Waupaca, Wis. — When it comes to deer hunting in Wisconsin, Waupaca County is the place to be, even during a season when the state saw a 15.5-percent decrease in overall deer harvest.
According to preliminary numbers from the DNR, hunters shot 8,223 deer in Waupaca County during the nine-day gun deer hunt, which ran Nov. 22-30. That total includes 3,611 bucks – also the most in the state – and 4,612 antlerless deer.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin deer hunters statewide killed nearly 16 percent fewer deer during the nine-day gun season compared with 2013, with poor weather, a drop in hunter numbers, and tighter restrictions in the north playing roles in that decline, the state DNR said.
Preliminary figures show 191,550 deer were registered, compared with 255,003 during the same period last year. The 2014 statewide buck kill was 90,336 animals, down about 8 percent from 2013. An antlerless kill of 101,214 deer was down 21 percent from last year.
The 2014 preliminary harvest totals are the lowest in more than 30 years. The previous low came in 1982, when hunters registered 182,715 deer. The deer harvest, most notably in northern Wisconsin, has been sliding for several years, with the decline coming even before the two previous severe winters.
Waupaca County also saw a dip in overall deer registrations from 2013, but at a pace milder than experienced by the rest of the state. The 2014 total for Waupaca County was down 10 percent from 2013’s harvest of 9,167 deer, which included 3,854 bucks and 5,313 antlerless deer.
Marathon County had the second-highest total this year with 6,439 deer (2,804 bucks, 3,635 antlerless), followed by Trempealeau County’s, 6,079 (2,400 bucks, 3,679 antlerless); Polk County, 5,779 (2,302 bucks, 3,477 antlerless); and Dunn County, 5,510 (2,211 bucks, 3,299 antlerless).
Thirteen of Wisconsin’s 72 counties (Brown, Calumet, Deer, Fond du Lac, Manitowoc, Polk, Columbia, Ozaukee, Rock, Dunn, La Crosse, Pierce, St. Croix, and Vernon) reported higher harvests compared with 2013. Ozaukee County, just north of Milwaukee, had the highest jump from last year at 47 percent.
The biggest drops came in northern Wisconsin, where the DNR reduced antlerless quotas in an attempt to increase deer numbers. Most of northern Wisconsin saw buck-only hunting this year, although antlerless deer were allowed for youth deer hunters and some military personnel.
Sawyer County’s harvest was down 61 percent, while neighboring Washburn County saw a 60-percent decrease.
Iron County hunters registered just 54 bucks on opening weekend, well down from 2013 when 94 bucks were registered on opening weekend. Iron County hunters who had witnessed a gradual decrease in deer numbers from 2010 forward and hoped to see that trend end with the 2014 season were left disappointed.
Iron County didn’t stand alone, however, in decreased deer harvest.
The DNR says the biggest drop-offs came in the state’s far northern counties, which had 18 percent fewer bucks killed and a 58-percent drop in antlerless deer. The decline in those areas was expected, as the state enforced tighter restrictions to rebuild a herd hit hard by harsh winters the past two years, not to mention a growing predator population.
At least some of the steep drop was expected after the DNR reported earlier that the harvest during the opening weekend – the only days many hunters go out – was down 18 percent.
The number of licenses issued this year was down 3 to 4 percent going into the opener, said Jon King, a DNR conservation warden in the southwestern part of the state. The DNR sold 608,711 licenses, a drop of 24,891 (4 percent) from 2013.
That license sales total was the lowest since 1976.
Both King and George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said rainy, foggy conditions in the central and southern parts of the state led deer to move less and made it harder for hunters to see them. In the north, hunters battled deep snow that fell early in the month and hung on through opening weekend. Heavy fog on the second day of the season hampered visibility for northern Wisconsin hunters.
The DNR says the drop-off was similar to declines in Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa this year. In Minnesota, which tightened antlerless deer restrictions as part of a move to rebuild its herd, the kill was down nearly 22 percent.
The DNR says three shooting-related incidents were reported during the Wisconsin season, an all-time low.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.