WILLMAR -- There was more boom than bust for those participating in the 2009 deer firearm season.
Unofficial counts at deer registration stations in the area indicate that hunters did better than was expected. The record amounts of corn standing in fields at the onset of the season, and reductions in antlerless permits for the area, had many expecting a significant decline in the firearm harvest number.
Jeff Miller, assistant wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in New London, said the number of deer registered in the area is looking good. Although final numbers are yet to be tallied, he is among those who said he was surprised by the harvest numbers in this area.
Harvest numbers were somewhat better to the north of Willmar, while down to the west and south, he said.
If the numbers were better than expected, they were not exactly gangbusters either. Take Pete's Surplus, west of New London, as an example. Hunters registered 230 deer this year compared to 205 last year, but the numbers fall short of the 300-plus deer that had been registered in the peak years earlier this decade, noted Troy Haverly.
Haverly said the reduction in antlerless permits was evident. Of the 230 deer registered, 160 were bucks.
Standing fields of corn provided lots of cover for deer, but hunters were able to compensate by spending more time in the field and working harder, said Haverly. Warmer than average weather for the season made that possible, he added.
While Haverly said he anticipated a larger-than-usual preponderance of bucks in this year's harvest, one change caught his eye. This year's tally included a much smaller percentage of fawns. Hunter's registered only three female fawns and 16 "button" bucks among the total.
He believes it reflects a decline in the number of fawns available.
The harvest numbers were up at Skindelien's in New London as well, where 212 deer were registered this year as compared to 188 last year. This year's harvest tally was hard on the bucks, with 80 percent of the total believed to be males, according to the registration station.
No different than other years, the element of surprise on the opening day helped hunters produce both the best numbers and some of the biggest deer. Brad Foshaug of 71 Bait and Tackle, north of Willmar, said he saw average numbers of deer registered, but that activity definitely tapered after the opening day.
On the south side of Willmar, Jabran Mastafa at J's Bait and Sport said he saw more deer registered this year than last. While hunters made note of the problems presented by the standing corn, they also reported seeing deer and activity, said Mastafa.
"It kept them busy and out of trouble,'' he laughed.
"Average'' is how Laura Schmeling, of Corvuso Meats in Cosmos, described the number of deer brought to the shop for processing. She said she was surprised by the number of large bucks harvested despite all of the standing corn. "We've had real good luck here,'' she said in reference to the number of larger bucks in the total.
Opening day provided the best opportunities to the west, where harvest numbers were down overall. Hunters registered 155 deer at D.J.'s Sporting Goods in Montevideo, as compared to 220 last year.
The lack of numbers was made up for by quality, however. There were some very big bucks taken on the opening weekend, according to Lynn Koenen of D.J.'s.
He said there was no doubt that the large amounts of standing corn adversely affected hunter success.
There is a silver lining to the story, however. The muzzleloader season "should be dynamite,'' said Koenen.