Deer goal setting surveys and deer hunter attitude research

Principal Investigator: David C. Fulton.

PhD Student: Leslie McInenly (NRSM)

M.S. Students: Eric Walberg (NRSM), Megan Cross (NRSM)

As Minnesota moved from a more conservative deer management program toward a more liberal framework based on harvesting antlerless deer, there has been an increased need to gather accurate hunter survey information. Regulations that impose restrictions by requiring antlerless harvest (e.g., earn-a-buck) or protect a segment of the antlered male population (e.g., antler point restriction) likely cannot be implemented without broad public support and a thorough examination of the policy trade-offs. For example, in 2005, Minnesota deer hunters were surveyed to ascertain knowledge and support of regulations. In general, based on previous research, a majority of hunters wanted to manage for more mature bucks in the deer population but no single regulation achieved more than 49% support. These findings underscored the need for a more comprehensive instrument to collect information concerning both hunter satisfaction and preferred choices for what appear to be unpopular regulatory alternatives. This structured consideration of advantages, disadvantages, and trade-offs may contribute to more effective policy outcomes.

Walters and Green (1997 p. 988) described management by saying, “None would argue that natural resources management is an adaptive learning process, where effects of each management action are complex and uncertain so that experience with the practice of management is necessary to discover better ways of doing it.” Given the wicked nature of natural resources management problems, this research may be partially confounded because the unknowns are not fully understood. For example, other authors have noted a high financial cost associated with acquiring private land access for deer hunting. The access issue is difficult to quantify as there may be a net reduction in regulatory effectiveness if the goal is to reduce populations and access is restricted. Conversely, increased hunting pressure on public land could result in overharvest of local deer populations and complicate management in the other direction.

The acceptance of a management policy occurs when solutions and problems are sufficiently credible. This speaks to the concept of wildlife governance, which can be broadly interpreted as what governments do with respect to wildlife policy and management. Within that governance structure, the instruments and mechanisms are available to steer an organization and allow that organization to be effective and responsive to stakeholders. The Minnesota DNR has been engaging stakeholders for decades through a formalized roundtable meeting and formalized random surveys/public meetings/stakeholder engagement processes. As Minnesota DNR enters a ‘next phase’ of inquiry that includes re-defining deer populations goals and assessing hunter attitudes statewide, there is continued interest from organized groups and individuals to make the process transparent and inclusive. To complete this work, we will use a mixed modes approach to survey a random sample of deer hunters in 5 strata throughout the state over a 3-year period. For each survey, the first 2 mailings will be comprised of an invitation to complete a survey online, and the third mailing will be a traditional self-administered mail-back questionnaire.


The goal of our study is to enhance our understanding of deer hunter attitudes and perceptions of deer populations, hunter motivations and satisfaction, agency trust, governance, and other policy issues related to deer population management statewide. Although statewide issues vary geographically, the specific objectives of this study are to:

  1. Perfect a mixed-mode survey design that can be implemented in other surveys.
  2. Complete 5 surveys over the course of 3 hunting seasons.
  3. Use study results to implement regulatory harvest changes that achieve population objectives.