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Minnesota deer kill slips from last year

Minnesota deer hunters have killed 11.6 percent fewer deer than last year, but the tally is on track with expectations, the Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday.

Since the firearms season opened Nov. 7, preliminary results show hunters have taken 151,000 deer, 20,000 fewer than last year after the third weekend of hunting.

According to one DNR official, the decrease reflects fewer opportunities for hunters to shoot antlerless deer in about half of the state's deer management areas.

"The strategy for 2009 is to allow deer populations to build and stabilize by reducing opportunities to take antlerless deer," said Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game coordinator. "We expect hunters to harvest about 200,000 deer, or one-fifth of the state's wild deer population. We're on track to do just that once the final numbers are in and counted for all deer seasons."

Muzzleloader season opens Saturday and continues through Dec. 13; archery is open through Dec. 31.

Hunters have shot about 19,000 fewer antlerless deer than last year, but the buck harvest is down about 1,200 from last year.

Hunter numbers are nearly identical to last year.

"The harvest of bucks is the most stable indicator of deer population," Cornicelli said. "Nearly the same number of bucks has been harvested, which suggests that deer are still there to be taken. Since fewer hunters have the option of harvesting an antlerless deer, the overall numbers have decreased."

Cornicelli said hunters have been cooperative in the DNR's efforts to sample deer for bovine tuberculosis in northwestern Minnesota and chronic wasting disease in southeastern Minnesota.

DNR-staffed stations in northwestern Minnesota have sampled 1,468 deer for bovine TB and 2,350 deer for CWD in the southeastern part of the state.

Minnesota hunters killed about 222,000 deer last year between the firearms, archery and muzzleloader season. The record kill occurred in 2003, when hunters shot 290,000 deer between the three seasons.

"Hunters are harvesting more deer than we did historically but not as many as when the deer population reached its peak in the early 2000s," Cornicelli said. "With population goals being met in many areas, harvest numbers are showing that we're beginning to level out to where we want to be."