Wisconsin's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Our Best Hunting Areas

A state policy that calls for the reduction of the deer population in the Badger State could lead Wisconsin deer hunters this season toward a harvest of 400,000 whitetails. Here's where you'll find 'em! (November 2007)

Photo by Mike Lambeth.

For Wisconsin's deer hunters, 2006 will not go down as a record year, but last year's deer-hunting season still was recorded as one of the state's best ever.

It is very clear that Wisconsin has plenty of deer and the deer numbers are liberally distributed around the Badger State's landscape. What remains to be seen is how the numbers will affect the quality of Wisconsin's deer herd this year and in years to come. During the nine-day gun hunt last season, 342,176 deer were harvested. Of those deer, 37 percent -- or 126,644 whitetails -- carried antlers. The total gun-kill, including muzzleloader hunting, was 393,063. Of the total gun kill, 64 percent had horns, up from 43 percent the year before.

Most deer hunters know these are tremendous numbers. To put it in perspective, in 1975, the total Wisconsin deer harvest was 131,000 animals. Ten years later in 1985, the harvest was 315,046 deer. As the annual harvest edges closer and closer to 400,000, no one can argue Wisconsin gun hunters enjoy above-average harvests. Missing the mark by less than 7,000 last year has many hunters expecting the 2007 gun deer season harvest to reach even closer to 400,000.

For a number of years now, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) has taken the stand that too many deer roam the Badger State landscape. As a result, the WDNR established a deer-management policy that calls for the reduction of the deer population whenever -- and wherever -- it stands over goal. Add in the deer management units (DMUs) where chronic wasting disease (CWD) prompts eradication hunts, and the result is increased deer-hunting opportunities for gun hunters of all kinds.

"Wisconsin deer hunters can look forward to terrific deer-hunting opportunity statewide again this fall," predicted Keith Warnke, head of the WDN's big-game program. "There was a strong deer population (remaining) after last fall's hunting season, and a very mild winter has left us with a herd that is quite a bit higher (in numbers) than it should be. A deer population properly managed through hunting balances hunter desires, societal demands and ecosystem conservation. Hunters (including gun and bow hunters) helped a lot last year by harvesting more than 500,000 deer. Thank you. A lot of people appreciate that."

But Warnke admitted moving the deer herd toward goal is difficult and will take several years of adjustments to the Wisconsin deer-hunting seasons to meet, including this season's framework: a 103-day bow season, a two-day youths-only gun hunt in early October, a regular nine-day gun season, a 10-day muzzleloader season and a four-day December antlerless-only gun hunt.

Furthermore, 35 DMUs are designated as "Earn a Buck" units. Hunters in these units are required to shoot an antlerless deer before they can legally take an antlered buck, and a one-buck limit is in place for all holders of both archery and gun licenses.

However, Warnke reminded Wisconsin deer hunters, EAB tags are good anywhere in the state. Following the taking of an antlerless deer in an EAB unit, the hunter can use the buck portion of that tag in any EAB unit including CWD units.

"And EAB stickers are not weapon-specific. A hunter can earn one with his bow, and use it with his or her gun tag," Warnke added.

And it doesn't stop there. If a hunter registered an antlerless deer last year, but did not take an antlered deer as well, in a unit that is EAB this year, he is pre-qualified to take an antlered deer this season. If that unit was not EAB last year, the WDNR will mail the hunter a tag in August for an antlered deer. If that unit was EAB last year, the same tag was issued at the registration station. If unused, the tag is valid this season. A hunter who lost this tag must again qualify for an antlered deer tag by first shooting another antlerless deer.

Meanwhile, most of those DMUs not among the EAB-designated units this year fall under "Herd Control" deer management and season structures. In these units, unlimited antlerless deer tags are available for $2 each. In addition, in just a few DMUs (mostly in northeast Wisconsin) where the populations are near goal, antlerless tags are limited and on sale for $12 each.

Region

The total gun harvest of deer in the Northern Forest Region has been up two years in a row. In 2005, the gun harvest was 74,670 animals, 47 percent being antlered deer. In 2006, the gun harvest went up to 88,941. Of that total, only 36,289 were antlered deer, or about 41 percent of the total. Some hunters say the reason for fewer bucks and more does can be attributed to the Herd Control measures.

