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Minnesota, Wisconsin deer registrations down

Weather and declining hunter numbers are blamed for statewide deer harvest declines.

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A hunter walks in the woods. Overall deer registrations are down in Minnesota at the end of the regular firearms hunting season and down in Wisconsin after opening weekend. Derek Montgomery / 2009 file / Duluth News Tribune
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Minnesota firearms deer hunters shot fewer deer again this year — registering 130,820 deer statewide, down 8% from 2020 and off 10% from the five-year average.

According to data from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, final registrations for the 100 series management units, which includes all of Northeastern Minnesota, were down 6% from 2020 and down a whopping 35% from the five-year average, likely because far fewer doe permits were issued after a string of tough, deep-snow winters held deer populations down, especially north of Duluth.

In some good news, the buck harvest in the 100 series was actually up 4.3% this year at 24,090, compared to 23,083 in 2020.

The 16-day season in the 100-series units ended Sunday.

Deer harvest was down 8% this year in the 200-series units from 2020 and down 15% in the 300-series units.

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So far this year, hunters have registered 163,257 deer of all types and through all seasons, including the statewide youth firearms season in October and the ongoing archery season. The statewide muzzleloader rifle season is still to come, set for Nov. 27 through Dec. 12.

The DNR has a goal of roughly 200,000 deer shot annually through all seasons, but hasn't hit that goal for more than a decade. Hunters came close last year, at 197,315 deer registered, but haven’t topped 200,000 since 2010.

Through the end of the regular firearms deer season, Minnesota had sold a total of 427,248 deer hunting licenses, down 1.4% from 2020. This year marks the lowest license sales of the past 21 years and is down 10% from 2012, when 474,751 licenses were sold, the most in this century.

Barb Keller, big-game program coordinator for the DNR, noted unusually mild weather, with little deer movement over opening weekend Nov. 6-7, likely helped bring the total deer harvest below expectations.

“Weather likely played a role in opening weekend harvest being down,’’ Keller said, noting opening weekend usually amounts to nearly half the total firearms season harvest. She said that more people are back to work compared to 2020, when some hunters may still have been unemployed due to COVID-19 shutdowns.

“License sales seem pretty similar to last year, but the time hunters could dedicate to hunting is likely down compared to last year," Keller said.

Wisconsin harvest down statewide, up in forested regions

After the first two days of Wisconsin's nine-day firearms deer hunting season hunters had registered 85,860 deer statewide, down 14% from 2020 and down 20% from the five-year average.

DNR officials said the weather across much of the state was nearly perfect on opening day, with fairly mild temperatures with low winds, but then turned very windy and cold on Sunday, greatly reducing the harvest.

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Across the northern forested region of the state, hunters registered 15,694 deer, up 9.3% from 2020, but still 17.3% below the five-year average.

In Douglas County, hunters registered 978 deer through opening weekend, up 7.6% from 2020, but down 19% from the five-year average. Douglas County hunters bagged 778 bucks, up 7.6% from 2020.

In Bayfield County, hunters registered 1,200 deer, up 14% from 2020 but still down 19.7% from the five-year average. Hunters in Bayfield County bagged 766 bucks in the first two days of the season, up 14% form last year.

Wisconsin DNR officials said overall firearms license sales were down 1.7%, while overall deer license numbers, including bowhunters, are at just over 795,000, down 3.4% from 823,000 in 2020. There were 2,000 more nonresident licenses sold this year compared to 2020.

DNR officials said they have seen a trend of more hunters participating in the archery season, especially crossbows, and choosing not to hunt during the firearms season — likely a major reason hunter participation and harvest during the firearms season has been generally declining in recent years.

Across the state, there were only three firearms-related hunting accidents over opening weekend — none of them fatal. That included a 10-year-old boy who was accidentally shot by a 45-year-old hunter who was unloading his gun after shooting a deer.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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