Rusch gives annual hunting forecast: Area deer herd now on the rebound

by Nick Wognum
Cooler nights are here already, a sure sign fall is right around the corner.
DNR wildlife manager Tom Rusch sat down last week to discuss what to expect afield this fall.
Weather
For the first time in 10 years we had back-to-back mild winters. Last winter our snow depth was never a significant factor on wildlife with less than 15 inches on the ground most of the winter.
This followed the winters of 2013 and 2014, both severe which put a hurt on the area deer herd.
With two mild winters, the number of fawns per doe is increasing, a main factor in rebuilding the herd.
“We have a lot of young deer out there but we don’t want to hit them too soon,” said Rusch.
Hunters can apply for antlerless permits in northeast Minnesota. For permit area 118, however, there are only 100 permits available.
“My message is these are the first two back to back mild winters in 10 years. We started to see an increase last year. All I heard last year was hunters saying all they were seeing were does. That’s exactly what I want to hear.
“When you have a low density for deer, which is what we have around Ely, seeing deer is a positive sign. Having tough winters really knocks down the deer numbers. You’ll see more deer in and around Ely when there’s lots of snow on the ground.
“It’s so tough with deep snow for deer. It’s not just the wolves on your tail, but the snow is a drain. In the woods their only salvation is snowmobile trails and the deer highways in the woods, but that makes it easier for wolves.”
Rusch said even in 118 with 100 permits, there should be around one permit per camp plus youth can shoot either sex.
“And the young bucks are easier to kill than the older, wiley veterans,” said Rusch.
The prediction for this deer season is an increase in the harvest, including bucks.
“But we’re going to be more conservative to allow for growth,” said Rusch. It’s proportionate to where you hunt – if you’re in a permit area with low productivity, you’re going to see a lower antlerless harvest.
“In 118 there’s only 100 antlerless permits. I expect 60 percent might be 70. With youth and seniors over 84 probably be 100 antlerless deer taken. Kids on their own have 10 to 15 percent antlerless success. But when they have help then it’s different. If you’re over 84 even in bucks only can shoot antlerless.”
Permit areas 127 and 117 have been made hunter’s choice so an anterless permit is not needed. The reason for this? Both areas are in the moose zone and the DNR is still of the mindset to reduce deer numbers in hopes it will benefit the moose population.
“It’s because of the moose and low hunter density. Whether the deer population is low, medium or high, if there are no hunters out there, you’re not going to kill more deer.”
Permit area 122 had the number of antlerless permits increased from 300 to 500 because of the moose issue.
Hunters looking for an anterless permits or to enter one of the special hunts need to purchase their deer license by Sept. 8.
Deer season opens Nov. 5 and ends Nov. 20 for rifle season. “It’s the sweet spot for rutting activitiy,” said Rusch.
Bear
Bear season starts Sept. 1 and runs through Oct. 15. The DNR is managing for an slight increase in the bear population. This year 3,850 permits were given out statewide, an increase of 150.
“We are increasing and we’re managing for a bear population increase. We’ve been as high as 30,000, we’re managing to get to around 20,000 to 22,000, we’re trying to find a happy medium.”
Bear hunters may have a tougher time this year with above average berry crops in the woods.
Hunter success is directly related to natural food abundance, hunter numbers, and bear population. Success has increased with decrease in permits over past five years. It historically has varied from 20-40%, in 2015 the hunter success rate was 39%.
This year’s hunter success will likely decrease a bit with soil moisture high and blueberries still abundant into early fall. Fall food availability should be good for early September. Natural food availability will likely decrease bear visits to hunter’s baits early in the season. Low permit numbers and less competition should help hunters’ odds. Scattered food sources should increase bear movement later in the season.
Even though the DNR knows bears kill calf moose, there has been no movement to reduce the bear population to benefit the moose population.
Ruffed Grouse
The season starts Sept. 17 and runs until Jan. 1.
“Grouse are kind of an unknown. We are not seeing the broods. The good news is drumming counts are up 18%. We are in the up part of the 10-year cycle after it crashed in 2009. The peak should be in 2018 to 2020.
“We had enough snow for roosting. But then to get a wet June and a wet July we don’t know how survival going to be. I’ve said before I don’t make a call on ruffed grouse in August.
“They’re not ducks, that kind of rain in June and July makes young birds vulnerable. Last year was a middle of the road year with mostly mixed reports.”
Rusch said hunter walking trails will be open, including the new one by Little Long Lake that did get hit by blowdown. Four miles off the Echo Trail.
There are a total of 80 miles of hunter walking trails in 21 locations. Information is available online.
Ducks
There were no significant changes for the 2016 duck season. There is no August goose season. The state-wide goose season is Sept. 3-18 with a bag limit of five.
Saturday, Sept. 24 is the waterfowl opener with youth waterfowl day on Saturday, Sept. 10, two weeks before the opener.
This is an early opener, there should be a good early season for wood duck and blue-winged teal hunting.
The three-zone, 60-day season is back again in 2016. In the north duck zone (north of Highway 210), the season is Sept. 24 to Tuesday, Nov. 22.
The bag limit remains at six ducks/day with a possession limits of three times the daily bag limit, for all migratory birds.
Shooting hours are a half hour before daylight shooting time for opener till 4 p.m. through Friday Oct. 7
Limits are: four mallards (two hens, same as 2015); three wood duck , pintail, scaup; two canvasback, redhead; six ringneck, teal.
“We’ve seen an increase in wood duck and teal harvest. They’re here and they’re gone so it’s early season when shooting the teal and wood ducks.
“Our two waterfowl refuges are working nice, both controversial. The idea is to hold birds undisturbed. We do weekly surveys starting before the season. We know migrants build from Oct. 10 to freeze up.
“They need to feed first, we can hold thousands of birds on these refuges. We know when the rice is there the ducks are there and the ducks remember where those lakes are. The refuges did take away some hunting areas but the idea is to have improved hunting.”
Wild Rice
“The outlook for wild rice is not good. I’d say it will be below average with the kind of weather we’ve had with one rainstorm after another and high winds. When you get that kind of precipitation and waves you get wild rice uprooted. A very marginal wild rice year due to the weather,” said Rusch.