Firearms deer season starts Nov. 4

by Nick Wognum
This should be a good year for deer hunting in northeast Minnesota.
After three mild winters the herd has rebounded and while there may be more spikes than 30-pointers, hunters should be happy.
“I’m very optimistic with where the deer population is at,” said DNR wildlife manager Tom Rusch in Tower. “People are going to see improvement overall from last year and most saw improvement from the year before.
“We’re rebuilding and depending where you hunt and the unknown is the weather, this should be a good year. If we get the crappy opening weekend weather that will have an impact. But we should hit the rut really well with bucks in the chase phase and more deer on the landscape.”
Rusch is predicting a 20 percent increase overall for the firearms deer harvest. With more antlerless and hunter’s choice areas, there should be venison in more freezers this winter.
Patience may be required to see the eight, 10 and 12 pointers that have now started to return to the woods.
“What I’ve been hearing all along is that there are lots of younger deer, spikes and forkies. I think those are the most visible deer for most hunters. But, because we are three years out from our tough winters there are older bucks out there too. I think we’re going to see some really nice antler growth,” said Rusch.
Hunters who have been out scouting are now reporting more buck sign with scrapes and rubs appearing.
“You didn’t see those in mid-October, but right now on those travel routes there’s sign and some of it is big. If you see a three-inch tree rub, that’s an adult buck.”
Rusch cautions hunters to make sure they can access areas that may be under water after a very wet August and September.
“Don’t ruin your access for years to come. Be prepared for a longer drag or bring an Otter sled or a deer cart. The swamps are wet and we don’t have the leaves on the trees to suck up the moisture.
“Overall I’m optimistic, I’m fired up. We should definitely see some of the best deer numbers since 2012,” said Rusch. “When the season starts the bucks should be chasing and it should be a good opener.”
2017 Tower Area Deer Season Forecast
• The 2017 16-day firearms deer season will begin Saturday Nov. 4 and end Sunday Nov. 19.
• The 2017 deer season framework will again be conservative, protecting most breeding does. Four permit areas are designated “Lottery” to allow the population to continue to grow. Five permit areas are designated “Hunters Choice” and one “Bucks Only”.
• The “Lottery” designation includes deer permit areas 176, 178, 108 and 132. The lottery deadline was Thursday September 7th.
• The “Hunters Choice” designation includes 177, 118, 117, 130, and 131. All these permit areas except 177 are within the core moose range.
• One permit area is still “Bucks-only”, 119. The population recovery in this area has been slow.
• Permit Area boundaries have changed in moose range (130, 131, and 133) and 132, 176, and 178 (adjacent to the moose range).
• There are no “Managed” or “Intensive” harvest designations in 2017, and therefore “bonus permits” are not applicable.
• The bag limit is one deer 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.
• Registration: In 2017, hunters can again register their deer on-line by phone (888/706-6367) or at the traditional walk-in registration stations.
• Check your deer license for the phone number or internet address.
• Know your permit area before you register.
• Deer populations are rebounding across the area, showing night and day improvement since 2013 and 2014. Scouting in advanced, to find deer activity, will pay dividends. Deer observations and sign tend to be in areas with the best deer habitat.
• Field staff are reporting a high proportion of twin fawns being sighted. The fawn crop was large for the third consecutive year. This is a result of the milder winter we just experienced. Does came through winter in excellent condition. The majority of winter had less than 15” of snow which led to increased deer mobility, low winter severity, and decreased predation.
• Hunters can expect to see lots of young deer. Spikes and forks will be very common on the game pole. These are 18 month old bucks.
• Deer are now feeding heavily in prime food sources such hay fields, recent cutovers, food plots, rural yards and along mowed roadsides.
• Deer population recovery takes time in forested habitats. Local populations always vary within the larger permit areas. Deer populations are generally higher in permit areas to the west and south of Tower (176, 177 and 178) and lowest in permit areas to the east and north (108, 117, 118, 119, 130 and 131).
• PA’s 176, 177, and 178 are the most productive areas in the Tower area and account for the majority of the annual harvest.
Hunters will likely see and harvest more deer in these permit areas than they did in 2016. Fawns produced in 2016 will be this year’s spikes, forks and 6 pointers and will improve prospects for the future.
• PA’s 108, 119, 118, 117, 130. 131, and 132 are less productive with rocky, thin or wet soils. Hunters will harvest more deer in these permit areas, too, with the “Hunters Choice” option to harvest antlerless deer. Fawn production was also good, generally a mix of single fawns and twins observed. As a result, population recovery takes longer in these permit areas.