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Updated: Deer season numbers down

Alaina Kiehl, 7, of Carlton (bottom) rattled this one in for her dad, Curt. She said it was the most exciting hunt she has ever had. Contributed Photo1 / 4
Gary Dahl of Barnum (top) had a successful hunt this year when he bagged this 10-point buck. Contributed Photo2 / 4
Jon Baker (bottom, right), a fourth-grader, shot this buck while hunting with his brother, Nick, and dad, Bruce, on the opening weekend of deer season outside of Grand Marais off the Gunflint Trail, where his other grandparents, Bob and Sharon Baker, live. Contributed Photo3 / 4
Brennan Kelly, 12, of New Richland, Minn., (top) shot his first deer in the Wrenshall area on the opening weekend of the firearm season. Contributed Photo4 / 4

The jury is still out on the 2011 firearms deer season.

Permit area No. 182 (which includes Duluth and Cloquet north of Highway 210) was down 34 percent after the first four days of the season, but rebounded and ended up only 8.7 percent down from last year's numbers.

Rich Staffon, Cloquet area wildlife manager for the Department of Natural Resources, said it looks as though numbers throughout the larger Cloquet area will finish about 10 percent down overall from last year. Staffon said hunters made up from the poor opening weekend mainly by taking more antlerless deer.

Having said that, he went on to point out that - while buck harvests were down more than the total harvest in most permit areas, Permit Area 182 was the exception to that rule.

"Here the total harvest is down by much more than the buck harvest," Staffon wrote, pointing out that the buck harvest in this area was only 1 percent down from last year, while the overall harvest was 8.7 percent down. "I'm not sure what is going on here, but it may be that the intensive harvest of deer in this permit area, both in the Firearms season and the Duluth bow hunt, has resulted in a higher proportion of bucks in the population and more competition for the remaining does."

Many local hunters say they didn't see nearly as many deer this year.

"I had a lot of people come in and say their entire party only saw two to four deer the whole season," Matt Van Reese said Sunday evening from his chair behind the counter at Cloquet's Outdoor Advantage store. "I've talked to folks who hunt all over, from way up north and south of here."

Some blamed high winds and warm weather the first weekend, while others pinned the blame on competition from a four-legged predator.

"Some said that wolves are a problem," Van Reese said.

Staffon said DNR officials don't think there has been any significant increase in wolf numbers.

"However, the deer population has declined in the northern portions of the Arrowhead," he said. "Those wolf packs may be moving more in an effort to find food, so that might explain the increase in wolf sightings. Predator populations often lag a year or two behind their prey, so we may be going through some adjustments in wolf numbers now."

He also noted that hunters have a tendency to blame the wolves whenever deer harvest numbers drop.

The greatest Cloquet-area drops came in Permit Area 199 (the Fond du Lac Reservation), which was down close to 31 percent on total harvest and number of adult bucks taken, and Permit Area 181, between highways 2, 133 and 33, where the overall harvest was down 20.4 percent and the buck harvest was down 23.3 percent.

Judging by the number of deer carcasses strapped to car roofs and inside truck beds, there were plenty of success stories too. One Outdoor Advantage customer from Proctor said her party had its best opener ever: eight of 11 people in her party shot a deer the first weekend in the Sandstone area.

At B&B Market Sunday evening, the guys in the meat department said one hunter had just delivered 67 pounds of trimmed venison with orders for breakfast sausage and venison ground with bacon.

"Dave's Venison Sausage is a popular item," said Dave Chambers, who created the secret recipe about seven years ago. "I don't make much, just two or three ton a year."

Chambers reckons he doesn't have a month go by without processing at least some venison.

"A lot of folks will freeze it and bring it in later," he said, noting that January is another busy month. "We get a lot that go through the freezer right before hunting season and make whatever's left into sausage for the shack."

Thirteen hunters entered the Pine Journal's Monster Buck competition (visit the outdoors section to find out how the entries stacked up).

Things definitely perked up all over the state after the second weekend, according to Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager.

Cornicelli credited better weather conditions for hunting and a Friday holiday for some as the likely reasons statewide deer registrations climbed to within 7 percent of the 2010 season-to-date level after the second weekend.

Final statewide numbers from the second weekend showed that hunters had harvested 143,000 deer, down only 7 percent from the 2010 to-date harvest of 153,000. During the second weekend, hunters registered approximately 27,000 deer compared with about 22,000 last year.

"Veterans Day usually falls during the week, meaning many hunters have only Saturday and Sunday to hunt," said Cornicelli. "With the holiday on Friday this year, hunters had an additional day to spend in the field, and the wind was more favorable."

"(Over the) second weekend, the weather was ideal with sunshine, cool temperatures and calm winds and excellent hunting conditions," said Tom Rusch, DNR area wildlife manager at Tower.

The Pine Journal didn't have final statewide numbers yet, but as of Tuesday morning, the Cloquet Area Deer Harvests (which includes all permit areas that are totally or partly within the Cloquet area) totaled 27,539 compared to 31,069 last year, a drop of 10.8 percent.

Minnesota's 16-day firearms deer season ended Sunday, but the muzzleloader season begins Saturday, Nov. 26, and continues through Sunday, Dec. 11.