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Wisconsin deer hunt numbers down in 2008

Wildlife officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources say preliminary counts from the nine-day gun-deer hunt indicate that the state's deer population may be smaller than originally thought.

"Preliminary counts seem to indicate a lower-than-predicted deer population. That may indicate that deer populations could be moving toward healthy population goals," said Dale Warnke, a DNR big-game biologist.

A preliminary tally by the DNR shows hunters took 276,985 deer across the state during the recently completed gun hunt. That's a decrease of 66,782 deer from 2007.

"We still need to look at all the numbers from all deer seasons before we can say anything for sure," Warnke said.

"But it looks like our estimates of winter mortality and fawn production may be off, which if it proves true, would lead to over-estimation of the pre-hunt population," he added.

DNR officials say last year's long winter may have impacted this year's hunt and than fawn production was the lowest in 15 years.

Another factor in the low deer take this year was the season starting later, and past the rutting season in most areas of the state. That meant deer were not on the move as much.

DNR officials say that the west-central region is coming off of several years of herd reduction and Earn-a-Buck season structures which are meant to lower the size of the deer herd.

That strategy seems to be working and it could mean those control measures may be relaxed in coming years, according to Warnke.

"In the final analysis, once all the numbers are in, it is possible that there will be fewer herd control and Earn-a-Buck units in the coming season," Warnke said.

Across the region, hunters in St. Croix County took 648 fewer deer this year over 2007. In Pierce County hunters took 256 fewer deer.

In Pepin County, 64 fewer deer were harvested this year while in Polk County the number was down by 1,791 deer.

Decreases were also seen in Dunn, Chippewa and Eau Claire counties.

While fewer deer were taken, DNR officials reported that this year's hunt was the third safest on record.

According to Tim Lawhern, DNR's hunter safety expert, there were 9 total hunting incidents, including one fatality.

Of the nine incidents, six involved shotguns, two involved rifles, and one involved a handgun. Lawhern noted that 44 percent were self-inflicted.

"While the circumstances of these incidents may have been different, every one can be traced to a failure to practice the four cardinal rules of firearm safety," said Lawhern.

"Treat every gun as if it is loaded; be absolutely certain of your target and what is behind it; always point the muzzle in a safe direction - never point the muzzle at anything you would not want to shoot; keep your finger out of the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot," he added.