The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources say hunters venturing into fields and forests for Satuday's deer opener across southwest Minnesota should expect a decent season with ample hunting opportunities.
"I think success will be up this year," Lou Cornicelli, the DNR's big game program coordinator, said. "We should see some more mature bucks in the population because buck harvest was low in the southwest last year."
Nearly 500,000 Minnesotans are expected to participate in the firearms deer opener Saturday. A report released by the DNR said 32 percent of hunters were successful last year. This year's numbers are expected to be slightly higher.
"We'll probably harvest 200,000 deer this year," Cornicelli said.
Because of liberal hunting regulations, Minnesota's deer harvest peaked in 2003 at 290,000. The DNR continues to issue fewer either-sex permits than it did seven years ago. Currently, the state's whitetail deer population is approximately 1 million. The DNR manages the herd population by establishing harvest goals and regulations.
"We are at or nearing those goals throughout most of the state," Cornicelli said. "As those population goals are met, particularly in areas that were overpopulated, hunting regulations move from liberal to conservative and are adjusted based on deer management needs."
Large areas of Lincoln and Lyon counties, however, have low deer populations and are designated youth-only antlerless areas by the DNR. In those areas, numbered 286 and 288, all adult archery, firearm, muzzleloader and disabled hunters are restricted to bucks only. In addition, only limited number of youth-only antlerless permits are available.
According to Cornicelli, the policy was implemented in areas of Minnesota where deer populations are exceptionally vulnerable. This year, with crop harvest almost complete, habitat will be sparse for an area deer population that is already low.
"Deer population in general in the core farmland in Minnesota are pretty vulnerable," he said. "Deer habitat is generally poor and when corn is out they are extremely vulnerable to harvest."
In other areas of the state there is no limit on the number of youths that are allowed to harvest antlerless deer, but Cornicelli said the policy was being heavily abused in certain areas and stiffer regulation was needed to curtail the behavior.
"It's a strategy to grow deer populations," he said.
The strategy was implemented after previous strategies to bolster deer populations, such as limiting adult deer permits, proved ineffective. After looking at the numbers, Cornicelli said it was obvious in some areas that the rules were being broken as youth harvests were disproportionally high in areas of the state. The belief, he said, is that adult hunters were shooting antlerless deer, but allowing youth to claim it. The new strategy has worked in other parts of the state. This year there are only six youth-only antlerless areas - down from 13 last year.
"With any luck this will be the last year," Cornicelli said. "Hopefully, the lesson was learned."
The firearms deer season concludes in southwest Minnesota on Nov. 14.