This closely cropped stem of red osier dogwood reminds me why the city of Duluth holds its annual bowhunt for deer. Deer love red osier dogwood, and this specific plant grows on high ground at Duluth’s Hartley Park. The nearly square-mile wooded park is a haven for whitetails, and they’ve browsed this poor plant so closely it looks as if it’s been mowed. When deer are too numerous for their habitat, they can have a big impact on the foods they eat. That’s why it’s so hard to grow young white pines in this region now — deer eat the fresh growth buds each spring.
Conducting the Duluth bowhunt is a lot of work. Hunters must jump through lots of hoops to participate. They pay a $20 registration fee, pass a bowhunter education course, take a shooting proficiency test and sign an ethical-hunter agreement. And it’s a lot of work for the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance to conduct the hunt — taking applications, setting up hunting zones, holding a lottery to distribute hunters among those zones. And it’s more work for Department of Natural Resources conservation officers who must work the hunt, making sure hunters play by the rules.
The past two years, hunters have taken about 560 deer per year in the hunt, more than 80 percent of them antlerless. Hunters must kill an antlerless deer before taking a buck, according to city-hunt rules. This year’s hunt opens Saturday and continues through Dec. 31.
Don’t worry if you still want to wander through Duluth’s open spaces during the hunt. Nearly all hunters will be up in portable deer stands affixed to trees, and they’ll hear or see you coming long before you’re near them. They must have a deer within about 20 yards before they shoot, so they are very unlikely to mistake you or your dog for a whitetail. The hunt has had no safety problems in its first three years.