Minnesota Deer Season 2012: Hunting Forecast

About 1 million deer are found in Minnesota, which represents a stabilization of the population as numbers had been trending down just a few years ago.

"The Minnesota DNR went through an extensive deer goal setting process from 2005-2007 and the recommendations were to lower deer populations throughout most--but not all--of the state," said Lou Cornicelli, big game program coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources. "Aggressive harvest strategies were implemented and the population trended down towards the established goals. Currently, there is an interest in slightly increasing deer populations, so the trend for the next few years may be on the upswing."

A lack of anything like a normal Minnesota winter should also help that "upswing."

"Most of our [deer] problems come from winter severity in northern Minnesota and the associated mortality, of which there really wasn't any this year," Cornicelli said.

So, the does entered the spring in excellent condition, strong and healthy, plus the earlier-than-normal green up provided plenty of high-quality vegetation. Cornicelli expects that fawns had high survival rates.

Big bucks are quite possible in any Minnesota county. But hunters in Southeastern Minnesota may have a real advantage this season.

"We are in the third year of antler point restrictions [there], so the percentage of that age class in the harvest this year should be higher than in previous years," he said. Best time to fill your buck tag? "For archers, the week before the traditional gun season yields the highest percentage of bucks in the harvest. But with 450,000 gun hunters? All bets are off once the gun seasons opens."

The Midwestern Regional Report
Winter in the Midwest was mild to nonexistent, and deer herds came into spring in very good shape. However, drought could be an issue in some states. "Hard and soft mast crops will likely be compromised, and clover and row crop production is threatened by dry conditions," says Iowa deer biologist Tom Litchfield. In parts of Indiana and Illinois, some farmers were forced to plow under failing corn or chop it up for cattle feed in midsummer. Deer numbers are stable to growing in most locales, though disease is taking a toll in several states. North Dakota is still reeling from last year's EHD outbreak, CWD is spreading within Illinois and Wisconsin, bovine tuberculosis is still a concern in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, and Nebraska and Missouri experienced EHD outbreaks this summer.

Top Trophy Zones
IL: Pike, Adams, Brown, and Fulton counties.
KS: Units 11, 12, and 16.
KY: Christian, Grayson, Hardin, Hart, Muhlenberg, and Ohio counties.
MI: Calhoun, Cass, Jackson, and Washtenaw counties.
MN: Zone 3. This fall will be the third year of antler-point restrictions here.
MO: Saline, Putnam, Calloway, Chariton, and Cooper counties.
NE: Since 2005, hunters have taken 44 record-book mule deer bucks in Cherry County, including a 171 2⁄8 typical in 2010 and a 210 4⁄8 non-typical in 2005.
OH: Muskingum County.
WI: Buffalo, Trempealeau, and Waupaca counties. Between 2005 and 2010, the Dairy State led all other states with 383 Boone and Crockett entries.