Firearms deer hunting season opens Saturday, and two years of mild winters could very well make for good hunting this year.
"Generally there's about a million deer statewide," said Brian Haroldson, wildlife biologist with the Madelia Wildlife Office of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "Last year we had a mild winter with good survival in all age classes, with the potential to produce more fawns."
On the plus side, the weather looks to be far more favorable than last year, which saw 40 miles per hour winds for the opener. The corn crop is almost entirely harvested, depriving deer of cover in open country, except along wooded riverbanks.
Adam Schmidt of Vesta took this 12-point buck with a bow on Friday, Oct. 26. The buck was unofficially scored at 165 total inches.
The Marshall area lies within permit zones 286 and 288, which are classified as transitional to unforested agricultural, according to Ken Varland, DNR regional wildlife manager with the New Ulm office.
"The southwest part of the state has a much lower deer population than the southeast," Varland said. "I think you're going to find the corn is entirely harvested and the fields tilled up. We've also lost a lot of CRP land in Lyon County as the contracts are up and it's more profitable to plant the land. In open landscape, deer are more vulnerable."
On the other hand, no snow cover means hunters won't be able to track deer as easily.
This year, all of southwest Minnesota is a lottery area where hunters must apply for a permit to take only one antlerless deer.
According to Varland, 100 antlerless deer permits were issued for zone 286 and 288 each, with no limit on bucks, if you can find them.
"Statewide, there's an overall success rate of 30 to 40 percent," Varland said. "For antlerless deer, the success rate is about 60 percent, so we'd expect about 60 to 65 antlerless deer taken and tagged in each permit zone."
But something hunters who are tempted to increase their odds by unfair means should be aware of is, this year stiffer penalties for baiting go into effect.
The law defines baiting as "placing food near deer stands or clearings with the intent of luring a deer into close shooting range," according to a DNR press release. Salt and mineral blocks are not considered bait as long as they do not have any food additives.
Penalties now provide for a one-year revocation of hunting privileges and three years after a second conviction within a three-year period. Penalties double for trophy deer scoring higher than 170 inches.
"Baiting creates an unfair chase advantage," said Capt. Cory Palmer, DNR regional enforcement manager. "If we're neighbors, and I put a pile of corn under my tree stand, where are the deer going to go? And there is the potential for disease from deer rubbing their noses on a bait pile."
Deer licenses can be purchased by phone: 1-888-665-4236 (1-MN-LICENSE), 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or at any of 10 locations in Lyon County, five in Lincoln County and six in Yellow Medicine County. Check the state Department of Natural Resources website for license agents.