Harvest down for opener
Although the overall harvest was down 3 percent, Waupaca County still managed to lead the state in harvested white-tailed deer during the first two days of Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer season, which wrapped up Dec. 1.
According to the state Department of Natural Resources, Waupaca County hunters bagged 2,359 bucks and 2,532 antlerless deer during opening weekend, compared to 2,727 bucks and 2,323 antlerless deer last year.
The total harvest of 4,891 deer was the highest of 72 counties. Marathon County had the next highest total at 4,215.
Opening day harvests from other area counties included:
• Waushara County: 1,996 deer (926 bucks, 1,070 antlerless), down 10 percent from 2012.
• Portage County: 2,902 deer (1,434 bucks, 1,468 antlerless), down 3 percent from 2012.
• Outagamie County: 1,831 deer (892 bucks, 939 antlerless), up 2 percent from 2012.
• Winnebago County: 496 deer (251 bucks, 245 antlerless), down 13 percent from 2012.
• Shawano County: 2,625 deer (1,386 bucks, 1,239 antlerless), down 11 percent from 2012.
The statewide total of 110,797 deer (53,865 bucks, 56,932 antlerless) was down 17.8 percent from last year’s opening weekend.
“We saw quite a few new hunters taking part in the traditions this year, with females representing 33 percent of resident first-time gun deer licenses sold,” DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said. “With the extremely cold temperatures opening weekend, many of these new hunters had quite the initiation. This makes me even more proud of the stories and the photos being shared with us, showing them having fun whether they got a deer. If people haven’t checked out our Facebook photo album of pictures collected over the weekend, they really should. It’s a great reminder of what the season is all about.”
Opening weekend saw temperatures as low as minus-9 degrees and winds gusting to 25 mph.
“This is one opening weekend of the gun deer season that hunters won’t soon forget,” DNR Wildlife Management Bureau director Tom Hauge said. “In over 40 years of hunting, I don’t recall a deer season that started out this cold. It comes as no surprise that the weather conditions had a direct impact on the harvest throughout the state.”
Overall, the statewide harvest is down just under 18 percent from 2012, and registration decreased in all regions.
The preliminary buck harvest was down 25 percent statewide, while the antlerless harvest is down 9 percent.
“We want to remind folks that these preliminary numbers come from a staff call-around to deer registration stations,” Hauge said. “The final opening weekend tally will likely be somewhat larger, when all the registration stubs are entered into the data base over the next couple of months.”
Weather is one of many factors that can influence harvest rates on opening weekend, but it played a big role this year.
“Reports from up in this area, 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 DNR big game ecologist, Kevin Wallenfang, who spent the weekend working at registration stations in Vilas County.
“I believe Sunday was even colder, so it stands to reason that the overall effort in trying to get a deer was down considerably for a lot of people this weekend,” he said. “Before the hunt started, we speculated about factors that could impact the harvest like the late opener and rutting activity. This year, weather was the biggest factor and something we cannot predict.”
Another factor expected to impact overall harvest in northern Wisconsin is permit levels. Wallenfang said antlerless permit numbers across the north are at the lowest levels seen since the 1990s and a reduced antlerless harvest is expected this year. The reduced permit levels are a reflection of low deer numbers in some areas and the DNR’s efforts to allow local herds to grow in areas hit hardest by last winter’s lingering snows and late spring that cause some direct losses of deer as well as below average fawn production.
Michigan and Minnesota saw similar conditions and both states reported a comparatively lower deer harvest this fall.
“These preliminary numbers are just a small part of the events of opening weekend that we all look forward to,” Hauge said. “Over 615,000 people purchased licenses to take part in the hunt and I suspect that for every deer reported, there are 10 great deer camp stories made. We can’t tally the life long memories made or the value in sharing the traditions of the hunt with thousands of new hunters, but we know it’s high,
“This is Wisconsin’s 162nd deer season, with generations of hunters going to the field, sometimes getting deer and sometimes not,” he said. “In my experience, the thing that keeps people coming back year after year is the camaraderie and the chance to keep the traditions of the season alive.”
The DNR’s license sales office reported 615,872 licenses sold by through Nov. 22, the day before the season started. This year, 26,690 hunters also bought licenses to deer hunt for the first time or for the first time in 10 years.
“I am really excited to see the number of women heading to the field,” Stepp said. “This is a segment we have been focusing on, knowing that if we get women involved in hunting, we also get the family involved. It’s such an important way to keep our hunting heritage strong.
“I also want to recognize that 54 first-time licenses were sold to hunters 80 and older going into opening weekend,” she added. “The involvement of so many generations in the deer hunt truly illustrates how deep the deer hunting tradition runs in Wisconsin.”
• The state Department of Natural Resources contributed to this report.