Deer herd reduction remains DNR priority

Madison – After setting a new state record bow deer kill and
posting the second-highest combined gun and bow harvest last
season, Wisconsin hunters are still looking at the return of an
October antlerless-only gun deer hunt in much of the state.

Keith Warnke, DNR big-game biologist, said the agency is
recommending the mid-October season for all but the Central Forest
Region this fall. Additionally, 29 units are slated for earn-a-buck
regulations.

The 2007 hunt produced an archery harvest of 116,042, topping
the previous high of 113,918 in 2006. The gun kill of 402,531 was
third-best, while the combined kill was 518,573 – the third
half-million-plus harvest in the past four years.

“Many hunters out there are putting in a great effort,” Warnke
said. “We’re making progress toward (deer over-winter) goals in a
lot of areas.”

But with an estimated pre-hunt population projected somewhere
between 1.6 and 1.8 million deer last fall, there’s still a need
for herd control in many units.

Biologists are wrapping up population modeling using
hunter-killed deer and other data to project a post-2007 population
estimate, and ultimately, an estimate for the 2008 seasons.

Warnke was in northern Wisconsin last week for annual deer
meetings with local biologists to talk about last year’s hunts and
winter severity. Biologists are in the process of hammering out
antlerless deer quotas for regular units that aren’t under
herd-control rules.

Warnke said that with the exception of the same areas that seem
to get hit hard every winter – Upson and Mercer in Iron County,
specifically – most northern units ended up in the moderate range
of the winter severity index.

“You’ll lose a small portion of last year’s fawns, and
recruitment could be down a little bit in some areas,” Warnke said.
“But in most of the state, the herd made it through just fine.”

Updated figures from the 2007 bow and firearms deer hunts saw
some shuffling of numbers from preliminary reports after kill dates
were sorted, Warnke said, but the bottom line is the same: There
were a lot of dead deer.

Widespread earn-a-buck rules in some areas and a smaller herd in
others resulted in the lowest buck kill since 166,857 bucks were
taken in 2004. There were 171,142 bucks tagged – 38,013 in the
archery hunts and 133,129 in the gun hunts – in 2007.

The antlerless harvest was 77,234 in the archery seasons and
267,909 in the firearms hunts. There were another 2,288 unknowns
due to registration stubs not properly filled out, about two-thirds
of them during the gun hunts.

Marathon County led the state with a gun kill of 13,356 and an
overall harvest of 18,273. Waupaca County was second overall at
15,959 and edged Marathon by 59 in the bow kill with 4,976
whitetails. Clark County was third overall at 15,749, but second in
the gun hunt at 12,677. Shawano was fourth overall at 15,173, but
third in the archery count at 4,440.

Units in the deer-rich west-central and east-central parts of
the state had the highest kills. Unit 61, the state’s largest unit
with 958 square miles of estimated deer range, set the pace with
18,555 whitetails, or 19.36 killed per square mile of deer
range.

Unit 59C was next at 15,123 (24.15 per square mile of deer
range), followed by Unit 62B with 12,984 (35.76 harvested per
square mile of deer range), Unit 71CWD with 11,844 (18.92) and Unit
63A with 10,972 (32.36).

More than 2 million deer registered during the past four seasons
has kept Wisconsin as the nation’s leader in average annual deer
harvest over the past decade, but still isn’t enough to convince
those who aren’t seeing many whitetails that the state has an
overpopulation problem.

“We’ll never be able to please everybody,” Warnke said.

“But in the absence of an earn-a-buck season, the buck kill is a
very good indicator of the deer population, and we’ve had some
really solid buck kills in recent years.”

Meanwhile, the state Natural Resources Board is expected to
determine at its meeting later this month whether board members
endorse the October antlerless deer hunt.

If it returns, it would be slotted for Oct. 16-19 this year.

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