Badger State Bowhunting Outlook

Whether you hunt on private or public land, deer numbers are looking great for Wisconsin's 2007 archery season. (September 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

So, do you want heart-pounding excitement? Do you want to be shaking in your tree stand? Do you want to feel unlike ever before as the deer of your dreams steps out and gives you the perfect shot? Do you think you can handle it?

Well then, you need to know where to go during Wisconsin's bowhunting season. The deer you want is walking around right now, his nose cautiously sniffing around the woods, ready to sense the ultimate predator. However, to find him, you have to do your homework.

When it comes to location, there are essentially two kinds of bowhunters: those who are limited to a tract of private land they own or have permission to hunt, and those who hunt public land. In both cases, you may already know where you will hunt this fall. This article will show you how the population numbers look for your area. And while these numbers are the most accurate estimates the Department of Natural Resources has to offer, nothing can substitute for good scouting.

The key to any good hunt is stand placement. You need to know the land you are hunting. You need to identify the structures on the land that funnel deer. You need to know where they bed, where they eat and where they drink. This is not something you should do, but rather something you must do. Chances are the buck you are after has a routine. The rut has not started yet. He is doing the same thing he has been doing every day for the past few months. You need to figure out his patterns, especially where he is hanging out during hunting hours. Often, the big boys won't move until dusk or dark. If you don't put your tree stand at a point along his route, you will never see him. You'll come home night after night discouraged about deer hunting, you'll be angry with the DNR deer estimates, you'll blame the weather, you'll blame the wind -- and a whole set of other emotions. Yet, a tree stand in the correct spot can make all the difference in the world. (Continued)

If you are after a few does and fawns for the freezer, 2007 should be a very good year. Biologists say that for every deer you see in January, there will be three in September. Early in the season, the fawns are still with the does, so when you see one deer, you will likely see more. The trick here is staying still and having good scent control. With all those eyes in the woods, even the slightest movement can bust your hunt.

"Wisconsin deer hunters can look forward to a terrific deer hunting opportunity statewide again this fall," said DNR wildlife biologist Keith Warnke. "There was a strong deer population after last fall's hunting season and a very mild winter that has left us with a herd that is quite a bit higher than it should be."

As a result, 35 deer management units (DMUs) will have Earn-A-Buck (EAB). In order for a DMU to be designated as EAB, it must first have two consecutive years of "herd control." If the population model indicates that a third year of herd control would not reduce the deer population to within 20 percent of the unit's overwintering goal, then the DNR could recommend EAB regulations for that unit. EAB has proved over the years to be a very effective management tool. EAB units greatly increase the antlerless kill in those regions.

"Moving the deer herd toward goal is difficult, and it will take several years to get where we need to be, but we are making progress," Warnke said.

For 2007, there will be 60 Herd-Control Units, 35 EAB units, 22 chronic wasting disease (CWD) units and 16 regular units. There will be unlimited $2 antlerless tags available for Herd-Control Units, plus two free antlerless tags with each deer license.

At the time of this writing, it appeared very likely the October early gun hunt will be in place again in 2008. There will likely be much debate about this going forward.

2006 HARVEST FIGURES

Last year was a record one for archery harvest. The total bowhunting kill was 113,884 deer, including 40,070 with antlers, which was up from 35,842 in 2005. An estimated 72,607 antlerless deer were registered last year, which is way up from 40,840 in 2005. The total number of bowhunting "unknown sex" deer was 1,207. When you add it all up, bowhunters arrowed 4,228 more antlered deer last year, and about 32,000 more antlerless animals. That's quite a jump in the kill!

Best Counties In 2006

Wisconsin's top 10 counties last year for early bow season were Waupaca, Marathon, Shawano, Buffalo, Marinette, Clark, Jackson, Oconto, Oneida and Polk. Six of those counties have been in the top 10 list for the past three years -- Waupaca, Shawano, Marathon, Marinette, Buffalo and Clark. These are clearly our best counties in terms of deer numbers.

The top 10 early-archery season DMUs last year were 61, 62B, 63A, 59C, 65B, 59B, 58, 53, 63B and 51B. Four of these units -- 61, 62B, 63A and 65B -- have been in the top 10 for the past three years, while 59C, 58 and 59B were also in the top 10 last year.

