Youth-only deer-hunting seasons have been offered in select Minnesota regions, but not the Detroit Lakes area. This year, the Minnesota DNR is expanding its youth-only season, offering it across the state from Oct. 17 to 20.

"It's open to youth age 17 ... down to 10 years of age. If you're 13 or younger, you need to be hunting with an adult mentor," said Barb Keller, the state Department of Natural Resources Big Game Program Leader.

These adult mentors serve to watch and guide the hunters 13 and younger, not hunting themselves (unless they have the appropriate permit). The youth hunters still follow the same regulations of the adult season, such as purchasing permits ($5 for ages 14-17 and free for those 13 and younger), bagging only one deer, and following their deer permit area rules.

The program started in 2004 after being ordered by the state Legislature. In 2010, the DNR expanded the season to more locations and extended the hunting days from two to four, purposefully placing them over MEA -- Minnesota Educator Academy -- weekend.

"Students will have that off, we won't be competing with school. It's also a good time of year; it will cool down enough that these deer will be active, but not too cool for the youth to be out there," Keller said. "It's a good opportunity for youth to get out there."

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Keller said that they need more youth out hunting because most of their hunters are older, slowly retiring from the sport and causing concern at the DNR.

"The baby boomer generation constitutes the largest generation of hunters," she said, adding that they are leaving the sport faster than people are joining. "And (hunting is) the main tool for us to manage the deer population."

Since the program was expanded to 28 total permit areas, Keller has seen the number of youth hunters increase. From 2011 to 2017, about 2,500 more youth hunters joined the sport. Since then, the total number of youth hunters has been around 5,000.

Keller isn't quite sure what those numbers will look like this year. She thinks it will stay around 5,000 youth hunters, at the minimum. On the other hand, she said that the DNR is not anticipating a "dramatic increase in our state harvest" of deer killed.

"Certainly it is something we are going to keep an eye on that first year," she clarified. "If we see dramatic impacts we'll make changes (for next year). I would anticipate that we will continue to have the expanded youth season."

With the little to no price for permits, good weather, beautiful scenery, and opportunity to "create some new traditions," Keller said that she "would just really encourage parents and youth and mentors to take advantage of this opportunity."

More information on the youth-only season is available online at the www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/deer/youth.html or by calling 651-296-6157.