A plan for Minnesota’s deer


The plan in action

Minnesota's White-tailed Deer Management Plan is guiding deer management.

The plan benefits Minnesotans by outlining strategic direction, DNR responsibilities and new ways for the agency, citizens and stakeholders to address deer management.

The plan was finalized in 2018. It reflects input from a 19-member citizen advisory committee; dozens of public meetings and open houses; more than 1,100 survey comments; and official letters from tribal governments, hunting organizations and others.

The plan's eight major goals support a strategic direction that focuses on:

  1. Communication, information sharing, public involvement
  2. Deer stakeholder satisfaction
  3. Population management, monitoring, research
  4. Healthy deer
  1. Healthy habitat
  2. Impacts of deer on other resources
  3. Deer management funding
  4. Continuous improvement of deer management
View the complete deer plan


You are part of the plan

Minnesota's White-tailed Deer Management Plan was written with you in mind. It is intended to improve state deer management by increasing agency transparency, citizen trust and stakeholder satisfaction.

It is easy to remain part of the plan. You can be involved by:

  • Reviewing a copy of the deer plan and our deer plan brochure.
  • Talking to your local wildlife manager. Offices and phones numbers are listed here.
  • Signing-up for the DNR deer management newsletter that arrives by email. Just enter your email address at the bottom of this page.
  • Viewing the interactive deer management map. Updated annually with new information for every deer hunting permit area, the map is a great way to view deer data for your local area.
  • Contacting the DNR information center. The information center staff are there to answer your questions or put you in touch with the appropriate person.


What the plan does

Two deer hunters walking on a trailSets a clear vision: The DNR wants Minnesotans to enjoy the benefits of a thriving and disease-free deer population. Components of that vision include deer population goals, habitat priorities, abundant hunting opportunities and actions that sustain our hunting heritage while balancing societal interests.

Commits to increased communication: The DNR will increase two-way communication with hunters, landowners and others by creating annual deer management discussions with interested citizens at area wildlife offices. Local meetings will provide hunters and others with a forum for sharing their observations, hearing DNR management proposals and identifying opportunities to improve deer management.

Clarifies population and harvest objectives: The Plan outlines goals and processes for setting deer population and harvest levels. This clarity is important because each year the DNR establishes the desired deer harvest to achieve a multi-year population objective at the deer permit area level. The DNR will also track annual harvests in relation to a statewide harvest target of 200,000 deer per year. This number reflects the approximate statewide harvest when deer populations are generally within goal range in most permit areas. This new approach provides a secondary statewide check on success in meeting population goals developed through public input.

Emphasizes herd health and habitat: The Plan provides direction to eliminate chronic wasting disease in wild deer, minimize the risk of new disease introductions and enhance habitat quality across the state. A healthy deer herd is a key component of sustaining our hunting heritage. Maintaining high quality deer habitat will help sustain a healthy deer herd and also provide exceptional habitat for a host of other species.

Aims for higher citizen satisfaction: As part of a commitment to increasing stakeholder support, the Plan calls for more frequent and regular deer hunter and public attitude surveys to help gauge satisfaction and identify areas that need improvement.

Seeks long-term sustainability: While the Plan promotes the long-term health of deer populations and habitat; more opportunities for stakeholder input and involvement; and efforts to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters, it also recognizes that deer can have negative impacts. The Plan identifies strategies to minimize deer damage to native plants, agricultural crops, forest regeneration or negative community impacts, such as deer/vehicle collisions and urban deer conflicts.

Why a deer plan?

Although the DNR uses a variety of public engagement processes to help formulate population goals and management strategies, there is no formal plan that ties all that information together. There is also stakeholder interest in better communication of deer management direction and actions, along with increasing interest for public involvement in identifying long-term priorities. Also, Minnesota’s Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) evaluated DNR’s deer management program and recommended we develop a formal deer management plan would help to define, clarify and prioritize deer management goals, objectives and resources. The DNR thought the time was right to develop a long-range plan for Minnesota deer management.

You can view the legislative auditor's report on DNR deer management.

What is the purpose of the plan?

The purpose of this plan is to communicate a vision for white-tailed deer management in Minnesota. The plan outlines strategic direction, along with goals and objectives that will be used to prioritize agency resources and deer-related activities. We also wanted to describe DNR responsibilities and efforts related to deer management and define our commitment for engagement with partners and the full public to promote effective deer management.

You call this a strategic plan. What does that mean?

This strategic plan outlines our mission, vision and high-level goals for deer management over the next 10 years. It also takes into account how we’ll measure those goals over the life of the plan. It is not intended to prescribe exactly how we can achieve those goals. How we get there is through the work we do on a daily or annual basis, which is operational. For example, the plan has a goal of ‘healthy deer’; however, it doesn’t say exactly how DNR can keep deer healthy because there are so many options. Because Minnesota is such a large and diverse state, it would be impractical to include every aspect of deer management in this plan.

How was this plan developed?

