had a safety plan to deal with the extreme conditions. And when it became necessary to put their plan into action, they executed it by leaving most of their equipment behind and using their duck decoys for additional flotation.” According to the DNR, nine people have died so far this year in boating accidents, which is the fewest since 2010. While most boating-related incidents occur during the summer months, a higher percentage of those that occur during the cold-water season are fatal. DNR safety officials say anyone who boats during the cold-water season should wear a life jacket (foam is better than inflatable), file a float plan, carry a communications device to call for help, and be prepared to deal with an unforeseen incident. For more information on staying safe on or around cold water, go to the DNR's cold water page.
SOURCE: Minnesota DNR
Test results in for ruffed grouse West Nile virus
Test results are in from the first year of a multi-state study on West Nile virus in ruffed grouse in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. These first-year results are showing that, while the virus is present in the region, exposed grouse can survive. "We are grateful to hunters for taking the time to submit samples from the birds they harvest. This work is only possible with their support, and we appreciate their patience in waiting for test results," said Mark Witecha, Wisconsin DNR upland game ecologist. West Nile has been present in Wisconsin since 2002 and was first detected in the state's ruffed grouse population in 2018. Ruffed grouse have likely been exposed to West Nile before 2018. However, previous testing in ruffed grouse was limited. "Our continued efforts to provide quality young forest habitat for ruffed grouse is our best strategy to maintain a healthy grouse population that can handle impacts from stressors such as disease or weather," Witecha said. Ruffed grouse are one of the most popular upland game birds to hunt. These birds are most commonly known for their distinctive "drumming" noise produced by males during the spring breeding season. Male grouse will display on drumming logs, rapidly beating their wings with the intention of attracting a female grouse. The study may help identify future research needs in Wisconsin, such as a potential survival study to investigate sources of mortality, with WNV being one of many stressors examined. In 273 samples from grouse that hunters harvested in Minnesota during 2018, 34 samples (12.5 percent) had antibodies consistent with West Nile virus exposure that were either confirmed in 10 samples (3.7 percent) or likely in 24 samples (8.8 percent). The tests did not find the presence of virus in any of the ruffed grouse hearts, meaning the birds were not sick when harvested. In Wisconsin, West Nile virus exposure was detected in 68 of 235 (29 percent) ruffed grouse blood samples with exposure to the virus either confirmed in 44 (19 percent) or likely in 24 (10 percent), and two grouse had virus present in their hearts. In Michigan, West Nile virus exposure was detected in 28 of 213 (13 percent) ruffed grouse blood samples with exposure to the virus either confirmed in nine (4 percent) or likely in 19 (9 percent), with four having virus present in their hearts. “The study tells us that some birds that have been exposed to West Nile virus are surviving – both juvenile and adults – and they are not sick when harvested in the fall,” said Charlotte Roy, grouse project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “But this study does not tell us about birds that may have died from the disease over the summer.” Research in other states points to good grouse habitat as one factor that can produce birds in better condition and better able to survive stressors like West Nile virus. The DNR had asked grouse hunters to collect two types of samples to help determine if the birds were exposed to the virus: a blood sample to determine if the grouse had developed an immune response to the virus, and the heart to look for traces of viral genetic material. As in humans, ruffed grouse can build up antibodies in an immune response to viruses they encounter. Even when the body fights off an illness, these antibodies are left behind in the blood.
Hunter participation Hunters who submitted samples in 2018 will be mailed a letter this fall notifying them of the test results of the birds they submitted. “Thank you to all hunters who contributed samples last year, as well as hunters who are submitting samples this season,” Roy said. Sample collection is continuing during the 2019 grouse hunting season. Ruffed grouse hunters can voluntarily submit samples if they are willing to collect blood on filter paper strips within 30 minutes of harvest, hearts, and a few feathers for sex and age determination, and are willing to provide harvest location information. Sample collection kits have been available for pickup at DNR area wildlife offices within the ruffed grouse range since Labor Day on a first-come first-serve basis. Due to strong interest by hunters, many offices are already out of kits, so hunters should call ahead before stopping. This year, the Ruffed Grouse Society is offering a shotgun and Pineridge Grouse Camp is offering a guided hunt as prizes in a drawing for participating hunters who submit samples correctly.
About West Nile virus West Nile virus has been present in Minnesota since the early 2000s, but interest in effects on ruffed grouse increased following a study in Pennsylvania documenting relationships between habitat quality, populations and virus exposure. Some bird species recover quickly and become tolerant to the virus while others, such as blue jays and crows, suffer higher rates of mortality. West Nile virus is carried by infected mosquitoes. Not all people or animals bitten by an infected mosquito will contract West Nile virus. There have been no documented cases of people contracting West Nile virus from consuming properly cooked meat. More information about ruffed grouse hunting and sampling is available on the DNR grouse hunting page.
