Wisconsin hunters registered 226,260 deer for the nine-day gun deer season that ended Sunday, an increase of 3.6 percent compared to last year, according to a preliminary count released Tuesday.
In the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources West Central District - from Chippewa County in the north to Crawford County in the south - deer registrations were up 6 percent compared with 2010.
However, in the Northern District, where snow made hunting more challenging, registrations were up just 1 percent from last year, with buck registrations down 12 percent and antlerless registrations up 16 percent.
"We had a 3.6 percent increase in deer harvested compared to 2010, and the reports that we've been getting in from the field are that, in many parts of the state, hunters saw more deer," said Tom Hauge, a DNR wildlife director. "That said, we do know that not everyone got a deer this year or saw a deer. The herd in parts of the state is still rebounding and that even within counties with higher harvests, deer aren't distributed evenly."
The season was the second safest on record, with six accidental shootings recorded - two self-inflicted - and no fatalities. The DNR does not keep track of falls from tree stands or heart attacks that occur during the hunting season. The number of deer killed in Eau Claire County was up 5 percent from last year, with increases in both buck and antlerless registrations. But that wasn't the case everywhere in the region, where
registration figures varied widely, said Kris Belling, a DNR wildlife supervisor in Eau Claire. "This is the most variable year I can remember for the numbers," she said. Four percent fewer bucks were registered in the West Central District compared with 2010. However, the number of antlerless deer killed increased, an expected occurrence because several deer units that were regular units last year became herd-control units this year, meaning antlerless permits were more readily available.
Still, even the antlerless kill total varied widely among counties, Belling said.
"If anything, I would speculate that the herd was similar to last year," she said.
Rain in the area made for less-than-ideal hunting conditions on the afternoon of opening day and caused some hunters to leave the woods early. Excellent conditions the following day raised the kill total somewhat, she said, noting registration numbers were relatively high at the Mondovi registration station where Belling worked.
The DNR will know more when the registrations are sorted into deer management units - a labor intensive process that won't be completed until late January, Belling said.
Hunters who wanted snow for the opener may have gotten more than they bargained for in northern Wisconsin, where anywhere from 3 to 10 inches fell that day.
The morning was calm, but the heavy snow that began around noon opening day made hunting challenging, said Nancy Christel, wildlife manager in Washburn and eastern Burnett counties.
"It pretty much drove hunters out of the woods," she said. "Some of the young go-getters stuck it out."
The snow was wet and clung to branches Sunday morning, reducing visibility, she said.
The hunters who saw deer Sunday usually were with groups who were moving around or driving deer, she said.
"We can't manage the weather," Christel said.
Officials also can't manage the National Football League. Both the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings had noon games Sunday, Nov. 20, which prompted many hunters to leave the woods before noon, she said.
The weather generally was mild for the duration of the season, but 60 percent of the deer kill normally takes place on opening weekend, when the largest number of hunters are in the woods. If weather interferes with the opening weekend, making up the deer kill is difficult, Christel said.
By Joe Knight