304,000 Deer Registered in Nine-Day Season

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A preliminary total of 304,538 deer were registered by hunters at the close of Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer season. Hunters registered 277,755 deer during the same period in 2002 and 298,266 in 2001.

“We knew that 2003 had a lot of potential for hunters, what with high deer numbers, liberal seasons and plenty of tags,” said Michelle Windsor, acting big game ecologist for the Department of Natural Resources. “We’re glad to see that even after what first appeared to be a sluggish opener, hunters prevailed and had a good harvest. There is still a lot of hunting opportunity left this year. We hope that the sportsmen and women of Wisconsin can take advantage of this and return to the woods. Deer hunting is fun, good exercise, and important to the conservation of our natural resources in Wisconsin.”

Wildlife managers stress that considerable hunting opportunity remains. A muzzleloader gun deer season opened Dec. 1 and runs through Dec. 10. The late archery season also opened Dec. 1 and runs through Jan. 3. A late Zone T antlerless deer hunt will also take place Dec. 11-14 in selected deer management units south of Hwy. 8.

Hunting conditions were extremely variable throughout the nine-day season and in many cases less than optimal but in spite of that hunters brought in a good harvest according to Windsor.

Conditions across the state during the nine-day period ranged from mild but blustery to cold and wet. Snow in the north and west, either early or later in the nine-day period, enhanced visibility and tracking. Brown conditions persisted in the south and unfrozen marshes affected access in southeastern areas. Hunters could still see snow during the extended (Nov. 22 - Jan. 3) gun hunt in the CWD Herd Reduction and Intensive Harvest zones in the south.

In most areas the opening weekend, Nov. 22-23, saw only one enjoyable hunting day. Windy wet weather may have restricted deer movement. Still, hunters eclipsed the previous year’s opening day by close to 1,500 deer, registering a preliminary count of 122,080 compared to approximately 121,500 in 2002.

This year tied the second safest gun deer hunt on record according to Tim Lawhern, DNR hunter education administrator, who received reports of 15 gun-related hunting incidents for the nine-day period; two of the incidents were fatal. Most of the incidents remain under investigation but at least five appear to be self-inflicted. Lawhern insists that most of the incidents were preventable if the cardinal rules of gun safety had been observed.

After a turbulent 2002 deer hunting season caused by the discovery of chronic wasting disease in wild and farmed deer and one captive elk, deer hunting license sales rebounded according to license sales records. Marilyn Davis, director of the DNR customer service and licensing bureau reported that 644,818 gun deer licenses had been sold by midnight Nov. 21, the last day to buy a license before the season opener on Nov. 22. This is a 4 percent increase over 2002 sales.

In addition to the rebound in license sales, reports from field biologists and conservation wardens indicated a “return to normal” for the deer hunt. Hunters appeared excited, showed smiles and pride at registration stations, and there was little talk about chronic wasting disease. One registration station in Black River Falls reported that a group of about a dozen hunters who hunt every year in the area brought in 42 deer; another camp in Jackson County had 16 deer. Conservation wardens in Crawford County reported at least 11 wild pigs were shot opening weekend.

Hunters are keeping an estimated 75 percent of the deer brought in from the CWD Intensive Harvest Zone this year say biologist working the registration stations in the zone. This is a marked increase from the 40 percent kept the previous year. In other areas of the state, the venison donation program is in full swing with more than 100,000 pounds of venison donated so far, according to Laurie Fike, donation program coordinator.

State wildlife managers are still interested in collecting deer heads for CWD testing from the CWD Herd Reduction Zone and Intensive Harvest Zone and a few areas around the state where testing numbers were a little lower that hoped for in 2002. As of Dec. 1, approximately 11,500 heads had been collected and 2,100 had been tested. Eighteen new CWD-positive deer have been found, which brings the total number of positive deer to 226 as of Dec. 2. Updated collection and testing figures are expected daily as laboratory and data entry workers catch up on the heavy flow of sample deliveries produced by the hunt. Information is posted on the CWD pages of the DNR Web site.