Deer hunting season looking promising

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Fall is a popular season in southeast Minnesota, and part of that popularity is the chance for the region’s hunters to chase the wily whitetail.

Erik Thorson, Big Game Coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, says the prospects for success look good. “In most areas of the state, deer populations are up, including southeast Minnesota,” he said. “Deer harvest was pretty good during the archery season. Harvest numbers for the early antlerless and Youth Deer Hunting seasons were likely higher this year in the southeast. I think things appear on track for a good firearm season this year.”

Thorson says prospects are good when you combine higher deer numbers with the same hunting opportunities in southeast Minnesota, which are pretty “liberal and intensive.” Bonus antlerless permits are widely available many management units in the area.

“The public hunting lands in the southeast do get more hunting pressure during the season because public lands are a little more limited,” Thorson said. “It sounds as if hunters who pick their days well, especially around the middle of the week or during the 3B season, probably won’t run into as many hunters. There should be good (deer) populations on both public and private land this year.”

The one dark spot in the forecast involves the continual management Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in the region. CWD was first discovered in free-ranging deer here in 2016, and two more confirmed cases popped up this fall. The two positive samples were discovered during the archery season in the core CWD areas to the north and west of Preston.

“It’s in the same area that we’ve found a majority of our positive samples over the past couple of years,” said Erik Hildebrand, Wildlife Health Specialist with the DNR. “CWD is a mutated prion, (a misfolded protein) that persists for a long time. You can’t incinerate it, burn it, freeze it, or cook it. It can last a long time.

“Research on CWD shows it can bind to things like soil substrates and plant material, so it can persist for a long time in the environment, as well,” Hildebrand said. “That’s a big reason it can be so hard to get rid of once it shows up in a particular area. You want to reduce the main mode of transmission, which is deer-to-deer contact through saliva, feces, or urine.”

Hildebrand said to minimize that spread, the DNR wants to reduce deer density and limit contact between sick and healthy animals. Hunting is one tool the DNR relies on to reduce herd density. Without hunters, Hildebrand said “combatting the spread of CWD just wouldn’t be possible.”

Hunters can shoot deer that have CWD and not know it because of the long gestation period of the disease. Hunters who harvested the CWD-positive deer this fall in Fillmore Country were reported described as “appearing completely normal.” It can take one to 1.5 years for symptoms to show, which will include head drooping, emaciation, along with circling and stumbling.

“It’s important for hunters to avoid the temptation to see what they think is a sick deer and put it out of his misery,” Hildebrand said. “After all, they might show symptoms that look like CWD but be sick with something else, entirely, They could have a cold virus similar to what humans get and be able to fight through it. We can’t just go out and shoot sick deer. We work with the local CO (Conservation Officer) and landowners to verify what’s going on.”

Both the Centers for Disease Control and the Minnesota DNR encourage hunters to avoid consuming a CWD-positive deer. However, that decision is actually left up to each individual hunter. Hildebrand points out there is no research that shows Chronic Wasting Disease has crossed the species barrier and infects human beings.

“With that being said, the research is still ongoing,” Hildebrand said. “If the hunter doesn’t want the meat, we’ll take the animal from them and dispose of it in a digester at the University of Minnesota.”

Deer Permit Area No. 603 is a designated CWD-management zone (Testing is required by law). Hunters will only wait three-to-four days to find out testing results on their deer. Outside of Permit Area No. 603, results will take anywhere between seven and 14 days.

“Something new this year is any hunter who takes a deer and has it tested can go to our website and check for their findings on our test-results page,” Hildebrand added. “Hunters just type in their 9-digit MN DNR number, which is unique to every hunter, and they can search for their individual test results.

“Last year, it was just for hunters in the 603 Management Zone,” he added. “This year, it’s for everyone who has their deer tested.”

There are only three areas in Minnesota where CWD testing is mandated by law. They can be found in the Minnesota Hunting Regulations book on page 64. Hunters will find a map showing the locations of those three areas.

Although he doesn’t have specific harvest numbers, Erik Thorson wouldn’t be surprised that the Youth Deer Hunt, held over the MEA weekend, was a success. He said those seasons have been very popular in recent years. While the conditions weren’t necessarily ideal (Thursday and Friday were windy and warm), it was a good weekend for hunters to be out with youth. That made it easier to spend as much time outdoors as possible and led to higher success rates for the kids.

“It’s vital that we introduce new hunters to the outdoor sports,” Thorson said. “A lot of our current hunters are part of the Baby Boom generation and they’re aging out of hunting and the outdoors. Hunting also funds conservation efforts when hunters purchase licenses and that also helps us manage deer populations. We need a healthy deer hunter base population to manage our state’s deer herds.”