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Changes in seasons won't affect deer hunting

Today starts the 2008 firearms deer season.

There have already been a lot of changes for deer hunters to wade through.

Foremost, the zones as we knew them have changed. Instead of Zones 1-4, with definitive boundaries that could not be crossed to hunt deer, the zones have been reduced to three and boundaries have been effectively eliminated.

Gone also are the all-season and multi-zone buck licenses. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources decided to go with the statewide "A" license and the "B" license, which is restricted to the late season in southeastern Minnesota and southern Metro area. Hunters cannot purchase both licenses. The "B" license, according to DNR documents is for those hunters who generally take part in the old "3B" season.

Most prospective hunters have taken to the changes quite well.

"It's been surprisingly quiet," said Leroy Dahlke of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife office in Willmar. "A few people have called for clarifications."

He also pointed out one area of confusion: under all-season licenses, hunters could freely choose between archery, firearms and/or muzzleloader seasons to hunt. Now, if a hunter with a firearms license also purchases a muzzleloader license, he or she would need an antlerless deer permit to take an antlerless deer during the muzzleloader season. However, if a hunter purchases just a muzzleloader license, it allows for an either-sex deer.

The DNR also consolidated the two-weekend system into a continuous season. Hunters in the 200 series area, which includes the West Central Tribune coverage area, can hunt from today through Nov. 16.

"There was a citizens' panel that was requested to review the deer seasons," Dahlke said. "They found 81 percent of the hunters were able to hunt both weekends. They advised that we combine the two seasons. It's a lot more straight forward."

The three types of areas within the zones still remain the same: lottery, managed and intensive. But with the lottery areas, an "A" license will allow a hunter to take a buck anywhere without a permit. But those who wanted to take an anterless deer had to apply for an antlerless permit.

Most of the lottery areas in west central Minnesota didn't have many antlerless permits available. For instance, the zone that includes the southeastern corner of Kandiyohi County allowed only 30 permits. The northern half of the county is included in a zone that had 800 permits available in a lottery.

Managed areas have a two-deer limit -- if a bonus permit was purchased -- and the intensive areas have a five-deer limit.

Our portion of the state, and points south and west, continue to see smaller deer numbers, especially antlerless deer, which has prompted a reduction in lottery permits. The trend continues this season, but Dahlke is hopeful in the long run.

"This year, we kept the permit numbers down. We have a small increase in deer numbers this year," he said. People are seeing a few more deer now that the corn is coming out. We'll see how the season goes.

"We don't want to get as high of numbers as we had in the mid to late 1990s. We have taken it down from there, but we took it too far. As we see a recovery in the deer herd, we should be able to manage more directly the doe population at a point halfway between were we were last year and in the 1990s."

The weather will play its role in hunting success. The more corn that is harvested, the better chance hunters will have, Dahlke said.

"It's hard to guess. In the southern part of the county and west, there's a lot of corn out, so I'd expect the deer to be pretty vulnerable," he said.