WILLMAR — Area wildlife managers expect a good deer harvest in much of west central Minnesota when the 2019 firearm season gets underway Saturday.

Deer numbers are good, the corn harvest is progressing, and the deer are active, very much in the rut. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Area Wildlife Managers Cory Netland, New London, and Curt Vacek, Appleton, both said they are seeing a lot of deer activity and signs that the rut is in full swing.

Some of the state’s best deer hunting success is enjoyed in Deer Permit Area 277, which includes Kandiyohi and Meeker counties. Deer numbers remain strong in the area, Netland said. He is hopeful hunters will match if not surpass last year’s success.

There were 2,986 deer harvested through all seasons in the permit area in 2017, and 2,985 in 2018. Last year there were 6,631 hunters in the area, and a similar number is expected this year. Firearm hunters recorded a 45 percent harvest success rate in the permit area both of the last two years, which is one of the best rates in the state.

This is the fifth straight year the area is managed as hunter’s choice, allowing hunters to harvest one deer of either sex. While there are a lot of deer in the permit area, there are also a lot of hunters. Maintaining the permit area as a hunter’s choice rather than a more liberal, managed area — where each hunter is allowed to take up to two deer — has helped keep the deer numbers consistent.

Netland said he also expects that hunters will see good success in the northern part of permit area 283 in the Atwater, Grove City, Cosmos and Lake Lillian areas. Hunter success declines south of state Highway 7 in the more intensively farmed lands there. That is also the case in permit area 282, which includes the state Highway 23 corridor southwest of Willmar. The habitat needed by deer is limited.

Deer hunters should generally see good success in the Lac qui Parle area this year. Vacek said the deer population in area 278, which includes the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area, is good, but not quite as high as desired. The area is managed as a lottery area, with 400 permits for anterless deer. The lottery designation has been used to help the population rebound. It has not responded as fast as expected, according to Vacek.

He said high water levels could affect access for hunters in some areas.

He noted too that the corn harvest is progressing, with an estimated 50 to 60 percent of the crop removed. With the corn harvest behind schedule, Vacek said there will likely be many would-be hunters in combines and tractor cabs instead of deer stands and blinds Saturday.

CWD monitoring

Both wildlife managers will be working at stations in areas where hunters must bring their deer to be tested for chronic wasting disease. They are among 472 DNR employees who will be working details as part of the CWD effort.

Netland will be stationed in Litchfield, which is part of the central surveillance area. It was established after a deer from a Meeker County deer farm tested positive for CWD in 2017.

This is the third year of CWD testing on the opening weekend in the central surveillance area. If the disease is not detected this season, hunters will not be required to have their deer tested next year.

Netland said the DNR is taking an “all hands on deck” approach to staff operations to monitor for CWD.

The central Minnesota surveillance area includes deer permit areas 277 and 283 east of state Highway 4, deer permit area 219 south of state Highway 55, and deer permit area 285 north of state Highway 7.