The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources expects 500,000 people to participate in the opening weekend of the firearms deer hunting season, which begins Saturday morning.
But this year's beloved tradition for many families and friends requires some additional planning and precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We wish all hunters a safe and successful deer season,” DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said in a statement. “As hunters continue Minnesota’s time-honored deer hunting tradition, there are some extra considerations this year as we prepare for deer camp.”
COVID-19 cases are surging in Minnesota, with the state seeing record levels of new cases this week. On Thursday, there were 3,956 new cases reported along with 25 additional deaths, bringing the total number of cases in the state since the pandemic began to 164,865 and 2,555 deaths.
"Remember that indoor shacks or shelters have the same concerns for any other indoor space and although you will be spending time outdoors, which is safer, it's not entirely risk-free," Kris Ehresmann, director of the Minnesota Department of Health's infectious disease division, said in a call with reporters on Wednesday.
She said hunters should take the same precautions they would in other situations to prevent the spread of the virus.
"So keep in mind, if you're hunting with people from outside your immediate household, please mask up while indoors and keep a distance of six feet at all times inside and out," Ehresmann added. "You may want to consider keeping your mask on when you're outside as well."
According to the DNR and MDH, those precautions include:
- Staying home if you're sick
- Minimizing stops when traveling to deer camp
- Washing your hands often
- Keeping a six-foot distance from people outside of your immediate household
- Wearing a mask in indoor public spaces if you can't maintain a six-foot distance from others
WDIO reports that some hunters aren't planning to attend their typical camp this year or some have decided to drive back and forth to camp to avoid large gatherings of people.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, people seem eager to get outdoors to hunt. Deer license sales are up 14% this year compared to 2019 and fishing license sales are up 10%, KSTP reports.
"I think one of the things that has become really obvious through a pandemic is that Minnesotans found connecting to the outdoors and spending time in the outdoors was a really good way to step away from stress and anxiety the virus has caused in our daily lives; especially folks working at home, it's a healthy and safe way to get out of the house and enjoy some outdoor activity," Strommen told KSTP.
The Minnesota DNR has a checklist for things hunters should do this year prior to deer camp:
- Buy a license. It starts with deciding what deer permit area you will be hunting in; then buying the appropriate license.
- Know the regulations. Read up on the regulations for your deer permit area, including how to register deer and how harvested deer must be handled and transported in certain areas to help prevent the potential spread of disease.
- Know where your deer will be processed. If you plan to use a meat processor, contact them ahead of time to be sure they’re accepting whole deer from hunters this year. If you plan to butcher your own deer, you must properly dispose of the carcass (head and spinal column). MPR News reported in September that many meat processors are booked up through deer season.
- Be safe. Practice the four tenets of firearms safety, know how to set up and use your tree stand safely, wear a safety harness and wear blaze clothing.
- Take appropriate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (see above).
- Get deer tested if hunting in designated areas. The DNR is encouraging people who are hunting in select deer hunting zones (find them here) to voluntarily submit their deer samples to be tested for CWD. The DNR changed its sampling rules to be voluntary this year due to the pandemic.
Minnesota DNR's deer hunt website is here.
High fire danger this weekend
The DNR is also urging hunters to be aware that there is a high fire danger in southwestern and south-central Minnesota.
After this week's warm weather and low relative humidity, conditions across the state are more favorable for wildfires, and high wins this weekend could fan flames of any escaped fire, the DNR says.
“It only takes one spark to turn hunting season into wildfire season,” said Casey McCoy, wildfire prevention supervisor. “Whether you’re around the campfire with family at deer camp or arriving to hunt at a state forest or wildlife management area, be careful with any heat source that can cause a spark.”
To avoid accidentally starting a wildfire, hunters who plan to go into the woods or grasslands this weekend should avoid driving over and parking on dry grass, be prepared to put a fire out (keep a shovel and water in camp and a small fire extinguisher for the field), and never leave a campfire unattended.