Wisconsin’s nine day deer hunting season has come to an end, the state’s 168th season. Numbers for not only license purchases but also harvested deer were down this year as compared to 2018. The 2019 season also saw a lower than average number of reported hunting accidents, which the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) attributes to successful safety education by volunteer instructors and conservation wardens.
This year, 564,664 gun deer licenses were issued to hunters active across the state, as compared to 576,277 last year. This represents a 2.02% decrease between the 2018 and 2019 hunting seasons. A total of 792,548 gun, archery, and crossbow licenses were sold through the end of the nine-day deer season. In contrast, 803,772 licenses were sold in 2018, representing a 1.4% drop.
Some 160,769 deer were registered as taken during the hunts, dropping from 213,972 last year. Over 75,000 antlered deer were harvested this year compared to slightly more than 105,000 in 2018. In terms of antlerless deer, 85,533 were taken, fewer than the more than 108,000 taken during the 2018 season. These drops can partially be explained because last year, the season opened as early as possible whereas this year, it opened as late as possible.
Nevertheless, hunters reported during the 2019 season that fewer deer were sighted during daytime hours. In northern Wisconsin, blizzard-like conditions may have contributed to the lower numbers, particularly in the northern forest zone, according to the DNR. “Hunters afield within even a few miles of each other reported varying levels of deer sightings, confirming that deer are not evenly distributed on the landscape,” a DNR press release states.
The DNR predicts that harvests may increase in upcoming hunting seasons. From Dec 2-11, the statewide muzzleloader hunt will begin, followed by a four-day season for antlerless deer only from Dec 12 to 15. On Dec 24, another season will open for select farmland zone counties and will remain open until New Years Day. This will be followed by further archery and crossbow seasons, which are open now and will remain so until Jan 5, 2020. Hunting season using these particular weapons will also be extended from Jan. 5 to 31 in select farmland zones. “Hunters may use any unfilled antlerless harvest authorization during any of these hunts,” advises the DNR, “but they must be used in the zone, county and land type designated on the harvest authorization.”
As these seasons continue, hunters are highly encouraged to test all deer kills for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and other disorders. The DNR has established both manned and self-service testing stations.
CWD is a degenerative neurological disease, which affects the behavior of deer once the illness is in its final stages. Deer stricken with CWD will appear malnourished, listless, confused, or apathetic about the presence of humans or other predators. Although CWD has not been known to jump to humans, it’s similar to so-called “mad cow disease,” which is capable of affecting people who consume diseased meat.
To test the deer, hunters need to provide a sample of the deer’s head, along with 3 to 5 inches of the animal’s neck. “Hunters will also need to have their harvest authorization number, harvest location and contact information when submitting a sample,” the DNR advises. “There is no cost to the hunter to have a deer tested for CWD, and results are typically available within 10-14 days.” Carcass disposal options for infected deer are also available, with locations mapped by the agency.
Incidents of hunting accidents were also down this year. Four incidents were reported in Oneida, Marathon, Fond Du Lac and Washburn counties between opening day on Nov. 23 and Nov. 24. “Wisconsin’s 10-year average for hunting incidents during the nine-day gun deer season is 6.8,” reads a DNR press release. “The decline in incidents is the direct result of hunter safety education given by Wisconsin’s volunteer instructors and conservation wardens. As part of this push for safe hunting, wardens remind all hunters to use the four firearm safety rules as a cornerstone for safe and successful outings.”
The rules are abbreviated as TABK (Treat every firearm as if it is loaded, Always point the muzzle in a safe direction, Be certain of your target and what’s in front and beyond it, and Keep your finger outside your trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.)
“This is the fourth consecutive nine-day deer gun season without a fatality,” said DNR Chief Conservation Warden Todd Schaller. “Four incidents are tied with the lowest on record. This is certainly a tribute to our hunters and volunteer safety education instructors.” Hunters are encouraged to keep all this in mind as they continue tracking game animals over the coming weeks and months.