GRAND RAPIDS, MInn. -- The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented challenges across society, but it didn’t hamper the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association’s Hides for Habitat program during the fall 2020 hunting season.

Instead, hide collections statewide were up nearly 17% from 2019, according to figures from the Grand Rapids, Minn.-based MDHA. Proceeds from sale of the hides help MDHA chapters across the state fund a variety of wildlife habitat improvements.

The Hides for Habitat program marked its 35th year in 2020.

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As of Friday, Feb. 12, chapters had collected 28,025 hides and raised $106,499, according to Kim Washburn, grants coordinator for MDHA. By comparison, the Hides for Habitat campaign in 2019 collected 23,972 hides and raised $93,701, based on MDHA figures.

Since 1985, the Hides for Habitat program has collected more than 900,000 donated deer hides and raised some $5.5 million, according to MDHA.

While hunters in Minnesota shot more deer last fall – about 195,000, compared with 183,600 in 2019 – between the various seasons, the 6% increase in harvest doesn’t correlate with the jump in hide collections or proceeds, according to Craig Engwall, executive director of the MDHA.

Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. (Photo courtesy of MDHA)
Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. (Photo courtesy of MDHA)

That could be driven by the increased demand for beef and pork processing, Engwall speculates, which resulted in fewer processors accepting deer last fall than in previous years.

“A lot of places that had taken deer for years and years were not taking deer” last fall, Engwall said. “More deer were processed privately than in years past. We think what happened as a result was there were more hides available, so those processors weren’t gathering hides and selling them.”

Instead, more hunters likely dropped deer hides off at MDHA collection sites, he said.

The uptick certainly wasn’t driven by price. A salted hide in 2015 was worth more than $10. These days, salted hides fetch about $4.50, while “green,” or unsalted hides are worth about $3.50, Engwall said.

“Buyers pick them up more regularly,” Engwall said of unsalted hides. “We get less money for them, but there’s less work involved, so it’s a nice option that gets more chapters involved.”

The Thief River Falls MDHA chapter again led the state in collecting hides and raising funds. The chapter collects hides from sites across northwest Minnesota, and members gather in the weeks during and after the firearms deer season to salt and prep the hides for sale to the buyer. The chapter uses proceeds to buy food plot seed it then distributes to members and also hosted youth outdoor education events before the pandemic.

In 2020, the Thief River Falls MDHA chapter collected 3,735 hides that raised $17,741, up from 3,265 hides and $14,691 in 2019, increases of 14.3% and 20.8%, respectively.

It’s a big effort made even more challenging because of the pandemic, but the Thief River Falls Chapter – and MDHA chapters across the state – rose to the occasion to support what’s been called “the ultimate recycling program.”

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For more information about the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, check out the website at mndeerhunters.com.

Finally, a break

Mother Nature is finally giving a reprieve from the prolonged cold snap that has made getting outdoors a challenge the past two weeks.

Temperatures in the 30s are predicted beginning Sunday in Grand Forks, a trend expected to continue at least through the middle part of this coming week, according to the National Weather Service.

That’s going to feel like summer by comparison, although 20 mph-plus winds that are in the forecast likely will put a damper on things.

Still, stepping outside will definitely be much less jolting than it’s been through much of February to date.

Based on January, I was thinking the winter of 2021 could be a repeat of the winter of 2012, a year when temperatures in mid-March soared into the 70s, and I was doing spring yard work March 17 at our property on the Canadian border. Lake of the Woods was ice-free by early April, and a friend and I closed out the spring walleye season in a boat north of Lighthouse Gap by enjoying the kind of walleye fishing we still talk about.

A repeat would have been fine by me, but my confidence in another spring like that is fading.

Time will tell.

Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken