More opportunity to harvest deer, more upland bird hunting and expansions in youth hunts are among the highlights of the upcoming hunting season.
Several youth deer hunts in controlled areas will again be available this fall. Youth opportunities for small game include Take-a-Kid hunting weekend (Sept. 24-25), Youth Waterfowl Day (tentatively Sept. 17) and Future Pheasant Hunters Weekend (Oct. 29-30).
Hunters will have more opportunities to harvest deer. Beginning this fall, deer can be tagged with both a firearm and archery license. There's also an early antlerless season, zone realignments and the creation of a metro deer-hunting zone.
"We hope to increase deer harvest in areas with high deer populations," said Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program coordinator. "To do this, we're offering hunters more flexibility with deer licenses and more hunting opportunities."
The changes begin to take effect with the Sept. 17 opening of archery deer hunting. Firearms deer hunting begins statewide on Nov. 5 and the muzzleloader season starts Nov. 26.
Pheasant, grouse and Hungarian partridge seasons extend one additional day, through Sunday, Jan. 1. The extension will allow for huntinig during the New Year's holiday weekend and will not harm pheasant numbers.
Populations of ruffed grouse remain near the low of their 10-year cycle. Many hunters hoped this year's count would be higher, indicating an upswing in the grouse population, which tends to rise and fall in 10-year cycles. Counts have been at the low end of the scale for the past five consecutive years. At the peak Minnesota's annual harvest exceeds 1.2 million birds. The average annual harvest is 600,000 birds.
This will also be the second hunting season for mourning dove, the most widely dispersed and abundant upland game bird in North America. Last year, an estimated 15,000 hunters bagged 100,0000 birds.
Because Minnesota's dove hunt is regulated under federal guidelines that also govern southern states, the season will stay open for 60 days. However, doves tend to leave Minnesota when temperatures begin to drop near freezing, usually around the middle of September.
Populations of sharp-tailed grouse remain relatively low in their remaining range in northwestern and east-central Minnesota.
Minnesota's breeding waterfowl populations were down 37 percent while pond numbers were up 22 percent in the May annual breeding duck survey. Duck numbers are very close to the state's long-term average since surveys began in 1968. However a look at the last 10 years shows that duck abundance is down 24 percent from the 10-year average, with duck numbers at the lowest since the drought of the late 1980s.
Continental duck counts are down 1 percent, according to preliminary estimates. Fall hunting success in Minnesota will depend on water conditions to the west and north of the state and on weather during the season. In addition, the DNR continues to work with other agencies and organizations to improve the quality of fall migration habitat and to provide more areas for waterfowl to feed and rest during migration. The goal of this effort is to restore to its historic level Minnesota's share of the Mississippi Flyway duck harvest.
Giant Canada geese that breed locally in Minnesota remain abundant and, along with migrant geese, provide Minnesota waterfowl hunters with excellent goose hunting opportunities. More Canada geese are taken in Minnesota than in any other state in the United States.
Liberal September goose hunting regulations will continue in many areas of the state in order to harvest as many local geese as possible before the migrant population begins arriving.
Moose populations in northwestern Minnesota are still very low and the season is still closed in that area. However, the northeast Minnesota moose population remains stable and 284 moose licenses were offered this year, up from 246 licenses in 2004, when state licensed hunters killed 127 bulls and 24 cows, for a party success rate of 62 percent.
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