Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Deer harvest rallies in the second half

Blanchardville, Wis. — Folk-rock artists Simon and Garfunkel caught the attention of the world with their classic hit, “The Sound of Silence,” in 1964. The song could have been written for the opening moments of the 2013 Wisconsin gun deer season, as the bitter cold and biting winds tormented Wisconsin deer hunters from the tip of Bayfield County to the Illinois state line.

It’s not uncommon in the whitetail-rich region of southwestern Wisconsin to hear gunfire break out several minutes before the actual opening of the gun deer season. Not so this year. The first shot in this part of Iowa County occurred several minutes after shooting hours began at 6:34 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 23. Several more minutes of silence ensued. In past years, intervals would be measured in seconds rather than minutes.

The whitetail harvest in the DNR’s Southern Region was off of last year’s pace by a whopping 24 percent. In Iowa County, a total of 1,553 deer were registered on opening weekend, versus 2,128 in 2012. The buck harvest was down 38 percent from 2012, while the antlerless harvest was off 14 percent.

According to a DNR press release, the opening weekend harvest totals statewide were down just less than 18 percent – 110,797 this year versus 134,772 in 2012. The preliminary buck kill for opening weekend was even more noteworthy, down this year by 25 percent at just less than 54,000, as opposed to approximately 72,000 in 2012.

“We want to remind folks that these preliminary numbers come from a staff call-around to deer registrations stations,” said Tom Hauge, DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management director, after opening weekend. “The final opening weekend tally will likely be somewhat larger when all the registration stubs are entered into the data base.”

The weather did moderate by midseason and hunters appeared to have some success on the final weekend as daytime highs increased to the high 30s and low 40s across the state. Highs on Thanksgiving Day ranged from the low 20s to the low 30s.

That could be seen in the preliminary overall harvest numbers for the full season.

As of Dec. 3, the DNR reported preliminary totals from the nine-day season to be 226,582 deer, down 7 percent (bucks and antlerless) from 243,739 deer last year. Hunters registered 97,765 bucks. That’s down 15 percent from 2012. The antlerless kill was nearly the same as last year, with 128,817 antlerless deer registered this year, compared with 128,917 in 2012.

In the DNR’s Northern Region,  hunters saw a 15-percent drop in the overall harvest, which marks the biggest drop of any region from last year. The buck kill was down 19 percent; the antlerless kill was down 11 percent.

The Northeast Region saw the only increase in overall harvest – a meager 1.4 percent – among the DNR’s five regions. The antlerless harvest was up 11 percent in that region, but the buck kill was down 8 percent.

DNR wildlife biologists are just starting to sift through registration information to get a better idea of what this year’s deer kill means. For instance, DNR wildlife biologist Fred Strand, in Douglas County, aged deer in his area on opening weekend.

Strand said that more than 80 percent of the yearling bucks were spikes this year – the highest percentage of spikes he’s ever seen. He said that even some 21⁄2-year-old bucks were spikers.

That observance could be an indication that deer were highly stressed by the “winter that never ended.”

Hunters were stressed, as well, by the brutal cold weather and winds of opening weekend.

“Reports from up in this area (Vilas County), as well as from around the entire state, say that a lot of people were leaving the woods by mid-morning on Saturday because they just couldn’t take the cold any longer,” said Kevin Wallenfang, DNR big-game ecologist. “I believe Sunday was even colder, so it stands to reason that the overall effort in trying to get a deer was down considerably. Weather was the biggest factor.” 

Among those hardy souls who ventured out in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 23 were David and Carissa Kammerer, of Juda, and their four children, who piled into the family vehicle and headed to private land near Blanchardville for the opener.

The close-knit family includes daughter, Hailey, and sons, Quinton, Gavin, and Mason. At the ripe old age of 13, Quinton aimed to harvest his first-ever buck. It turned out to be his time.

Quinton was waiting in his uncle’s “condo” with his bolt-action .243 at the ready. When asked what it was like in the condo, he said: “Cold!”

It was about 7:45 a.m. when the buck emerged from a thicket. “He came out of the woods right after another buck came out,” Quinton Kammerer said.

“It was a seven-pointer, and it had a 14-inch spread,” he said proudly. “I was so nervous when I shot it, I was shaking.” His first thought: “Oh my gosh, I shot a buck.”

It didn’t take long for the whole family to gather around to help celebrate the moment. Carissa, with Mason along as an observer, heard the shot and waited for word of what happened.

“You wait for the communication; you wait for the text,” she said. “I was pretty impressed. He did an excellent job.

“This was the first year that all of us went,” Carissa said. “Mason was sitting right next to me. We got to our post, and it wasn’t 10 minutes before we got a little fidgety,” she said with a laugh.

First he said, “ ‘Oh, I’m cold.’ I said, ‘Oh, honey, we’ve got a few more hours to go.’ He looked at me like, ‘How am I going to get out of here?’ ”

According to DNR data, there were more than 26,000 new hunters who bought licenses. Females represented 33 percent of those who purchased gun deer licenses. The DNR sold 633,602 licenses, up from 633,460 in 2012.

“I am really excited to see the number of women heading to the field,” DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said.

The DNR reported eight people were shot with a firearm during the season. No one was killed in any of the incidents.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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