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Officials ask hunters to take COVID precautions during weekend deer opener

This as the Department of Health is reporting Friday another 5,454 new cases and 36 deaths.

MINNEAPOLIS — The Department of Natural Resources says about 450,000 to 500,000 hunters will take part in the firearms deer season opener this weekend, that runs through the end of November. That number is up slightly from last year, according to the DNR's Fish and Wildlife Director Dave Olfelt.

"It's about family and it's about being together," said Olfelt about deer hunting. "We want to acknowledge that but we need to think about how to do it smartly."

Olfelt says the DNR is following the Department of Health guidelines this year and recommends staying home if you're sick, wearing a mask when you're inside and outside and to not hold large gatherings at deer camps. 

This weekend's warm weather may help that. 

"It makes it easier for hunters at camp to spend more time outside than huddled around the stove inside," said Olfelt. 

RELATED: Minnesota firearms deer opener just hours away

There's also a change in how to test deer for Chronic Wasting Disease. Olfelt doesn't recommend eating deer meat if it's positive for CWD, which is a neurological disorder.

The DNR website can direct you to barrels placed throughout the state where you should leave the entire deer head behind to be sampled. In years past, Olfelt said the process was done by officials with hunters standing in line at gathering places like fire halls. 

Olfelt says hunters can arrange to get the deer head back later if they want it.

"Essentially we're having self-sampling, self-service stations where people leave samples and we really strongly encourage people to do that because getting enough samples helps us know where the disease is in the landscape," explained Olfelt. 

He says more people are enjoying the outdoors during the pandemic and he's asking hunters to be even more safe this season as COVID-19 cases keep going up.