Hunters may not see fewer deer when the season opens November 8, but regulations implemented to help increase Minnesota’s deer population will place more of those deer off limits.

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“By design, this year’s deer harvest will be one of the lowest we’ve seen in decades,” . “In fact, our total harvest this year may end up coming in around 120,000, a level not reported since the early 1980s.”

-Leslie McInenly, big game program leader

Because hunters can only harvest bucks in some places and fewer antlerless permits were offered, the 2014 harvest will fall significantly from the 170,000 deer harvested in 2013.

A one-deer bag limit rules most of the state and opportunities to take additional antlerless deer are few and far between, with only seven of 129 deer permit areas and some special hunts allowing the use of bonus permits. The greatest impacts will be in the northeast, the region hardest hit by severe winter weather the past two years, where most of the permit areas only allow the harvest of bucks.

In general, regulations over the past decade have been implemented to reduce the deer population to goals set through a public process and have become more conservative as goals were met. This year’s season reflects not only the effects of winter weather but a response to public interest in growing the population. However, with a return of more moderate winter weather, future seasons will not be similarly lean.

“This season is a bit of a pause prior to revisiting deer goals for most of the state over the next two years, Once we are through that process, we’ll have a course set for management.”

Given past experience with times when deer populations are lower, deer populations can respond fairly quickly when harvest is limited, particularly when combined with more moderate winters. For example, after two severe winters in the mid-1990s, the 1997 deer season harvest was 144,000 deer; by 2000, the harvest had rebounded to more than 212,000 deer.

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In the southern region, cropland harvest is as usual a factor for hunters to consider.

“In this mostly open, agricultural part of Minnesota, row crop fields have been experiencing a delayed harvest pace and standing corn in the field may impact hunting,” said Ken Varland, southern regional wildlife manager.

However, the deer herd in the southern region is quite robust following the winter of 2013 to 2014, which was less severe than other parts of Minnesota. Conditions are abnormally dry in a portion of south-central Minnesota despite heavy rains in June that prevented planting of crops in some areas.

“Even though some fawns didn’t make it through last winter, deer came into the spring in relatively good condition. For the most part, we are near the population goal for the region,” Varland said.