The white-tailed deer is one of Minnesota's most recognizable mammals and is a popular big game animal. It is found in every Minnesota county and adapts well to most surroundings.
At the time of European settlement, white-tailed deer in Minnesota existed throughout the wooded river valleys and woodlands of central and southern Minnesota. In northern Minnesota where the forest habitat was much different than it is today, deer were absent or rare. Moose and woodland caribou were the most abundant members of the deer family.
As European settlement cleared forests for lumber and agriculture, deer habitat quality improved through the creation of new openings. Increased agricultural land conversion eventually reduced habitat quality in many areas and, along with market and subsistence hunting, resulted in deer population declines. By the 1880s, deer were rare in many parts of Minnesota.
Natural resource management and regulated hunting has enabled the population to grow. Today, Minnesota is home to about 1 million white-tailed deer.
Season outlook and preparation
While deer sightings by hunters should be up in many areas this fall, hunters can expect another conservative deer season in 2015 as restrictive harvest will allow deer populations to rebuild across much of the state. The 2015 deer hunting regulations will be similar to last year, with one-deer limits in most of the state.
Hunters can buy deer licenses and apply to the lottery for antlerless deer permits starting Saturday, Aug. 1. The deadline to apply for the lottery is Thursday, Sept. 10. The DNR strongly advises hunters to review new deer hunting regulations, permit area designations and boundary changes in the 2015 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook, available at the DNR's deer hunting page.
In 70 of Minnesota's 128 deer permit areas, hunters must be chosen in a lottery to shoot an antlerless deer. Only bucks can be hunted in 14 areas. In 29 areas, hunters have the choice of shooting a doe or a buck. Bonus permits allowing hunters to shoot more than one deer may only be used in 11 permit areas and for some special hunts. In three southwestern areas, DNR is restricting antlerless harvest to youth hunters only.
New for 2015 in brief
Here are some of the changes for deer hunters in 2015. For specific information, see the DNR's deer hunting page.
Click on the map to view a mid-summer deer report:
Hunters in many areas should be seeing more deer while afield this summer and fall as a result of the conservative 2014 season and a fairly mild winter, both of which contribute to a growing deer population. However, hunters can expect another conservative deer season as management continues to rebuild deer numbers across much of the state. Similar to last year, most hunters will be able to harvest only one deer.
Minnesota will again by design have a low harvest, with an expected harvest similar but slightly higher than the 2014 season. DNR is projecting the total harvest to come in around 140,000 to 155,000 deer. In comparison, the 2014 harvest was just under 140,000 deer.
This is a rebuilding year. The way to build a larger deer populations is to restrict the amount of deer that can be harvested. In particular, we reduce opportunity to harvest antlerless deer to increase the number of fawns born in the following spring. DNR is continuing a conservative harvest approach to raise deer numbers as directed by our recent goal-setting process. Minnesota's deer population is resilient and responds quickly to rebuilding efforts. History has proven that years of lean harvests won't be necessary.
In recent years, DNR has heard from hunters that deer numbers are too low and that efforts to reduce deer numbers went too far, particularly when coupled with the effects of severe winters. In listening sessions and in goal setting processes there has been strong interest in rebuilding deer populations in many areas.
Northern Minnesota hunters will again have a bucks-only season in many areas. In bucks-only areas, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any hunter, including those with archery or youth licenses. Similarly, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any adult hunters in youth-only antlerless areas. However, as a result of 2015 legislation, new this year is an exception allowing either-sex harvest by any hunter age 84 and up or by hunters who are residents of veterans' homes.
As deer numbers rebound, deer will be managed to meet population goals for deer permit areas in Minnesota. This is the third year the DNR has worked with citizens and stakeholders to re-assess and re-establish deer population goals in portions of the state. Goals for southwestern and portions of northern Minnesota were set in 2012. Goals for southeastern Minnesota were set two years ago. In 2015 goals were set in northeastern, north-central and east-central Minnesota. Goals in the remainder of the state will not be revisited until after completion of the current legislative audit of the deer population management program.
Deer density goals take into account social and biological interests. Arriving at population goals involves balancing desires of hunters, wildlife watchers and others who may support higher deer densities with those of farmers, foresters or others who experience conflicts with deer who may favor lower deer densities.
New deer population goals have been approved for large portions of northeastern, north-central and east-central Minnesota, covering 40 of 128 deer permit areas in the state.
The new goals will result in management to increase deer numbers in relation to last year?s levels in most of the 40 permit areas. The new goals largely reflect the desires shared by stakeholders who participated in the deer goal setting process and generally reflect the public feedback heard during the past few years.
As a result of this process, 85 percent of the 40 areas will be managed for populations higher than those experienced in 2014; the remaining will see no change.
Of the 40 deer permit areas with new goals, 26 will be managed for deer densities higher than those established by the previous goals; eight will be managed at similar densities to former goals; and six will be managed for densities below former goals.
Goals are intended to be in place for three to five years. The DNR shortened the goal timeframe to allow more frequent opportunities to revisit and adjust goals with input from stakeholders.
DNR will postpone goal setting in the remaining 54 deer permit areas scheduled for consideration in 2016 until the current legislative audit of Minnesota?s deer population management program is complete.
Goals listed below reflect the desired change in deer population from 2014 levels. Click the block heading or permit area for more information. Additional resources related to goal setting are listed on the bottom of this page after the goals.
|251||↑ 25% *|
|* Communicate desired goal to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service refuge managers|
|* Communicate desired goal to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service refuge managers|
|224||↑ 50% *|
A summary of DNR response to public comments is being compiled and will be posted when complete.
More deer in much of southeastern Minnesota is the anticipated outcome of a citizen-led deer population goal-setting process that increases deer numbers in five of the nine permit areas under review. DNR increased goal densities in deer permit areas 341, 342, 345, 347 and 348. Permit areas 343, 346 and 349 will maintain existing goal densities. Whitewater Wildlife Management Area, permit area 344, will maintain current densities.
Annual compilation of the deer harvest