In 2016 and 2017, DNR gathered initial information from staff, deer stakeholders and the public through individual discussions, input meetings and an online questionnaire. We put together a 19-member deer management plan advisory committee that met almost monthly from December 2016 to March 2018. The committee made recommendations that informed the plan’s development. Members of the public then provided feedback on a draft plan at 37 open house meetings and also online. All of that information was used to inform, develop and subsequently modify the final plan.

What comments did you receive on the plan?

We solicited and reviewed comments received from the public and Minnesota's Native American tribes. DNR's responses are available for:


What do you mean by deer plan goals and objectives?

A goal is the end result of where we want to be; it’s really how we achieve our vision – you can think of it as a final destination. This compares to the objectives, which are nested within each goal. Objectives are basically the high-level, ‘how we get there’ part of the plan. As you can see in the plan, there are eight major goals and corresponding objectives for each goal.

I see there are eight major goals. Are they ranked in priority?

No and that is intentional. All the goals are equally important in the 10-year plan. That said, priorities naturally will shift throughout the plan’s life to address time-sensitive needs, emerging issues and performance measure trends. For example, a current top priority is responding to the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in wild deer. CWD response will be a top priority for at least the first few years of the plan.

Is DNR prioritizing moose over deer in the northeast?

Yes. Moose will be the big game priority in the northeast moose zone. To benefit our remaining moose population, the most feasible and potentially effective strategy to reduce negative impacts is to maintain deer densities within the moose range as low as practical. The DNR will continue to work with stakeholders to establish deer population goals that are consistent with our desire to maintain a viable moose population, while at the same managing for a lower deer population in the same area. Current deer population goals in the primary moose range are much lower than the upper threshold identified in the moose plan. Any changes to these population goals, which were established during the 2015 goal-setting process, will include consideration of recent moose research and allow for public input.

Does the plan specifically address quality deer management (age structure/sex ratios)?

No. The DNR remains committed to measuring hunter attitudes towards mature bucks and identifying preferred management strategies. This plan does not address local management issues. For nearly two decades, the majority of hunters have consistently reported a goal of more mature bucks; however, during the same time, there has been a consistent lack of support for regulations that would achieve that goal. The plan commits to further work on this issue, although DNR currently is constrained by state law that does not allow the implementation of antler point restriction regulations outside the 300-series areas in southeast Minnesota.

Does the plan address public concerns about the DNR’s deer population estimates?

Partly. There has been a long-standing concern that local perceptions of deer populations do not align with what people see in the field. This is not a new issue and we saw it in the mid-2000s when deer numbers were at their peak. Oftentimes, the complaints about too many, too few or not the right type of deer occur in the same place and at the same time. More importantly, the DNR estimates populations at the level of the deer permit area, while hunters often use their own area (which is much smaller) as their benchmark; however, that doesn’t make either observation wrong – just different. To address local concerns, the DNR will continue to use a public deer population goal setting process and collect the best data we can to inform our population model. Starting this year, we also will conduct deer meetings at area wildlife offices so people can offer their insights and observations and hear from local wildlife staff. No matter how many deer we have, there always will be disagreements about the number.

Why does the plan call for an annual harvest target of 200,000 deer?

Due to deer stakeholder interest, the DNR agreed to develop a harvest target for the deer plan. There also was a diversity of recommendations expressed by the Deer Management Plan Advisory Committee, ranging from including no target at all to a 225,000 annual target. We based the harvest target of 200,000 on an analysis that indicated 190,000 was an approximate statewide harvest level when deer populations are near goal in most deer permit areas, and 2) the diversity of recommendations expressed by the Deer Management Plan Advisory Committee. The finalized harvest target, identified as a performance measure in the plan, will not be used to inform annual regulatory decisions. Instead, the harvest target will help track how well the DNR is meeting population goals at the statewide level and demonstrate progress in providing consistent hunting opportunities.

What about wolf management?

Wolves are currently under the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act, and DNR cannot set hunting or trapping seasons. The only exception is for providing funds to remove wolves that are preying on livestock or pets. That said, it is likely DNR will have a wolf season once they are returned to state management. The desire to lower wolf populations in order to sustain higher deer populations is very controversial. Additional public input and discussion would be required before we make that decision.

People who helped

The DNR convened a Deer Management Plan Advisory Committee to help create this plan. The committee met 13 times. Members and alternates included: Andrew Edwards, 1854 Treaty Authority; Ted Brenny, Jim Buchwitz, Daniel Butler, Kevin Goedtke, Yeng Moua, Bernie Overby and Becky Strand; at-large members; Marty Stubstad, Bluffland Whitetails Association; Chris Raddatz or Kevin Paap, Farm Bureau; Rod Sommerfield or Bob Marg, Farmers Union; Nate Eide, Minnesota Association of County Land Commissioners; Gary Botzek or Art Reuck, Minnesota Conservation Federation; Craig Engwall and Dennis Quarberg, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association; Jenna Bjork, Minnesota Department of Health; Dennis Thompson, Minnesota Forest Resources Partnership; Pat Morstad or Ted Wawrzyniak, Quality Deer Management Association; Meredith Cornett, The Nature Conservancy.


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