TOWER – If you’ve spent any time in the north woods this month hunting deer with a rifle then the following information isn’t news to you: The 2019 firearms deer harvest is down compared to this time last year. By quite a bit actually. Down more than 30 percent to be exact in northern St. Louis and Lake counties.
On Tuesday, Tom Rusch, wildlife manager for the Department of Natural Resources Tower Wildlife Area, said the Tower area buck harvest is down by 12.8 percent compared to 2018.
Statewide, the harvest tally that morning was 153,643 deer, with 86,533, or 86 percent, being bucks and 67,110, or 44 percent, antlerless.
In 2018, hunters bagged a total of 155,975 deer by firearms and 188,706 total between firearms, archery and muzzleloader.
Two things are at play in northeastern Minnesota this season: A more conservative approach to the season with more DPA’s lottery now compared to last year. That means the antlerless harvest is down, and unseasonably cold weather.
“In the Tower Area total harvest declined significantly while buck harvest dropped 13 percent compared to 2018,” Rusch wrote in an email. “Bucks comprised 79 percent of the harvest as a result of a more conservative season structure in most permit areas.”
All the numbers for DPA’s — 117, 118, 119, 130, 131, 132, 176, 177 and 178 — are all preliminary of course, but they do tell the story of the season so far.
Total numbers are as follows, with harvest in parenthesis: 117 (20); 118 (641); 119 (313); 130 (202); 131 (63); 132 (204); 176 (835); 177 (908); and 178 (1,416).
Hunters have reported a mixed bag of deer activity, depending on the day and the weather, Rusch said. While some hunters reported bucks chasing does and breeding pairs, others reported minimal deer activity with most of it occurring at night.
“The cold weather conditions that we experienced from Sunday of opening weekend through mid-week significantly impacted hunter effort reducing stand time for many hunters, and ultimately harvest,” Rusch said. “That was a huge factor considering the decline in harvest over opening weekend, when the majority of hunters are in the woods.”
The weather and field conditions in northern St. Louis County were pretty normal after the cold front moved through mid-week, he added.
“Most days were in the 20s and 30s with the high temps reaching into the 40s on the weekend,” Rusch said. “Nights were cool and a skiff of snow remained to improve visibility. Swamps and low areas remained frozen which greatly improved access compared to early fall conditions.”
He added that with lower hunting pressure and the tail end of rutting activity continuing into the last weekend, hunting should be good for those still in the woods. That doesn’t mean that by season’s end the harvest will be comparable to last year.
The bulk of the firearms hunting pressure occurs during the opening weekend and through the second weekend.
The firearms season runs through Sunday.