It's true that the only thing constant is change. That's the way it seems to be with Minnesota's deer herd. From season to season there are ups and downs in the deer population. Because of that, hunting policies are modified. This season may have the most changes of all.
Since Minnesota was settled, most differences in deer management and harvest methods have occurred in the past three decades. Prior to that, regulations were pretty standard. One deer per person, be it a fawn, doe or buck. Some years deer were hard to come by. It was a big deal when a hunting party got several deer, and a bigger deal yet when it filled all its tags.
Bowhunting also is relatively new to Minnesota. Thirty years ago bowhunters were rare and often limited to short, very controlled seasons. Now bowhunters number in the thousands and account for a significant portion of the state deer harvest each year. Muzzleloader hunters seem to be following the same path. As they become more numerous, muzzleloading seasons are expanding to provide more opportunities.
The most significant change in Minnesota deer hunting is the deer population itself. Deer populations have burgeoned. Once it wasn't rare to go an entire season without seeing a deer. Today hunters typically see multiple deer in a day. In the early 1970s the deer season was even closed for a year because of a lack of deer.
Today's ample herd is the result of many factors. Mild winters, buck-only harvest policies and land clearing practices by farmers and loggers all have contributed to the growth of the deer population. Hunting is so good that buck-only seasons have been replaced with the abundant issuing of doe permits and management (extra antlerless deer) permits in many areas.
But amidst these years of plenty deer hunting has taken an unexpected hit. The threat of Chronic Wasting Disease has brought about significant changes in hunting regulations. Drastic measures have been implemented to reduce deer numbers in some areas, where special intensive management permits are sold so that hunters can shoot up to three deer.
As we begin a new deer season with these unprecedented rule changes, one thing should be kept in mind: nature doesn't function by our rules. We can introduce all the management policies we want and they can help, but human policies are relatively powerless when compared to the dynamics of nature.
So what will our deer herd be like next year? In good shape, I expect, but that isn't up to me or you. All we can do is enjoy the present season and hunt safely.
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