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Minnesota changes southeast deer hunting seasons

From the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

-- Southeastern Minnesota's firearms early and late deer seasons will remain at nine days this fall and bucks must have at least one four-point antler in order to be legal for harvest, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced today.

Deer hunters in the southeast also will no longer be allowed to tag bucks shot by other hunters.

"These new regulations are designed to effectively manage the deer populations at goal levels and increase the proportion of mature bucks," said Lou Cornicelli, the DNR's big game program coordinator.

Changes will be effective only in deer permit areas 338-349 which comprise southeastern Minnesota. Those changes include:

* Continuing the firearms deer season at 9 days for the early (3A) and late (3B) hunts.
* Instituting an antler restrictions of four-points on one side for all hunters older than 17 during the archery, firearms and muzzleloader seasons.
* Prohibiting hunters from tagging an antlered buck for another hunter.
* Establishing a youth-only season from Oct. 21 to Oct. 24 during an extended break for most public school children during what is commonly referred to as MEA Weekend.

For the past five years, DNR biologists have been evaluating the impact of non-traditional regulations designed to lower deer densities and increase the proportion of mature bucks in the population. Many of these evaluation areas were in state parks and certain deer permit areas.

At the same time, the DNR surveyed general hunter opinions statewide, received extensive input at public meetings and online, and gathered additional input from areas with special regulations or where there was interest in regulatory change. The data show hunters generally supported regulatory changes to include a buck management component and that satisfaction would most likely increase over time.

Legislation passed in 2009 lengthened southeastern Minnesota's firearms deer season from seven to nine days. Cornicelli said the longer season remains in place for 2010 because it potentially increases the number of antlerless deer harvested, which helps manage deer populations.

The new four-point antler restriction is expected to protect about 75 percent of the 1 1/2-year-old bucks, but few bucks 2 1/2 years and older. Consequently, the buck harvest is expected to decline in 2010, but should begin to increase again in 2011 as more and larger bucks become legal for harvest.

The restriction also is expected to increase the number of antlerless deer harvested because a significant proportion of males will be protected and some hunters will opt to take an antlerless deer.

After three years, the DNR will reassess changes to determine if population objectives have been met and gauge the level of hunter support.

Youth ages 10-17 are exempt from the antler-point restriction. Adult hunters are not allowed to tag a buck for youth hunters. Minnesota hunters have supported regulations that encourage the recruitment of young hunters. Research has shown that a positive early experience is critical to retaining young hunters.

Elimination of cross-tagging of bucks, commonly referred to as party hunting, is not intended to break up a hunting party or force people to leave the field once they are successful. Its purpose is to help increase the number of mature bucks.

"Southeastern Minnesota's cross-tagging regulation only requires a person to take and tag his or her own buck," Cornicelli said. "Hunters still can take and tag antlerless deer for others in their party."

Twelve deer permit areas in southeastern Minnesota and 15 deer permit areas in northwestern Minnesota will offer a special youth deer season from Oct. 21-24. The season will  provide an opportunity for parents, guardians and mentors to schedule and plan a special deer hunt with youth.

"Such hunts provide high-quality introductory experiences where the total focus of the adult is on mentoring the youth hunter and the pace of the hunt is more relaxed," Cornicelli said.

Youth ages 10-15 at the time of the hunt may participate and take a deer of either sex. Adults may not carry a firearm. Public land is open as is private land, provided the youth hunter has landowner permission. Participants must meet all firearms safety requirements and obtain a license for taking deer by firearm.

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