SOURCE: Wisconsin, Minnesota DNR
CWD testing mandatory in central, north-central, southeast
Minnesota deer hunters must bring their harvested deer to sampling stations to be tested for chronic wasting disease in the central surveillance area, north-central and southeast management zones, and the southeast control zone on opening weekend of firearms deer season Saturday, Nov. 9, and Sunday, Nov. 10. Testing is also required throughout all deer seasons in both the north-central and southeast disease management zones (600-series permit areas), and during the opening weekend of the B firearms season Saturday, Nov. 23, to Sunday, Nov. 24, in the southeast disease control zone (permit areas 255, 343 and 344). This mandatory testing is part of the Department of Natural Resources approach to limit the spread of the disease and keep Minnesota’s wild deer population healthy. The DNR conducts the testing in areas where CWD has been discovered in wild or captive white-tailed deer. “Protecting our white-tailed deer population is a shared responsibility, and we’re thankful for hunters who help combat CWD by submitting samples,” said Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program supervisor. “These samples provide data that help us better understand the prevalence of the disease in wild deer in these areas.” The mandatory sampling requirements mean that after field dressing their deer, all hunters in disease management zones, control zones, or the central surveillance area must take them to a sampling station. DNR staff will remove lymph nodes, and the DNR will submit the tissue for laboratory testing. Hunters should check the chronic wasting disease page to find the permit areas where sampling is required. Hunters must register their deer prior to sampling – whether by phone, internet or in person – as harvest registration will not be available at CWD sampling stations. Hunters can check for their CWD test results online at mndnr.gov/cwdcheck by entering their nine-digit DNR number from the deer’s site tag.
Carcass movement restrictions in place The DNR reminds hunters who harvest deer in the disease management and control zones in north-central and southeast Minnesota that carcass movement restrictions remain in effect. Whole deer carcasses cannot be removed from the area until a “not detected” test result is received. The following parts of deer may leave a CWD management zone before a “not detected” test result is confirmed: * Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached. * The main leg bone can remain in each quarter. * Meat that is boned out or that is cut and wrapped (either commercially or privately). Hides and teeth. * Antlers or clean (no brain tissue attached) skull plates with antlers attached. Details of these restrictions are available online. To help hunters comply with these restrictions, the DNR has set up carcass disposal locations where hunters can properly dispose of deer remains. After quartering or de-boning the meat so it is free of brain and spinal column material, hunters can then immediately move the meat or quarters out of the CWD area. Hunters can find the current list of disposal locations on their respective CWD surveillance area pages. There will not be a refrigerated trailer for storing deer carcasses in the Preston area this year.
Voluntary CWD testing Hunters not in a mandatory testing area can collect their own lymph node sample and submit it for testing to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Minnesota for a fee. A DNR video showing how to collect a lymph node sample is available on the DNR website.
Additional CWD information Keeping Minnesota’s wild deer population healthy remains the goal in the DNR’s response to chronic wasting disease. Since CWD was first detected in Minnesota in 2002, the DNR has tested more than 71,000 wild deer in the state. To date, 52 wild deer have tested positive for CWD in Minnesota. Test results, including locations of confirmed positive test results and statistics, are available on the DNR website. As part of its response plan, the DNR is monitoring for CWD in disease management zones around areas where the disease has been detected in wild deer, as well as in a CWD surveillance area where it was found in captive deer. The disease management zones are located in southeast and north-central Minnesota; the surveillance area is located in central Minnesota. The southeast disease control zone is made up of three permit areas bordering the southeast management zone. CWD affects the cervid family, which includes deer, elk and moose. It is spread through direct contact with an infected deer’s saliva, urine, blood, feces, antler velvet or carcass. There is no vaccine or treatment for this disease. For more information on CWD, including maps of surveillance areas, frequently asked questions and hunter information, visit the chronic wasting disease page.
SOURCE: Minnesota DNR
Planning a hunt? DNR maps can help
Online maps from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources can help in planning a hunt. Hunters can use the maps to find public land, plan routes to and from a hunting location, or get a better sense of terrain and habitat features. The DNR maps page lists maps that include permit areas for deer, bear and turkey hunting, chronic wasting disease zones, hunter walking trails, ruffed grouse management areas, Walk-In Access lands and wildlife management areas, plus the DNR Recreation Compass that shows multiple types of public land.
