Open Letter To The DNR (RE: Too Many Deer)

The following letter has been written and mailed to the Wildlife Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (and cc: to Steve Sviggum, my neighbor and local legislator):

Richard Kimmel, Group Leader
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Farmland Wildlife Populations and Research
Rte 1, Box 181
Madelia, MN 56062-9744

Dear Mr. Kimmel,

     This evening I’m writing this letter to express my great concern with the deer population in Zone 4 and what I feel is the antiquated seasonal hunting structure that currently exists.   I believe it is necessary for the DNR and perhaps the legislature to adopt some changes that will further liberalize the deer hunting opportunities for this region of the state.

     I write this letter from two perspectives.   First, I have been an avid deer hunter in Zone 4 during the past 25 years.   Most of this time has been spent hunting on a family farm in rural Kenyon, on the southern edge of what is known as Sogn Valley.   This area is popular for deer hunters as it contains a mix of croplands, woodlands and meandering rivers running through many of the valleys.   Second, I write this letter in the capacity of an Emergency Medical Technician working professionally for the largest private ambulance service in Minnesota.

     I want to begin by relating to you a tragic story from this evening (Sunday) in rural Rice County on Hwy. 60 west of Morristown.   I responded to an auto accident where two victims died and a third was airlifted by helicopter to a Twin Cities hospital due to a collision with a deer.   We speculate the deer literally exploded through the windshield rendering a grandmother incapable of controlling her vehicle which eventually careened off a tree and burst into flames.   Tragically, the grandmother could not be rescued as the car was fully engulfed with fire before rescuers could reach her.   Two young children, ages 7 and 13, were rescued from the burning vehicle, but tragically one did not respond to resuscitative efforts.

    During the course of my 12 years working professionally in the Emergency Medical Services field, I can recall several accidents involving deer…but perhaps none quite as tragic as this evening.   Earlier this fall during mid-day I responded to a motorcyclist who collided with a deer resulting in serious head injuries for the victim.   Also this year I recall responding to an elderly couple who hit a deer only to have the airbag deploy fracturing the female’s wrist.   Three incidents during the course of about a four month period for a medic who only works 24 hours per week…to me that’s incredible.

     Okay, let me remove my EMT hat now and put on my blaze orange cap.   If you hunt regular firearms in Zone 4 you get a choice of a 2-day season or a 4-day season.   Sure, if you want to buy an expensive all-season license, you can hunt more…but most of the hunters I know choose one of the aforementioned seasons.   My contention is THIS IS NOT ENOUGH.   We are not removing enough deer and the result is people are dying and property damage claims are unnecessarily high.   Zone 4 is the only region of the state that a hunter pays $27 for a license and gets to hunt their choice of a single weekend only.   Every other zone gets a MINIMUM of 7 days and most get at least two weekends over the course of their deer season.

     I know one of the old lines for Zone 4 is that this is an agricultural region and the landowners don’t want the additional days of trespassing, hunting activity, etc.   I also know that part of the old strategy was to better distribute the hunting pressure to make for a safer hunt.   To both of those statements I say BUNK!   Such thinking is outdated and needs to be seriously reevaluated.   The fact of the matter is, hunters in this region can experience a poor hunt due to weather, too much crops in the field, etc. and the outcome of thinning the deer herd is not accomplished.

     For most of my deer hunting life I used to take sort of an informal survey that is by no means a scientific analysis, yet it was always fun.   What I did was count how many shots I would hear during opening morning.   I suppose it was possible that I could hear shots as far as 4 or 5 miles away, but nonetheless I had to hear it to count it.   Well, 20 years ago I would commonly hear and count 100+ shots within the opening hour of season.   The past few years I have not counted 100 shots ALL DAY.   In fact, opening day this year I counted only hearing 57 shots.

    Now understand that hearing shots in no way relates to deer being taken…but all things being equal I believe a hunter from 20 years ago was likely taking the same attempt as a hunter would be today.   My point of all this is deer hunting in ZONE 4 has changed.   There is not the same hunting pressure there used to be, but I think there is another factor that needs to be explored and better understood by the DNR.

    Indeed, one of the biggest changes over the years has been farming practices in this region.   Gone are the days when a farmer lived on 160 acres to support his family.   Today farmers are tending acreages measured in the thousands.   What this means to many of us hunters is the crop harvest season is getting extended into November later and later every year.   And let’s face it; a field of corn effectively serves as one of the best refuges a deer could ever hope to see during deer season.

     As a deer hunter, I want to experience the tradition of opening morning.   This means, however, that unless I purchase some hybrid deer license I limit my hunt to only 2-days—and that is not enough!   I honestly believe it would be healthier for the herd and healthier for the sport to increase the hunting opportunities in Zone 4.   I therefore propose the elimination of Zone 4A & 4B.   Instead, create a single hunt option that allows a purchaser of a Zone 4 tag to hunt BOTH weekends in effect turning it into a 6 day hunt.   I feel strongly that the additional hunting pressure would result in more deer being moved and greater kill opportunities.

     There is no sadder sight than to see a nice deer laying dead in the ditch next to a busy road.   When I witness such a creature I first wonder what type of a vehicle will now spend weeks at the body shop getting repaired.   I then wonder about the poor hunters in that area who will miss out on bagging a nice deer when the next hunting season rolls around.   Still, after last evening, I now must wonder whose lives could have been seriously changed if the circumstances were tragically different.

     I typically hate changing long-standing hunting traditions, but I strongly believe that changing Zone 4 to a longer season is an action that is necessary and long overdue.   Zone 4 contains or is very near some of the highest population densities in the state.   As a hunter, as a car owner, and as a medic who must deal with the tragic aftermath…you would be doing me a big favor to at the very least consider some changes to deer hunting in the agricultural belt of this state.

Respectfully submitted,

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.