Madison – Recent deer seasons may be lowering the deer
population to a greater extent than the DNR expected for this year,
but deer numbers aren’t down enough to cancel December and January
deer seasons this year, according to a report Keith Warnke gave to
the Natural Resources Board on Dec. 9.
Warnke acknowledged that many hunters saw fewer deer than they
might have expected to see, but added that deer numbers are not so
low that the NRB should consider shutting down the December
four-day antlerless hunt, the late bow season, or the new “holiday
hunt” in the CWD zone.
NRB chair Christine Thomas said the board had a request from the
Wisconsin Hunters Rights Coalition (including the Wisconsin Chapter
of Safari Club International, the Wisconsin Bear Hunters
Association, and the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Wild Turkey
Federation) for the board to use its emergency rule authority to
suspend the December statewide antlerless-only deer hunt.
Thomas considered whether to put it on the board’s agenda for
Dec. 10, and consulted with other NRB members, noting that any
board member could request that she put it on the agenda. But,
after talking with DNR officials, NRB members and other
conservation group leaders, she said, “We don’t have all of the
(registration) numbers. We did have a plan for this year; an
emergency would mean the herd was on the brink of population
collapse and (DNR) staff says that is not the case. People have
made their hunting plans for the coming month, and I’m not inclined
to make this an agenda item, unless one of the board asks me
No other board member asked for it to be added to the agenda,
and so the request died. Thomas added that there was support for
continuing the December seasons from the Conservation Congress and
the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
Wisconsin Hunters Rights Coalition representative Greg
Kazmierski was in the audience when Thomas made her decision, but
he did not make a comment.
In the request it submitted to the NRB, HRC representative Dean
Hamilton, who is president of the Wisconsin Chapter of the National
Wild Turkey Federation, said, “Hunters are concerned that the
overstated population estimate by the DNR may have already resulted
in an overharvest of antlerless deer.”
Before the NRB’s Dec. 9 consideration of the HRC request, Warnke
said that if deer numbers were indeed lower than the DNR projected,
hunters would see low success rates in areas where deer numbers are
Willing to wait
After Warnke’s deer season presentation to the NRB, board
members said they would be willing to wait for solid numbers from
the DNR before reaching any conclusions on the success, or lack of
success, during the 2008 gun deer season.
Warnke emphasized that all of the information that he presented
on Dec. 9 was “preliminary data, and nothing is unit-specific
information from which we can draw population estimates or make
recommendations for next year.”
But, overall Warnke said:
€ The deer population appears to be down from last year, as
preliminary registrations are down an average of 19 percent
statewide from preliminary registrations in 2007. Warnke noted that
the Minnesota deer harvest declined 9 percent and the Michigan U.P.
hunt was off by 22 percent.
€ The pre-hunt projection of 1.5 to 1.7 million deer appears to
be higher than what the population actually was. Warnke thought
this could be effects from the hard winter and late spring, which
can impact fawn survival.
€ Deer populations are getting down toward goal levels.
There were 57 units with earn-a-buck regulations and 56 units
with herd-control rules during the 2008 seasons. Hunting conditions
were normal, with a late opening day, and snow was generally absent
on opening day.
The preliminary nine-day gun registrations are down about 19
percent (276,985) statewide, with a 19-percent decrease in
antlerless deer (178,145) and 21-percent decrease in bucks
(98,840), compared with 2007. Some regions saw more drastic swings.
For instance, Oneida County saw a 48-percent decrease in its buck
kill from 2008 to 2007.
“There was wide regional variation, with south-central and
southeast regions seeing little change, but the west-central and
northeast regions were down 16 percent to 25 percent,” Warnke said.
“There have been several years of earn-a-buck and herd-control
seasons there, and it appears they may be working at bringing
populations down. Northern Wisconsin has had a lot of herd control
the last couple of years which had greater impacts, with a
30-percent decline in the harvest.”
During the past four seasons, the statewide buck harvest has
been declining, which Warnke said is another indication that the
population may be going down.
“Still, 277,000 deer is a lot of deer during a nine-day season,”
The October antlerless gun hunt was open in 108 units and gun
license sales were up 28 percent prior to the October four-day
season, compared with the same time last year (when there was no
doe season). A total of 34,000 antlerless deer have been reported
so far from the October hunt, but Warnke said that total may still
not be final.
The early archery hunt had 58,000 registrations.
The CWD zone had 8,300 deer registered so far, and 23 deer
tested positive for CWD out of 5,300 samples.
Still under way is the late season archery hunt (Dec. 1 through
Jan. 4, 2009) and the CWD holiday hunt (Dec. 24 through Jan.
“We need to look at unit-specific data, and carefully consider
that (data) when we are doing our population modeling and creating
population estimates,” Warnke said. “We hope to have population
estimates available in January or February, and from there we
assess where the population is at and the best recommendations for
The DNR’s recommendation for the 2009 deer season will be given
to the NRB at its April meeting.
Thomas noted that the positive side of the past earn-a-buck
seasons is that some “monster” bucks were shot this past
In agreeing, Warnke said, “People are saying that earn-a-buck is
working to balance the age and size structure of the herd.”
When board member Gary Rohde asked about the justification for
extended seasons, Warnke said the question now is: “Are we at the
point where deer populations have been reduced adequately?”
He said that population estimates last year showed that the herd
was still well above goal in many regions.
“Now, we need to get all of the harvest and age structure
information in, build the population models, and go forward from
there,” Warnke said. “We have never taken the approach of stopping
in mid-season to figure out where we are. Because we are basing our
management on a science-based approach, we need to wait until we
have data for the population models.”