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How 'bout them deer?

WILLMAR -- Less corn and more deer add up to great prospects for deer hunters taking to the field for the opening of the 2010 firearm season today.

"We expect it to be a bigger harvest," said Jeff Miller, assistant wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in New London, when contacted earlier this week.

Surveys conducted earlier this year by wildlife employees showed that the deer herd in the area has increased in number. The deer came through last winter in good shape, and had good reproduction numbers this year, said Miller.

He said the number of antlerless permits for area 277 north of Willmar was increased due to an increase in the size of the herd.

And as every hunter knows, the fact that this year's corn harvest is nearly complete means the prospects of finding deer are about as good as they get.

The timing is right, too. Miller said he's heard plenty of stories in the last week from archers who have seen rubs and scrapes -- the signs of active bucks in full rut. He's also heard from hunters who have been checking their trail cameras to find two and sometimes three bucks showing up in the same places.

He's not the only one hearing stories of active bucks. Greg Melges, Mel's Sports Shop, Spicer, said the warm autumn meant many bow hunters held back until temperatures dropped. Now, they are reporting seeing lots of activity in the area.

"They are seeing deer," said Melges, adding: "We are seeing deer." His own scouting has him convinced that this could be one of the better deer harvests.

One of the early measures for the coming season is found at Melby's Furs in Spicer, where many hides and some of the trophies taken by bow hunters often find their way. Mark Melby confirmed that activity is picking up and that archers have been enjoying success.

The big numbers will belong to those carrying shotguns this season, thanks to the lack of corn. "If the deer are there, they should really get 'em this year," said Melby.

Prospects are best to the north of U.S. Highway 12, and deer numbers definitely decline to the south, according to Miller. Permit area 282 -- located in the agricultural lands between Benson, Willmar, Montevideo and Olivia -- remains a bucks only zone. All adult hunters are limited to bucks.

Deer numbers in areas to the southwest are still recovering, but prospects are certainly improved. Jim Dahlvang of D.J.'s Sporting Goods, said hunters in the Montevideo area are generally optimistic about this season's prospects. He believes the harvest should be much improved from last season.

As for how the archery harvest has gone, Dahlvang and others said it's largely a guessing game this year. Many hunters are taking advantage of the new phone-in registration system, and consequently only a limited number of the harvested deer are being brought in to area business places to be registered.

Statewide, the DNR is predicting that this year's harvest will be similar to the 194,000 deer taken in 2009. The deer herd is estimated at 1 million and 500,000 hunters are expected to participate. The nine-day season runs Nov. 6-14 in the southern and western portion of the state.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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