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Minnesota deer hunters not as lucky as last year

By all accounts, the deer kill across Northeastern Minnesota appears to be down from last year.

Minnesota's 16-day firearms deer season opened Saturday and continues through Nov. 20. Typically, 65 percent of the total kill occurs during the first three days of the season.

"We're down quite a bit. It seems like everyone is," said Rob Parrott of the Bear's Den in Twig.

The shop processes deer for hunters.

"We've got 120 right now," Parrott said Tuesday morning. "Last year at this time, we had over 200. And most of the deer we got in were does. The big bucks don't get killed until they start moving around."

Statewide the harvest was down nearly 20 percent from last year after the first three days of the season, according to Department of Natural Resources officials. A total of 73,000 deer had been taken this year compared to about 91,000 at the same time last year.

Most hunters thought that high winds on opening weekend and on Monday hindered deer movement. Deer typically don't like to move on windy days.

"It was a really slow Saturday," said Scott VanValkenburg of Fisherman's Corner in Duluth, where many hunters register and weigh deer. "Sunday morning was the day to be out. Guys did well up until 10 or 11 when the wind started kicking in."

Other reports indicated a reduced harvest compared to last year as well. DNR conservation officers almost universally reported an opening-weekend take that was low to moderate across the region.

"Hunters experienced varying levels of success in the Duluth area with most not even seeing deer," stated DNR water resource enforcement officer Mike Scott in his report. "Opening day, six deer were seen in various camps with hunters trying to figure out where the deer were."

In his report, conservation officer Keith Olson of Duluth said: "The mild temps and gusty winds made for an interesting opener. Many afield reported slim pickings for deer. Other camps experienced good to moderate success."

Most hunters seem to think the deer are there but they haven't been moving. Some hunters think the rut -- or mating activity -- hasn't peaked yet. When bucks are in the rut, they are less cautious and more likely to be available to hunters.

The peak of the rut is Nov. 11-12, according to DNR biologists.

Based on his personal experience hunting the first three days of the season, DNR regional wildlife supervisor Jeff Lightfoot of Grand Rapids thinks the deer kill will be down, primarily because of the wind.

"That wind really affects deer movement, and it affects the ability of hunters to get out and enjoy the day," Lightfoot said. "When those two collide, we have a lower deer harvest."

Hunter numbers are up a bit from last year, according to DNR licensing officials. Through Monday, more than 435,000 firearms deer licenses had been sold. That's about 3,000 more than last year at the same time and more than any other year going back to 2000.

Hunters are trying to remain positive about the hunt.

"My guess is this coming weekend will be really good," Parrott said.