More deer, more tests too

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — There are more deer in Minnesota this fall, which should lead to greater success for hunters when the state’s firearms deer season opens Saturday, Nov. 4.

But the isolated reappearance of chronic wasting disease has led the Department of Natural Resources to impose mandatory testing in some areas for the opening weekend to determine if the illness remains a threat.

Here’s a look at Minnesota’s upcoming firearms deer season:

Three consecutive mild winters and three years of tight hunting restrictions helped Minnesota’s deer population rebound. DNR wildlife chief Paul Telander is predicting that hunters will kill around 200,000 deer this season, which would be well above last year’s 173,213 and close to the 20-year average of 205,959.

Regional wildlife managers say the deer birth rate was high this spring, with many twin births, indicating that does came through the winter in good health. The population has reached or exceeded the DNR’s goals across most of Minnesota, except for some parts of the state’s northeast and southeast. That has allowed the agency to relax its regulations, though they still vary across the state’s 130 permit areas.

“We are looking forward to a better deer season,” said Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

Minnesota has nearly 500,000 firearms deer hunters. Their success rate last year was 32 percent. The DNR says 70 percent of the deer killed during gun season are shot on the first three or four days of the season.

The reappearance of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, in Minnesota last fall led the DNR to impose mandatory testing in parts of north-central, central and southern Minnesota for the opening weekend.

In central and north-central Minnesota, the agency wants to determine whether the fatal brain disease has spread to wild deer from captive deer on two infected farms in Crow Wing and Meeker counties. Wild deer in those areas aren’t known to have the disease, said Erik Hildebrand, the DNR’s CWD project coordinator, but wildlife managers want to make sure so they can react aggressively if it does turn up.

They also want to determine if the disease has spread any further in a pocket of southeastern Minnesota, the only place in the state where it’s been found among wild deer since 2010. Eleven deer shot in the Lanesboro and Preston areas tested positive last fall and winter.

All hunters in the 21 affected permit areas must take their deer to sampling stations where DNR staffers will remove the neck lymph nodes for testing. The DNR’s goal is 3,600 samples in north-central Minnesota, 1,800 in central Minnesota and 1,800 in southeastern Minnesota.