Deer Season Off to a Good Start

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Although slightly behind last year's record-setting pace, the 2004 deer harvest is off to an excellent start, according to preliminary estimates from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Despite unseasonably warm weather across the state and standing corn, which provided extra hiding places for deer in some agricultural areas, the deer harvest appears to be on pace with last year in most areas of the state.

"There are still a lot days for hunters to be in the field," said Lou Cornicelli, big game specialist for the DNR. "The harvest should increase as the weather cools. In addition, corn is being harvested in the southern agricultural areas, which should improve hunting conditions."

Preliminary data from a limited number of stations with electronic registration shows the harvest is down about 15 to 20 percent in southern, western and central parts of the state. Registration appears to be comparable to 2003 in northeast and southeast zones.

Sales of firearms deer licenses through Monday totaled 400,000, which is about one percent below last year's total at the same time.

"We expect license sales to equal last year's by the time all the seasons are complete in late November," said Tom Keefe, DNR electronic licensing system coordinator.

One particularly bright spot in the preliminary numbers, according to Cornicelli, is an increase in antlerless deer harvest in southeast Minnesota, where the DNR has been trying to decrease the overall deer population.

"We're very pleased with the additional harvest of antlerless deer," Cornicelli said. "We need hunters to harvest does in order to effectively manage the deer population."

The DNR collected about 9,000 of the 11,000 lymph node samples to be tested for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). The samples are being collected from harvested wild deer this year at more than 130 big game registration stations in 60 permit areas located in parts of the northwest, north central, east central and southwest portions of the state.

"It appears that our efforts to streamline the process by taking lymph node samples rather than whole heads have been successful," Cornicelli said. "We're well ahead of last year's sample collection for the opening weekend."

This is the third and final year of DNR testing for CWD in Minnesota's wild deer population. During the 2002 and 2003 deer hunting seasons, the DNR collected and tested 14,450 deer, none of which tested positive for CWD. Testing results for deer harvested in the 2004 season will be available at the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us as results for each permit area are completed.

There are approximately 1.2 million deer in Minnesota. Each year, about 500,000 hunters harvest about 200,000 deer, four times as many as they did in the 1950s. Deer hunting generates $236 million annually in retail spending.