Hunters should expect to see more deer this year, but not many big bucks

by Nick Wognum -

DNR wildlife manager Tom Rusch believes the return of prime deer hunting in northeast Minnesota is on the horizon. It just isn’t going to be this year.
“We’re going to see a preponderance of young deer,” said Rusch. “We’re going to see a lot of those young fawns from this year and forks and spikers.”
The last two winters have been very mild, as measured by the DNR Winter Severity Index. Fawn production has been good with twin fawns common in the better areas.
The Ely area is not necessarily considered to be a “better area” for deer since there isn’t much for fields and farms with prime food for deer. Rusch knows it will take longer for the deer herd to recover here.
“The west is ahead of the east with Embarrass kind of in the middle. Guys are seeing deer but once it gets into the bigger woods it drops off. We need another decent winter. It doesn’t have to be mild, we just don’t want a tough one.”

After a long summer and fall with plenty of rain, the deer should be well fed.
“This is as good as it gets for feed – just a long growing season and whenever we get good moisture like we did – the ferns almost hip high, that’s always good up here for nutritious browse. This will provide good milk for fawns and the antler growth will be excellent.”
There are areas where the deer will be hard to find and that’s the areas hit by the July 21 windstorm.
“It’s going to be problematic in the blowdown areas, especially if guys are not out there clearing trails. As far as the deer, it all depends how flattened it is. If it’s less than 50 percent it will make excellent browse and hiding cover. Deer definitely don’t shy away from good cover.
“It all depends on the amount of blowdown that’s there. If they can’t get through it easily, they will be in adjacent cover. It’s going to be a tough year for Ely hunters hit like that.”
Next year hunters will likely be getting used to a new map for permit areas. The DNR has been working on revising the maps again, this time to set aside areas that have moose in them where the deer harvest will be increased in hopes it will benefit the moose population.
“The moose stuff is not going to be enacted this year. There will be boundary changes that will benefit both moose and deer. It’s kind of like making a line in the sand to emphasize deer on one side and on the other size emphasize moose management. There may be some negatives for deer but we’re not going to annihilate deer. It’s on for 2017, we’ll come back with more stuff on it coming up.”
For hunters with trail cameras out in their hunting areas, if you haven’t seen much on the camera compared to past years, don’t worry yet.
“The kind of year we’re having some of my best areas have no deer in them. What we have is a delayed fall. There’s a lot out there that is still green where it was normally burned off in August.
“The deer may not be where you expect them because this fall is totally different. It’s not October weather, it’s still mild. The deer are going to hang on to summer because succulent food sources have more nutrition. We have had leaf fall but clover is still a great food source. Why do you see deer next to the road or even six feet on either side? Because it’s a good food source.”
Rusch said even with a lingering fall, the rut will occur at the same time. However, if the temperatures don’t drop, bucks will move more at night instead of during daylight hours.
“I hate warm falls as a hunter it messes things up but the rut is driven by a decreasing amount of daylight. This weather is not going to push it back. Bucks are going to do their running and chasing at night if this weather pattern persists into November. For them to be seasonably comfortable it needs to be 20 at night and 30 during the day. Warm temps are good for deer hunters but not for deer.”
For hunters looking for bigger bucks, keep an eye out for rubs on three inch or larger diameter trees. Also, early scrapes is a behavior of bigger bucks.
“Remember, older age classes die in tough in winters. It takes awhile for the three and four year-old bucks to come up from the ranks. But when I see early rubs and scrapes, I know those are bigger bucks .”
In permit area 118, which includes much of the Ely area, there was a lottery for antlerless permits. This also allows youth and archery hunters to take a deer of either sex.
“With 100 permits and a 50 percent success rate, across these size permit areas it’s not having a biological effect. This will still allow that population to build.”
Here’s what’s on the way for deer hunters:
• The 2016 16-day firearms deer season will begin Saturday Nov. 5 and end Sunday Nov. 20.
• The DNR Wildlife Office in Tower is forecasting a deer population on the rise but still below management goals for most of northern St. Louis and northern Lake Counties. Wildlife managers report the deer herd is still below population goals, in our area, but rebounding from recent tough winters.
• Five out of the previous nine winters have negatively impacted the deer herd and fawn production in the Tower Area.
• The 2016 deer season framework will again be conservative, protecting most breeding does. Six permit areas are designated “Lottery” to allow the population to continue to grow. Two permit areas are designated “Hunters Choice” and one “Bucks Only”.
• The “Lottery” designation includes deer permit areas 176, 177, 178, 108, 118, and 122.
• The “Hunters Choice” designation includes 117 and 127, both within the core moose range. There are no “Managed” or “Intensive” harvest designations, and therefore no “bonus permits” and a bag limit of one buck in northern St Louis and Lake Counties, for the third consecutive year.
• Buck movement should be good early in the 16-day season as it coincides with the chasing phase of the rut. Breeding activity should peak during mid-season as the annual rutting season transitions into the reproductive phase and then deer movement typically slows down.
• Hunters will find very wet field conditions across the area. Summer and fall have been extremely wet. Standing water is common. Normally accessible spots in low terrain will be difficult to access in 2016. Logging road and trail access is difficult in lower areas this year. Swamps, low areas and crossings are inaccessible for wheeled vehicles in many areas.
• Water access (lakes, rivers and streams) above normal water levels for this time (late October). Scout ahead of time for local conditions in your hunting area and use appropriate discretion.
• Registration In 2016, hunters can again register their deer on-line, by phone (888/706-6367) or at the traditional walk-in registration stations ).