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Fewer hunters harvest fewer deer statewide

Benjamin Shilts, 16, of New Richmond, shot this 11-point buck Nov. 24. Benjamin is the son of Justin and Katie Voeltz. (Submitted photo)

St. Croix and Pierce counties’ harvest numbers are down; Polk’s are up

The preliminary deer hunting harvest numbers released earlier last week by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources indicate that the gun deer season was once again a big success across the state of Wisconsin.

But not as big as last year, nor the year before or the year before that.

In fact, the decrease in the number of hunters and harvested deer continued to show a steady decline this year, on the heels of previous years.

In the three area counties of St. Croix, Polk and Pierce, the success ratio was down just a bit.

In all, there were 11,566 deer taken by registered hunters in St. Croix, Pierce and Polk counties in 2016, but that’s down 159 deer from the 11,725 taken in 2015.

Statewide, the harvest numbers also showed a dip from 2015 to 2016, as did the number of licenses issued.

In all, there were 196,785 deer harvested in 2016, while in 2015 the total number taken was at 198,057. That’s a decline of 1,272 deer taken statewide.

According to the DNR, for the nine-day gun deer hunt, the 2016 regional harvest breakdown by region (with percent change from 2015) included:

Northern Forest Zone: 23,445 (30 percent increase) antlered and 8,955 (21 percent increase) antlerless;

Central Forest Zone: 5,067 (2 percent decrease) antlered and 2,943 (2 percent decrease) antlerless;

Central Farmland Zone: 48,872 (1.4 percent increase) antlered and 62,612 (8.2 percent decrease) antlerless;

Southern Farmland Zone: 20,508 (3.4 percent decrease) antlered and 24,383 (10% decrease) antlerless; and

Total: 97,892 (5.7 percent increase) antlered and 98,893 (6.2 percent decrease) antlerless.

Some may point to the warmer-than-normal temperatures leading up to the start of the season and the lack of snow as factors affecting the total numbers in 2016.

It could also be attributed to fewer hunters in the woods and fields across the state.

In 2016, 598,867 gun deer licenses were sold through the end of the nine-day gun deer season, compared to 612,377 in 2015. That’s the first time since 1976 that the statewide total number of licenses issued has dipped below 600,000.

In total, 834,092 gun, archery and crossbow licenses (not including upgrades) licenses were sold through the end of the nine-day gun deer season, compared to 849,778 (not including upgrades) in 2015.

Local Conservation Warden Paul Sickman said, “The weather was good for people to get out, but with the warm weather, that’s not always the best for deer movement. With the snow we got last Tuesday into Wednesday, that helped for those days to see and track deer.”

Historically, hunters in Polk County bag more deer than those in St. Croix and Pierce, and this year was no different.

A total of 6,291 deer (2,494 antlered and 3,797 antlerless) were harvested in Polk County. That compares to the 2,888 taken in Pierce County (1,132 antlered and 1,756 antlerless) and the 2,387 taken in St. Croix County (989 antlered and 1,398 antlerless).

“Overall, it was a good year,” Sickman said.

“It was a very safe year as there were only five firearm accidents and no fatal accidents statewide, so that was good. Our volunteer firearm safety instructors do an outstanding job with our hunter safety classes,” he added.

According to a news release issued by the department following the release of the preliminary numbers, the DNR stated: DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement’s conservation wardens are investigating the five non-fatal hunting incidents in four counties during the gun deer season. One incident occurred in Waukesha, Oconto and Ozaukee, and two in Taylor.

Marathon County hunters led the way in total deer harvests with 7,663 killed. Hunters in Waupaca (7,328) were right behind those in Marathon. Shawano County’s 6,701 deer taken finished third across the state, while Polk County’s 6,291 finished fourth.

Vernon and Grant counties were the only ones with more than 5,000 deer harvested (5,284 and 5,120, respectively) while several recorded more than 4,000 (Sauk with 4,823; Buffalo with 4,318; Trempealeau with 4,310; Monroe with 4,110; and Portage with 4,014).

While the hunters are usually enjoying their time in the woods and fields of St. Croix County, Sickman said this is a very busy time of the year for wardens.

“As for violations … we had some enforcement actions,” Sickman said. “And with the new ‘go wild’ licensing system, there was a lot of education that needed to be done preseason and throughout the season with the paper tags this year, the validation process, the registration and the tagging process,” he added.

“We anticipated that with the new system there would be some education, but there was also some enforcement action that was taken for some intentional violations. With the new system we don’t have the … plastic-type tags. They are now just plain paper tags that you print out. So you don’t have to notch the tags like we used to. Hunters had to carry a pen or pencil with them and the way to validate the tag this year was to actually write the date of harvest on the tag and then circle the a.m. or p.m. That was a big change and people that don’t read the regulations were probably caught off guard this year.

“We do issue tickets on some of them. The thing that didn’t change was that deer tags still had to be validated in some way, shape or form. It’s just that this year they had to actually write on them instead of using a knife or something to notch out the date and time. There was definitely some cases where it was education, but I guess there were some who were trying to get around that validation system. Some tried to save tags and shoot additional deer on the same tag.”

And while the traditional nine-day statewide gun hunt has come to an end, Sickman said, for those in the Metro Unit of Western Wisconsin, the season can last 19 days.

“The season’s still under way but it depends on where they hunt,” he said. “If they are in the Metro Unit, which is south of Highway 64, west of Highway 65, and then north of Highway 29 … in that unit, it’s status quo … it’s basically a 19-day gun season. The archery season can go on until the end of January. There’s still people who will be going out to try to harvest a deer, but the vast majority are finished. That said, safety with the firearm season is still going on … If you’re going out, it’s still important to wear blaze orange. If you’re venturing outside, wear the blaze orange.”