Evolving Deer Hunting Regulations

The evolution of deer hunting in Minnesota has a long history which has has led to the progression of more complex hunting regulations, especially over the last 15 years.  As a former member of the outdoors industry involved in the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, current Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hunter education instructor, hunter, and hunting mentor, I can attest that the time has come to simplify those regulations for the good of the hunting community.  On February 12th the DNR put out a news release entitled “Simplifying deer hunting regulations is topic of public meetings.”  The release announced the list of the DNR’s meeting dates for the public to provide input on proposals that would significantly simplify deer hunting regulations.

The proposals for debate are the result of the Deer Season SimplificationCommittee (DSC) which was formed by the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife (FAW) to assist with simplifying the deer hunting regulations. The DSC was comprised of 13 citizen participants representing various backgrounds and interests including deer hunting groups, new hunters, outdoor media, and individuals with local knowledge of deer hunting issues.  The participants were tasked to take a top-down look at statutes and rules (regulations) and make recommendations for simplification.  The DSC met twice in December 2007 and January 2008 and examined many components of Minnesota deer hunting regulations.  The committee produced a 24 page report (which can be viewed in full here) with this Summary of Recommendations:

License Consolidation

  1. Eliminate the all-season deer and multi-zone buck licenses and allow people to purchase three stand-alone licenses (archery, firearm, muzzleloader).
  2. Each license would come with one tag and bag limits would vary by permit area.

Zone Consolidation

  1. Consolidate the number of zones from six to two.  The two new zones would be structured around the traditional “A” season opener while still preserving the 3B season.
  2. The “A” season would have a standard opening date and varying closing dates based on permit area number (e.g., 100 series is 16 days).  There would be one firearm license that would be valid for the “A” season.  A separate license would be valid for the “B” (traditional 3B) season only.
  3. Eliminate Zone 4 and place it into the 9-day season structure (traditional Zone 2).

License Validation

  1. Eliminate the license validation that was instituted during the 2006 Legislative session.

Regulations Book

  1. Publish an abbreviated regulations book in the Hmong language.
  2. Organize a small group of people to review the regulations book before it is published.

Deer Registration

  1. Provide more flexibility with deer registration options.

Caliber Restrictions

  1. Change cartridge regulation to centerfire .22 or larger diameter.

On March 13th, Outdoor News Associate Editor, Joe Albert, also one of the DSC members, published an article on the newspaper’s website entitled “Zone 4 a flashpoint of simplification proposal.”  This article was in response to the fourth public meeting, held in Hutchinson, which was the first of two meetings scheduled in Zone 4.  However, before the Hutchinson meeting, officials decided to add another two meetings in the southern part of the state – one in Marshall on March 27 and another on April 8 in Worthington – both in Zone 4.  The attendance of 120 hunters at the Hutchinson meeting, quadrupling the previous top attendance of 25 in St. Paul, was anticipated and is expected for the upcoming Zone 4 meetings due to the zone consolidation proposal.

Zone 4 has traditionally been a six-day split (4A & 4B) season with two opening days on consecutive Saturdays.  Zone 4A is a two-day season and 4B a four-day season.  Any time new regulations are considered, there are concerns with how those regulations will affect the deer herd.  Zone 4 hunters are no different, and, amongst other issues, are concerned that a longer 9-day continuous season would hurt deer populations.  Albert’s article states:

Since 2003, 15 permit areas have been moved from Zone 4 to Zone 2.  That’s been accompanied by a 2-percent decrease in total harvest and a 6-percent decrease in buck harvest, according to Marrett Grund, deer researcher for the DNR in Madelia.

Additionally, officials say Zone 4 “functionally doesn’t exist” because all-season, multi-zone buck, and youth antlerless licenses have allowed many hunters to hunt both seasons….

“The addition of three weekdays does not influence deer harvest and may spread it out and create a more ‘relaxed’ hunt,” according to Grund’s presentation at the meeting.

I can echo this last point.  I grew up hunting Zone 4 and eventually came to refer to the firearms season as “the harvest.”  It’s true that the entire deer hunting season (archery, firearm, muzzleloader) is a harvest, but this reference became less and less flattering as the years passed.  A 2-day season does not promote patience.  When lunch on Saturday spells 25% of your season has passed, many hunters begin deer drives.  A deer hunting tactic that I am not fond of, deer drives are stressful for deer and hunters alike.  This technique can be very effective, but it can also be very dangerous for hunters and others.  However, the nervous excitement of a short firearms season instilled in me a love for archery, the muzzleloader, and the passion for the hunt with both.  In recent years I’ve hunted Zones 2 and 1 without changing hunting locations.  I look forward to the firearms season much more than I use to because I do have the opportunity for more opportunities, promoting a more relaxed hunt.  The longer season has not hurt deer populations, if anything, populations have continued to increase.

All of the recommendations sound like reasonable simplifications to me, especially the license consolidation which would allow hunters to buy a tag for each individual season, with all three not to exceed the price of an all-season license.  If I only had a nickel for every hunter to whom I had to explain why they could not buy a firearm license and a muzzleloader license….

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