Wisconsin’s regular nine-day gun deer hunting season opens Saturday, Nov. 20 and runs through Sunday, Nov. 28.
State wildlife officials say that while herd control has been the primary statewide focus over the last decade – and remains so in areas of the state this year — herd growth is actually the primary objective throughout much of northeast Wisconsin for 2010.
Following a review of population goals that included extensive public input and legislative review, deer population goals were increased in 43 units this year. The end results are season structures and permit levels that will be aimed toward a more conservative antlerless harvest, according to Keith Warnke, deer and bear ecologist with the Department of Natural Resources.
As a result, this year nearly half of the state’s deer management units are under a “regular” season structure, and 19 of those units – primarily in far northeastern Wisconsin – are under a buck-only season structure. In regular units hunters may only shoot an antlered deer with their regular license, unless they purchase an additional unit-specific antlerless permit if they are available for that unit.
Roughly the other half of DMUs remain under a herd-control structure because the population of those units is estimated to be 20 percent or more over established population goals. In herd control units, hunters may shoot an antlered deer with their deer hunting license and may shoot an antlerless deer with the free herd-control antlerless permit that comes with their license in any herd control unit.
There are 22 units in southern Wisconsin in the chronic wasting disease management zone that will again have unlimited earn-a-buck regulations intended to meet deer population goals and disease management objectives. In these units, a hunter must first shoot an antlerless deer during a 2010 open season such as the archery deer or October antlerless seasons or have an unused 2009-2010 buck harvest authorization sticker to shoot an antlered deer.
In 2009, more than 635,000 licensed hunters registered a statewide harvest of approximately 330,000 deer. This fell well short of Wisconsin’s previous five-year annual harvest average of 492,000 deer. Several contributing factors resulted in a reduced harvest, but a reduced deer population and a reduction in antlerless harvest are thought to have played the biggest roles. A reduced annual harvest is also a sign that deer populations across the state are nearing management goals.
“The elimination of earn-a-buck outside of the CWD management zone last year also allowed all hunters to take bucks and pass on antlerless deer. Hunters who will be hunting in former earn-a-buck units may notice an increase in the number of antlerless deer and fewer mature bucks this year,” Warnke said.
Regardless of statewide or DMU level deer populations and expectations, Warnke says that deer abundance on a single property or local level often does not reflect deer population trends on the larger scale. Pre-season scouting and discussions with local neighbors will give hunters a better expectation of the hunt in their local hunting area.
“Autumn is beautiful and fleeting. For hunters, this is the best time of year. For many, the preparations for hunting – setting up stands, scouting for promising trees, looking for deer sign, practicing marksmanship – are a big part of enjoying the season.”
Deer populations in the 16-county Northeast Region continue to be the tale of two differing habitats. The northern forest deer herd has not yet shown indications of improved productivity, while the farmland herds remain above goals despite long-running liberal harvest regulations for antlerless deer. Most of the region south of State Highway 64 and DMU 51A to the north remain in Herd Control status. Summer deer surveys in August and September will be watched for signs of improved fawn numbers in the north due to the milder past winter.
The six Northern Forest DMUs in the region remain below population goals and four of them will have a buck-only season framework for both archers and gun hunters in 2010 to give them the greatest chance for herd growth. As forests grow older, deer productivity declines. Hunters should assess their traditional hunting spots with an eye toward general forest age and consider positioning themselves near younger forests if they have not found satisfactory experiences in recent years.
With the absence of earn-a-buck requirements during the 2009 season in northeast farmland units; antlerless harvests dropped dramatically and deer herds grew slightly in most units. Fawn productivity is anticipated to be strong this year, and although some hunters will remain understandably conservative with antlerless harvest in pockets of low deer numbers, farmland unit hunters generally need to be comfortable harvesting antlerless deer in order to avoid another spike in the herd that will require more aggressive harvest regulations in the future.