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Open season on hunting proposals

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GRANITE FALLS -- It isn't just the silent approach of a big-antlered deer that gets hunters excited these days.

So do possible rule changes.

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The possibility of a four-day deer season for youths generated lots of animated discussion on Tuesday in Granite Falls. So did a proposal to allow anyone age 55 or older to use crossbows to hunt deer and another to allow the trapping of otters on the Minnesota River.

The three topics are among a number of proposed changes that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is considering. The Tuesday meeting was one of several being held across the state to gather public comment before decisions are made.

The proposal for a youth-only hunt could become fact as early as this autumn if approved. It would allow boys and girls ages 10-17 to harvest one deer of either sex during a four-day season in October.

At the meeting for this region, two main concerns emerged:

Would the early harvest of deer by youth mean fewer antlerless permits would be available in lottery areas for the regular firearm season?

Also, would the added hunting activity pose safety issues and conflicts in the field? The hunt would occur at a time when deer archery, pheasant, waterfowl and small game hunting are in full swing, it was noted.

But there was also support for the youth hunt. As one Appleton area deer hunter expressed it: "It's a great way to introduce young people to the sport.''

The four-day season is being proposed for exactly that reason, according to Ken Varland, regional wildlife director with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in New Ulm.

Keeping more senior hunters active in their sport is the purpose behind a proposal that would allow any person age 55 or older to use a cross bow as part of the deer archery season, according to Varland.

That proposal generated mixed comments too. Some charged that crossbows are nearly as lethal as firearms. Allowing their widespread use would reduce the deer available for other hunters.

Some also pointed out that hunters with physical limitations can obtain a permit to use a crossbow under current law. There is already the opportunity to continue the archery season when age or injury limits a person's ability to draw a bow.

But there were other views, too, including one from a Canby-area sporting goods dealer. He told participants that crossbows are no different than compound bows or firearms in that their lethality still depends greatly on the skills of the user.

State statistics show a big drop in those who continue archery hunting once they reach age 55, said Varland. Firearm hunters don't tend to drop out of their sport until age 65 and later, he said.

If issues related to deer could raise passions from two sides, so too did a proposal dealing with the trapping of otters.

The DNR is proposing to allow otter trapping throughout the state, with a four-animal bag limit. Currently trapping is not allowed in southwestern Minnesota and along the Minnesota River.

Otter was re-introduced to the upper Minnesota River in the late 1970s, and all evidence suggests they are faring well. Jason Abraham, furbearer specialist, said the anecdotal evidence shows a good population, but the state does not have the funding to conduct aerial and other surveys to get accurate numbers.

A one-year trapping season in which the harvest of otters would be recorded could provide the DNR with valuable information on the population, according to Abraham. The DNR could also close a season at any point if harvest numbers show a need to do so.

A number of trappers voiced their support for the season. They said the number of otters in the upper Minnesota River and its tributaries is much greater than most people realize.

Others said they rarely, if ever, see the otters while canoeing and fishing; they voiced fears that the playful animals would be over-harvested.

Other topics generating discussion in Granite Falls included proposals to move the waterfowl hunting season to an earlier starting date, as well as an earlier start of shooting from 9 a.m. to one-half hour before sunrise on the opener.

To weigh in on these and other proposals, view the DNR website and submit comments via e-mail: wildlife.dnr@state.mn.us or by mail: Season Comments, DNR Section of Wildlife, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4007.

Varland said it is too early to know how hunters across the state feel about many of the proposals.

And, the opinions voiced at the input meetings don't always reflect the view of the majority of those attending, either. He said after the Granite Falls meeting that he's been at a number of input meetings where what seemed to be the majority opinion was anything but when the private comment sheets that participants returned were tabulated.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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