Waupaca County led the way in 2006 with 5,096 deer arrowed. Of these, 1,278 were antlered and 3,792 were antlerless. Second was Marathon County with 4,869 deer taken, 1,501 of which were antlered. Next was Shawano County with a total early archery harvest of 3,672, with 1,171 being bucks. The fourth-best county was Buffalo, where 3,212 deer were killed by bow, and 826 were bucks. In fifth place was Marinette with 3,086 deer taken, and about a third of them were bucks. Rounding out the second half of the top 10, Clark County registered 2,927 deer and 1,221 were antlered, while Jackson County had 2,877 deer, with 877 of them being bucks. Next was Oconto with 2,713 deer and 669 antlered, followed by Oneida with 2,515, of which 860 were antlered deer.

Most of the counties across the central region of the state have produced large harvest numbers year after year.

Top Units of 2006

The top 10 early-archery season DMUs last year were 61, 62B, 63A, 59C, 65B, 59B, 58, 53, 63B and 51B. Four of these units -- 61, 62B, 63A and 65B -- have been in the top 10 for the past three years, while 59C, 58 and 59B were also in the top 10 last year. Many units continue to be top producers every bow season, and it should come as no surprise that many of these units are located within our top-ranked counties.

DMU 61 along the Mississippi River was the top unit again in 2006, when hunters registered 4,634 deer in the early-archery season, and 1,213 were antlered. In second place was DMU 62B where 3,836 were harvested, and 949 had "horns." Third place was DMU 63A with 3,497 whitetails, and 867 of them were bucks. Fourth place was 59C with a total harvest of 3,354, including 7

87 bucks. Fifth place was 65B with 2,856 deer, and 688 bucks. In sixth was DMU 59B with 2,679 deer, and 550 of them being bucks. Seventh was DMU 58 with 2,019 deer and 777 bucks, followed by DMU 53 with 1,927 total deer and 717 bucks, DMU 63B with 1,909 deer and 402 bucks, and DMU 51B with 1,804 deer and 338 that had racks.

CWD Units

Bowhunters bagged 7,575 whitetails in the 22 chronic wasting disease (CWD) units last year. This number is down slightly from 2005. The CWD Eradication Zone and Herd-Reduction Zones have larger bag limits this year to encourage hunters to kill more deer.

The top CWD unit was 76A with 924 deer registered by bowhunters, 504 being bucks. Next was 71C with 833 harvested, 478 with antlers, 76C with 615 deer, 348 of which wore racks.

Northwest DMUs

Bowhunters in northwestern Wisconsin did much better last year than in 2005. In 2006, they arrowed 13,081 whitetails, an amazing increase of 4,678 deer. Of the total early-season kill, 5,400 were bucks.

The top unit for bucks in the northwest was DMU 15 with 583 bucks killed and 1,489 total deer harvested. DMU 16 was a close second with 563 bucks adding to the unit total of 1,407 animals. Third was DMU 2 with 1,049 deer, including 434 bucks.

North-Central DMUs

The north-central units of 28, 29A, 29B, 30, 31, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38 and 39 also saw good harvest totals in 2006. Total early-archery season kill was 5,542, up by 1,844 critters.

DMU 36 saw the largest harvest again with a total of 1,095 deer, of which 311 were bucks. DMUs 38, 35 and 31 all came in a close second with total numbers just over 700 each. Of the three, DMU 38 had the highest buck kill with 286.

Northeast DMUs

The northeast units consist of 40, 41, 45, 49A, 49B, 50, 51A and 51B. The total harvest for this area nearly doubled last year. In 2005, the total kill was 2,824, while in 2006 it jumped up to 5,418. The best unit was 51B with a total of 1,804 deer, 338 of which were bucks. A close second was DMU 51A at 1,040, but with only 172 bucks. These two units were also the top producers in 2005 as well. As mentioned in the list of top-producing counties, Oneida, Marinette and Oconto had fantastic deer kill numbers last year.

Central DMUs

These central units and counties are consistently top producers. Marathon, Waupaca, Clark and Shawano have been in the top 10 for at least the past three years, so it is no surprise that almost all of the units in these areas were EAB last year.

However, despite EAB and increased harvest numbers, the deer population is still above goal in this part of the Badger State.

