Minnesota's firearms deer map seldom changes. The familiar grid of zones and permit areas is familiar to thousands of state deer hunters.
This year keen-eyed observers will notice something new. Wedged into the heart of Zone 2 in Crow Wing County is Minnesota's newest permit area, 242, created to deal with the burgeoning deer herd in the Brainerd lakes area.
"It's getting to be one big urban area around here," DNR area wildlife manager Gary Drotts said of Crow Wing County, which had more than 55,000 residents in the latest census. "Managing deer in an urban environment can be difficult."
The new permit area is 209 square miles and has an estimated deer population of 15-20 per square mile, or one deer per every 40 acres. The DNR would like an area deer harvest of 2,000 or more. To that end 4,000 antlerless permits have been offered. Hunters can take up to five deer; one on a regular license, one with a management permit and three more with intensive harvest permits.
The new area, which roughly extends from Brainerd to Pine River, was created by dividing in half old permit area 247. The challenge is increasing the deer harvest in an area where hunter access is limited. With seven municipalities and thousands of new homes popping up in the remaining rural acreage, area 242 offers limited access to hunters. State law prohibits the taking of wild animals within 500 feet of buildings occupied by humans or livestock without written permission. That law places a lot of land in area 242 off limits. So to increase the deer harvest the DNR has trie to put more antlerless permits into the hands of hunters who have access to land in area 242.
"Because of access issues I doubt we'll see a huge increase in the number of hunters," Drotts admits.
Recently, three local chapters of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and the Nisswa Garden Club said they support the attempt to increase the deer harvest, Drotts said. In recent years deer predation in gardens and yards has become a problem. Two years ago Drotts examined 85 acres on a point dividing Upper and Lower Whitefish lakes and found it nearly denuded of shrubbery.
"All of the underbrush from the ground to about two feet up was devastated," Drotts recalls. "We issued 20 special deer tags to members of the Whitefish Property Owners Association, but only eight were filled."
Last year hunters in old permit area 247 were issued 1,600 antlerless permits and just over 1,000 were filled. The total deer harvest for the area was 1,937 -- far short of current DNR goals.
"We're not trying to wipe out the deer herd by any means," Drotts said. "But we must find a population level that's tolerable. In this area three things control the deer herd: hunting, winter and timber wolves. All three have been in short supply the past three or four years and because of that the deer population has exploded. If we can get a sustained harvest of 2,000 or more animals every year for next few years we can turn this situation around. It's an issue, not a problem, and usually there's a management solution to any issue."
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