Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Counties limited to bucks may drop

Madison — Input from citizen hunters came through this year’s deer season framework process in the form of a suggestion for 13 buck-only units in northern Wisconsin this fall.

Before the DNR begins working with that number in setting up the 2015 deer seasons, Natural Resources Board members will have to give their approval at a May 27 meeting in Madison.

If the NRB endorses the plan for 13 buck-only counties, that number will be down from the 19 buck-only counties from 2014, said Kevin Wallenfang, the DNR’s deer and elk ecologist.

That likely change from 2014 indicates that deer hunters and county deer advisory council members are expecting to see a bit of herd recovery in the mostly northern Wisconsin “fringe” units where herd numbers have been suppressed for several years.

Still, hunters should not expect to see big antlerless tag numbers in those six counties that are coming off the buck-only list – especially on public land, Wallenfang said.
If the NRB approves the DNR’s season framework, there will be no antlerless quota (there is an exception in Racine County) in the 13 buck-only counties.

The statewide antlerless quota for the rest of the state would be set at 224,735 antlerless deer. There also would be bonus antlerless deer tags available – 18,450 valid for public land and 125,375 valid on private land.

“The oddball county is Racine County. We set a zero antlerless quota, but there are free farmland zone tags out there, so there will be some antlerless harvest. We just won’t issue any additional antlerless tags,” Wallenfang said.

The Racine County CDAC went with the wishes of deer hunters who attended their meetings and went with a zero antlerless quota, but with the understanding that because the county is in the farmland zone, one antlerless tag will be sold with each gun and bow license. In the “green sheet” given to NRB members ahead of the May 27 meeting, the DNR’s Tom Hauge said the CDAC believes the county will be able to grow numbers outside of the metro unit even if a few hunters do shoot antlerless deer.

The DNR plan calls for no antlerless quotas in Douglas, Bayfield, Sawyer, Ashland, Iron, Vilas, Price, Oneida, Langlade, Forest, Florence, and Racine counties, as well as the “forested” portion of Jackson County.

Dropped from the 2014 list of buck-only units were Burnett, Lincoln, Rusk, Washburn, Taylor, and the northern part of Oconto.

“With the winter that we had, we will likely have higher survival and better fawn recruitment this year,” Wallenfang said, noting that there were still areas of the north that were hit hard by deep snows in early November, such as portions of northern Iron, Vilas, and Forest counties.

Wallenfang said this past winter was more mild than the previous two in most areas of central and northern Wisconsin, but the herd still needs more time to grow.

The statewide winter severity index averaged out to 49 points, which represents a mild winter. The previous winter set a record WSI of 149 points, which put the measure off the charts for even a severe winter.

Hunters shot 304,289 deer in all seasons last year. The total buck kill was 143,397; the total antlerless kill was 158,689.

The total gun kill was 222,588.

Archers registered 54,810 deer; crossbow hunters, 26,891.

In 2008, hunters registered 451,885 deer in all seasons, but the gun buck kill was lower than 2014 – 138,507. The total gun kill that year was 352,601.

The total kill from 2009 through 2013 also eclipsed the 2014 total kill.

The one possible rule change deer hunters have been seeking – not allowing adults to group hunt on antlerless tags issued to kids – had not been approved as of press time for this issue.

According to Scott Loomans, the DNR wildlife rule specialist, that possible change has been introduced as Senate Bill 150 and is in the Senate Sporting Heritage, Mining, and Forestry Committee. That is Sen. Tom Tiffany’s, R-Hazelhurst, committee.

“The next step is a hearing, but they are wrapped up in the state budget right now so I’d be a little surprised if much happens yet during this spring session,” Loomans said.

“They come back in September so it is theoretically possible that it could pass both houses and be in place for the November gun season. That would be a pretty aggressive timeline, though,” Loomans said.

“So we likely won’t know the outcome of this when the regulations pamphlets go to print in July. If it happens, and there is no delayed effective date to sync up with the regs pamphlet in 2016, it would be a change that we’ll just have to publicize,” he said.

The NRB meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 27 at the DNR’s main office in Madison.

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