SAUK RAPIDS -- Deer populations are strong heading into this weekend's firearms opener.  In central Minnesota, there have been reports of robust deer numbers.

Fred Bengston is the Area Wildlife manager in the DNR's Sauk Rapids Office. He says the deer population got through the winter in good shape and has actually been on the rise over the last five to six years because of tighter regulations...

We've been somewhat conservative on our hunting allowance framework, so that's allowed the deer to expand. So we're trying to, at this point in time, actually reduce the herd in many areas of central Minnesota and we're counting on the hunters to help us this year.

Bengston says with a later start to the firearms season this year, it could benefit hunters looking for that trophy buck...

Hunters are going to find the deer smack dab in the middle of the peak of the rut.  So depending on the weather we get, we could see a lot of activity with the deer, especially bucks.  It's kind of a wild card every year.

The DNR says there has been plenty of natural foods for the deer to feed on up to this point and are exhibiting healthy body weights and sizes heading into the winter.

The firearms season opens Saturday morning.

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