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DNR asking for input on proposed deer hunting changes

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DETROIT LAKES - The Minnesota Department of Resources is asking for comments from hunters on proposed changes to simplify deer hunting in the state. The meeting closest to Detroit Lakes is from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, March 13, at the Century School Cafeteria in Park Rapids.

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The DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife formed the Deer Season Simplification Committee, or DSC, with 13 interested citizens with deer hunting knowledge or interests to simplify hunting regulations.

Changes created over the years in the areas of new licenses, season lengths and bag limits and tagging requirements have made deer hunting in Minnesota more confusing for the estimated 500,000 hunters.

The group came up with six major recommendations for simplifying the season after meeting in December and January. The recommendations are to consolidate the number of deer hunting licenses and the number of zones, simplify validating the deer tag at the hunting site, improve the regulation book, think about alternative deer registration methods, and simplify the legal calibers for ammunition.?

The first recommendation, consolidating the deer hunting licenses, is important because hunters have become confused due to the all-season license.

In the DSC report, one of the reasons for getting rid of the all-season license was "Consolidating redundant licenses into one license will result in clearer and more straightforward communications with hunters."

The final proposed change would eliminate the all-season license, allowing firearms hunters to also participate in the muzzleloader season, and not require hunters interested in firearms and muzzleloaders to purchase a tag for the archery season.

The committee had three different recommendations regarding consolidating hunting zones in the state. The current zones have changed very little since established in 1976. The DSC recommended changing the number of zones from six to two, the traditional "A" season and the 3B season.

The A season would have a standard opening date, its own license, and a variable closing date depending on the permit area number (100, 200, etc.). A separate license would be needed for the "B" season only. Under the proposed change, Zone 4 would be eliminated and be placed in the 9-day season structure.

The DSC justified the recommendations because multi-zone license changes have allowed hunters to stretch out their season, and have eliminated the need for a 4A/4B season.

Its report stated, "Deer would still be managed by permit area with a 'soft' zone line. Permit areas that start with 100 would be 16 days, 200 series would be nine days, and 300A would be seven days (300B would be 9 days). The metro deer area (601) would still be preserved and any licenses would be valid."

In regards to the elimination of Zone 4, the committee said eliminating the zone, along with the all-season license, would cut down hunter confusion over either-sex permits and muzzleloader season because hunters would all be lumped into one pot of lottery permits.

For the third recommendation, the DSC suggested eliminating the license validation that was created during the 2006 legislative session. Compliance with this law, which required hunters to validate their tag and their license at the kill site, has been low.

Hunters are already required to fill out the tag on their deer and register it; requiring hunters to also mark their licenses only complicates the matter.

The DSC recommended enhancing the hunting regulations book by publishing an updated, abbreviated version in the Hmong language for the over 15,000 Hmong hunters in the state, to help reduce hunter confusion. The committee also recommended having a small group review the regulations book before it was published.

Allowing hunters alternative forms of deer registration would simplify regulations, said the DSC. Since the data acquired through registration, such as population modeling, harvest reporting and sex/age ration data are very important for deer management, the committee said registration should still be required.

However, deer have to be brought physically to the registration site within 24 hours after the season closes, and different registration methods would create flexibility in that requirement.

The registration stations in the state, over 800, enter the information electronically or on paper. The DSC proposed looking at phone or internet-based applications that would provide the DNR with the same information, but be more convenient for hunters and not require them to haul their deer to a registration station.

To simplify legal calibers, the DSC recommended changing the cartridge regulation to a center fire .22 or larger diameter. The committee said the current legal cartridge statute has been made obsolete by allowing exceptions.

This would make using .22 rimfires, as well as Spencer cartridges, illegal. It would also technically allow hunters to use less effective cartridge sizes, so hunters would have to choose their firearms more responsibly.

The DSC agreed that adopting its six recommendations would "substantially" simplify the hunting season in Minnesota.

For more information or to see the committee's entire report, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/deer/simplify/index.html.

Individuals who can't attend the local meeting on March 13 in Park Rapids are encouraged to e-mail their comments to wildlife@dnr.state.mn.us.

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