After opening weekend to the 2012 Wisconsin gun deer season, buck registrations were up a bit across the Northwoods, while antlerless numbers were down with fewer tags available in all area deer management units, as well as several buck-only units.
Bucks were being registered at a pretty steady pace at the Rhinelander DNR Service Center opening weekend. DNR wildlife biologist Jeremy Holtz was there aging deer over the opening weekend.
Though they were seeing happy hunters there and quite a few bucks, Holtz said the weather could have impacted early registration numbers.
"A few people are worried about leaving their deer hang. They're worried it's too warm," he said.
The bucks coming in were largely in good physical condition. Holtz said the size of the antlers when considering the body size of some of the bucks was good, and that they were seeing some older bucks.
"One observation I'll make is that we've had good antler development. So, we've had some nice eights - lot of nice eights, and the other thing we've had is higher survival. We've had a number of bucks that were three, four, five years old, and in some other years it's very uncommon to see a buck over two. We've had good survival - mild winter, early spring, really good conditions."
There were 120 bucks and 33 antlerless deer registered at the Rhinelander DNR Service Center opening day, and 107 bucks along with 75 antlerless deer registered Sunday.
The 227 buck total was up a bit from 209 registered at the Rhinelander DNR Service Center opening weekend 2011, but with fewer available tags, antlerless registrations fell from 160 to 110. Overall totals were down a bit, 337 this year compared to 369 in 2011.
DNR big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang was optimistic about the sate's opener.
"We're seeing lots of good things out there," he said.
Wallenfang had heard that registration stations in the Northwoods area were steady over the opener, with some nice bucks being taken and happy hunters.
"But, you know, you're always talking to the happiest of them when they come into the registration station because they do have a deer," Wallenfang added.
Wallenfang said some of the hunters were even happy that there were some bucks-only management units to hunt, because the woods seemed to hold fewer hunters in those units.
"[Hunters] said that they did see more antlerless deer this year, so it does appear that deer numbers are up across the area," he pointed out.
Wallenfang said the warm weather was one factor that makes comparing numbers and anecdotal evidence from opening weekend this year and last year difficult.
"A lot of those deer might be getting registered earlier than they normally would because of the warm weather," he said.
"People are saying that they aren't hearing as much shooting around there as they used to, but there might not be as many hunters up there right now - without the doe tags."
Meanwhile, the herd appears to be booming across southern Wisconsin.
"The farmland regions here in the southern part of the state, they did very, very well," Wallenfang said. "They did have some fog and that, with the warm weather, hurt some people early in the day both Saturday and Sunday ... couldn't see a hundred yards in a lot of areas I guess.
"A lot of the registration stations down here are saying they are up from last year. Most of the counties it sounds like are up. Lots of really, really big bucks. We've got donation sites and meat processors that are turning deer away because they just have more than they can handle."
Statewide, 134,772 deer were registered in Wisconsin during the opening weekend of the nine-day gun season, based on preliminary call-in numbers collected from registration stations by the DNR.
Overall, the opening weekend harvest was up over 19 percent from 2011, and registration increased in all regions of the state. According to Tom Hauge, director of the DNR wildlife management program, the opening weekend harvest is usually about 60 percent of the total harvest.
In Oneida County, 849 bucks were registered along with 435 antlerless deer. Last year, 730 bucks and 636 antlerless deer were registered in Oneida County on opening weekend. Buck registrations were up 16 percent this year, with overall registrations down 6 percent.
Vilas County registration stations reported 716 bucks registered, up from 619 in 2011. There were 93 antlerless deer were registered, down from 261 a year ago. Overall opening weekend registrations were down 8 percent, with a 16 percent increase in buck registrations.
Hauge said final opening weekend totals will likely be higher when all registrations are entered into the database.
facts from the DNR:
614,435 total deer gun hunters, up 2 percent from last year.
Resident deer licenses (568,831) are up 1.5 percent.
Nonresident deer licenses (32,554) up 2 percent.
10 to 11 year old mentored gun deer licenses (13,050) are up 10 percent.
60 percent of gun deer licenses were sold in the month of November.
Females represent 9.5 percent of total gun hunters.
Youths (under 18) number 78,604 (or 13 percent) of hunters.
10 percent (61,276) were senior citizens (65 years of age and older).
Hunters come to Wisconsin from all 50 states and several foreign countries
First time buyers bought 25,703 licenses.
Between 4 and 5 p.m. the Friday before the opener, deer license sales peaked at 200 licenses sold every minute. Friday also had a record one-day sale of 105,948 licenses.
A breakdown of the harvest by region and county is available in portable document format on the DNR website at dnr.wi.gov.
Three hunting related injuries were reported. One was self-inflicted and two were two-party incidents. The incidents occurred in Columbia, Manitowoc and Portage County and are still under investigation. Additionally, Fort McCoy authorities are investigating the death of a hunter on the military base.
Though the DNR does not track non-firearm related incidents, there were reports of injuries resulting from falls from tree stands.
Safety reminders and tips are available by visiting dnr.wi.gov. Search "tree stand safety," and also view a safe hunting feature.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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