Firearms deer season in Minnesota starts today

by Nick Wognum
Newly retired DNR wildlife manager Tom Rusch took a look ahead at this year’s firearm deer season before he cleaned out his desk.
“When I look at deer, you have to look at the last series of tough winters. We still have not recovered since those winters. Why? There’s the same number of wolves. And we do not have the winter cover we had in the 90s. These two winter, 2013 and 2014, were as historically bad as those two in the 90s,” said Rusch.
“We do not have the ability to carry deer we once had. Winters in 2015, 2016 and 2017 were mild so we should’ve come storming out of that. We should’ve started stacking up fawn crops. As wildlife managers we decided to go conservative with a low lottery and we still have not seen that response.
The other factor is how our forests are being managed today.
“We went to a tipping point with older aspen with balsam growing up underneath now to pole timber or smaller so they’re not in there in the winter.
“It depends where. The most intense of forest management is on state lands and St. Louis County lands. Less so on Forest Service lands.
“The push for state lands is a harvest of a million cords. From a wildlife manager standpoint we don’t want to see it go over 800,000. Our rotation for aspen is going to be 40 years. Let it go to 60 and you’ll have all that balsam underneath. When the canopy breaks up starting at 40 then you get balsam underneath. In Hibbing they are putting stands on a cut list that are under 30 years old. From a wildlife point of view I’m fine with some 40, I’d like to see 60 as well, I’d like to see a 55 year rotation. All the crap that grows underneath, when it’s pole timber, none of that gets a chance. If we harvest at 40 we never get to that. If we went to 50 it would be much more wildlife friendly. Aspen and red pine are the top two tickets. We have basically lost our jackpine and it’s huge winter cover. We’re not saying no red pine, but we need jackpine too,” said Rusch.
Two other factors hunters should be keeping a close eye on are chronic wasting disease (CWD) and deer farms.
“If we end up with CWD the deer are dumb and drunk and even coyotes can take them down,” said Rusch. “And there’s evidence that deer farms contribute to CWD.
“We strongly feel every single one of the CWD cases is adjacent or close proximity to a deer farm where there’s nose to nose contact, breeding or they’re grooming each other and that could spread CWD.
“We wanted full administrative control of deer and the legislature split it. All of the shipping deer around is problematic because you can’t test it until it’s dead. If they’re infected a deer won’t show clinical signs for year and a half.”
Rusch said the DNR needs to know where the farms are located.
“What if I get a report in Embarrass of a melanistic fallow deer? Where is the closest game farm? The hunters are drumming up opposition and they should.”