Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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DNR estimate shows drop in deer numbers

Editor

Madison A DNR post-hunt deer population estimate that puts the
herd at about 990,000 will result in fewer Zone T units for
2002.

The number of deer units likely to fall into the Zone T hunt in
2002 is 45 units, down from 76 in 2001 and 86 in 2000, according to
Robert Rolley, DNR wildlife population ecologist.

DNR biologists finished this year’s herd estimates on Feb. 15.
Even though the winter herd number is below one million, that
990,000 is still higher than the DNR’s over-winter goal of about
740,000 deer statewide.

“This is the first winter in the last four winters that we’ve
been under one million. We’ve been over that number in 1998, 1999
and 2000,” Rolley said.

So why more Zone T units in 2002? Rolley and DNR deer ecologist
Bill Mytton said annual fawn production will push that number back
up in May and June. With the current mild winter, DNR biologists
are anticipating above-average fawn production. However they’ll
wait until April to see how the winter wraps up before factoring
fawn production into the antlerless quota equation.

“We do expect above-average fawn production and we do take that
into account in the antlerless quota setting,” Rolley said.

Between now and late April or early May, biologists will look at
the level of antlerless harvest they would like to achieve this
fall. Once that’s decided, they’ll set antlerless deer harvest
goals, which, when combined with success rates for each unit, will
determine how many hunter’s choice permits will be made
available.

Mytton credited state deer hunters for their efforts in helping
bring the herd closer to goals.

“Wisconsin deer hunters have helped us meet our population
management goals in many units. In this way, we are able to address
issues of deer damage to agriculture and forestry, as well as the
high car/deer accident rates experienced in some parts of the
state,” he said.

Hunters again made use of free Zone T tags and bonus tags in the
archery, gun, muzzleloader and two Zone T hunts. Because of that
harvest, Mytton said, the DNR was able to leave more units out of
Zone T for 2002.

The 45 units that have been initially identified for Zone T this
year are on the list because wildlife managers do not believe the
regular season framework will bring those units to within 20
percent of over-winter goals.

The 2002 Zone T units include the following: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 27, 28, 29A, 34, 35, 36, 47, 49B,
51A, 51B, 54C, 59D, 61, 62B, 63A, 63B, 65B, 66, 67A, 67B, 68A, 70A,
70E, 72, 74A, 75C, 75D, 78, 80A, 80B, 81.

Rolley said the process used to arrive at this year’s list is
the same the DNR has used in past years. First biologists crunch
numbers, then put the results out for peer review, before arriving
at a final over-winter herd estimate.

“Every year there is discussion and input. This year is no
different than any other year,” Rolley said. “The decision to
propose a unit for Zone T is a function of whether we think we can
achieve the harvest necessary to reduce the population
substantially toward goal with the regular season structure. What
factors in is largely the post-hunt population estimate and past
harvest performance (by unit). Those are compared every year. This
year, we’re not as far over goal as we had been because of the
level of harvest in 2000 and 2001.”

Mytton did caution, however, that whitetail population swings
could put a unit back into the Zone T hunt in future years.

“The primary purpose of the Zone T seasons is to provide
additional hunting opportunity, focusing on antlerless deer, at
different times of the year,” he said. “Hopefully, these extra
seasons even out the hunting pressure and the effect of things like
unusual hunting conditions. Suggestions of moving to a 16-day
season and eliminating the Zone T hunts would offer some help in
reducing antlerless deer numbers, but experience in other states
like Pennsylvania and Michigan, which have longer seasons, shows
that those states have still needed additional seasons to meet
their antlerless quotas.”

Heading into the 2001 fall deer seasons, the DNR had a statewide
herd estimate of 1.65 deer.

Each year, biologists “calculate back” by looking at post-hunt
data to see if it matches the pre-hunt estimate. This year, the
post-hunt calculations show a 2001 summer population estimate of
about 1.5 million deer, or about 150,000 fewer than the DNR
estimated heading into fall.

Is that bad? Not necessarily. DNR wildlife biologist Tom Bahti,
of Green Bay, took a close look at the 23 units in his Northeast
Region after the late archery season. He looked at the archery buck
kill and compared it to the nine-day gun harvest.

“Heading in, we estimated 1.65 million, or about 8 percent less
than 2000, so you would expect the buck kill to drop 8 percent
across the board. The bow buck kill across the Northeast Region was
down about 5 percent across the region less than we would have
expected.

“Meanwhile, the gun buck kills went down 17 percent. What does
that tell us? To me, the deer were out there. Their numbers were
very close. I would have expected the gun buck to be down 5 to 10
percent, but 17 percent? Maybe weather did play a part.”

Units that were in Zone T in 2001 that will be again this fall
include the following (33 total): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 13, 14, 19, 20,
29A, 36, 47, 51A, 51B, 54C, 59D, 61, 62B, 63A, 63B, 65B, 66, 67A,
67B, 68A, 70A, 70E, 72, 75C, 80A, 80B and 81.

Units that weren’t in Zone T last year but will be in 2002
include the following (12 total): 8, 9, 11, 12, 27, 28, 34, 35,
49B, 74A, 75D and 78.

Zone T history

1996: Portions of southern, central and eastern Wisconsin were
open for gun deer hunting from Oct. 24-27 for the first October gun
deer hunt in Wisconsin since the late 1880s. First Zone T was
“earn-a-buck” in 19 units.

Reported harvest was 24,954.

1997: 10 units, 7,676 deer.

1998: No T zone, though grass-roots push by farmers in 67A
resulted in a Zone T-like hunt in October that produced 1,969 deer
in four days.

1999: 8 units, 6,990 registered.

2000: 97 units (86 open for early and late hunts), 82,099
registered.

2001: 76 units (67 open for early and late hunts): 58,000
preliminary, antlered unknown yet

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