Deer hunting season is here, and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has issued a series of reminders and notices for hunters across the state. Wisconsin is in the middle of a nine-day deer hunting season.
This represents Wisconsin’s 168th gun deer season, with over half a million hunters participating. According to the DNR, as of midnight Sunday Nov. 24, 782,815 gun, crossbow, sports and patron licenses were issued, with 555,227 for gun privileges only. Just over 90,000 deer were registered as harvested by gun during 2019, compared to 123,090 last year.
“In 2018, we held the earliest possible deer season followed by the latest possible season in 2019. This occurred between the 2012-13 and 2007-08 seasons as well, and we saw similar declines in opening weekend registration totals,” said DNR big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang.
The early winter which hit the Badger State in October may create hazardous conditions for hunters in some areas. DNR Chief Conservation Warden Todd Schaller warned, “The ground is saturated statewide, leaving wet conditions and ice forming on ponds, lakes, streams.” Deer hunters traversing marshes, swamps, or wetland-like areas are encouraged to proceed with extreme caution.
“The hunter will not know until that first step and the ice breaks, possibly causing a fall into the water with the firearm,” said Schaller. “The marsh or swamp that the hunter believes is usually a certain depth may be quite a bit deeper due to the saturated conditions. If a hunter falls into deeper water, the next danger is the onset of hypothermia.”
Deer hunters are also pressed to ensure they’re not placing elk within their cross hairs. Elk have been reintroduced to two parts of the state, with the DNR tracking combined herds numbering 350 or more. The species was largely wiped out in Wisconsin during the 1880’s, before reintroduction programs planted 25 individuals in 1995.
Elk season for Wisconsin concluded on Nov. 10, and was confined to the Clam Lake elk range in Ashland, Bayfield, Price, and Sawyer Counties. Five bull elk were reported to have been taken. With the season over, deer hunters are encouraged to ensure they’re tracking and harvesting the right species. Moose have also been sighted in Wisconsin’s northernmost counties, according to the DNR.
“Five bull-only tags were awarded again this year, and all five hunters were successful,” said Kevin Wallenfang, Deer and Elk Ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Each one had the opportunity to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with family and friends. One of the hunters had eight of his friends on hand to help get his bull out of the woods, and we had our first woman elk hunter this year. She got a great bull while her husband was right there to watch the hunt play out.”
The agency is also reminding hunters to register for proper authorization to harvest game animals. Licenses may differ depending on if the hunter wishes to pursue antler-less deer. All deer must be registered by 5 pm the day after the kill, and all hunters must carry proof that they are licensed and authorized.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) test sites are also being pushed this year. Test sites, both manned and self-serving, are available for hunters before they drive home with their haul. In September, the DNR joined conservationists and experts in new efforts to combat the disease among the state’s estimated 1.8 million deer. Although CWD has not been known to jump to humans, as a prion disease, the possibility remains open and hunters must test all game meat before consumption.
Lastly, please make sure you’re identifying what’s on the other end of your barrel before pulling the trigger. In Washburn County, a hunter was shot and injured the day the after season opened on Nov. 24. The DNR reports that the victim was hospitalized for treatment, and is expected to make a full recovery. The shooter has been identified by DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement personnel, and the investigation is ongoing. By Nov. 24, the DNR had documented four such hunting incidents across the state.
They all occurred on opening day, the others being in Oneida, Marathon, and Fond du Lac Counties. The Onedia and Marathon incidents involved hunters who discharged their firearms and struck their left feet, while the Fond du Lac County incident involved a 19-year-old female who was shot in the hand by a hunter targeting a running deer.
“Woven into the fabric of Wisconsin’s culture, hunting is a long-established tradition we respect and value,” said Gov. Tony Evers. “With each season, there is always something new to explore and something exciting to discover. Hunting is not only a part of our lifestyle, it is an important economic boost for local communities and the state. We wish all hunters a safe and successful harvest.”
“Wisconsin’s hunting legacy runs deep. As folks are visiting with family and giving thanks this holiday week, many of you will also be making your way to hallowed grounds around the state,” said DNR Secretary-designee Preston D. Cole. Having such a large deer herd, I am excited about what this proposes for the deer hunt and its impact across Wisconsin. Good luck to all hunters and be safe.”