SOURCE: Minnesota DNR
New hunters carry on Minnesota's deer hunting heritage
Anyone curious about giving deer hunting a try has more ways than ever to learn how to get out into the woods and fields. New hunters often express interest in putting locally sourced meat in the freezer. As they become hunters they tend to find new friends, create new family traditions and gain deeper understanding and connections with the outdoors. Efforts to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters will play a leading role as the 17th annual Minnesota Governor's Deer Hunting Opener celebrates Minnesota's hunting tradition Thursday, Nov. 7, through Sunday, Nov. 10, in Fergus Falls. Throughout the year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources works to make it easier for anyone to start hunting, and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association supports efforts to mentor new hunters. Each year, MDHA collaborates with environmental learning centers and the YMCA to offer hands-on training for future hunters through camps for youth ages 11-17. At Forkhorn Camp, youth get a hands-on approach to sharing knowledge on hunting practices and hunter safety. All across the state this year, Minnesota offered mentors an ideal way to share hunting knowledge and traditions with youth ages 10-17 during the inaugural statewide youth deer season held Oct. 17-20. This hunting season just for kids gave a chance for parents, relatives and trusted adults to discover, explore and practice hunting with youth in Minnesota's fields and forests.
Adults learn to hunt Leading up to deer seasons, the DNR hosts a variety of learn-to-hunt classes aimed at adults interested in learning how to hunt. Learn to Hunt Deer 101 teaches adults 18 and older all the skills they need to hunt and process deer to put meat on the table. Participants start in the classrooms, progress to the shooting range, then to learn how to spot deer sign and pick hunting spots. Finally, they get an opportunity to use their new skills during special deer hunts in October and November. The Becoming an Outdoors Woman program offers women interested in hunting a chance to gain skills in a supportive environment. This year, women signed up for a three-part series that covered deer biology and habitat, regulations, calls, tree stand safety, equipment and hunting blinds. Participants later learned where to shoot, how to gauge shooting distance and how to shoot from elevated stands, and took part in a mentored archery deer hunt in late September.
Removing barriers The DNR's own recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) program offers grants to organizations that make ongoing efforts to get more people outdoors. Funded projects include MDHA mentored hunts and numerous other hunting programs, with details available at mndnr.gov/R3. Hunter safety training also furthers the efforts to continue Minnesota's hunting tradition. More than 1 million Minnesotans have completed firearms safety training. Hunters who know someone wishing to try hunting, but doesn't have a firearms safety certificate, can make use of the apprentice hunter validation. The validation is a short-term exception to the requirement for completing hunter firearms safety training and can be purchased where hunting licenses are sold. The validation may be purchased two license years in a lifetime. Find details at mndnr.gov/safety/apprentice.
Take someone hunting Hunters themselves continue to play the largest role in bringing new hunters out into the woods and fields, and hunters are encouraged to take someone else hunting to help pass on Minnesota's hunting tradition to the next generation. Information about the Minnesota Governor's Deer Hunting Opener is available at mngovernorsdeeropener.com. The event promotes hunting and tourism and is being hosted by Gov. Tim Walz through a partnership among the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and its local chapters, Explore Minnesota Tourism and Visit Fergus Falls.
SOURCE: Minnesota DNR
DNR wildlife managers detail what deer hunters can expect
Nearly half a million firearms deer hunters are preparing for the season that opens Saturday, Nov. 9, and offers opportunity to spend time with friends and family, find adventure outdoors and put venison in the freezer. Hunters help keep deer populations in line with population goals across the state, and wildlife managers report good opportunities to harvest deer. But they also caution hunters that scouting could be more important this year due to wet access and habitat conditions over the spring and summer. Hunters need to know the boundaries of the deer permit areas and any chronic wasting disease (CWD) zones where they hunt. Detailed information about each permit area and CWD zone can be found on the DNR’s interactive deer map at mndnr.gov/deermap. Additional information about CWD zones and sampling requirements can be found at mndnr.gov/cwd.
Northwest deer report John Williams, northwest region wildlife manager A quick look at the 2019 deer permit area map shows a lot of opportunity for harvesting deer in the northwest region this year. Permit areas designated as intensive in 2018 (a three-deer limit) largely stayed the same in 2019, with the only exception being permit area 287 (Itasca State Park) going to a two-deer limit under the managed designation. Other permit areas have liberal hunting strategies, including increased lottery antlerless permit numbers or a change from hunters choice to managed designations. Only a couple of permit areas had more restrictive hunting strategies selected for the 2019 season. The recent rains in the northwest will be an issue hunters need to contend with as the landscape is, and likely will be, very wet. Ditches and streams could be issues for access and hunters should keep in mind their footwear for hunting in wet conditions. These wet conditions also affect the ability to harvest crops, and standing corn can make it difficult for hunters to find and locate deer. Weather is always a factor in hunting, even when there are abundant deer on the landscape. In any year, scouting prior to the season is a wise choice. Deer stands that were in good shape last year could be storm-damaged this year. Areas that were accessible under normal to dry conditions may require a different route in this year. In addition, making sure that your rifle or shotgun shoots true is worth that time on the range to give you the confidence to take a good shot. All this is better done before Nov. 9, and the sooner the better.
