Madison — One of the coldest and windiest opening weekends in years didn’t stop gun deer hunters from racking up an impressive number of whitetails.
Preliminary figures showed hunters registered at least 103,623 deer opening weekend, including 56,638 bucks.
The deer harvest was up about 15% from last year.
Including the bow, crossbow and youth gun hunts, more than 200,000 whitetails –
113,854 of them bucks – had already been registered through Nov. 21.
DNR Deer Program Specialist Jeff Pritzl said last year’s gun deer opener
was slower than usual “so this isn’t so much as increase as it is a
return to normal.” However, the 2022 opening weekend buck kill was still
2% higher than the five-year average.
The increase could be attributed to many things, including cold weather,
which tends to get deer and hunters moving, snow on the ground in much
of the state to aid sightings and tracking, an earlier opener than
recent years that might have caught more rutting activity, and last
year’s milder winter, which increases deer survival and productivity.
All four deer management zones showed harvest increases over 2021, but
notably the Southern Farmland Zone was well below its five-year average.
The biggest increase came in the small Central Forest Zone, which was
up 37% over last year, and nearly 16% higher than the five-year average.
As always, the vast Central Farmland Zone produced the most whitetails.
There were 29,753 bucks and 28,231 antlerless deer registered in the
zone the first two days, a total of 57,984 deer.
Setting the pace in the Central Farmland Zone were perennial leaders Marathon
(3,558), Shawano (3,270), and Waupaca (3,149) counties. Marathon’s tally
included 2,020 bucks.
The Southern Farmland Zone totaled 22,231 deer, including 11,269 bucks. Top
counties were Vernon (3,035), Sauk (2,403) and Grant (2,249). The buck
count there was up about 14% over last year, but down 6% from the
Northern Forest Zone hunters reported 19,116 whitetails, including 13,009 bucks.
Top counties in the region were Taylor (1,691, including 1,018 bucks);
Burnett, 1,618 (933); and Washburn, 1,573 (901).
The Central Forest Zone had 4,292 registrations, including 2,607 bucks.
Adams set the pace with 1,429 deer, over half of them bucks. Clark was
next with 703, and Juneau third with 609. Adams, Clark, Juneau and
Marinette are among the counties with portions of each county having
area in the Forest and Farmland zones.
More hunting to come
The regular gun hunt wrapped up Nov. 27 in most areas, but continues
through Dec. 7 in some metro sub-zones. Elsewhere, the 10-day
muzzleloader season runs Nov. 28 through Dec. 7, followed by a four-day,
antlerless-only gun deer season Dec. 8-11. Select Farmland Zone
counties also will have an antlerless-only gun hunt Dec. 24 through Jan.
1, 2023, and some counties will have an extended bow and crossbow deer
season throughout January.
Hunters are required to register their deer by 5 p.m. the day after the kill
through gamereg.wi.gov (available online or via the Hunt Wild app), or
by phone at (844) 426-3734. When registering, the unique number printed
on each harvest authorization is needed.
Through Nov. 21, crossbow hunters had reported 54,077 deer, including 32,807
bucks, and archers 34,426 deer, including 20,401 bucks. The youth
firearm hunt adds 8,283 more deer, including 4,008 bucks.
License sales drop
Total sales on licenses that allow firearm deer hunting – gun deer, sports
and conservation patron – stood at 539,550 through opening weekend.
That’s down about 2.2% from 551,809 at the same point last year.
The 2022 count included 421,474 gun deer licenses; the others were sports
and conservation patron licenses, which include gun deer hunting.
With bow and crossbow sales added in, year-to-date deer hunting license
sales through Nov. 20 stood at 779,123, down about 2% from 795,039 at
the same point last year.
This year, 62% of the licenses allowing gun deer hunting were purchased
online; 38% were sold in-person at DNR license agents or DNR offices.
Six early incidents
DNR Recreational Safety Section Chief April Dombrowski said there were six
reported firearm hunting incidents opening weekend, including one
Three injuries – two a bullet to the foot involving long guns and one a bullet
to a finger involving a handgun – were accidentally self-inflicted.
The other three incidents, including the fatality, involved members of the
same party. The fatality happened while unloading a firearm in the back
seat of a vehicle. The other same-party incidents took place during a
deer drive, and in a ground-blind-toground-blind shooting.
Dombrowski reminded hunters of the importance of the rules of firearm safety, especially controlling the muzzle.
“Load the mind before loading the gun,” she said.