Minnesota has a lot of deer, a ton of deer hunters and was ranked No. 2 on Boone and Crockett's list of the Top 10 Whitetail States (as of 2001). Obviously it's good whitetail country.
Lou Cornicelli, Minnesota's big game program coordinator, said his state is a little bit about numbers of deer, a little about quality deer management and a lot about hunting opportunity. "I'd characterize Minnesota as having a lot of whitetails," he said. "We have a tremendous deer-hunting opportunity."
Part of the reason for that is habitat. Minnesota is like three or four states in one: It has northern conifer forest with severe winters, former prairie areas that are now mostly cornfields and hardwood forest – all places that will grow deer. And grow they do.
Deer Population: 1 million
Economic Impact of Deer Hunting: $800 million
Numbers and Quality
"The highest deer densities are in the southeast and central parts of the state," Cornicelli said.
As far as quality goes, he said Minnesota's public lands "generally have lower deer densities than our private lands, and they're often quite close together. So the highest deer densities and biggest bucks often occur in the same areas."
Current Status of the Deer Population: 1-5 scale with 1 being poor and 5 being optimal
Cornicelli said if he's pressed for a number he'd pick a 4. "We have a lot of deer-hunting opportunities, and our buck harvest is getting better every year because we're responsibly managing our doe component."
Status 5 Years From Now
Cornicelli: "I would say a 3. We manage deer based on population objectives across our 127 permit areas, and right now 80 percent of our permits areas are in goal, so I don't think much will change there. But I'd say a 3 because of what we're trying to do, which is stabilize deer densities."
He explained, "You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who does this for a living [manages deer populations] who would argue that deer densities are controlled by biology. They're controlled by social factors: agriculture, deer impacts to other habitat, deer-vehicle collisions, urbanization.
"So nobody – in the Midwest, at least – is managing for maximum deer populations. We're managing for the social carrying capacity, which is far lower."
Biggest Factors Over the Next 5 Years
"Our big challenge will be to manage deer populations so they don't become overabundant," Cornicelli said. "A lot will have to do with access. I view private land access as one of our greatest challenges going forward. We have areas now where the landowner allows hunting and deer management, and next door they don't allow hunting" so they're deer refuges.
Any Doom and Gloom?
To the question of whether he can foresee any areas of his state having a large population decline or crash at some point, Cornicelli said no.
But short-term he can see a possibility of large winter kills in Minnesota's northern tier forest. "We've seen that before," he said. "In 1995-96 and 1996-97 we lost a lot of deer there, but within five years it was back to record deer densities. So winter can have a large effect, but it's fairly short-term."
He added that he doesn't believe wolves are as much of an issue as some hunters think because the state has had record deer harvests among record wolf populations. "Wolves take some deer, but not nearly as many as hunters," he said.
Other than that, if weather models are correct in predicting more wet summers and milder winters, he thinks that will "bode well for deer populations."