Statewide deer kill expected to be up

Buck-only units still struggling

Madison — Electronic does not mean immediate when it comes to counting deer in Wisconsin, so hunters are going to have to wait for final deer harvest numbers despite the fact that the DNR went to electronic registration statewide this year.

The DNR, on Nov. 2, posted a short note on its website saying:  “Reporting deer registration numbers for counties/zones has been delayed due to the rate at which the department received online data during the nine-day gun deer season. This is the first year hunters were able to electronically register their deer, and while the registration system worked, we are making all the quality assurance checks necessary in the reporting of this data.”

Some hunters immediately smelled a rat and called the Wisconsin Outdoor News office wondering if the agency was massaging the final numbers.

Not so, said the DNR’s Tom Hauge.

“I understand the suspicion and that folks might be thinking about that, but that’s not the case,” Hauge said.

“If you watch a Packers game you know you are going to get all of the statistics after each quarter. So they’re thinking, ‘Come on DNR, how come you can’t have the final harvest numbers the Monday after the gun deer season?’ This new technology is going to bring things in a lot faster than we could in the past, but it’s still taking time.

“Hunters are going to start poring through that data as soon as it’s out there. But if they’re going to do that we want to put out accurate data, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

Although Hauge couldn’t talk numbers until the final harvest is posted on the DNR website, there are some numbers to look at. According to a DNR press release, this year’s preliminary statewide nine-day gun deer kill showed a total of 204,725 deer.

That’s up from 199,583 in 2014.

That first number is likely to change, but whether it goes up or down remains to be seen.

“We don’t have any data to sink our teeth into yet,” Hauge said. “I think what they’re looking for is the potential for inadvertent duplicates.

“Let’s say someone filled out the registration form on their phone and then hit submit. If they are in an area of poor reception, it might look like it didn’t go through and they hit submit again and generated a second record.”

Hauge said that in one case, it appears as though the hunter’s phone enter key got stuck and generated extra registration records.

“It’s (verification) not unexpected and they’re looking at a small part of overall data set, but it is still important if that data affects one county,” he said.

Hauge did not pull out one other Packers reference and make a play on Aaron Rodgers’ R-E-L-A-X from last season, but he did repeat his message that there’s nothing hinky going on with the review.

“This is the kind of stuff that normally occurred behind the scenes in December and January with the physical hard stubs. The information wouldn’t be ready until mid-January. Now that we’re doing it electronically, it takes different talents to do that work and we’re waiting on those folks to complete it,” he said.

“I think we’re very appreciative how well the registration system worked. There has to be close to 300,000-some deer – with early bow, crossbow, youth, and gun season – entered into system now, and largely without problems. I want to thank hunters on how well they completed this task,” he said.

2015 license sales

This year, 612,377 gun deer licenses were sold through the nine-day gun season, compared with 608,711 in 2014.

In total, 849,778 gun, archery, and crossbow licenses (not including upgrades) had been sold through the end of the nine-day gun deer season, compared with 835,583 (not including upgrades) in 2014.

Through the end of the nine-day season, 23,870 first-time hunters (or those who have not hunted in the past 10 years) had taken advantage of the first-time gun deer buyer license, compared with 17,644 archery hunters.

Buck-only units down?

Understanding that final numbers were not yet available Nov. 3, it still appears as though about half of the 12 buck-only units will experience a drop in buck kill from 2015, the lowest buck kill on record since 1982.

If it does come to pass that the statewide buck kill is up from 2015, then hunters outside of the buck-only counties will have carried the day this year.

While a complete and final tally was not available as of press time for this issue, the DNR still had its opening-weekend totals posted on its website Nov. 3.

Vilas County’s buck kill was down 16.4 percent from 2014 (449 to 537). Oneida County was down 10.3 percent (643 to 717). Forest County was down 16.5 percent (399 to 478).

Also down were Bayfield, Douglas, and Florence counties.

Some of the buck-only counties did see a slight bump from 2014, but usually by low single-digit percentages.

Iron County was up 5 percent (105 bucks to 100 in 2014). Ashland County was up 2 percent (294 to 298). Langlade was up 4 percent (706 to 679).

Sawyer County also was up.

Hauge said he and other DNR wildlife biologists will take a close look at the buck kills in the buck-only units once the numbers are final.

“I know that this spring I talked about a rebuilding year and I know folks will wonder if going down is rebuilding, but the earliest we will see the benefit of the 2015 fawn class is next fall. The fawn class from 2014 was probably one of the poorer ones on record and that’s probably a major factor on this year’s buck harvest,” Hauge said.

“We don’t have data on hunter participation yet. I don’t know whether there were any measurable changes on density of hunters in buck-only units. All I get are anecdotal notes, but I’ve heard a few hunters say they didn’t see as many hunters this year,” he said. “I don’t have any data on that, so I can’t comment on that.”

Categories: Hunting News, Whitetail Deer

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