Archived Story

Local hunter starts petition, saying deer population is too low

Published 10:55am Thursday, March 27, 2014

Local hunter Joe Ellig has enjoyed the outdoors since his parents first carried him on their backs walking through the woods. But in recent years, Ellig says something is wrong.

Ellig is one of a number of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts across the state who say the whitetail deer population has dropped to critically low numbers. In the past few hunting seasons, Ellig said, he has had a hard time finding the animal that was so prevalent a decade ago. Now, Ellig and other hunters are asking the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to act immediately.

“It’s bad, “ Ellig said. “It’s really bad. I’m not asking the DNR to give us an overabundance of deer so they are a nuisance, but there is no reason why we can’t have an abundance.”

The problem stems from the large population of deer in the early- and mid-2000s. With the population so high, the DNR implemented more aggressive harvesting regulations, ones that allowed individuals to tag up to five deer, to intentionally reduce numbers in many areas with high deer density. New goals and regulations were set in 2005-2007 that were often less intensive. The aggressive harvest in the early 2000s, Ellig claims, is what caused numbers to drop so low and is why less deer have been seen in the area.

In hopes to jumpstart some action from the department, Ellig turned in a petition last week that he had placed in public places to gather signatures across the area, from north of Pelican Rapids, Perham and Battle Lake to Dalton, Ashby and Rothsay.

“The DNR has done some wonderful things for the lands and water that many other people and I love and cherish,” Ellig said. “They really do a lot of wonderful things for the outdoors. Unfortunately, they’ve failed in deer management. Badly.”

Hunters in the area and across the state have joined Ellig in his concern. This fall, hunters harvested roughly 171,000 deer, according to an article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. It is the third straight year of harvest decline across the state.

Other area hunters say the harvest and population numbers are down because they simply aren’t seeing deer, leading many to believe that the previous goals to reduce the population were too aggressive.

“The five deer per person management strategy was too much,” Ellig said. “It degraded a wonderful natural resource in Minnesota.”


The Minnesota DNR has started a process to reevaluate its density goals across the state that were set in 2005 through 2007, when the DNR used teams of interested parties to help set density goals. In the southeastern part of the state, the reevaluation is already underway and an advisory team made up of different stakeholders, from farmers to members of hunting organizations, was formed to make recommendations. The group was chosen from an open call for nominations to “represent both the diversity of interests in deer management and for their collective familiarity with individual deer permit areas to be discussed,” according to the DNR’s Deer Management webpage, where team member names and profiles have been made public.

That team will make its recommendations today, which will be followed by another round of online and mail-in comments. On May 1, the final population goals for the area will be released.

Through 2016, goals will be revisited throughout the rest of the state. The DNR has also started to hold different listening sessions in collaboration with the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association because of the increased public concern. Local hunters gathered the University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris on Tuesday to listen to presentations from DNR officials and to voice their concern.

Local manager Don Schultz provided information on permit areas 270, in western Otter Tail County stretching to the North Dakota border; 239, north of Fergus Falls to Pelican Rapids and east along Highway 210 to Battle Lake; and 240, which is southeast of 239 to Parkers Prairie.

In permit areas 239 and 240, Schultz reported that the 2007 goals had been met and population stabilized. The numbers were on the low end of the goal range, however, and Schultz said plans are for an increase in the coming years. In 270, an area dominated by agriculture and not as hospitable a deer habitat, the population was at the low end of the goal, though there had been a slight increase since 2007. On a map of the state from the DNR report, the majority of permit areas had met their previous goal levels.

Still, many hunters at the meeting, which was not attended by any hunters from Schultz’s area, expressed that they were simply not seeing deer. Some suggested that the DNR’s survey methods might not be as reliable as the department believes.

The hunters at the Morris session even went as far as to suggest changes to hunting regulations. Some wanted to see shorter or adjusted seasons, while others thought antler point restrictions would help young bucks mature and live longer, increasing population numbers. They also mentioned that party hunting and cross tagging allowed an individual to take too many deer over the year.

DNR officials at the session did take notes during the comment period that were projected on a screen to insure their accuracy. Officials said the suggestions would be taken into consideration.

But for Ellig, action needs to be taken immediately. Continued seasons of decreasing harvests that have residents and young hunters simply not seeing deer threatens the long-standing hunting and outdoors tradition that is strong in the area and the state.

“It’s not something that we can’t come back from, but it’s something that we shouldn’t have to deal with,” Ellig said. “The purpose of the petition is simply to show the DNR that we want to see more deer, not necessarily to kill more, and when we get the population numbers back up to not let it get like this again.”


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