Fewer hunters, healthy deer population posing challenges ahead of Minnesota hunting opener

MINNEAPOLIS — Hundreds of thousands of hunters are hoping to bag a trophy buck during Minnesota’s firearm deer hunting opener.

The 16-day run kicks off Saturday morning. Officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources expect a good hunt overall, but there are challenges to this year’s hunt both in deer population and in the number of hunters who will be out.

While deer populations are high and healthy in the central and southern parts of the state, they say hunters may have a tough time in northern Minnesota this year. The northeast and north-central parts of Minnesota have experienced harsh back-to-back winters, which have made it tough for deer to find food. The deep snow has made them more susceptible to predators.

The DNR said despite more than 400,000 hunters expected this season, the number of license sales is down by about 4% this year, which follows the national trend of baby boomers aging out of the sport.

“It makes it more difficult to manage our deer herd when we have less hunters, and kind of a changing trend in deer hunters in general is they’re not harvesting as many deer,” said Todd Froberg, the big game coordinator for the Minnesota DNR. “So, it’s kind of a double whammy when you have less hunters and then hunters not harvesting as many deer as they maybe historically have.”

Froberg said the DNR is also urging hunters to be extra careful this year after two men were accidentally shot by young inexperienced hunters during the youth hunting opener earlier this month.

“It’s a reminder that those accidents can happen and even I guess when you’re doing things right and making sure you’re safe, accidents can still happen,” Froberg said. “So being vigilant in those times where maybe you’re hunting with an inexperienced hunter or a young hunter, making sure you’re paying I guess extra attention to that.”

Froberg said a lot of accidents that happen are going to and from the stand or climbing in and out of stands.

He adds it’s also important to remember to keep guns unloaded at those times and whenever hunters are traveling.

Hunters will also have to adjust to a new safety rule this year — blaze orange is required on all ground blinds used at any time on public land.

Only non-toxic ammunition is allowed in any areas where special hunts are happening — a change that started last year but is in full effect this year.

Chronic wasting disease sampling is required this weekend for anyone hunting in CWD zones. Hunters are reminded to check the DNR’s website as the zones have changed slightly this year.

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