By STEVE KARNOWSKI
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Blustery weather is likely a major reason why Minnesota's firearms deer harvest is down 6 percent from the same point last season, the Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday.
Two weekends into the season, the agency said hunters had registered 128,814 deer. The season ended Sunday across much of the state except for the series 100 permit zones in northeastern and north-central Minnesota, where the season runs through this coming weekend. A late firearms season begins in part of southeastern Minnesota on Saturday and runs through Dec. 1.
"The weekends really drive the harvest," said Leslie McInenly, the DNR's big game program leader. She noted that opening day Nov. 9 was "wildly windy" in much of the state and it was rainy and windy this past weekend. "The rain had an influence," she said.
Minnesota's second wolf season since the animals came off the endangered list opened at the same time as the firearms deer season. The DNR on Sunday closed the northeast wolf zone, where hunters have registered 31 wolves, just two short of the target. The northwest wolf zone remains open. Hunters there have registered 48 wolves as of Wednesday, well short of the zone's early-season target of 73. The late hunting-and-trapping season opens Nov. 30.
Statewide, the antlered buck harvest was down 7 percent and the antlerless harvest was down 5 percent from a year earlier. Deer have seemed especially hard to find in northeastern Minnesota, where the antlerless deer harvest was down 25 percent and the buck harvest was down 9 percent from a year earlier. McInenly said that's partly due to the harsh winter of 2012-13, which affected deer survival over the winter and the number of fawns born this year.
The deer numbers are still preliminary and may change as additional registrations trickle in, she said.
McInenly spoke by cellphone from the southeastern Minnesota city of Kasson, where she was visiting a field station where DNR staff and students from the University of Minnesota have been taking tissue samples from hunters' deer to check for any reappearance of chronic wasting disease. No deer from that area has tested positive for CWD since 2010.
At least three hunters were injured in gun accidents during the opening weekend, said Capt. Mike Hammer of the DNR's enforcement division. The most serious case involved a man whose rifle fell from his deer stand near Long Prairie and discharged when it hit the ground. The bullet struck him in the chest. "He's a lucky man. Should recover," Hammer said.
The other two hunters were less seriously hurt while they were trying to drive deer toward other members of their parties, Hammer said. And there have been a few serious injuries resulting from falls from tree stands, he added.
There have also been a few reports of bullets striking vehicles. McInenly said the state's hunting safety record is improving. She cited firearms safety classes and efforts to educate hunters on deer stand safety.
But, as in past years, DNR conservation officers have been dealing frequently with the chronic violations of deer hunters using bait, shooting from vehicles and dumping carcasses in roadside ditches instead of disposing of them properly.