After a seemingly endless barrage of regulations changes and adjustments, Minnesota firearms hunters can look forward to no major changes in season structure for 2009. There are a few notable exceptions to that rule, but for the vast majority of Minnesota’s hunters, the regulation book review this year will be shorter than in the past.
“This has been our goal with the new regulations,” said Lou Cornicelli, big-game program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “It just takes time to get them in place. We hope that hunters can check the book, know the bag limit where they hunt, check any other new regulations and get hunting.”
Cornicelli said this would have been the year everything was simple for everybody across the state, but a last-minute adjustment by the Minnesota Legislature changed things drastically for hunters in Zone 3A. The adjustments are outlined in the article but more fully articulated and explained in the regulations.Mixed bag in ’08
It was a mixed bag last season as far as hunter success is concerned, and just like any other year, there were some who loved it and some who had nothing but complaints. It might have seemed worse than average last year because more hunters were griping than in many years. That’s because 38,000 fewer deer were taken, for a 19 percent drop over 2007.
It might sound like bad news, but it was still the ninth consecutive year the harvest has exceeded 200,000 and the eighth highest of all-time. On the flip side, it was the lowest harvest in six years.
“A lot of it is a reflection of our deer population and the fact that we are getting closer to our statewide population goal,” Cornicelli said. Population goals were set by the MDNR several years ago in conjunction with and advice from conservation organizations and public surveys.
The weather was also very difficult on opening weekend with lots of wind and a mixed variety of precipitation, meaning the deer were less likely to move around and hunters were more likely to head back to the hunting shack early. “The majority of our deer harvest comes during the first weekend of firearms season, and when the weather is bad, we never fully make up the difference the first weekend,” Cornicelli said.
By season, the breakdown in harvest numbers showed that archers shot 7 percent fewer deer, muzzleloaders show 25 percent fewer, and firearms hunters took 15 percent fewer deer.
Top Spots To Hunt
Firearms hunters had a 35.1 percent success rate last year, meaning that more than a third of the available tags were filled. Hunters in Zone 1 once again had the highest success percentage but also had three weekends to hunt. The lowest success rate came in Zone 2, but each of Minnesota’s three zones experienced 33 percent success or higher. Early antlerless season hunters had a 17.7 percent success rate.
The MDNR compiles numerous statistics based on hunter-reported harvest information and has the files available in spreadsheet form downloadable from the Web site or by contacting the big-game coordinator. Harvest numbers are organized by permit area rather than by counties because many permit areas are situated in multiple counties.
Hunters looking to find a good place to hunt can examine the number of hunters in an area, the success rates, deer densities and almost any kind of number they want to get their hands on. “Those statistics are helpful for finding large areas where there’s a healthy herd, but they are too broad for pinpointing the exact area you want to hunt,” said Dan Perez of Whitetail Properties Television.
The data accompanying this article is based on last year’s harvest information and is not necessarily a predictor of this year’s top performers. On the flipside, it doesn’t mean you should avoid these areas because of the perception that all sorts of hunters are going to flock to the area.
That said, if you look through your back issues of Minnesota Sportsman, you’ll find a lot of the same permit areas mentioned year after year. Good deer-hunting habitat will produce deer year after year. There is always some variation, but analyze the last five years of these tables and you’ll see some major commonalities.
Numbers should only be part of a pre-hunt game plan, because the best hunting location is that spot you’ve scouted out ahead of time, Perez said. “Ideally, you’ve been watching it regularly the last several months and have a good idea of the deer activity and patterns. Don’t expect to show up opening morning at a new location and find a great place to hunt.”
In every set of numbers for a permit area there are stories. Not just about deer but about hunters. Archers and firearms hunters accessing large tracts of land don’t have to worry much about hunting pressure, but firearms hunters on smaller private lands and those on public lands have to adjust any good game plan around hunting pressure.
Perez said deer sign is not the only thing to look for on public land: “Where are the ATV trails? Where are the logging trails people walk in on in the morning? Make sure to study aerial maps of your area and determine the multiple access points to the area you hope to hunt.”
Just like you can pattern bucks around their feeding and bedding areas, you can pattern hunters around their stand placements and entry points. Combine the data and you can put yourself into an area where you won’t have a ton of hunters messing up your hunt, and you’ll be positioned in a place where those other hunters will channel deer your way.
“If you sat down and figured it out now, this close to the hunt, you’d be surprised with how well you figure things out,” Perez added. “But this is a long-term approach to deer hunting, and while you hunt this year, you should be already planning for next.”
Just like an angler sets waypoints on a GPS where fish have been marked and on locations that “look fishy,” hunters should keep track of good deer habitat as well as the location of hunting stands nearby. “You’ll be amazed at the patterns you can figure out when you hook the GPS up to your computer and analyze it with maps and aerial photography.”
The cool thing about maps and aerial photography today is that you can access these tools of technology without having to pay more than a nominal access fee. Rewind just a decade and purchasing maps and photographs needed for that type of scouting would cost a lot of money.
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