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Bemidji-area deer numbers may be down

BEMIDJI -- Deer hunters in the Bemidji area may see fewer deer this season in some areas.

"We have brought down the deer density in unit No. 184 quite a bit over the years," said Area Wildlife Supervisor Shelley Gorham with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Wildlife management unit No. 184 includes the Bemidji area.

According to Gorham, the Minnesota DNR has lowered the number of bonus permits available to hunters because previous seasons have been effective in bringing the deer numbers down.

Last year, those who bought licenses were issued one deer tag, and could purchase up to four bonus permits. This year, hunters are issued one deer tag with the license, but with only one bonus tag available.

According to Gorham, the DNR reports unit No. 184 has reached its management goal of 18 deer per square mile. The DNR records this estimate before does give birth to their young.

The Minnesota DNR originally generated its per square unit goals in the 1980s, which suggested the goal of about 20-22 deer per square area in unit No. 184, said Gorham.

However, between 2005-07 a series of deer-goal meetings hosted by the Minnesota DNR were held in the state in a widespread initiative to set new goals.

"There had been major changes in the landscape," Gorham said. "We invited hunters to come to the table to discuss deer management strategies."

In unit no. 184, the Minnesota DNR reduced the original goal about 30 percent, down to 18 deer per square mile.

"Every area can only support so many deer. There is a lot that goes into managing deer populations. It is not strictly biology -- it is also providing hunting opportunities," Gorham said.

Bemidji sits on a transition zone, an area where prairie meets pine trees. Because of the transition, the unit includes many diverse landscapes and forested areas.

"It's a very large permit area and difficult to manage because you will find areas with lower numbers and some areas with high numbers of deer," Gorham said.

The Minnesota DNR has had to keep careful watch on the winter weather, which may not always be predictable.

Tough winters of 1995 and 1996 drastically reduced the deer population in the region. In an effort to strengthen the deer population, the Minnesota DNR enacted a widespread lottery system that capped the number of hunters.

Following the harsh winters, there was a series of mild winter years that not many people expected.

"We maintained a conservative approach to managing the deer herd. We didn't want to be very aggressive," Gorham said.

Deer populations increased more than expected and restrictions were eased on issued tags. In continuing a roller-coaster cycle, recent winters have proved to be severe, which has caused higher deer mortality.

"We try the best we can to balance all the factors," she said.

Recently, Gorham was notified that bud-capping crews working on Norway pine plantations were behind schedule in some areas.

Some crews may choose to work through the rifle season, Gorham said, which could potentially cause some conflicts with hunters.

Gorham also wants to remind hunters that Bemidji State Game Refuges are closed to firearms. However, they are open to hunters during archery and muzzleloader seasons.