Minnesota'™s 2007 Bowhunting Outlook

We broke our archery deer harvest record again last fall, and the total is expected to go even higher this season. Here's how it looks in your neck of the woods. (September 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Last year's archery deer season was the best ever in Minnesota's history, and this year's outlook is just as good, if not better. A total of 25,350 deer were arrowed in 2006, which is an increase of almost 10 percent from the record-breaking 2005 season.

"That's two straight years breaking the archery harvest record, and with a robust deer population, it could happen again this year," said Department of Natural Resources' Big-Game Program coordinator Lou Cornicelli.

The outlook in Minnesota's forest region is very good, according to Mark Lenarz, wildlife research biologist at the DNR's Grand Rapids-based Forest Research Group.

"It was another mild winter last year, and survival, by and large, was good throughout the forest region," Lenarz said.

The population in the northern third of Minnesota has either remained steady or declined slightly, but is still above what the DNR considers to be an ideal number of deer. In the middle third of the state -- known as the "transition area" -- deer populations are steady or have increased from last year. Lenarz said those numbers indicate the need for an increased harvest, which translates into additional opportunities for hunters this year, but especially bowhunters.

Minnesota's farmland region has a similar situation, in that deer populations are in need of additional harvest.

"In the northern part of the farmland region, which is part of the transition zone, we have high deer densities, and we are trying to increase the average harvest and slow growth rates," said Marrett Grund, the DNR's Farmland Deer Project leader. "In the true farmland area of the state, deer densities are declining, and we are trying to reduce the antlerless harvest."

Grund said bowhunters kill some deer from the farmland region, but the numbers are minimal compared with the rest of Minnesota.

"The number of archers has not increased dramatically, and the antlerless harvest is roughly the same now as it was 10 years ago," he said.

A healthy deer population is certainly helping keep harvest levels high, but bowhunters are especially benefiting from the All-Season License option that was started a few years ago.

"We're selling more and more of those licenses, and I think it's adding some archers to the ranks of hunters because there are more opportunities to hunt," Cornicelli said.

With an All-Season License, you can hunt in each the bow, firearms and muzzleloader seasons.

"There were three tags for All-Season License holders last year, allowing bowhunters to shoot a doe before moving on to hunting bucks," he added.

Hunters purchased only 2,384 All-Season Licenses in the first year of the program back in 2000. That number doubled in 2001, and then shot up to over 22,000 in 2002. Around 60,000 All-Season Licenses have been purchased in each of the last two years, and similar numbers are expected this year.

"Having a third tag allowed hunters to be less selective, because with such a long season and healthy population they had almost as much time as they wanted to harvest a deer," Cornicelli said.

Another possible reason for the increasing number of bowhunters and rising success rate is that archery technology continues to improve. Longbows and recurves with wood or aluminum arrows were the mainstay for many years, but the latest in compound bows and carbon arrows has given bowhunters a leg up on the older technology.

"I'm a longbow hunter myself, but you peruse the magazines and see what's available to archers today. This is not your father's Oldsmobile," Cornicelli said.

In addition to better bows and arrows, the modern array of blinds, tree stands, sights and other equipment has given bowhunters an advantage they didn't have just a decade ago. However, Cornicelli was quick to point out that no matter what the technology is, a well-placed shot is still required.

"But still, even though they are considered primitive weapons, today's bows are very effective at ranges not even considered in the past," he noted.

SPECIAL HUNTS

Besides a healthy population, long season and flexible licensing, bowhunters also have the opportunity to hunt in places restricted to firearms hunters. Many municipalities have firearms discharge restrictions that effectively prohibit all gun hunting. Often these cities and suburbs host special archery hunts to help control the herd flourishing under such plush conditions.

Suburban and exurban areas are full of gardens, wild-game feeders and small pockets of forested areas that provide ample food and cover for deer. These areas are also very limiting to predators and hunters, thus vehicles tend to kill many deer. With such accommodations, does are able to have, and sustain, two to three fawns in many cases. Because human activity in these areas tends to take place during the daylight hours, many of these deer are very nocturnal, which creates an additional challenge for hunters.

However, off the top of his head, Cornicelli could think of a half-dozen special deer hunts offered last year. That included hunts in St. Cloud, Duluth, Red Wing, Ortonville, Appleton, Ramsey County and Anoka County. Many of these special hunts are listed in the big-game hunting regulations booklet, while others are listed on city or county government Web sites. You can also contact city and county wildlife management officials.

"Where those ordinances shut down the land for firearms hunters, bowhunters can do really well in those suburban habitats," Cornicelli said.

He encouraged bowhunters to also consider speaking with private landowners in these areas as well because many of them would like to see the deer population reduced in their areas.

As for myself, last year I hunted on private land in the middle of the northern suburbs on a 20-acre lot with a busy set of train tracks within 50 yards of my blind. The landowner gave me permission to take any deer that came by, but I was really hoping that I would take a few does to help drop the population in the 'hood.

If you are looking to take advantage of hunting opportunities in and around metro areas, visit the county seat's office for the area you hope to hunt, and purchase a plat book. These map books are extremely helpful for identifying private landowners whom hunters can ask for permission to hunt.

"If you know their name and have an idea of the land they own, you are going to have a better chance of getting permission than if you just show up," said Pete Alfano of the television show "Whitetail Properties."

Alfano said special hunts are great for hunters, but that private property is a largely untapped resource bowhunters should consider. Scout an area using a topographic map to find some areas you would consider prime deer habitat, and then ask permission from the landowner this winter or next spring. Find out if they will let you do some scouting on the property and, in a perfect world, if they are willing to let you set up a food plot or hang stands early.

