Deer hunting is Minnesota’s most popular form of hunting. White-tailed deer exist throughout the state so you are never far from a quality opportunity.
Deer hunting is a time-honored way to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family and provides the chance to harvest your own healthy protein.
If you have never tried deer hunting you should. It's a great Minnesota tradition.
- When to hunt
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- Where to hunt
Deer zones and permit areas
You can hunt deer on many types of public land, including state Wildlife Management Areas and state and national forests. You can hunt private land too if you have permission from the landowner or if the land is forested land and not posted closed to hunting.
Deer zones designate areas of the state where season dates and regulations vary:
- The area of the state where rifles can be used is Zone 100.
- Areas of the state open to deer hunting with shotguns using slugs or other legal firearms other than rifles are designated as Zone 200.
- The southeast comprises Zone 300.
- Zone 701 comprises the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
- Zones in the 600s are disease management zones for chronic wasting disease.
Wildlife managers use landscape features such as rivers and roads to divide Minnesota into deer permit areas that have similar habitat, land uses, deer populations and deer hunter distribution. These deer permit areas enhance management by grouping similar characteristics on which management decisions are based within a specific area.
Hunters must designate the deer permit area in which they plan to hunt when they buy a deer hunting license but may use that license to hunt anywhere in the state using the method their deer hunting license allows.
When you're in the field – either scouting or hunting – be on the lookout for the following places. They deserve special attention.
- Travel corridors: Look for low points between two hills or higher areas. Low points can be draws, gullies, stream corridors and the like. Deer travel through these areas because they are logical corridors to get from here to there. For example, a draw that connects an open field (feeding area) to timbered or brush cover (bedding area) can be a great place to wait in ambush.
- Pinch points: Pinch points are places where deer are apt to travel because the landscape forces them into a more restricted path. A good way to find pinch points is to study an aerial photo of where you intend to hunt. The aerial photo can help you see such things as where deer are likely to move from one large block of forest to another, how lakes or other features are likely to funnel deer into a certain area and how other landscape features are likely to influence deer movements.
- Fields and field edges: Deer are creatures of the forest yet they love fields, where they often feed on corn, soybeans and other planted crops. These prime feeding areas are good places to hunt. Many deer are harvested when hunters set their stands in wooded areas between bedding and feeding areas.
- Thickets and heavy cover: This type of habitat provides deer, especially secretive bucks, with the bedding and security cover they seek. These areas are especially important to deer survival where hunting pressure is heavy. Don’t expect long shots in such habitat. Still, once there you'll be in an area that deer prefer for their own protection.
- How to hunt
The most common form of deer hunting in Minnesota is to simply sit in an elevated stand or ground blind and wait for a deer to come to you. Yes, some hunters "still hunt," which means they walk slowly, quietly and unrythymically and stop often in hopes of seeing a deer.
Similarly, some hunters hunt in groups that conduct "deer drives." Deer drives typically involve split into groups: those who have the job of driving deer out of heavy cover and those who have the job of trying to shoot them as they elude the drivers. Deer drives work best in landscapes and habitats where escape routes are fairly predictable, such as a wooded draw between two open farm fields.
Since deer hunting is largely about sitting quietly, especially during prime deer movement times near dawn and dusk, there are some things you should be looking for when selecting a hunting site.
- Deer droppings: By looking for deer droppings you can make decisions on whether you want to hunt a specific area. If you see an abundance of droppings, and fresh ones at that, you may want to set up in this area. If you see relatively few droppings or they are not fresh, perhaps you want to hunt elsewhere.
- Tracks and trails: Deer leave tracks and trails. Look for these. When you discover many tracks or a defined trail you have found an area that deer are comfortable moving through or living in. Deer trails are often found along forest or woodlot edges, swamp and swale edges, farm field edges and in and out of heavy thickets or brush.
- Scrapes and rubs: Bucks reveal their presence by creating scrapes and rubs as the autumn breeding season gets under way. Scrapes are bare areas of ground where a buck has cleared away leaves and other litter with its hoofs. Rubs are bare spots on small trees where a buck rubs its forehead to leave scent to mark their territory and to remove velvet from its antlers. If you find an active scrape or recent rub you know you are in the home area of a mature buck.
- Advantageous sites: Advantageous sites are those that give you an edge for one reason or another. In much of Minnesota an advantageous site is where acorn-dropping oak trees are common, especially the white oak acorns that deer most prefer because they have least amount of tannic acid. Other advantageous sites include wooded areas near recently harvested grain fields, secluded ponds and areas adjacent to large vegetable gardens or apple and fruit tree groves.
- Places where the wind will be in your face: Consider the prevailing wind direction when you set up a stand or blind. You don’t want your scent to blow into the area where you most expect the deer to come from. It is best to hunt with the wind in your face. Deer often detect your scent before they see you … or you see them.
Firearms deer hunting can be quite inexpensive. All that is truly needed is a gun, ammunition, a knife for dressing the deer and blaze orange or camouflage pink above the waist. Obviously, there are many other items that are helpful – an elevated tree stand, concealing ground blind, deer attracting scents and more – yet many hunters who simply hunk-up against a tree, plop atop a plastic five gallon pail or sit silently in some other comfortable location do just fine.
Other gear that is helpful to have includes:
- Warm boots, gloves and hat (hats must be blaze orange or pink)
- Toe and hand warmers
- A range finder for precisely measuring distances
- String for securing deer registration tag to antler or leg
- Deer gutting gloves
- Rope for hauling deer
- First aid kit
- What's important to know
- The number and sex of deer that you can harvest depends upon where you hunt. In some places you are limited to harvesting only one buck. In other places you can harvest a buck or doe or even as many deer without antlers as you like. It’s important to know what deer management area you are in prior to pulling a trigger.
- A buck is considered legal if it has one antler at least 3 inches long. Fawn bucks, sometimes called button bucks, are not legal bucks.
- You need to tag your deer at the kill site and register it. Deer must be registered within 48 hours after the deer was taken and before the deer is processed either privately or personally.
- Determine if chronic wasting disease surveillance and control regulations will impact your hunt. Some portions of the state require that all harvested deer be tested for Chronic Wasting Disease.
- Know and practice tree stand safety. Tree stands in state forests are subject to certain rules.
- Basic biology
- Adult female white-tailed deer weigh about 145 pounds, and males weigh about 170 pounds.
- The biggest white-tailed deer recorded in Minnesota was a 500-pound buck.
- A whitetail’s home range is about one square mile.
- White-tailed deer are reddish brown in summer and grayish brown in winter.
- They make a variety of sounds, including snorts, grunts and bleats.
- White-tailed deer mate from November to early December. Their young (often two fawns, weighing eight pounds each) are born seven months later.
- Fawns have white spots that disappear after three to four months. They nurse for the first several months then remain with their mother for the next one to two years.
- White-tailed deer eat many foods, such as acorns, corn, soybeans, mushrooms, grasses, tree leaves, buds, twigs and bark, wild grapes, apples and assorted shrubs.
- Wolves, coyotes, bears, and bobcats hunt and eat whitetails.
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