MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Five-hundred-thousand Minnesota hunters will head into the woods on Nov. 8 for the annual firearms deer hunting opener.

But the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is already predicting one of the poorest success rates in recent decades.

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That’s because Minnesota’s whitetail deer numbers are down in many parts of the state, particularly in the heavily-forested northeastern region. To conservatively manage the deer herd for future years, the DNR is cutting back the harvest.

Still, there’s no shortage of blaze orange and banter inside Capra’s Sporting Goods in Blaine. Just days from the opener, anticipation fills the air.

But unlike the glory years of record harvests and bonus deer tags, fewer hunters should expect to bag success.

DNR wildlife experts are predicting a harvest that will fall from last year’s 170,000 deer to as few as 120,000 this season.

Leslie McInenly, the DNR’s big game program leader, says it’s largely due to recent harsh winters, higher wolf predation and past hunter success.

“It really depends. If we get some mild winters and our conservative management, we expect we’ll have populations rebounding fairly quickly,” McInenly said.

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The DNR is helping by being conservative in its management approach and sharply reducing antlerless permits. Many parts of the state had a lottery in place to dole out the reduced permits. Other regions, like northeastern Minnesota, will be a bucks-only hunt.

Avid deer hunter Jerry Riege will still be in the woods despite the dire predictions.

“It’s like opening fishing, you know, [except] we get to do it in the fall,” Riege said. “You get together … with your family and friends, and it’s just part of being a Minnesotan, I think.”

With about 500,000 hunters joining him, the DNR also has a word of caution: Know the laws, particularly when it comes to baiting.

“Salt licks are OK, and the big chunks of mineral that looks like a piece of granite,” says Maj. Greg Salo of the DNR’s enforcement division. “Those are fine, but anything that’s sweetened with food products is illegal.”

But most of all, safety experts want people to have a safe hunt.

According to conservation officers, the biggest threat to hunter safety isn’t the use of high-powered firearms. They say the majority of injuries are caused by hunters falling out of elevated tree stands.

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That’s why it’s highly recommended to check out hunting stands carefully before climbing in.