Gun deer harvest increases
Madison — High temperatures around the freezing mark and a couple inches of snow on the ground are considered by many ideal conditions for hunting Wisconsin whitetails in November.
Hunters who were in their stands during the opening weekend of the state’s 2012 nine-day firearms deer season, instead, were met with brown ground, high temperatures in the 40s and 50s, and even some fog.
During the season’s first two days, hunters registered 22,000 more deer than in 2011. The tally of 134,772, based on preliminary call-in numbers collected from registration stations by DNR staff includes 71,989 bucks and 62,783 antlerless deer.
Tom Hauge, director of the DNR’s wildlife management program, said the final opening weekend tally likely will be somewhat larger when all the registration stubs are entered into the data base during the next couple months.
Commenting on the weather, Hauge said, “A light dusting of snow would have provided ideal conditions for hunting, but warm and dry weather does tend to allow people to stay out in the field or the treestand longer.”
He also noted the warm weather likely influenced registrations during the opening weekend, as hunters who might normally keep their deer in camp for several days, needed to get them registered and processed to keep the meat from spoiling.
Overall, the statewide harvest was up over 19 percent from 2011, and buck registrations were up 24 percent.
“Generally, we see about 60 percent of the overall harvest in the first weekend,” Hauge said. “Though the harvest is up in all regions, there are areas of the state, primarily in the northern counties, where hunters are reporting low deer sightings.”
In the 16-county Northeast District, hunters registered 29,829 deer, including 16,861 bucks. Waupaca County, in the western part of the district, again led in harvest numbers, with 2,727 bucks among the 5,050 deer registered in the county.
Winnebago and Green Lake counties saw declines in opening-weekend registrations. Buck numbers were down 15 percent in Winnebago County and 4 percent in Green Lake County. Overall registrations were down 7 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
Jeff Pritzl, Northeast District wildlife manager, has interacted with about 300 hunters since the season began. “There’s no question that hunters’ expectations are being met this year,” he said. “In large part, that’s based on the number of deer they’re seeing. I probably heard the comment, ‘best opener ever,’ about a dozen times over the course of the weekend. Most things were lined up well for the opening weekend.”
Hunters in Wisconsin’s Northern District brought in 28,404 deer opening weekend, including 16,805 bucks. The overall harvest was up 22 percent over last year, with the buck harvest 34 percent higher.
Polk County hunters led the way, registering 3,484 deer, including 1,980 bucks. Barron County registration stations reported 1,793 bucks and 1,434 antlerless deer.
Buck registrations were down 2 percent in Langlade County and 3 percent in Florence County. Antlerless deer registrations were down 23 percent in Iron County, 32 percent in Oneida County, and 64 percent in Vilas County. The antlerless harvest also was down slightly in Polk, Price, Sawyer, and Taylor counties. In some of the northern deer management units, antlerless permits were not sold.
West-central Wisconsin hunters brought in 22 percent more deer – including 27 percent more bucks – on opening weekend than in 2011. Antlerless registrations outpaced bucks 26,402 to 25,522.
Marathon County reported 4,499 registrations, including 2,317 bucks, followed by Trempealeau County with 4,168 and 2,023 bucks.
Ed Culhane, the district’s public affairs manager, noted opening morning brought favorable conditions, with the temperature around 30 degrees and frost on the ground and trees.
“By noon it was 55 degrees in Buffalo County, and the sun had melted the frost on the trees, resulting in droplets of water hitting the ground,” Culhane said.
He reported that registrations were up in all five regions. “But by Sunday, as the warm temperatures continued to intensify, hunters were experiencing a slowdown in activity and many began organizing drives to get deer moving. Also, with the ground moist the leaves aren’t as noisy now so conditions are good for still-hunting.”
Sauk County hunters again led the Southern District in opening-weekend deer registrations with 2,324 bucks and 1,919 does. Overall, the district recorded a 17-percent increase in registrations with 12,801 bucks and 11,814 does.
The overall harvest was down 5 percent in Waukesha County and 8 percent in Columbia and Kenosha counties, with the Kenosha buck harvest declining 22 percent from the 2011 opening weekend.
Statewide, hunter enthusiasm appears improved with license sales up 2 percent. By midnight Nov. 16, 614,435 gun deer licenses had been sold, and sales will continue through the hunting seasons.
Nearly 26,000 new hunters also bought licenses to deer hunt for the first time, or for the first time in 10 years, this year. Females represented 32 percent of resident First Time Gun Deer licenses, and 30 percent of residents bought First Time Junior Gun Deer licenses.
There were three hunting-related injuries reported. One incident was self-inflicted and two were two-party incidents. They occurred in Columbia, Manitowoc, and Portage counties and are still under investigation. One hunter was fatally shot by a hunting companion in Douglas County, and Fort McCoy authorities are investigating the death of a hunter on the military base.