2017 Wisconsin Deer Forecast
September 19, 2017
The HARVEST numbers are in and all indications are that Wisconsin's deer hunters can expect another banner year in 2017. Here's a look at harvest results from 2016 and how things are shaping up for Badger State hunters this season.
What's not to like about Wisconsin deer hunting? Last year the combined hunter kill (gun, bow, crossbow, youth, muzzleloader and antlerless) totaled 310,374 whitetails. These are preliminary numbers for 2016 but these totals have held steady for over a decade, with a couple of banner years topping 400,000 deer in our state.
To put this in perspective, Wisconsin's deer hunters annually tag nearly 75,000 more whitetails than are taken in New York, and more than 10 times the harvest of deer in the entire six-state New England region. That amounts to a lot of deer, no matter how you look at it.
Which counties are the best?
According to biologist Wallenfang, the "best" counties for deer in Wisconsin depend on whether a hunter is looking for meat or for trophies. As noted, Marathon County is the perennial leader in deer harvests year in and year out, but more trophy-class bucks are taken in Waupaca County. Access, of course, makes all the difference, and therein lies the rub. Marathon County contains plenty of deer and land to hunt them, but Waupaca County has far less public land and gaining permission to hunt private property can be a challenge. However, hunters who are determined to put a tag on one of Wisconsin's legendary trophy whitetails will make the effort to go door to door in order to find the one landowner who is willing to grant permission to hunt.
Waupaca County is also a leader in antlerless kill, which may give enterprising hunters a foot in the door. Offer to thin out the doe population and maybe, just maybe, the landowner will give a "thumbs up" for a trophy hunt as well.
Waupaca County also produces good numbers of deer for crossbow hunters, as do Shawano and Marathon counties.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
As always, the key to deer-hunting success is pre-season scouting. As the numbers clearly show, Wisconsin is replete with whitetails in nearly every corner of the state, but hunters who go in blind are almost certain to be disappointed.
Finding a place to hunt in Wisconsin should not be a problem in most counties, but then the real work begins. It's in the hunter's best interest to visit several areas, study the available sign, and decide where he'll have the best chances of tagging a doe or, even better, a nice buck.
The most effective hunters put boots on the ground well before the season and then continue to monitor the subtle changes in habitat quality, deer behavior, and movement. As crops are harvested and leaves begin to fall, deer naturally will move away from open areas in order to avoid being seen by eager hunters. As the season progresses, deer become increasingly difficult to find, plus they start moving more during hours of darkness while lying low in thick cover during the day. It's certainly wise to pattern the habits of the target deer herd but keep in mind that those patterns will change as the season wears on, the rut comes and goes and deer shift into survival mode as winter approaches.
For a detailed summary of Wisconsin's 2016 deer harvest, county deer totals and other information pertaining to deer hunting in the Badger State, log onto dnr.wi.gov.
WHY MARATHON COUNTY?
For the past number of years, Wisconsin's centrally located Marathon County typically has led the state in deer harvests in total harvest, total gun harvest, total archery harvest, and total Youth Hunt harvest. What does Marathon County have that few other Badger State counties have?
For starters, the county has a total area of 1,576 square miles, of which 1,545 square miles is land and 31 square miles is water. It is the largest county in Wisconsin by land area and fourth-largest by total area.
Additionally, Marathon County contains the perfect mix of farmland, forest, fields and wetland habitat to support a deer herd, and with plenty of public access to areas where those deer are most plentiful.
The focal point for public hunting in Marathon County is the Mead National Wildlife Refuge. That area encompasses different ecosystems including grasslands, conifer bogs, hardwood forests, wetlands, ponds (reservoirs), upland habitat and agricultural fields. Forest, wetlands, and grasslands comprise 13,000 acres, 14,000 acres, and 6,000 acres respectively. All are good places to find wary whitetails.
For more information on Wisconsin's deer hunting seasons, regulations, licensing and other details, log onto dnr.wi.gov.