News release: DNR announces 2023 deer season harvest results, CWD management findings

February 26, 2024

Habitat conditions, severe winters and wolf predation influence northern deer numbers

Hunters harvested 158,678 deer during the 2023 hunting season, a lower total harvest than in recent years. Harvest was down 8% compared to the 2022 season and 14% less than the five-year average.

The greatest decreases were in the northern part of the state, where deer harvest compared to 2022 was 21% lower in the northeast region and 8% lower in the northwest region. Other regions saw smaller decreases in harvest, with 3% lower in central and southeast Minnesota, and 4% lower in southern Minnesota.

“In recent years, deer populations have been lower in northern Minnesota, particularly following the severe winters of 2021-2022 and 2022-2023,” said Todd Froberg, big game program coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Several factors can drive these declines, resulting in fewer deer on the landscape during subsequent hunting seasons.”

Deer numbers can suffer during prolonged severe winters, especially in areas with deep snow or insufficient winter habitat. In these conditions, deer must expend more energy to acquire food, making them more vulnerable to predators. Wolves play a large role as a predator of deer, especially in winter, but there is little evidence to suggest that northern Minnesota’s low deer numbers are directly due to wolf predation. The influence that wolves play in influencing deer populations likely change over time and space, and can be exacerbated in response to other changing conditions, like poor quality wintering habitat.

Northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, also hit hard by severe winter, saw similar declines in deer harvests in 2023.

“This year’s extremely mild conditions do bode well for deer in northern Minnesota, but deer populations in the far north will need several mild winters to start to recover,” Froberg said.   

Crossbows were allowed for all deer hunters for the first time in 2023. Archery harvest totaled 24,088 deer which was a similar total compared to 2022. In 2023, crossbows accounted for 43% of the total archery harvest.

“During this first year of crossbows being legal for all hunters, we sold 6% more archery licenses and youth licenses made up most of that increase,” Froberg said. “Lots of kids who weren’t archery hunting in the past were able to use crossbows and go hunting during the archery season.”

Analysis of the 2023 deer harvest is available in a final deer harvest report. This report and past season harvest reports are available on the Minnesota DNR website.

The Minnesota DNR sets hunting seasons with projected harvest levels designed to move deer populations closer to established goals for each deer permit area throughout the state. These goals are reached through goal setting processes informed by public input and guided by Minnesota’s deer plan. Many of the permit areas in the northern part of the state have conservative regulations to support increases in deer populations. A midpoint review of the white-tailed deer management plan, with a variety of opportunities for public engagement including questionnaires, webinars and meetings, is planned for this summer. 

CWD management update

Chronic wasting disease remains relatively rare in Minnesota, and the Minnesota DNR needs hunters’ help to keep it that way. CWD was detected in 43 hunter-harvested deer during the 2023 fall hunting seasons. Of these, 91% were from the southeast, a region that continues to see persistent CWD infections in wild deer.

“Our fall surveillance efforts detected a CWD positive deer in one new deer permit area, while all other positive cases were found within existing CWD management zones where we have confirmed the disease previously,” said Erik Hildebrand, wildlife health supervisor. “We greatly appreciate hunters’ help monitoring these areas.”

The new area was DPA 342, where a hunter harvested a CWD-positive deer near Wabasha. Before the 2023 season, the Minnesota DNR had added DPA 342 to the CWD surveillance zone in response to detections of CWD in wild deer in bordering Buffalo County, Wisconsin in 2022.

Targeted culling is a management action used to slow the spread of CWD where it is known to exist. The Minnesota DNR does not cull deer across a broad area; all efforts are focused within 2 miles of a known positive location. All culling is conducted with landowner permission. Of the total CWD-positive deer found in Minnesota since 2010, nearly 30% were removed through culling efforts. 

Targeted culling efforts in the southeast started Feb. 5 and will continue through the end of March. Targeted culling also took place in January near Grand Rapids (part of DPA 679) and in a focused area in Crow Wing County (part of DPA 604). Test results are available on the Minnesota DNR CWD page. All deer that are culled are processed by a licensed meat processor and the venison is stored until test results are received. Deer that receive a “not detected” test result are given back to participating landowners or donated to food banks for distribution to local food shelves. All deer that test positive are brought to the University of Minnesota Diagnostic Laboratory for disposal in an alkaline digestor.

Hunters and conservation partners are critical in helping control CWD and maintaining the health of Minnesota’s deer herd. The DNR thanks hunters, taxidermists, meat processors, tribal nations and deer conservation partners (Minnesota Conservation Federation, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Bluffland Whitetails Association and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers) that helped collect or submit samples for testing.

For more information about deer hunting in Minnesota, visit the Minnesota DNR deer hunting webpage. Additional information on CWD can be found at the Minnesota DNR CWD webpage.

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