Opening weekend of gun deer season yields significantly lower harvest than 2018Submitted: 11/29/2019
Stephen Goin
Stephen Goin

Opening weekend of gun deer season yields significantly lower harvest than 2018
NORTH CENTRAL WISCONSIN - Recently released harvest figures from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) show hunters across the state had some difficulty managing a growing deer herd.

As a whole, Wisconsin fell far short of last year's results from opening weekend of the nine-day gun deer season.

More than 90,000 deer were harvested this past Saturday and Sunday according to the DNR. In 2018, more than 123,000 deer were harvested during opening weekend. That's a 27% decrease over one year.

Ironically, the white-tail deer population in Wisconsin is near a record high. The post-hunt population in 2018 was estimated at 1.8 million. In an interview with Wisconsin Eye previewing the gun deer season, DNR big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang said the current deer population could be well over 2 million.

"The status of our deer population, the robustness of our deer population is excellent in fact in some areas it's too excellent," said Wallenfang.

In the same interview, Wallenfang also correctly predicted that counties in the "central farmland" area would have a big harvest. Hunters in central Wisconsin led the state with 4,300 deer harvested in Marathon, Shawano and Waupaca counties. That's nearly 10% of the total deer harvested. 

"Our farmland areas are extremely productive deer factories, the resources are there, the temperature, the climate, the snow depth, all those things are lower than we see in Northern Wisconsin," said Wallenfang.

People in the Northwoods saw considerably less action. Hunters in Taylor County had the highest total, harvesting nearly 1,200 deer while those in Langlade County harvested more than 900 deer. Hunters in Oneida, Price and Lincoln counties brought in about 800 deer per county. 

According to a DNR media release, hunter reports of deer activity varied around the state and within regions. Some reported excellent deer activity while others reported very little, including in areas where deer abundance is known to be high.

Wallenfang said he believed the 2019 season starting a week later than last year contributed to low harvest totals.

"In 2018, we held the earliest possible deer season followed by the latest possible season in 2019. This occurred between the 2012-13 and 2007-08 seasons as well, and we saw similar declines in opening weekend registration totals," said Wallenfang.

DNR wildlife specialist Marc Kenyon said that the lower harvest count is not a cause for concern.

"Next year we can reevaluate, we also have the winter coming up and we'll see how many animals make it through the winter," said Kenyon.

Kenyon said severe weather expected Saturday will also affect hunters and their ability to harvest.

"Some hunters may find it more difficult to reach some of their prime hunting locations, yet snow falls will make it easier for hunters to track deer," said Kenton.

The DNR still recommends testing deer you harvest for chronic wasting disease or CWD.

See a map of 24/7 self-service kiosks for CWD testing here.

The 2019 gun deer season ends Sunday followed by a 10-day muzzle loader season.

After that, Wisconsin will hold antlerless deer hunts in December and January.

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