I was disappointed by the low numbers of deer I saw while hunting in Northern Minnesota this November. On opener, I was in the forest bordering the BWCA and heard less gun shots and saw less deer sign than every other year I've hunted the area. The following weekend, I hunted an hour and a half north of the Twin Cities in a zone that no longer allowed hunters to shoot does. We unfortunately didn't come across any bucks.
My experience appears to be shared by most Minnesota hunters this fall as the deer harvest was down and license sales dropped. Preliminary deer harvest numbers show a drop in nearly 19,000 deer shot, or an 11% decline from 2022. And there was a drop of 3% statewide in total deer licenses sold in 2023. Both harvest and license sale numbers are even worse when filtered for norther hunting zones.
The dwindling numbers and lackluster experience hunters are having in one of the state's most historic traditions has motivated thousands to get politically involved.
What is the culprit behind the decline? Some point to the recent tough winters. And no doubt, they've been cold and snowy. But if you talk to the average hunter in the woods, fingers almost always get pointed at Minnesota's infamous howling apex predator - the wolf.
A group called Hunters for Hunters (website) recently organized and is hosting events around the state to unite hunters and steer their focus towards political solutions to save the Minnesota deer hunt - including restarting a wolf management program. In fact, the group has eight upcoming meetings labeled "Wolf Predation Meeting."
Sen Nathan Wesenberg (R - Little Falls) has been the leading voice at the Capitol so far for the group and recently spoke to a packed room of 400 hunters in Carlton. That crowd seemed small compared to the numbers that turned out in Auora over the weekend.
Wesenberg recently came on our show to discuss the objectives of Hunters for Hunters, the shortcomings of the DNR, and what needs to be done to revive the Minnesota deer population. See video below.