It's a bit bothersome for hunters, this decline in deer harvest numbers in recent years.
But nothing a little warmth and sunshine can't fix. And not just for the purpose of lifting one's spirits.
Temperatures for Saturday's Minnesota firearms deer hunting opener are expected to hover near 60 degrees, making it among the warmest openers in recent years.
That's a good thing as the DNR is expecting harvest numbers to go the way of the mercury. Not to shoot through the roof, mind you. But a warming-up is in the DNR's forecast for the 2009 area deer harvest.
"As a biologist and as a hunter, I think you harvest more deer when it's warm and brown," said Gary Drotts, DNR wildlife manager in Brainerd. "Hunters tend to enjoy it more and the deer will be in the same feeding pattern. In the snow they don't feed as much. It's better visibility (for hunters), but deer are more spooked (in snowy conditions) and they change their eating habits. If it's warm and brown you harvest more deer."
The forecast for Saturday is partly cloudy with a low of 38-43 degrees and a high of 53-58. The wind is expected to be 5-10 mph out of the west Saturday morning, picking up slightly as the day goes on.
Most recently, conditions were similar in the 2000 opener, when 16,421 deer were harvested in the Brainerd lakes area's five permit areas (172, 242, 246, 247 and 249). Last year, 12,394 deer were harvested in the area. Drotts is forecasting a harvest of 13,000 this year.
"Sixty percent of the harvest is taken in the first three days. So maybe they'll hunt for a few more hours (if it's warmer)," Drotts said of hunters. "It's more comfortable. They'll shoot more deer. And (deer) are going to be active."
Still, since 2000, the highest harvest came in 2003, when a whopping 24,268 deer were taken in the area. In that opener, the high was 21 degrees, the low was 5 below.
But that's when the area deer population was at its peak, bordering on unmanageable. Since then, numbers have mostly tapered off each year to last year's total - the lowest since 1995.
"In order to have a change you have to have it over three to four years," Drotts said of harvest numbers. "Last year there were complaints it was down, but that could have been because of the weather. It's hard to compare. It was windy and cold last year.
"There were jumps here (earlier this decade in harvest numbers) because of warm weather and early falls. But it's not like a 50 percent increase. It's more like a 5 percent difference you'll see between cold and snow and warm and brown."
Tim Brastrup, DNR area supervisor in Brainerd, doesn't put quite as much stock in the weather.
"There are years when it's warm out all night and you don't see any deer during the day and others you wish it would snow. It's a wash," Brastrup said.
But he remembered a hunt about five years ago when warmer temps were greeted with an abundant harvest.
"I go up on the Iron Range to hunt and there can be quite a swing in temperature. It's colder there," he said. "But it did get up in the 50s and 60s here and a little colder there. We did get a lot of deer. They were moving, but moving early. We didn't see anything in the afternoons. They were really moving around at night a lot and sitting during the day."
Lou Cornicelli, big game program coordinator with the DNR, is more concerned with crop cover this opener.
"I don't think it (the weather) will have any affect. What will have more affect is all that standing corn," Cornicelli said from Thief River Falls, site of this year's Governor's Deer Hunting Opener. "Deer movement can be affected by warm temperatures in the summer. But 60 degrees is not a big deal. High winds aren't good and heavy rain isn't good, but a sunny day at 60, it's comfortable. When it's minus-30 you can't sit in the stands very long. But this year should be pretty good. It's the standing corn (that's the problem). And there's nothing you can do about it. Much like the weather."
Drotts doesn't expect standing corn to be a problem for hunters in the Brainerd lakes area.
"Further south it's more of an issue," he said. "There's not much corn here. It's an issue here, but a small one."
Antlered numbers in the area in 2008 also were down from previous years - the 5,489 harvested last year was the lowest since 1997. Still, 44.3 percent of deer harvested in 2008 were bucks, the highest rate since 2001. Those numbers can be influenced by something as basic as when the opener falls in regard to the rut.
"By the 7th (Saturday) we'll be hitting the peak of the rut," said Drotts, who is forecasting 6,000 bucks for the area this season. "As far as buck activity, it could be good."
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5864.
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