Whitetail decisions upcoming

whitetail deerMadison — As the DNR rolls out its over-winter deer population estimates in preparation for setting up the 2012 archery, gun, and muzzleloader seasons, hunters are going to see a wide range of deer densities where some units are far below goal, some are far above goal, and some are just about right.

The statewide population estimate following the 2011 seasons (the landowner hunt in CWD units is ongoing) is a shade above 1.1 million. The goal for the statewide post-hunt population is about 800,000 deer – 796,000 to be exact.

That means hunters are going to hear that there are “too many deer” at a statewide level.

DNR wildlife biologists know that’s not true in many units, said Kevin Wallenfang, DNR big-game ecologist.

“Look at your own unit and tell us what you think,” Wallenfang said. “Don’t worry so much about the statewide numbers; every unit is different.”

DNR wildlife managers are taking those individual unit numbers to the March deer meetings that are taking place now through March 29. Wallenfang said hunters who can’t make the meetings may review the numbers for their units online and still offer input via the DNR website.

The over-winter population estimates will be one of several items discussed at the meetings.

A review and discussion of these and other data eventually will lead to season structures and antlerless quotas for the 2012 deer seasons.

“We will have proposed quotas by mid-April, and those will be final by late April after the Natural Resources Board meets,” Wallenfang said.

“These estimates are used in the planning process to help determine the season framework, how many permits are issued, things like that,” said Robert Rolley, a DNR research scientist.

An example of what the public will see is Unit 4, in Douglas County, which has an over-winter goal of 15 deer per square mile (psm), 349 square miles of range, an over-winter goal of 5,235 deer, a pre-hunt population of 7,900 deer, a post-hunt population of 6,300 deer, and a post-hunt density of 23 deer psm. It currently is 19 percent over goal.

Units 29B and 62B are examples of units most under goal and most over goal, respectively (disregarding the CWD and metro units).

Unit 29B, mainly in Vilas County, has a goal of 15 deer psm, 233 square miles of range, over-winter goal of 3,495 deer, pre-hunt population of 2,100 deer, post-hunt population of 1,700 deer, and a post-hunt density of 7 deer psm, leaving it currently 51 percent below goal.

Unit 62A, in Marathon and Portage counties, has a goal of 30 deer psm, 363 square miles of range, an over-winter goal of 10,890 deer, pre-hunt population of 43,200, post-hunt population of 32,400, and a post-hunt density of 89 deer psm. It currently is 198 percent over goal.

Because deer are managed on a unit-by-unit basis, the most important data to a hunter or landowner are the numbers for the unit where they hunt, live, and farm, Wallenfang said.

Rolley pointed out that methods vary across the state as to how numbers are determined, in part due to habitat, forest type, and whether or not the unit is in the CWD zone.

“In the Northern Forest Region and Central Forest Region, we rely exclusively on the sex-age-kill (SAK) calculations,” Rolley said. “In the Eastern and Western Farmland regions, we use the SAK and estimates from an accounting-style population model, which tracks population changes over time. This is because these units had earn-a-buck in some of the past years.”

In the CWD-MZ, a hybrid of aerial surveys and accounting-style models are used. The DNR was able to conduct most of its flights this winter.

The goal densities for the CWD-MZ are determined by taking the pre-CWD goals and calculating a figure that is 20 percent below that former goal. For example, if the pre-CWD goal was 25 deer psm, the new goal is 20 deer psm, based on the CWD management plan.

On a number basis, 22 units are more than 20 percent below goal. This list (unit number, then percent below goal): 7 (-37), 29B (-51), 34 (-23), 39 (-33), 49A (-25), and 56 (-31) are the most below goal. These units are all in the north.

Ninety-seven units are at or above goal. Unit 75D CWD has the distinction of being the highest above goal, on a percentage basis, not a number basis, with an estimate that puts it 352 percent above goal. Disregarding metro units, which tend to be much above goal, other units that are 50 or more percent above goal are (unit number, percent above goal): 47 (+136), 51A (+88), 51B (+130), 54B (+118), 54BCWD (+60), 54C (+169), 57B (+65), 59C (+99), 61 (+97), 62B (+198), 63A (+124), 63B (+152), 64 (+128), 65B (+90), 66 (+147), 67A (+130), 67B (+157), 68A (+154), 68B (+76), 70CWD (+79), 70ACWD (+65), 70ECWD (+65), 70GCWD (+98), 71CWD (+100), 72 (+110), 73B (+83), 73BCWD (+151), 73ECWD (+90), 74B (+73), 75ACWD (+188), 75CCWD (+293), 75DCWD (+352), 76CWD (+124), 76ACWD (+131), 77ACWD (+320), 77BCWD (+96), 77C (+128), 77CCWD (+210), 78 (+80), 80A (+84), 80B (+181), and 81 (+319).

“Looking at the overall numbers, some are up, some are down, and the totals on the bottom of the page are about the same as last year,” Rolley said. “The northeast came up a bit, the northwest is down a little, and the farmland increased, in general.”

Registration figures are nearly complete, except for the landowner hunt in the CWD zone. Hunters killed a total of 347,711 deer, including 150,839 bucks. Of that total, gun hunters shot 257,511 deer; archers 90,200; 4,956 deer were registered during the youth hunt, 228,629 during the gun season; 7,126 by muzzleloader hunters; 2,033 during the October hunt in the CWD-MZ; 10,656 during the December hunt; and 4,111 during the CWD holiday hunt.

Last year, the season – outside CWD units – included regular units with limited antlerless permits, regular units with no antlerless permits, and herd-control units. These seasons were based, in part, on the whether a unit was significantly above or below goal.

Earn-a-buck season structure, outside the CWD-MZ, was eliminated last year by a legislative bill. A restricted type of EAB was in place in the CWD-MZ last year, allowing hunters to chase extra bucks in the CWD-MZ if they first shot an antlerless deer.

Hunters in units that have been well below goal for the past three to five years are anxious to know when some units, such as Unit 39, will get back to goal.

Chuck McCullough, DNR wildlife supervisor in Antigo, has some ideas. “One of those units is 39,” he said. “A lot of that unit is in national forest (Chequamegon-Nicolet), and the management strategy is to move the forest toward older, northern hardwoods. That’s poor habitat for deer. Over the last 10 to 20 years that transition (to hardwoods) has been gradually occurring.”

McCullough said the carrying capacity of Unit 39 is much lower than the goal that has been established for it.

Many of the rest of the units in that area are at goal.

“One problem is that we had huge harvests in the 1990s and early 2000s. The population was over goal then and populations at goal are just difficult (for hunters) to accept,” he said.

Unit 34 will probably have a zero quota again, he said. It’s recovering, but not quickly, which he said is a function of severity of winters and quality of the habitat.

“Lots of the other units are very close or at the goal right now, and we’re going to be proposing quotas in those units,” he said.

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