Deer harvest numbers were down across the state but local hunter Wyatt Citta, age 11, had success on opening morning as he shot this nice buck.
12/7/2019 7:29:00 AM DNR reports drastic drop in deer harvest numbers
Northern counties saw the biggest decrease
Jacob Friede of the Lakeland Times
The preliminary harvest totals from Wisconsin's traditional nine-day gun deer hunt are in and they reveal the 2019 season was some tough hunting.
The state harvest of 160,769 deer was down 24.9% from 2018 when 213,972 deer were taken. Every Deer Management Zone (DMZ) in the state saw at least a 20% drop.
The Northern Forest zone, much of which experienced two massive snowstorms in the second half of the season, saw the biggest drop of all the DMZs.
In the Northern Forest zone, 26,521 deer were harvested this year. That is a 38.2% drop from 2018 when 42,899 deer were taken up north.
In fact, every Deer Management Unit (DMU) in the Northern Forest zone was down, including Oneida, Vilas and Iron counties.
In Oneida County, 827 bucks and 579 does were shot for a total of 1,406 deer. That is a 41.6% drop from 2018 when 1,555 bucks and 854 does were shot for a total of 2,409 deer.
The Oneida County Deer Advisory Council (CDAC) set an antlerless deer quota of 1,175 does and hunters did not harvest half of that.
Vilas County numbers followed the downward trend. There, 607 bucks and 148 does were shot for a total of 755 deer. That's down 49.3% from 2018 when 991 bucks and 498 does were shot for a total of 1,489 deer.
Vilas County's doe harvest alone was down 70.3%. Hunters were 52 does short of the 200 antlerless deer quota set by the Vilas CDAC.
Iron County, which had a doe hunt for the first time since 2013, saw a 137.5% increase in their doe harvest of 57 deer. That was 43 does short of the 100 antlerless deer quota set by the Iron CDAC.
Their buck harvest of 235 deer, however, was down 39.9% from the 391 bucks taken in Iron County in 2018.
Low numbers were found in neighboring counties around the north as well.
In Forest County, the harvest of 704 deer was 47.6% less than last year when 1,343 deer were shot. The Forest County buck harvest of 235 deer was down 49.5%.
Langlade County's total harvest of 1,678 deer was down 43.6% and Lincoln County's harvest of 1,509 deer was down 47.1%.
Price County, where 1,732 deer were killed, saw a 29.1% decrease in their harvest from last year's 2,442 deer.
The hardest hit county in the north was Florence County. There, hunters harvested 854 deer which was a 53.6% drop from 2018 when 1,840 deer were shot.
Hunters in Marathon County shot the most deer during the nine-day hunt, harvesting 5,696 cervids. They were followed by Shawano County, where 5,407 deer were shot, and Waupaca County, where 4,944 deer were harvested.
The most bucks in the state were harvested in Marathon County where 2,614 were shot.
The only county in the state to report an increase in harvest was Milwaukee County, where four deer were harvested in comparison to last year's three.
A variety of reasons
According to preliminary figures provided by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, hunter participation was on par with last year.
As of opening weekend, 782,815 hunters had purchased a gun, crossbow, sportsmans, or patrons license to hunt deer. Of that total, 555,227 licenses were for gun privileges which was down only 1.4% from last year.
But despite a relatively similar number of hunters in the field, Wisconsin saw a drastic drop, statewide, in harvest totals, and there is no single answer as to why.
"The long and short of it is there's a number of factors that could've impacted deer movement as well as hunter success, or even hunter participation," DNR wildlife biologist Jeremy Holtz said. "I don't think there's any one factor that led to this kind of a reduction."
One of the contributing factors which may have led to the dismal harvest totals was the timing of the season.
Last year the season began as early as it possibly could and hunters reaped the benefits of the hunt taking place during the rut when deer activity and vulnerability are favorable.
This year, however, the season began as late as it possibly could, causing hunters to miss out on the action, and productivity, of the rut.
"There's no doubt in my mind that we were on the tail end of the rut because people were talking about bucks chasing a couple weeks before the firearm season," Holtz said. "I was getting a lot of reports of a lot of activity in the woods and it started to taper off as it started to get a little closer to the opening weekend of firearms deer season."
Another factor, at least up north, in the second half of the season, was the weather.
"Opening weekend the weather was actually not too bad. It was a little breezy, but it was comfortable to hunt in no problem but, boy, the bottom fell out when we got that first snowstorm," Holtz said.
Two snowstorms hit the north in the second half of the gun season and they had an effect on both deer and hunters.
"It was kind of a shock to their system, just like it was to ours," Holtz said.
He went on to explain deer adapt to such storms by favoring and sticking to protected areas of shallow snow where they can still feed.
The heavy snow limited not only the deer range and activity, but that of the hunters as well.
"I definitely think hunter participation dropped way off," Holtz said. "Normally we have a good amount of hunting pressure from Thanksgiving through the second weekend. And I know a lot of people couldn't travel the roads, they had no power, the snow was deep so they couldn't get into the spots that they normally hunt. So as far as opening weekend, I doubt that participation was down from our new normal. But as far as over all nine, I expect that weather definitely played a factor in reducing people's participation in the back half of the week."
With both hunters and deer less active, conditions were right for a low harvest in 2019.
"A little bit of everything came together to make it a tough season for hunters and deer," Holtz said.
There was an upside to the season, however, and that was hunter participation in donating deer heads for CWD testing.
"All indications are that we had excellent participation, at least here in north central Wisconsin, in providing samples for CWD evaluation," Holtz said.
And a lot of deer carcasses have been properly disposed of locally thanks to the dumpster at the Rhinelander DNR Service Center, donated by the Superior Woodlands Company.
"We're getting good numbers of deer carcasses showing up," Holtz said. "Word got around. We've had no problem filling the dumpster so far and they're still coming."
Hunting incident update
As reported last week in The Lakeland Times, while deer hunting in Oneida County on opening weekend, 38-year-old Norbert DePuydt's firearm discharged twice while he was situating himself on his tree stand.
One round struck him in the foot while the other missed him completely.
In that report Department of Natural Resources (DNR) warden supervisor Dave Walz suggested that the safety was off and DePuydt's finger may have been on the trigger.
To update and clarify the situation, Walz said that at this point in the investigation it cannot be determined how the firearm discharged.
"It's unknown whether the safety was off and his finger was on the trigger," Walz said.
Jacob Friede may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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