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More deer, more doe permits for hunters

Minnesota deer hunters will have access to more antlerless deer tags in more areas, as well as more bonus tags, for the 2018 firearms season in November. News Tribune file photo.

A string of average and mild winters, combined with fewer antlerless deer being shot in recent seasons, boosted the deer population across much of Minnesota, and that means more doe permits for more deer hunters this fall.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources last week revealed its deer hunting plans for the 2018 season that include additional antlerless "doe" permits in many areas and additional bonus permits for hunters to take two or more deer.

Hunters can get antlerless permits in all but one of the state's 130 permit areas (permit area 119 southeast of International Falls remains bucks-only.) Hunters need to apply for antlerless permit lottery in just 39 of the 130 areas (down from 48 last year.) In many areas, however, hunters have a choice of a doe or a buck and in 54 areas (up from 43 last year) hunters can apply for bonus permits to take two or more deer.

Of the 34 units in the 100 series that includes Northeastern Minnesota, one is bucks only, nine will have a lottery for doe permits, 17 are hunters choice with no lottery (one buck or doe) and seven have bonus permits available to take more than one deer, including in and around Duluth.

"Except for way up north, it was another pretty mild winter for most areas, and that's reflected in more opportunities to take more deer,'' Erik Thorson, acting big game program leader for the DNR, told the News Tribune. "We had some initial concerns over the late spring... But, for the most part, in most areas, population levels are at or above goal."

The increased antlerless permits should bolster the statewide deer harvest from about 197,000 last year to well over 200,000 deer in 2018, Thorson said. The DNR's new official "goal'' for statewide deer harvest annually is 200,000. That compares to the all-time high of 290,000 deer shot in 2003 and a recent low of 139,000 in 2014 after back-to-back harsh winters caused the DNR to nearly eliminate antlerless permits across most of the northern region.

While there are more permits to be issued this year and more opportunity for hunters to bag a deer, the trend toward lower license sales continues, Thorson noted, and is a concern to wildlife managers.

"Hunters are our biggest management tool,'' Thorson said. And license sales are the agency's top source of revenue for wildlife programs. Minnesota deer license sales peaked at 401,005 in 2001. They dropped to 372,645 by 2016 and declined again to 368,407 in 2017.

"Minnesota does have a slower decline than some states, but it's still a concern,'' Thorson said.

In other details released by the DNR:

• Last year all deer that were tested in the series 100 area, the old Zone 1 region covering Northeastern Minnesota, were Chronic Wasting Disease-free, so there is no testing planned this year.

• Deer licenses for 2018 are now on sale and hunters can now enter the lottery for antlerless deer permits in areas where that is required, either online or at license agents. The deadline to apply for the antlerless permit lottery is Sept. 6. Lottery winners will be notified in October. (Hunters who purchase a license by Sept. 6 are automatically entered into the lottery for an antlerless permit.)

• Archery deer season opens Sept. 15; firearms deer season opens Nov. 3.

• Deer hunting licenses, lottery applications and special hunt applications are available at any DNR license agent, by telephone at (888) 646-6367 or online at mndnr.gov/buyalicense.

• Hunters can get permit-area specific information on deer populations and other data at mndnr.gov/hunting/deer.

• Hunters also should watch for upcoming local deer area meetings offered by wildlife managers in August. Dates, locations and times for those events are forthcoming.

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