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Almost ideal conditions for opening weekend; deer not moving as much

Riley O'Neil, 16, shot a buck for the first time during the gun-deer season opener Saturday. O'Neil, an Ellsworth High School student, was hunting near the Rush River around 8:30 a.m. The nine-point buck, estimated to weigh approximately 150 pounds, came running across from his position on the ground and he got a clear shot. Conditions were cold enough Saturday morning that spoiled venison wasn't a big concern for hunters and there was a light snowfall earlier, though hardly enough to help with tracking....

The only element lacking was snow for tracking, otherwise hunters had cold but nearly ideal hunting conditions for the opening of the 2008 Wisconsin regular nine-day deer hunting season.

Temperatures were below zero in northern Wisconsin when the season opened at 30 minutes before sunrise Saturday, but temperatures got higher throughout the day and most areas of the state reported it was a near ideal opening day.

However, officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported that opening day activity was slower than normal at registration stations.

They attributed the slowness to the cold which meant there was no need to rush in to register deer to preserve the meat. Deer could be left hanging at deer camps, allowing hunters to stay in the field.

Wildlife biologists working in Earn-a-Buck areas reported many hunters had taken advantage of prequalification by having shot an antlerless deer either last year, during archery or during the early October antlerless hunt.

"It's going excellent," said Harvey Halvorsen, a wildlife biologist who was working with three volunteers from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls at a registration station in Ellsworth.

"We're getting more bucks registered than does. There are fewer deer being seen and fewer antlerless deer are being seen, he added.

Halvorson said that hunters were telling him that they were not seeing deer moving as much, which meant the rut was definitely over.

A DNR official in St. Croix County agreed that from what he could tell the rut was over.

"All the hunters we are talking to are saying it's slow this year," said Mike Soergel of the DNR at Baldwin. "They are not seeing that many deer.

"The only thing I can think of is this is as late as the season can be on the calendar so the rut is over," he added.

Farther north the story was the same.

In St. Croix Falls, Tammy at Jorgas Food Mart said they had registered 10 deer by mid afternoon, 10 of them does.

"Kinda slow," she said, "We're bracing for the evening."

License sales

DNR officials reported that license sales were very brisk on Friday

"She's humming," said Diane Brookbank, DNR licensing director, as she watched DNR's Automated License Issuance System, known as ALIS, peak at 201 licenses sold per minute at 5:30 p.m. on the Friday before gun deer season.

DNR officials say that just before dawn on Saturday 631,223 hunters hit the woods with a license to participate in the season.

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. More than 45 percent of all deer hunters purchased a license in the eight days preceding the gun-deer opener.

Meanwhile, 12 percent purchased theirs on the Friday before the opener.