They are in residential and urban area's...not in the woods. At least in Southern Wisconsin.
In Southern WI, you are more likely to see a deer standing along the road next to a bar or in a church parking lot, or even the vacant city lot next door to your house, than you are going into the best woods that are not heavily hunted and contain all the food, bedding and water requirements whitetails need.
This year seems particularly bad compared to previous years. I have deer hunted in MI and WI for 24 years. NEVER have I gone into the woods 20-25 times in a 30 day period without seeing a single deer. I mean not a single deer running off when you come around the corner or ridge. Not a single fresh track or pile of scat. All the runways are still easily seen, but they have not been in use recently. I have found 4 skeletons this year already, so its possible the severe winter had a greater effect than previously thought. Yet, the woods are loaded with acorns, the fields with beans and corn and plenty of apples still on the tree's. Seems like there is more food available this year than previous years, yet less sign of deer. I am very concerned.
However, I have seen deer everyday on the way to or from the woods, all in residential or urban area's where hunting is not allowed. These deer all appear of good health and weight. I am not sure what the real issue is, but there is some connection that I believe stems from Wisconsins preference for cullling anterless in vast numbers, to increase testosterone in the bucks which have to fight even harder now to mate....hence larger trophy deer, but much reduced deer herd. They claim 1.8 million deer in WI, and that is probably true, but most appear to be in cities and towns, instead of the woods.
Imagine a 67 acre parcel of woods that is "young" woods. Some old mature tree's, but for most part due to Forest Crop harvesting in previous years, the woods is dense with underbrush, blow downs, and alot of young tree's. Bottom line of parcel is hardwoods with a saddle ridge against a cornfield. The right side property line and top right sides are also corn fields. The top left is grass field abutting a bean field and the left side is tall grass with a small 40yd size pond. The terrain of the woods is a double level ridge to valley with many "bowls" throughout the woods. It is one huge staging area. Not one single deer actually seen in 20+ trips to the woods since Sept 15th. Not from walking, stalking, hunting, talking...no deer seen or heard running off.
7pm tonight, 50yds from a bar on lake in highly populated area, 3 does come out of the concrete parking lot of the church and head TOWARDS the bar and live music. Every day I see deer in someone's city yard, or vacant lot or at the onramp to 94 or standing by the side of the road next to the college campus. I would estimate having seen well over 40 deer in Pewaukee or Waukesha city/town/residential area's, while exactly ZERO deer in the woods.
I haven't checked, but I bet the archery kills to this point against even last year are way down. Deer sign and deer in general seem to be few and far between in the woods. I can not speak for northern counties or counties like Buffalo, but Waukesha, Washington and Milwaukee counties seem to be suffering from this same issue.
Any other hunters in WI here who have noticed this trend lately? I would like to hear from you, to gain better information on this years deer activity and herd size.