NEW LONDON — Predictions of a big deer harvest proved true as the numbers from the 2020 firearm season are tallied.

Firearm hunters in permit area 277 north of Willmar harvested 3,365 deer this season, a 39 percent increase over last year’s harvest of 2,421, according to electronic registration numbers collected by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The increased harvest was welcomed by Cory Netland, wildlife manager with the Minnesota DNR in New London. Deer numbers in the zone have been rising over the past several years, and this year’s goal was to trim the population. Deer density numbers in the zone have increased over the past several years from 14 to 21 per square mile, Netland pointed out.

Without a doubt, the big difference in this year’s harvest was changing the permit area from a hunter’s choice to a managed one. Hunters took advantage of the bonus tags made possible by the managed designation to harvest 1,020 deer, which lines up with the increase in the harvest over the previous year, the wildlife manager said.

“It did what it was intended to do,” Netland said. The change to a managed zone meant hunters harvested more anterless deer to help better manage the size of the herd. This year, 646 more anterless deer were taken in the zone than last year.

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The hunter’s choice designation was in place for the past five years. It allowed hunters to take one deer of either sex. As expected, hunters favored antlered deer. Last year, antlered bucks represented 67 percent of the harvest. This year, they represented 50 percent of the total harvest in the permit zone. (The actual percentage of male deer harvested this year is 58 percent when button bucks, which are tagged as anterless deer, are included).

Netland said the hunter’s choice designation was used in the past years in expectations that it would help reduce the herd slightly, but it did not do so. Deer numbers continued to rise by an estimated 10 percent each year, leading to the managed designation being put into play this year.

While decisions on next year are a long way off, Netland said it is possible that the managed designation will be kept for the zone. He is anticipating that this year’s harvest might be the peak for a few years, but he anticipates that the next few years should continue to see harvests near this total.

The muzzleloader season begins this weekend, and the final harvest total at year’s end will no doubt be much higher than last year. At this point, it already exceeds last year’s total by 300 deer.