"Of course, you need to make sure you are offering them something in return, such as a share of the venison or helping with managing the property," Alfano added.

Critics of city-, municipality- and county-sponsored hunts have tried a number of ways to restrict these hunts by citing potential problems. Fortunately, very few of these efforts have been successful and, as a result, more local units of government are planning hunts this year and into the future.

"The Rochester hunt last year was extremely quiet, and the city received a lot of inquiries, but never a single complaint, which demonstrates that it can be done in a safe manner," said Don Nelson, the DNR's Rochester-area wildlife supervisor.

Another example of a well-run local archery hunt was one hosted by the city of Duluth last year in conjunction with the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance. A total of 561 deer were taken last year, of which 86 percent were antlerless. The whitetail herd in the city is still higher than officials would like, and a 2007 hunt was still being considered as this issue went to press. Go online to www.bowhuntersalliance.org or contact the city of Duluth for more information.

Hunts taking place around the Twin Cities metro area are often done in conjunction with the Metro Bowhunters Resource Base. Information on many of these Twin Cities metro hunts can be found online at www.strictlybowhunting.com/mbrb.

Contact city and county natural resources management officials as well to find out what hunts they are offering. Do not forget to ask about special requirements for hunting in each area, because some cities require a permit from the police department or sheriff.

It should be mentioned that while the intent of these hunts is to reduce the deer population -- and many require or encourage the killing of antlerless deer -- there is tremendous trophy-buck potential in these areas. While trophy bucks are tough to find anywhere in the state where firearms hunting is allowed, Pope and Young-class bucks are plentiful in these suburban and exurban areas. Any bowhunter who has had to endure one of these seasons for antlerless deer only or couldn't shoot a buck until they had arrowed a doe will tell you that there are some real wallhanger racks out there.

TOP 10 PERMIT AREAS

It should come as no surprise that many of the top permit areas across Minnesota for bowhunters coincide with regions that offer special hunts. Last year, the permit area with the highest archery harvest was 228, which encompasses the area of the Twin Cities east of the Mississippi River. A total of 871 deer were arrowed, including 306 bucks, 384 does and 181 fawns.

Permit Area 337 covers most of the Twin Cities west of the Mississippi River, and it had the second-highest kill with 796 deer arrowed, including 250 bucks, 391 does and 155 fawns.

"Archers make up about 20 percent of the kill in the metro zones, while the statewide average is right around 9 percent," Cornicelli said.

The Duluth area, which is Permit Area 182, had the third-largest harvest with 778 deer, including 158 bucks, 452 does and 168 fawns.

Coming in fourth was the expansive Permit Area 184, which includes the entire Bemidji area. A total of 774 deer were arrowed here, including 151 bucks, 446 does and 175 fawns.

There was a tie for fifth place between the northeastern metro's Permit Area 236 and Permit Area 343 in the southeastern corner of the state. Besides being prime whitetail habitat, Permit Area 343 encompasses the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area, which is popular among hunters from the Twin Cities, Rochester and Winona. A total of 227 bucks, 406 does and 126 fawns were taken from this area, while Permit Area 236 saw a total kill of 233 bucks, 371 does and 155 fawns.

As the Twin Cities expand, areas that were once considered rural become more suburban, and Permit Area 227 is a prime example. It had the sixth-highest bowhunter harvest in 2006 with 644 deer taken, including 181 bucks, 308 does and 153 fawns.

Rounding out top 10 permit areas were Permit Area 213 in the heart of Minnesota's farmland/forest transition zone, Permit Area 349 encompassing Houston County, a well-known area with plenty of trophy potential, and Permit Area 157 southeast of Mille Lacs, which is home to high deer densities and terrific habitat.

BOWHUNTER EDUCATION

Many of these special hunts require archers to acquire a special bowhunter education certification either from the DNR or from their own local screening process. Bowhunters are also sometimes asked to demonstrate an effective shooting proficiency at a given distance, and accuracy percentage. As these bowhunting opportunities continue to expand, more and more archers are seeking this special certification to be eligible for the hunts.

The good news about the bowhunter education program is that it is taught by experienced bowhunters, and it has valuable information for anybody of differing archery experience, whether they are new to the sport or have been bowhunting over 20 years, noted Mike Hammer, the DNR's Division of Enforcement education coordinator.

"It's targeted at any hunter whether new or lifelong, and while the instructors have great words of wisdom, the experience of the students is also rich," Hammer said.

At least a dozen states around the country require that non-resident bowhunters have this requirement as well, so anybody planning an out-of-state archery hunt for turkeys or big game should consider obtaining this certificate. States with the requirement are South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Louisiana, Idaho, Montana, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Alaska.

"It's not required in Minnesota, and I don't see a need for it at this time, but it definitely opens up opportunities for hunters and is good for the

future of hunting," Hammer said.

Having an educated population of hunters that is aware of laws, regulations and hunter ethics is important for the image of hunting that anti-hunters often challenge.

"Bowhunters are especially picked on for things like wound loss," Hammer said. "But if hunters understand their limitations -- learn when to take a shot and when to pass on one -- we can show that we are taking responsibility and understand the seriousness of hunting by giving proper respect to the game and doing things the right way."

In addition to the bowhunter education program, the DNR also works with the Archery in the Schools Program and Forkhorn Camps sponsored by the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. All of these programs are exposing archery to a broader range of the public, and helping grow the future of the sport. Anybody interested in these programs either as a student or instructor should go to the DNR's Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us and click on "Education and Safety Training."

Bowhunters are often considered loners in their field, but this year, take someone into the woods with you to see if you can introduce him or her to the sport. A good place to start is with a youth, because the future of hunting is in their hands.

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