It was another off season for deer in Minnesota; and Wisconsin is shaping up to follow suit.

Now that the 2021 firearm season is over in Minnesota, officials with the Department of Natural Resources are reporting that the numbers for the year are off and so is the five-year average. According to the Minnesota DNR, "final registrations....were down 6% form 2020 and down a whopping 35% from the five-year average".

At the same time, buck harvest was up during the 16-day firearm season.  Numbers for the 100 series management units - which includes Northeastern Minnesota - show that the buck harvest was up 4.3% in 2021, according to details in an article in the Superior Telegram [paywall].

Total deer numbers for 2021 in Minnesota sit at 163,257.  Even as the state's muzzleloader rifle season comes at the end of November, DNR officials don't anticipate any drastic changes.  Their yearly goal is 200,000 deer.  That target hasn't been accomplished in the State of Minnesota for longer than a decade.  Last years numbers came close, though, at 197,315.

What's going on?  Probably a combination of a couple factors.  One is the weather.  Barb Keller, Big Game Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shared:  "Weather likely played a role in opening weekend harvest being down". COVID-19 also more than likely played a role, too.  Last year (in 2020), more people were off from work due to shutdowns and the pandemic so they had more time for hunting.  Now in 2021, the majority of people are back to work and have less time for the sport.

Mule Deer in the woodlands of Scott City, Kansas 2019

That pandemic-shortage of interested hunters adds to a growing trend of decreased numbers of people interested in the outdoor sport.  Similar to fishing in the summer, less people are taking part in outdoor sports.

Over in Wisconsin, officials are bracing for a similar situation to what numbers looked like in Minnesota.  "After the first two days of Wisconsin's nine-day firearms deer hunting season, hunters had registered 85,860 deer statewide, down 14% from 2020 and down 20% from the five year average".

And while license numbers haven't changed much in Minnesota, they have in Wisconsin.  "Wisconsin DNR officials said overall firearms license sales were down 1.7% while overall deer license numbers - including bowhunters - are just over 795,000, down 3.4% from 2020.

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If numbers of firearm deer hunters is decreasing, at least some of those sportsmen are shifting to different forms of the sport.  "DNR officials said they have seen a trend of more hunters participating in the archery season, especially crossbows, and choosing not to hunt during the firearms season".

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