In a tree

Decked out in blaze orange clothing, a hunter perched himself above a wooded area Sunday afternoon in Otter Tail County. The state firearm deer hunting season began Saturday. It runs through Sunday, Nov. 15. 

Department of Natural Resources big game coordinator Barbara Keller reported Tuesday the Minnesota firearm deer harvest is off by 21% after the first weekend.

“We didn’t expect this,” Keller said.

Saturday and Sunday’s harvest registrations in the state stood at 59,711. The total deer harvest for 2020, including the archery season and the youth deer hunting season stood at 94,397 Tuesday.

Keller, who works from the DNR office in St. Paul, felt several factors have contributed to the disappointment of hunters.

“Certainly weather played a part as it was warm and windy through most of the state,” Keller said. “We can’t rule COVID-19 out of that either.”

In past years the firearms deer hunting season has been as much of a draw for family gatherings around the state as major holidays.

DNR area wildlife manager Mike Oehler spent some time at a chronic wasting disease (CWD) collection site in the Brainerd area but he also found his way into the woods north of Fergus Falls.

Oehler predicted a lot of shooting Saturday morning and he was right. With sunny skies and daytime temperatures crowding 70 degrees, hunting pressure on the opener of the firearms season was very high.

Weather has played a major role in many deer hunting seasons and Sunday saw gale-force winds blanketing Minnesota. Oehler was out Sunday morning and after a terrific volume of shooting Saturday, he was struck by the change on Sunday.

“On Sunday it dropped to virtually zero,” Oehler said. “Deer are definitely influenced by high wind.”

As of Tuesday afternoon hunters in the 239 area hunt zone north of Fergus Falls had bagged 2,183 whitetails. West of Fergus Falls in the 270 lottery zone the harvest stood at 208. Southeast of Fergus Falls in the 273 hunter’s choice zone the harvest stood at 506. The intensive permit areas of Otter Tail County saw 4,577 deer taken in 213; 2,684 harvested in 240; and 4,178 registered in 241.

Oehler and Keller are both serious about voluntary CWD collection in the state. Hunters in 273 and 213 have been requested to drop off the heads of their deer so they can be tested for CWD. In other years of sampling the public response to DNR requests has been much greater.

“I am kind of surprised because our estimates are based on voluntary samplings,” Oehler said, urging hunters in the 213 and 273 to comply with the state’s voluntary request.

“We are all in this together,” Oehler said.

Keller said that four deer have tested positive for CWD in Minnesota during the firearms season – all four deer were taken in southeastern Minnesota where the concentration of CWD has been the highest in the state. CWD testing was expanded after deer tested positive for CWD in Douglas County and Crow Wing County.

The nine-day firearms deer hunting season in west-central Minnesota runs through Sunday. Light to moderate winds, low precipitation, lows in the 20s and highs reaching only the low 40s are predicted for the rest of the hunting season in the Fergus Falls area.

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