West-Central DMUs

In the west-central part of the state, bowhunters saw good numbers of deer, including many trophy bucks. This area has a history of strong, healthy deer populations.

DMU 61 was the No. 1 unit in the state last year with 4,634 deer arrowed, including 1,213 bucks. And again, three of the top units -- 59B, 59C and 61 -- plus three top counties -- Jackson, Buffalo and Polk -- were in the top 10 list for the past three years.

Southeast DMUs

For those who don't live there, the southeast corner of Wisconsin rarely comes to mind when thinking of high deer numbers. But many southeastern bowhunters would like to keep it that way, because they want the trophy bucks hiding in farm wood lots all to themselves!

The best southeast units last year are the same as in 2005. Leading the way again was DMU 69 -- which is basically Sheboygan County -- with 1,564 deer arrowed, up by over 200 from 2005, and 769 of them were bucks. Next was DMU 68A with 1,514 killed, including 339 bucks. Rounding out the top three was DMU 77M -- the lakeshore metro unit -- with 1,029 whitetails arrowed, of which 270 sported racks.

The Southwest

In the hills and valleys of Coulee Country, there are a few units not designated as CWD units. Most of these are along the Mississippi River or near La Crosse.

The total kill in DMUs 73B, 73D, 74B, 72, 74A, 54B, 59D, 59M and 74A was 3,763 deer. The best unit in this area was 59D with 977 deer arrowed, of which 544 were antlered. Second was DMU 54B with a total harvest of 727.

There are also some smaller, special units in this area like 59M on the Mississippi River, Wildcat Mountain and Fort McCoy that offer additional opportunities. For specific regulations, consult the DNR regulations booklet, or go online to www.dnr.state.wi.us.

There are other DMUs in the state we have not mentioned by name, but many are designated as "regular" units for the deer hunting season. At the time of this writing, not all of the units had been set. Please consult the 2007 Wisconsin Deer Hunting Regulations booklet before heading out to hunt.

NUMBERS DON'T LIE

So, the DNR says there are plenty of deer out there, and the 2006 registration numbers show the largest kill ever. But in the end, you want to know if there are deer on the land you will be hunting.

When looking at population numbers, it is important to remember a few things. First, deer don't need much land to hide. If there are 20 deer per square mile, each animal would get 32 acres, which is plenty of room to hide. Second, the does and fawns will often travel in a herd, so a group of four deer could be roaming an area of 128 acres. You could be in your tree stand for hours, yet the herd you are after is grazing in a neighbor's field a few acres away! And third, you won't see any deer if they aren't moving. High wind, rain or snow can keep deer in their bedding areas for days. Most bowhunters know that to be successful, you have to put in your time. There is no substitute for good scouting and many hours sitting in your tree stand. Eventually, the deer will come your way.

CONCLUSION

Regardless of where you stand on the political and scientific debate about CWD, herd control, EAB and even baiting, there is one undeniable fact: Wisconsin bowhunters killed 113,884 deer last year.

Some people argue that the DNR herd estimates are wrong. Bowhunters hunt day in and day out and never see a deer, and they can't imagine why the DNR has herd-control regulations. I even know of some hunters who have gone to other states to hunt deer because they are so disappointed with Wisconsin's hunting. While that may be true for some hunters, the fact remains that 113,884 deer were arrowed in 2006. We could not kill these deer if they weren't on the landscape.

As you read through all of the area reports in this article, you saw a repeated theme: The same units and the same counties produce great numbers of deer year after year after year. One would think that the county producing the most deer is an overharvested county that year. But if this were true, then in the following year we should see the harvest number drop, because fewer deer survive to have fewer young. Yet, we don't see that. Counties like Waupaca and Marath

on have been Wisconsin's leaders for several years.

Some people have argued that these are the "good old days" when it comes to Wisconsin's deer hunting tradition. Never have we recorded such high harvest numbers. The deer population is getting so high that some people worry about their impact on the land. Things like crop damage and low tree regeneration are discussed in hunting lodges and deer camps. But too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing.

To keep the deer population strong, we need to thin the herd. So, this year, hunt early and hunt often. Enjoy the high numbers of deer, and be sure to take venison home. Wisconsin bowhunters want quality, not just quantity, and by taking a few extra deer, you can ensure just that!

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