For many deer hunters, hunting is about the bucks and, ultimately, the antlers.
For the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, it's about the hides and, ultimately, the bucks.
And the habitat.
A Hides for Habitat drop box at Swanson's Bait & Tackle in Hackensack held a good number of deer hides recently. The Swanson's location is part of the Bluewater chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunter's Association, which includes 17 greater Brainerd lakes area drop sites. The Brainerd chapter has 21 blaze-orange drop boxes in the immediate Brainerd area. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
In the Hides for Habitat program, the MDHA sells hides donated by deer hunters, with proceeds earmarked for use by the MDHA for habitat projects throughout Minnesota. Since 1985, more than a quarter of a million deer hides have been collected and more than $2 million has been generated to help fund the projects.
So, ultimately, the MDHA needs hunters' help - as in donated hides from the deer they harvest. Even now, as the firearms season winds down in the area.
As of Wednesday, the Brainerd chapter of the MDHA had collected about 550 hides, which is down from previous years but will still go a long way toward the chapter's wildlife habitat restoration efforts in the area.
Although the firearms deer hunting season ended Sunday in the area, the MDHA will continue to collect hides through the early part of the muzzleloader season, which opens Saturday.
Twenty-one blaze-orange Hides for Habitat drop boxes are located throughout the immediate Brainerd area. The Bluewater chapter has another 17 drop boxes in the greater Brainerd lakes area.
"If we can get up over 700 (hides), I'd say that's about what we're shooting at," said Casey Stengel, who helps oversee the Hides for Habitat program for the Brainerd chapter.
Stengel said the number of hides donated to the chapter has dropped in recent years.
"Six or seven years ago it was at about 2,300," he said. "Last year it was down to about 750."
The decrease in donated hides could very well be linked to the decrease in the deer harvest in the Brainerd area in recent years. According to Gary Drotts, DNR wildlife manager in the Brainerd area, as of Wednesday, "Permit Areas 246, 247 and 249 are up just a little, (Permit Area) 242 is down about 500 deer - that's the core of the Brainerd lakes area - and (Permit Area) 172 is just about even - maybe down some. So the harvest is down about 7 percent locally here in Brainerd, and statewide it's about the same, down 7 to 10 percent."
Said Stengel: "There were years when we were some of the top collectors (among MDHA chapters) when people were shooting five deer in their own back yards here around Gull Lake. But I guess that served its purpose to bring down the deer population."
Poaching of hides is also a concern for the program.
"My sense is that it is (a problem) and continues to be," Stengel said of the poaching of hides. "Guys here I know well in enforcement say it's an everyday thing. I got a call ... from someone saying, 'Someone is poaching a lot from you folks' and hung up, which didn't help much. I called the sheriff. And yesterday we picked up hides at a place and the guy running the business said, 'Hey, let me take a look at this ... There were more hides in there yesterday than there are today.' It's out in a rural area.
"It's a factor. As a volunteer, you say if they steal them and put them to good use it's less work for us, but also less money for us."
Stengel said there's more competition for hides, which also might be a factor in the decrease in hides donated to the MDHA.
"It's good money," Stengel said. "If you turn in a hide that's an adult and there's no big holes in the middle of it, it's worth $8.50.
"This is the primary (fundraiser) for habitat projects on behalf of habitat for deer and grouse ... habitat in general, but in particular, for deer."
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5864.
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