Bowhunting for whitetail deer is a challenging prospect, but it’s growing in popularity throughout Minnesota. The number of archers in our state continues to climb, and last year a record number of bowhunters — just missing the 100,000 mark — took to the woods for the opportunity to arrow a whitetail.
Photo by Ron Hustvedt.
As far as hunting opportunities go in the state of Minnesota, there’s no bigger bargain than an archery deer license. The season runs almost 16 weeks from mid-September to the end of December, and there is no other method of hunting with as many acres of huntable land.
“A bowhunter can hunt the edges of the suburbs and exurbs of the Twin Cities, the fields of western Minnesota, the bluffs of the southeast, all the way out to the most remote locations in the north,” said Lou Cornicelli, Big Game Program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“Archers benefit from a very long season, and they aren’t stuck as bad when there’s goofy weather like what happens to firearms and muzzleloader hunters during their relatively short seasons,” he added.
Because of discharge laws in many cities and small towns throughout the state, firearms hunters and muzzleloaders don’t have as much hunting acreage available as do bowhunters. With the exception of the urban core, bowhunters have almost free rein to hunt every public acre of the state and any private land on which they have permission to hunt.
“It’s an exciting prospect but also a daunting one,” said Pete Alfano of Whitetail Trophy Properties. “Just because you can hunt a piece of land doesn’t mean you should. Bowhunters have more opportunities to hunt, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t carefully select their hunting location and do the scouting work it takes to create a successful hunt.”
As the deer population continues to move closer to the MDNR’s management goals, the number of deer-hunting opportunities remains strong despite potential declines in harvest limits. “There’s been significant harvest issues in the southwest part of the state, and there might be bucks-only for hunters in some permit areas except for a few youth hunts,” Cornicelli said. “Otherwise, things should look the same for bowhunters around the state.”
When asked about what parts of the state receive more hunting pressure from archers than others, Cornicelli said there’s not any solid data, but all indications are that the closer to the Twin Cities metro area you get, the higher the proportion of bowhunters.
“Permit areas like 601 and 236 are pretty much archery-only areas because there really aren’t many firearms hunting locations,” he said. “In those areas, archers take a higher percentage.”
Minnesota’s deer population appears to have fared well following a winter that was a bit more severe than the norm for the last decade, according to Mark Lenarz, MDNR wildlife biologist with the Forest Wildlife Populations and Research Group out of Grand Rapids. “In most places, this past winter was a moderate one, though we’ve seen a real severe winter in northeastern Minnesota in Cook, Lake and northern St. Louis counties,” he said.
Lenarz said that other than populations in that extreme northeastern corner of the state, which is already a lower density area and a nontraditional part of the deer range, the state’s whitetail population is in good shape.
“The harvest we’ve seen the last few years has brought deer populations down and closer to our population goals,” Lenarz explained. “So ultimately we’re going to see the (regulations and limits) that we offer being a bit less liberal than in past years.” A deer herd that is closer to MDNR targets translates into fewer permit areas where hunters will be allowed to take five deer and more managed areas and lottery hunts. Permit areas that are “managed” in the regulations allow a hunter up to two deer, and those marked “lottery” allow a hunter one buck, unless he or she draws a doe tag.
HEALTH OF THE HERD
Minnesota has experienced an interesting several years of deer management, and some hunters are griping over changes in regulations, permit areas and availability of permits. One of the most common complaints revolves around the number of deer available for hunters, but the MDNR has been aggressively working to reduce the size of the deer herd over the last several years.
The reason for the reduction is for the health and benefit of the forest, as well as the state’s deer herd. Another commonly argued point that can be heard at cafés and bars around the state is how to manage bucks.
Some hunters target only bucks with large, mature racks, while others say if it has horns, they should be able to shoot it. Some want to see antler point restrictions, while others want to limit hunters to only harvesting mature bucks. Cornicelli said there are numerous studies ongoing to determine if any of those multi-faceted ideas would be effective. The major sticking point hasn’t been the data collected but rather that most Minnesotans don’t want to have limitations on the bucks they are eligible to harvest.
The woods, marshes and fields around the Aitkin area are very popular with firearms hunters. Ask hunters where they are going for rifle season, and a whole lot of them will be within 20 miles of Aitkin. “We have a lot of deer around here and a lot of hunters both on public and private land, so there’s a lot of orange out there once the firearms and muzzleloader seasons get going,” said Dave Kanz, the MDNR’s assistant wildlife manager out of Aitkin.
Kanz said the mixture of public and private land in the Aitkin area makes it conducive to plenty of archery hunting possibilities. “There’s a lot of public land close to town that hunters might want to try in addition to some larger public areas in the area.”
The public land near the city of Aitkin gets a fair amount of firearms hunting, but it might make for some good pre-firearms bowhunting because many deer take advantage of the food sources available in areas with higher human densities. Deer have plenty of food and browse available in the woods and fields, but there is a veritable buffet in a city like Aitkin with all the gardens, shrubs and flowers planted by unsuspecting homeowners.
“We have some good archery hunting in the area, and it’s been on the increase around here the last few years, so we’re s
eeing more bowhunters in the woods,” Kanz said, “but I think a lot of them hunt on private land.” Public hunting areas are under-utilized by archers and he encouraged bowhunters to consider the Aitkin area this fall.
Southeastern Minnesota is home to a unique blend of fields, forests and river valleys. It is geographically very conducive to producing trophy whitetails and the counties of the southeastern corner of the state produce multiple trophies every year.
“We are still well above our population goals and would still like to get the herd down in several permit areas down here,” said Don Nelson, the MDNR’s Rochester area wildlife manager.
There are many archers who take plenty of deer with a bow down here, but there’s a lot of land and numerous opportunities, he added. That includes several large stands of state forest and the large Whitewater Wildlife Management Area, as well as plenty of private land.
Pages: 1 2