Moose numbers up, deer finding feed in forest

The 2004 moose-hunting season in northeastern Minnesota ended on Sunday, Oct. 17, with 246 hunting parties harvesting 149 moose. That compares with 224 parties harvesting 143 moose in 2003.<BR><BR>In Ely, a total of 29 moose were registered, up from 23 in 2003. In 2002 there were 22 registered and 29 in 2001. No moose season was held in 2000. <BR><BR>Party success was 61 percent this year, compared with 64 percent in 2003. Lower hunting success rates and higher number of bulls in the harvest seem to be the trend over the last 10 years, according to Tom Rusch, Tower area wildlife manager.<BR><BR>Hunters are becoming more selective, passing up cows and calves, in search of larger antlered bulls in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Rusch said. The bag limit is one moose of any age or either sex per party.<BR><BR>“About one-third of the guys are second or third-time hunters so they’re probably looking for a nicer bull,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>Hunters faced high winds and generally cool, blustery fall conditions over the first and third weekends. The harvest was heavily biased toward adult bulls early in the hunt, according to wildlife managers. Hunters reported good moose rutting activity, as the annual mating season peaks in early October and coincides with the hunt. Field reports indicate many successful hunters utilized calling to bring their moose within range. <BR><BR>DNR biologists report only three of the 54 radio-collared moose were killed during the season. There is an on-going moose mortality study in Lake and Cook counties. Collared moose are fair game. <BR><BR>Prior to the season at moose hunter orientation, hunters are told to ignore the collars in their search for a moose because researchers want to get a better idea of the importance of hunting as a source of mortality. <BR><BR>The northeast Minnesota moose population is estimated at 8,000 to 11,000 animals within 30 hunting zones throughout St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties. The harvest goal is conservatively set at five percent of the winter population. <BR><BR>Moose hunting is a once-in-a-lifetime hunt in Minnesota and is limited to parties of two to four hunters through an annual lottery. <BR><BR>Only Minnesota residents, at least 16 years of age, are eligible for the moose hunt. <BR><BR>Deer feeding in forest<BR><BR>The local deer population was not as visible for a few weeks and Rusch said that wasn’t too surprising. <BR><BR>“This goes back to this being a goofy year. Things are just different, for instance this is a great clover year so deer are staying back in the woods and just browsing there because there are food sources available,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>“Even though guys might not have been seeing as many as they did in the spring, the deer didn’t magically die this summer they’re just not visible. They’re doing something different,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>Deer license sales are picking up and Rusch reminds hunters of the new system in place.<BR><BR>“We have three designations, the lottery, traditional and intensive,” said Rusch. “Area 116 is a lottery again this year where there is a limited number of antlerless tags and then we have managed areas like 115 and 175 where you buy your doe tag over the counter. We don’t have any intensive areas around here but that’s where we’ve got a population that’s exceeding our goals.”<BR><BR>Rusch said area 116, which is largely the Fernberg and portions off of Highway 1 will have a total of 100 permits given out through the lottery. <BR><BR>“Last year we gave out 50 permits and killed 27 antlerless deer so now if we kill 50 out that 100, biologically that’s not that significant,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>While the deer population is at a near all-time high, Rusch has a feeling the numbers may be down a little bit this year. <BR><BR>“I think we’re going to kill less than last year because hunters are going to be more selective, plus there’s the full freezer syndrome. There were hunters who didn’t take advantage of the new system and buy bonus tags but we had others where a camp shot 10 deer and those guys are thinking we don’t want 10 deer again,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>With the changes put in by the U.S. Forest Service with a new forest plan, hunters on the Superior National Forest may want to check if they are on federal land before using an ATV this season.<BR><BR>The new rules forbid cross-country travel by ATVs on federal land even to retrieve big game, the opposite of the state land rules. <BR><BR>“The onus is on the hunter now to determine ownership. Before they only needed to know if they were on private property and at this point they need to know whether they’re on federal or state as well,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>A change from last year at the point of purchase for a deer license hunters will be asked what area they will primarily hunt in instead of designating an area.<BR><BR>Also Rusch wants to urge hunters to buy a bonus tag in advance to avoid running into problems later.<BR><BR>“A bonus tag is for antlerless only. So if the first deer that comes by is a nice doe and you didn’t buy a bonus tag, when you’re gutting out that doe and a buck comes by, you can’t shoot it unless your party hunting,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>Spending the extra $14 in advance is an easy way to solve that problem. <BR><BR>