At the Winona County Farm Bureau Meeting on December 16, Winona area landowners and hunters were on hand to engage in discussion with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials and local legislators about deer management in Southeast Minnesota.
Many hunters and farmers attended the meeting to give their feedback on the DNR’s Antler Point Restriction (APR) regulations.
When the DNR introduced the APR rules, which prohibit hunters from shooting bucks with fewer than four antler points on one side, conservation officials hoped it would encourage hunters to harvest more does, keeping herd numbers down while simultaneously increasing the number of large-racked bucks.
APR critics argue that the rule has instead back-fired and that deer populations, and the crop damage they cause, are on the rise. They have also argued that the APR regulations benefit sportsmen and tourists hunting for trophy bucks at the expense of farmers and local hunters.
“People see this place as a buck haven,” Rollingstone farmer Bob Marg said of Southeast Minnesota. “People from outside of the state are coming in and local hunters are being kicked off. Everyone should have the right to hunt on these lands.”
Leslie McInenly, the DNR’s Big Game Program Leader, and other members of the DNR, listened to the concerns and offered their best answers to quell the arguments. The DNR representatives provided resources and information regarding deer regulation programs and permits. McInenly also promised to look into other ideas and proposals for deer management.
“We’re currently looking into expanding depredation permits beyond [one per] parcel,” she said.
Community farmers and hunters were allowed to address the DNR representatives, and those who spoke made it clear there was more work to be done to perfect deer hunting regulations.
“A lot of hunters are mad because they don’t attend meetings, because deer aren’t their number one hunting priority,” a hunter in the crowd said.
“The samples from surveys regarding the satisfaction of APR regulations are not good samples, because there are a lot of older farmers who don’t have the internet,” another person said, expressing concern that some Southeast Minnesota hunters' voices were not being heard.
While the meeting did open up new possibilities, including a resource for landowners looking for hunters, and vice versa, it was clear that there are additional meetings to hold and rules and regulations to be discussed.
“I guess what we haven’t figured out yet is how to work as a community, as neighbors,” McInenly said.