Wisconsin deer harvest down for opening weekend
In conditions that varied from sub-zero to chilly and overcast on opening morning, hunters participating in the traditional Nov. nine-day gun deer hunt registered a preliminary tally of 133,828 deer opening weekend, a 22 percent decrease from 2007.
Some 1,,018 deer were registered in St. Croix County over the first weekend, compared to 1,417 last year.
Some 1,928 were registered in Pierce County, compared to 2,340 last year.
Polk County had 3,458 deer registered for opening weekend, compared to 4,672 last year.
Buck harvest statewide was down 25 percent and antlerless harvest declined 20 percent. A preliminary count for the two-day opening weekend in 2007 counted 171,584 deer registered.
Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources stressed that this is a preliminary call-around tally that will change when all registration stubs are submitted by registration stations and entered into the department's registration data base.
Wildlife officials say several factors likely contributed to the lower count including lower deer numbers after several years of herd reduction strategies, very cold hunting conditions on opening morning in northern units, a late opening weekend that missed the peak of the rutting season, poor fawn recruitment this year, and tough winter conditions last year after a string of mild winters.
"Although this is a preliminary count, we may be seeing the result of a tough winter and several seasons designed bring deer numbers down. DNR staff across the state reported that hunters were seeing fewer deer and hearing fewer shots this year," said DNR deer biologist Keith Warnke. "Hunters' efforts appear to be having a positive effect on lowering overpopulations of deer in many areas."
Herd control season structures provide extra days of hunting and target antlerless, or mostly female, deer as a means of reducing high populations.
Enthusiasm for hunting remains high
While some stations reported lower opening day counts, business was brisk at others. DNR Secretary Matt Frank visited several registration stations in the Madison area, Saturday morning.
"The stations I visited were constantly busy -- even at mid-morning. And everyone I talked to said they were going back out to continue," said Frank.
"What was really gratifying was seeing our next generation of hunters taking their place. I especially enjoyed the chance to visit with the youngsters who brought in their first bucks at Sauk Prairie and Barneveld. Congratulations to all hunters for keeping our heritage strong. I wish them all success and an enjoyable and safe hunting experience in our great outdoors," Frank said.
The department's license sales office reported 631,223 hunters hit the woods with a license to participate in the 2008 nine-day gun deer season. License sales will continue this week and during late bow, muzzleloader, December and "holiday" hunts that are still to come.
It would appear that the nation's economic woes did not dampen Wisconsin's strong hunting heritage. The number of resident hunters was up 1,633 from last year, and nonresident visitors are down by just 162.
The long custom of buying a license on the way to deer camp is also intact. Over 45 percent - nearly half-- of all deer hunters purchased a license in the eight days preceding the gun deer opener; 12 percent purchased theirs on the Friday before the opener.
Of the opening morning total, 595,926 (94 percent) of hunters purchasing licenses were residents and 35,297 were nonresidents. Minnesota (16,631), Illinois (8,910), Michigan (1,102), and Florida (985), led in nonresidents purchasing licenses, each showing an increase in participation over last year.
There are still six days remaining in the nine-day gun hunt, followed by the muzzleloader hunt and the December four-day antlerless deer hunt, so hunters still have plenty of opportunity to fill their freezers.
While opening Saturday of Gun Deer Season passed without a shooting incident, there were five on Sunday. One, sadly, was fatal. In Outagamie County, a 48-year-old Appleton man was killed by a shotgun slug to the chest during a deer drive.
Two other men were injured during deer drives - a 24-year-old man, hit in the shoulder, in Shawano County; and a 61-year-old man, hit in the leg, in Washington County. Both were hit by shotgun slugs. Two other hunters experienced self-inflicted injuries to the foot - a 45-year-old Minnesota man in Washburn County (rifle injury) and a 13-year-old in Shawano County (shotgun injury.)
Hunter Safety Administrator Tim Lawhern noted that historically about half of Wisconsin's shooting incidents happen during deer drives, usually because someone wasn't where they were supposed to be or someone shot at a deer when they did not have a safe backstop or in a direction they should not have been shooting.
"It is really important that hunting parties wanting to drive deer have a plan and that they follow that plan to the letter," he said. "Knowing where your hunting mates are and where safe shooting lanes are is critical."
Statistically, about half the hunting incidents happen during opening weekend. "I am hoping we buck that statistic and can avoid further incidents this year," Lawhern said. "Compared to the 'good ole' days,' hunting is safe and getting safer. In 1915, of the state's 155,000 hunters then, 24 were killed and 26 were injured. That meant 1 in about 3,100 hunters could expect to be killed or injured. Today it's 1 in 100,000 or better. Still any shooting incident is one too many. Hunters need to remember the shooting TAB-K safety rules and be careful with deer drives later this week," he said.