Cold Weather Greets Opening Day Hunters

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Colder temperatures greeted hunters participating in the opening of the 2003 regular nine-day gun deer hunting season, and many people working deer registration stations reported it seemed hunters took advantage of the weather to stay in the field, resulting in a slower registration pace at some stations.

Hunting numbers rebounded somewhat from 2002, with nearly 645,000 deer licenses sold before this year’s season opened, compared to just under 619,000 last year. Deer hunting licenses must be purchased before the season opens.

Registration stations in the area where chronic wasting disease (CWD) was discovered in wild deer in 2002 reported very brisk activity, with lines of vehicles waiting to register deer, and up to 90 percent of the hunters keeping their venison.

Temperatures were in the high 20s to low 30s throughout much of Saturday, which according to a Department of Natural Resources wildlife official, means hunters did not have to rush into registration stations with their deer.

"When temperatures are colder, deer can be left to hang and hunters can just hang out at their deer camps," said Michelle Windsor, acting big game specialist for the DNR wildlife management program. "There is no rush to get deer in for processing stations as there has been in some recent years, when the temperatures were up in the 60s and 70s during the nine-day season. Also, it’s not so cold that it’s difficult to sit on a deer stand for longer periods. I think hunters are taking advantage of that and opting to stay in the woods."

Saturday was overcast statewide, with fairly mild winds in the north but some strong winds in the south. Only the far north had any snowcover as of Saturday morning, and it was just a dusting. Other areas reported slight mists to rain falling, and snow began to move into the state Saturday afternoon, with flurries reported, mostly in the northwestern part of the state. A snowstorm was forecast for later Saturday into Sunday, with up to a foot of snow possible in some regions.

Despite a large number of antlerless permits available, most registration stations were reporting that the number of bucks being registered was quite a bit higher than the number of antlerless deer. Some stations reported very good numbers of larger eight- to 10-point bucks. Windsor said that may reflect that there were fewer hunters afield last year and the overall harvest was down, allowing for a larger number of young bucks to survive.

DNR Secretary Scott Hassett hit his deer stand at dawn near Cross Plains for a couple hours of hunting before reporting to the CWD deer sample collection site at Barneveld. "It was windy and gray, and pretty quiet for the first hour, then I started hearing people taking shots," he said.

Hassett said hunters started bringing deer in at Barneveld at about 10:30 a.m. "There were a whole lot of deer -- we had three lines of three to four trucks pretty steadily for two hours. Some beautiful big deer," he said.

Hassett noted that for him and staff working the station, the really gratifying development is that most hunters -- about 90 percent -- were keeping their deer. "This is really important," he said, "It brings us back to the deeply held Wisconsin hunting tradition of not wasting game. Hunters seem to have the information they need this year to make an informed choice, and they have confidence in our testing. Those of us taking samples here feel really good about it," he said.

Greg Matthews, DNR south central region public affairs manager, agreed. "Last year hunters were taking home less than half the deer they brought here for sampling. It's very satisfying to see happy hunters and people keeping the venison," he said. Matthews said that by lunchtime, the Barneveld station had registered 125 deer and sampled 90, six of them trophy size. "One buck had 12 points and an inside spread of 21 1/2 inches -- it was beautiful," he said.

In Tomahawk, Jim Bishop, DNR northern region public affairs manager and a member of the Theiler hunter party for 38 years, said his group had bagged an eight-point buck by 10 a.m. He reported that the long-time hunting partners were seeing a lot of deer and were having a great time in spite of snow, 25 degree temperatures and gusting northeast winds. "It stopped snowing before noon and now we have a trace of snow for tracking. There's no place I'd rather be," he said.

Last year, hunters registered about 120,660 deer on opening weekend, according to preliminary numbers based on calls to registration stations across the state, and 277,755 deer over the entire nine-day season, based on final registration numbers.