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More deer expected for hunters as season opens Saturday

Friends and family at the "Thief Lake Hilton" stand by the sign outside the camp Nov. 5 on the opening day of Minnesota's deer season. The crew includes Douglas Hall, Monticello, Ga.; Scott Kezar, Warroad, Minn.; Rick Kezar, Thief River Falls; Shawn Eagleson, Fargo; Kallie Kezar, Thief River Falls; Jeff Kezar, Middle River, Minn.; Wayne "Bully" Huseth, Warroad, Minn.; and Ryan Kezar, Thief River Falls. Brad Dokken / Forum News Service1 / 2
Deer camps are an important part of Minnesota's rich deer hunting tradition. Minnesota's firearms deer season opens Saturday. (Minnesota DNR photo)2 / 2

Deer camps are spruced up and ready for another season, friends and family are converging for the annual fall get-together, and the waiting's over.

Minnesota's 2017 firearms deer season opens a half-hour before sunrise Saturday morning.

As events on Minnesota's outdoors calendar go, only the walleye opener surpasses the opening day of deer season for participation. According to the Department of Natural Resources, some half a million hunters—give or take a few thousand—traditionally take to the fields and forests for opening day of deer season.

That's a lot of blaze orange—or blaze pink, which this year is legal for the first time in Minnesota.

There's reason for optimism heading into this year's firearms deer opener. Three consecutive mild winters have helped buoy deer populations in most areas of the state, DNR officials say. Northwest Minnesota is no exception, and hunters in several permit areas will be able to buy bonus permits to take more deer this year than in recent seasons, John Williams, regional wildlife supervisor for the DNR's Northwest Region in Bemidji, said in a department deer season preview.

Deer populations are at or near management goals in most permit areas of northwest Minnesota, he said.

"Fawn production was also good this year, another indication of does coming through the winter in good health," Williams said.

By the numbers

DNR prognosticators expect deer hunters in Minnesota will shoot about 200,000 whitetails this fall between the archery, firearm and muzzleloader seasons. That's up from last year's take of 173,213, below the record harvest of 290,525 in 2003 and on par with the most recent 20-year average of about 206,000, the DNR said.

DNR conservation officers across the state also will be out in force this weekend visiting with hunters and making sure they play by the rules.

As in recent seasons, checking for illegal baiting will be a focus. Even during years of plenty, some people succumb to the temptation of placing bait in an effort to draw deer into shooting range, and baiting remains a common violation despite intensive enforcement and education efforts.

Unlike North Dakota, where baiting is allowed on private land with only a few exceptions, baiting for deer in Minnesota is illegal.

Bait "includes grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, hay or other food that is capable of attracting or enticing deer and has been placed by a person," the DNR said. Last year, the DNR encountered more than 160 cases of hunting over bait, according to Tim Maass, conservation officer in Osseo, Minn.

"That's typically one of our biggest violations that we have," Maass said in a DNR video clip. "It carries with it stiff penalties that people need to be aware of. They can lose their firearm or bow that they were using at the time, and they'll also receive a fine."

Weather a factor

Weather also plays a role in the ultimate success of any hunting season. No big storms are in the forecast, but hunters won't encounter the shirtsleeve weather they enjoyed during last year's opener, when temperatures flirted with 70 degrees.

On the upside, hunters who like snow for tracking should be happy. According to the National Weather Service, hunters in northwest Minnesota can expect a 50 percent chance of snow Saturday morning and an 80 percent chance of rain and snow in the afternoon. East-southeast winds of 10 to 13 mph are in the forecast, with gusts as high as 22 mph.

Temperatures will struggle to get above freezing, and low temperatures Sunday night could approach the single digits.

Minnesota's firearms deer season continues through Nov. 12 in 200- and 300-series permit areas of the state and through Nov. 19 in 100-series permit areas of northeast Minnesota. Muzzleloader season opens Nov. 25 and continues through Dec. 10, and archery season continues through Dec. 31.

North Dakota's deer gun season opens at noon Friday, Nov. 10.

For more information on Minnesota deer hunting, check out the DNR website at or the 2017 Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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