Though hunters define success in different ways, 134,772 deer were successfully harvested and registered in Wisconsin during the opening weekend of the nine-day deer season.
According to the state Department of Natural Resources, Waupaca County hunters harvested 2,727 bucks and 2,323 antlerless deer for a total of 5,050. That’s an 11-percent increase from last year’s opening weekend harvest of 4,538 deer and topped all counties.
Marathon County had the second-highest total, 4,499.
The tally is based on preliminary call-in numbers collected from DNR registration stations.
Preliminary totals for other area counties include Waushara, 2,227 deer (1,213 bucks and 1,014 antlerless), up 10 percent; Portage, 2,996 deer (1,569 bucks and 1,427 antlerless), up 16 percent; Outagamie, 1,801 deer (1,067 bucks and 734 antlerless), up 20 percent; Winnebago, 569 deer (277 bucks and 292 antlerless), down 7 percent; and Shawano, 2,954 deer (1,707 bucks and 1,247 antlerless), up 23 percent.
“Though getting a deer is often the ultimate goal of the hunt, it is the whole experience of getting out there with friends and family that keeps us coming back each year,” DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. “I hope those that weren’t able to get a deer during the season opener will get back out there and enjoy the rest of the days of the season.
“I am particularly excited by the numbers of new hunters and female hunters that we are seeing in the field this year,” she said. “From the pictures and stories that are being shared, there has been quite a bit of hunting success amongst this new generation of hunters. There’s nothing like a good first hunt to get a hunter excited for future hunts. I speak from first-hand experience on that.
“These preliminary numbers come from a staff call-around to deer registration stations,” said Tom Hauge, director of the DNR’s wildlife management program. “The final opening weekend tally will likely be somewhat larger when all the registration stubs are entered into the data base over the next couple of months.”
Weather is one of many factors that can influence harvest rates on opening weekend. The state saw a mix of conditions including fog in many central counties that hung on for several hours until it was burned off with the rising sun and temperatures climbing into the 40s and 50s by mid-morning. Most other areas had excellent conditions, but statewide hunters missed the snow that they like.
“Though a light dusting of snow would have provided ideal conditions for hunting, warm and dry weather does tend to allow people to stay out in the field or the tree stand longer,” Hauge said.
Overall, the statewide harvest is up over 19 percent from 2011 and registration increased in all regions. The warm weather likely had some hunters registering their deer right away instead of leaving them hang at camp, which likely bumped up the numbers.
“Generally, we see about 60 percent of the overall harvest in the first weekend, but we hold drawing of conclusions until the season is complete,” Hauge said.
Preliminary harvest numbers are up in all regions and bucks are up statewide by 24 percent over 2011. Though the harvest is up in all regions, there are areas of the state, primarily northern counties, where hunters are reporting low deer sightings.
“This is Wisconsin’s 161th modern era deer gun season,” Hauge said. “It is a fall family tradition cherished by over 600,000 hunters. These preliminary numbers are just a small part of the event we know as opening weekend. I suspect for every deer reported, there are 10 great deer camp stories out there. It appears that this season is well on its way to creating lifelong memories and, more importantly, starting traditions for thousands of new hunters.”
The department’s license sales office reported 614,435 gun deer licenses sold prior to the start of the season. Deer license and tag sales will continue through the hunting seasons.
Nearly 26,000 new hunters also bought licenses to deer hunt for the first time or for the first time in 10 years. Females represented 32 percent of resident first time gun deer licenses.
“I find this statistic particularly exciting,” Stepp said. “If we get women involved in hunting, we get the family involved. It is so important to be getting youth out there in the tree stand. We will all be looking to them to keep our wonderful hunting heritage alive, but I also want to recognize that 66 first time licenses were sold to hunters 80 and older. The involvement of so many generations in the deer hunt truly illustrates how deep the deer hunting tradition runs in Wisconsin.”