Due to a windy start, it wasn’t a breeze. But when all was said and done, the DNR wasn’t blowing smoke when it predicted a better deer hunting harvest in 2011.
After dipping to under 16,000 in 2009, the greater Brainerd lakes area saw an increase to more than 18,000 last year, and Gary Drotts, DNR wildlife manager in Brainerd, predicted even a better harvest this year — 19,000-20,000.
That the 2011 harvest was on the high end of that estimate was fine with Drotts.
“I stuck my neck out and had a harvest prediction of 19,000-20,000 and am glad to see a 19,956 harvest number didn’t make a liar out of me,” Drotts said.
According to Drotts, statewide numbers showed a 6 percent decline this year, but permit areas around Brainerd showed a cumulative increase of 5.8 percent.
Five of the six permit areas around Brainerd that switched from a lottery to hunter’s choice this year buoyed those numbers, Drotts said. Those numbers:
• Permit Area 172 (northern Crow Wing and Cass counties), 36.3 percent increase.
• Permit Area 247 (eastern Crow Wing County and a small section of Aitkin County), 26.2 percent increase.
• Permit Area 171 (north-central Aitkin County), 21.6 percent increase.
• Permit Area 246 (southern Cass County), 4.9 percent increase.
• Permit Area 155 (southern Aitkin County), 1.4 percent increase.
In lottery areas, hunters who are drawn are allowed to shoot a buck or a doe and those who don’t get picked may only shoot a buck. With hunter’s choice, all hunters in those permit areas may harvest a buck or a doe. No bonus permits are available for lottery or hunter’s choice.
“This was expected since hunter’s choice provides more antlerless harvest opportunities,” Drotts said of the increases in those local permit areas.
According to Drotts, the two areas that remained managed were both down, with 242 (the core Brainerd area, from Gull Lake to the Whitefish Chain) seeing a 7.8 percent decrease and 249 (southern Crow Wing and northeast Morrison counties) an 18.4 percent drop.
“Permit Area 242 may finally be showing the harvest pressure we’ve kept on this Brainerd lakes urban/cabin area for a long time now,” Drotts said. “Permit Area 249’s harvest was way up in 2010 when it went to managed from lottery in 2009. The 18.4 decrease this year may be a reflection of the fact the population base is not high enough to sustain the level of harvest noted in 2010.”
Despite a windy opening weekend that saw a 19 percent decline statewide, the improved area harvest was in full swing through nine days, indicative of what would be successful final numbers, Drotts said.
“I’m happy to see our local harvest come up from the low numbers we saw after the first weekend,” he said at the time. “All in all I’m very pleased. Total harvest is within the range I expected and there are no glaring surprises in trends for individual permit areas.
“Antlered harvest is down from last year (9,821 to 8,943), probably due to windy conditions the first weekend. Antlerless harvest is up from last year (7,725 to 9,286), undoubtedly due to the fact that six of eight permit areas went from lottery to hunters choice. You’ll note that our antlered/antlerless ratio is almost 50/50 this year, a lot different than the 37/63 ratio we had in 2006 when we were still trying to reduce the deer herd.”
The area firearms season ended last weekend. The archery season continues through Dec. 31 and the muzzleloader season opened Saturday. Only a small percentage of the total harvest numbers come from the latter two.