Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


How many deer do Minnesota hunters harvest each year — and where do they find them?

Hunters are expected to take more deer in 2015 than they did last year, but it’s still well below the peak harvest of the last 20 years.

It’s that time of year: the woods are once again filled with blaze-orange bedecked Minnesotans hoping to bag a trophy buck — or just a good supply of meat for the winter.

How many deer will hunters take this year? For the 2015 season, the DNR expects a total harvest of between 140,000 and 155,000 deer — which is about 15% of the state’s total estimated white-tail deer population of 1 million. As of Tuesday, firearms hunters had registered 68,401 kills.

That would be up slightly from 2014, when Minnesota hunters harvested just over 139,000 deer — a number the DNR considers conservative. And it’s way down from the peak harvest of the last 20 years: in 2003, hunters took nearly 300,000 deer.

Deer harvest by year and method

The most popular hunting method — by far — is firearms (rifles and shotguns with slugs), but a small minority stick with bows and arrows and muzzleloaders. (These methods benefit from different, expanded seasons.)

Looking at just firearms hunters, here’s a breakdown of the kind of deer harvested each year over the last 20 years:

Firearms deer harvest: bucks vs. antlerless

The DNR defines “bucks” as deer with one antler that is at least three inches long; deer without an antler at least three inches long are “antlerless,” which includes both does and young male deer.

Article continues after advertisement

As the DNR has sought to regulate the deer harvest, they have largely done so by restricting the number of antlerless deer killed by hunters. The number of bucks taken each year over the last twenty years has stayed relatively steady, somewhere near 100,000 (the highest number was over 116,000, in 2004, and the lowest just under 65,000, in 1997.) The number of antlerless deer taken varies a lot more: in 2003, firearms hunters registered 147,420 antlerless deer kills. Last year, they took only 46,000.

As of Tuesday, the DNR reported the buck harvest was up 8.5% over 2014.

Where are the deer taken? Here’s a map showing 2014’s deer harvest, divided by deer permit area (darker colors indicate more deer taken):

2014 deer harvest by permit area

The most intense band of deer harvesting occurs in the central part of the state, likely a combination of deer population and easy accessibility to a larger human population.

Minnesota’s firearms deer hunting season is ends (in most of the state) on November 15. Archery season runs through December 31 and there is a muzzleloader season from November 28 to December 13.

Random Acts of Data is an occasional series by MinnPost reporter Andy Mannix and news editor Tom Nehil. The goal: to answer questions about all things Minnesota using the vast amount of data at our disposal. If you have a question you’re wondering about, send an email to with the subject line, “Random Acts of Data.”