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DNR looks at changing deer season


Fri, Jan 24th, 2003
Posted in Features

In the early 1950s, the sighting of whitetail deer in southeastern Minnesota was so uncommon that a local newspaper carried it as a front-page news item when a farmer in Carimona Township reported seeing a herd of 18 deer. The great migration of deer from the North had started. Over the following decades the region proved to be a perfect habitat for deer with its ample cover of woodlands, valleys and its abundant food supplies. The lack of a wolf population also contributed to the thriving of the deer herd.

By 2001, the Minnesota DNR estimated that Zone 3, (an area of southeast Minnesota stretching from just south of the Twin Cities to the Iowa border and roughly bordered by US Highway 63 on the west) was the home to 13.2 deer per square mile.

Thats too many by DNR standards, who feel that the overcrowding has led to an increase in traffic accidents, crop destruction and the potential for diseases. So last November, the DNR released a plan that they said was designed to increase the efficiency of deer population management.

The plan called for a change in the season structure by:

Shortening the first firearms buck-only season (3A) from nine days to five days and then:

Lengthening the 3B season, (when bucks and does are harvested), from seven days to nine.

The 3B season would begin two days after the 3A season ended, which would eliminate the traditional Thanksgiving week hunt.

Many hunters found problems with the plan, which became evident over the past couple weeks when the DNR held four public input meetings across the Zone 3 region. One attendee reported that he had heard nothing but a resounding rejection for the DNRs plan. "Out of fifty speakers, who commented at the Rochester meeting, not one of them was in favor of the plan," the individual, who requested that his name not be used for this article, told the Journal.

Between the four meetings over 1,000 hunters showed up to vent their disapproval. What many hunters didnt like was the undue pressure the seasons would put on bucks. Bucks are over-hunted, they maintained, and are particularly vulnerable during the rut, which begins around the first of November. Scheduling the hunting seasons back to back during the first weeks of the rut would consequently result in more bucks being shot. Another contentious issue was doing away with the Thanksgiving week hunt, a time when many school-age kids get an opportunity to do their first deer hunting.

On the receiving end of the criticism was the DNRs statewide big-game coordinator, Lou Cornicelli, who is brand new to his job and had nothing to do with drawing up the proposals. Cornicelli was previously the regional wildlife program manager for northern Utah.

"I wasnt surprised at the comments," Cornicelli said last week from his office in St. Paul, during a telephone interview. "Any time you attempt to change something you can count on at least one-third of the people getting upset."

Cornicelli said that the next step in the process would be discussions by the deer committee, which is an internal DNR group.

"Ive heard hundreds of comments at the meetings and have received several hundred e-mails," Cornicelli said. "We will hash it out in the deer committee and take a look at what works and what doesnt work."

Cornicelli said that the deer committees decisions would be submitted to the DNR commissioner by late February. "Its obvious that change is overdue and something needs to be done with the seasons," he said. "The changes might be subtle this year and there might well be more changes next year,"

Big Bucks

Preston native Andy Bunge has been hunting deer locally since 1970 and said that he sees fewer big mature bucks than he used to. He attributes this to the fact that Minnesotas buck season takes place during the rut, a time when a buck is most vulnerable to being shot due to his mating behavior. "Ive seen bucks running through the woods with their noses down to the ground just like a coon hound." Bunge said. "Theyre chasing the does scent."

Bunge pointed out that Iowas deer hunting season begins well after the rutting season, almost a month after Minnesotas season. "Iowa is now considered one of the top states to hunt trophy bucks in," Bunge continued. "Its become a destination for hunters from all over the country, which has also had an economic benefit for the state."

When asked about this, the DNRs Cornicelli said that Iowa had substantially fewer hunters during their seasons than Minnesota did. He also pointed out the climatic differences between southern Iowa and northern Minnesota. "Its impractical to think about holding Minnesotas deer hunting seasons during the harsh cold of a typical December," he said.

Another veteran deer hunter, Lynn Tienter of rural Preston, agreed that the current hunting seasons were especially hard on the males.

"A lot of bucks dont get a chance to grow and mature." Tienter said. "One of the reasons is that youve got all these doe hunters who are able to shoot bucks during the doe season,"

Statistics seem to bear this out. During the 2001 season the total harvest for Zone 3 was 11,198 males (57%) to 8553 females (43%).

The BWA

While the big bucks are never far from a deer hunters mind, a local organization calling itself the Bluffland Whitetails Association (BWA), believes in improving several other aspects of deer management practices as well. BWA was founded three years ago by several local hunters in order to "provide a voice for the landowners, deer hunters and outdoor people from southeast Minnesota."

BWA currently has 1,200 members in its ranks. The organization has come up with several counter-proposals to the DNR plan and has been engaged in active discussion with the agency. Earlier this month BWA sponsored the "Bluffland Whitetail Expo", which consisted of a trade show along with educational seminars. The Rochester event attracted over 1,400 visitors.

"We are not just about trophy bucks, we are committed to a balanced deer herd with a healthy buck-to-doe ratio," a spokesman for the group told the Journal. "The size of the deer herd affects everyone in this area from farmers to automobile drivers." .

Minnesota has not changed its Zone 3 hunting rules since 1978. "Thats a long time to be doing the same old, same old thing," the spokesman said. "Theres not many businesses doing the same thing as they were 25 years ago."

Another member of the BWA is Geoff Heppding, who owns Magnum Sports, an archery hunting headquarters in Chatfield. He said that it was a positive development that the DNR was talking to hunters and taking input on the hunting season issue.

"Id like to remind all hunters and landowners that they can still go to the DNR website and send in their comments," Heppding said. "Even if nothing much is done this year, at least, the dialogue has begun."

The BWA is holding its 3rd Annual Rendezvous and Membership Drive at Wheelers in Harmony on Wednesday January 29, at 6pm. Featured speaker will be Will Suchy, from the Iowa DNR who will talk about the success of Iowas deer management programs.

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