NICOLLET - A roomful of deer hunters, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employees and Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) members spoke their minds Thursday at the Nicollet Conservation Club.
"It's been a tough year for deer in northern Minnesota with all the snow they had," said DNR Wildlife Chief Paul Telander. "We're closely monitoring it. Anticipate a conservative 2014 deer season. We want to hear comments here, not debate topics."
Telander said the weather affects the deer season in a big way, especially its first few days . "If the weather is so rough early, it keeps hunters from hunting. It's tough to make that up later."
Redwood Falls Area DNR Manager Jeff Zajac said deer numbers were up for the 2013 hunt.
Nicollet Area DNR Manager Joe Stangel said his office received many calls last year about lots of fawns dying in yards late in the season, but not this year. "At least not yet, but it's still cold out," Stangel said.
Owatonna Area DNR Manager Jeanine Vorland said urbanization is taking a toll on loss of deer habitat.
When hunters commented, DNR employees took notes. Mark Johnson, MDHA executive director, said all comments were important.
A man who hunts from Rapidan to Good Thunder said hunting pressure is high throughout the season. "The deer get no rest. There's too much pressure on them," he said. "It caused some hunters to lose interest."
Russ Haber of New Ulm said he's seen deer numbers fluctuate in the Garden City area. He used to see many deer in the Superior National Forest, then saw more wolf signs, so he switched to grouse hunting.
Another hunter said he saw lots of deer in the Waconia, Hamburg and Henderson are but not nearly as many in recent times.
Rick Meyer of Nicollet said he's noticed a decline in deer quality and size. He is also finding more coyotes and deer killed near roads. "I wanted to put up a sign about deer near the road, but got no interest in signs warning drivers of deer."
Haber said he experienced some of the best deer hunting ever on private land near Garden City. "I don't agree with people who say the DNR isn't doing a good job. Somebody is doing something right," he said.
A Waseca and Le Sueur County hunter encouraged the DNR to buy more woodland habitat to support the deer population.
Zajac said the DNR recently bought about 6,000 acres, much of it woodland, north of the Minnesota River between Redwood Falls and Franklin.
Steve Soukup of New Ulm suggested dividing up deer seasons to ease hunting pressure on deer. "How about a kids and elderly season?" he asked.
Several DNR officials said there is a youth hunt and that they are among the most successful deer hunters. Several hunters agreed.
Several hunters asked if the DNR gets lottery money. They were told that the DNR gets only a small percentage, about seven cents of each dollar. It is a much smaller percentage than when the lottery began because most lottery money goes to the lottery itself or the state general fund.
Several DNR managers and hunters said there are many wolves in northern Minnesota. "Wolves take deer. It's their main food source, but wolves aren't a driver of deer population," Johnson said.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).