The number of deer killed by hunters has dropped by about 12 percent in Minnesota, as expected by state officials.
Hunters have harvested 151,000 deer since the season opened on Nov. 7, about 20,000 less than over the same period last year, according to preliminary figures released Tuesday by the Department of Natural Resources.
Officials attribute the decrease to restrictions placed on hunting antlerless deer in about half of the state's deer management areas.
"The strategy for 2009 is to allow deer populations to build and stabilize by reducing opportunities to take antlerless deer," said Lou Cornicelli, the DNR's big game coordinator, in a statement released Tuesday.
Hunters have killed about 19,000 fewer antlerless deer than last year, accounting for the majority of the decline. The number of bucks killed is about 1,200 less than last year.
"The harvest of bucks is the most stable indicator of deer population," Cornicelli said. "Nearly the same number of bucks has been harvested, which suggests that deer are still there to be taken. Since fewer hunters have the option of harvesting an antlerless deer, the overall numbers have decreased."
DNR officials said they expect hunters to kill about 200,000 deer this hunting season, or about one-fifth of the state's wild deer population. Officials say the number of hunters has not changed significantly since last year.
The highest recorded harvest was 290,000 deer in 2003.
"Hunters are harvesting more deer than we did historically but not as many as when the deer population reached its peak in the early 2000s," Cornicelli said. "With population goals being met in many areas, harvest numbers are showing that we're beginning to level out to where we want to be."
Cornicelli said hunters have cooperated with the DNR's efforts to sample deer for Chronic Wasting Disease in southeastern Minnesota and Bovine Tuberculosis in northwestern Minnesota.
About 2,350 deer have been tested for Chronic Wasting Disease, and about 1,468 deer have been sampled for Bovine Tuberculosis. DNR officials said they will not have the results of the tests until January.