Northeast deer report Angela Aarhus-Ward, northeast region wildlife manager In the northeast region, the permit area designation map shows more lottery deer areas compared to last year and fewer antlerless permits for areas that were lottery last year. This represents a more conservative antlerless deer harvest strategy designed to provide hunting opportunities, while helping populations to grow and stabilize around previously established deer population goals for those permit areas. The more conservative strategy is a result of lingering concerns over the effect of last winter on deer survival and fawn production. The DNR recorded elevated winter severity due to deep snow and prolonged winter conditions that lasted well into April, particularly in the northeastern part of the region where winter conditions were the most severe. To the south, where winter was much milder, management designations stayed largely unchanged from 2018, allowing for more hunting opportunity in an effort to stabilize and in some cases further reduce local deer populations to goal levels. New this year: In the middle of the state near Brainerd, disease management zone 604 contains all of former permit areas 242 and 247 along with parts of 155, 171 and 246. Zone 604 was created after a wild deer tested positive for CWD this past winter. Permit area 604 has unlimited antlerless harvest; mandatory CWD sampling during all deer seasons and carcass movement restrictions in effect. Deer feeding and attractant bans are also in place here. Rain and wet conditions have persisted throughout much of the fall season. Hunters may find water in areas that are typically dry this time of year and forest road access may be difficult or impassable in some locations.
Central deer report Jami Markle, central region wildlife manager Deer populations are robust across the central region, and deer observations and sign (rubs and scrapes) are picking up considerably as fall conditions set in. Seasonal patterns and movements are sure to increase as the peak breeding time approaches. Fall color and leaf drop varied across the region by early October, from 20 percent at Whitewater Wildlife Management Area in the southeast to 70 percent in the north at Mille Lacs WMA. Wildlife managers are reporting very good fawn production this year. Healthy body weight and condition can make it hard to discern fawns from yearlings in some cases. Hunters will see some does with single fawns as they head afield, and there will be plenty of does out there with two fawns as well. It has been an average year for acorn production and other important forest nuts and forage. Deer are still focused on abundant natural foods, keeping them in the woods and along the forest edges. With a later frost this year and plenty of green browse to feed on, deer should be healthy going into the winter. Archery harvest has been slow due to warm and very wet conditions during the early season, but is picking up in October. Saturated soils and flooded field roads have all but halted crop harvest, which could play into opening weekend strategy for hunters. Opportunities abound for deer harvest in the central region with most permit areas designated as managed or intensive, allowing for the use of bonus antlerless permits. The metro permit area (701) and CWD management zone (600 series) are designated for unlimited antlerless harvest. In southeastern Minnesota, deer permit areas within the CWD control and CWD management zones have unlimited antlerless harvest; mandatory CWD sampling during all deer seasons; and carcass movement restrictions are in effect. Deer feeding and attractant bans are also in place here.
Southwest deer report David Trauba, southwest region wildlife manager A deep snow pack in late winter resulted in reports of deer mortality – mostly fawns – over a large portion of southwestern Minnesota. As such, wildlife managers took a more conservative approach in setting antlerless permit numbers. We have learned through experience that tough winters do negatively affect deer even in southern Minnesota where deer food is not considered a limiting factor. In years following severe winters, managers take a more conservative harvest strategy. By being conservative in antlerless permit numbers, we can hold deer densities stable and maintain an increasing trend across most permit areas. The good news is that overall, most deer densities remain at goal level across the region. The conservative strategy meant that 2019 antlerless permit levels remained the same across most deer permit areas as in 2018. Only two permit areas offered fewer antlerless permits (275, 294) as managers felt the overall population trend was moving downward. Two permit areas offered a modest increase in antlerless permits (289, 291) and cited an increasing population trend along with a good habitat base as reasons to be more liberal in permit numbers. Three deer permit areas remained as hunter choice (281, 290, 230) due to abundant deer habitat especially in the Minnesota River corridor along with most land in private ownership. The true wild card entering the firearm deer season will be the continued trend of abundant rainfall and river flooding. Hunters will encounter and notice hundreds of thousands of acres of unplanted fields across the southern region. In addition, many traditional food plots on our state WMAs did not get planted or were planted to alternative crops. This has the potential to shift deer use especially later in the year. All major river systems have flooded out multiple times. This has had an impact on the floodplain habitat base that is often viewed as the best habitat corridors. Because the habitat base has changed this year, hunters are going to need to scout and adapt to altered habitat conditions. This is true in all years, but more so in 2019.