But the Northern Forest deer numbers are up. Herd Control continues to lead the region's deer management regime in the western half, and hunts in most DMUs in the eastern half fall under regular deer unit regulations, so it's clear many deer still roam the landscape. The region is home to last season's No. 1 and No. 2 DMUs -- Unit 15, where hunters bagged 2,207 antlered deer and 4,354 antlerless deer, for a total of 6,598 deer harvested; and Unit 16, where hunters harvested 1,783 antlered deer and 3,656 antlerless, for a total of 5,457.

Among the total harvest of the Northern Forest Region, including gun and archery hunts, yearling bucks comprised 58 percent of the total buck harvest. This was higher than the five-year average of 49 percent and matched the long-term average. The increase may have been associated with the mild winters of 2004-05 and 2005-06.

Increased buck recruitment also suggests that effects of predation on yearling buck recruitment are minimal, according to information distributed by the WDNR. All of this points to another good year for hunters in this region.

Eastern Farmland

Region

According to last year's deer harvest, some of the best deer hunting in Wisconsin still is found in the Eastern Farmland Region. In 2006, this was borne out by the region producing six -- 51B, 62A, 62B, 63A, 65B and 64 -- of the top 20 units in the state. Both hunters and wildlife biologists agree it's the region's habitat that carries the deer herd, thus the outstanding harvest numbers. A mix of hardwoods and farms, they argue, allows the deer plenty of food and cover.

In 2006, the region's total gun harvest was 90,454 animals, of which 28,295 were antlered deer. The region's top DMU -- 62B -- ranks No. 4 in the statewide harvest, with a total deer kill of 7,976 animals. This is up almost 1,000 animals from the 2005 season. Among these, hunters b

agged 5,431 antlerless deer, while 2,517 had some kind of horns on their heads.

The No. 2 DMU in the region last year was 62A, recording a total harvest of 6,830, down from 7,027 animals taken in the 2005 season. Of these, 2,001 were antlered deer, and 4,821 were antlerless.

Hunters in search of horns may find the 2007 Wisconsin deer-hunting season will prove to be a very good year.

The Eastern Farmland Region continues to carry an extremely high-density deer herd. According to the WDNR, the large numbers of yearling bucks in the population carryover across hunting seasons allow Wisconsin whitetails to reach older age-classes. It seems the region's hunters know they hold good odds for getting a trophy buck and may be passing on smaller bucks, awaiting that monster. So, while the antlered-deer harvest may look small, individual animals are generally older.

West-Central

Region

In Wisconsin's West-Central Region, gun deer-harvest numbers were again impressive in 2006, when 82,990 animals were registered -- 25,242 were antlered deer, while 57,275 carried no horns. These numbers earned the region the rank of the best deer-hunting region in the Badger State.

Found here are the state's top three DMUs of 2006 -- units 61, 59C and 58 -- along with units 22A, 59B, 57B, 55 and 72 that fall among the top 20 units statewide.

In 2006, Wisconsin deer hunters killed a whopping 13,800 deer in Unit 61, up from 2005 when 10,656 whitetails were killed. Hunters in Unit 59C killed 12,156 deer, among which 3,309 were antlered deer and 8,803 were antlerless. This is an increase of more than 2,000 animals over 2005. Moreover, hunters in Unit 58 collectively accounted for 9,009 whitetails -- 2,873 antlered deer and 6,104 without antlers.

For obvious reasons, an increased harvest will be encouraged this year in much of the region, where many units are designated as Herd Control units.

Central Forest

Region

The smallest state-designated deer-hunting management region is the Central Forest, where only five DMUs are in place. Yet, three of those five -- 67A, 55 and 54A -- carry harvest statistics that have proudly placed them among the top-20 deer-hunting units statewide for 2006. Last season's total gun harvest in the region was 31,836 animals -- 10,141 antlered deer and 21,541 antlerless deer.

Topping the list was Unit 67A, where hunters killed 6,443 deer -- 1,881 antlered deer and 4,512 antlerless deer. Hunters in Unit 55 registered 5,683 deer -- 2,143 antlered deer and 3,514 antlerless deer. Hunters in Unit 54A harvested 5,443 whitetails -- 1,815 carried horns and 3,591 were antlerless.

The region typically has additional antlerless tags available and should be a good place for hunters looking to fill their freezer with venison.

Southern Farmland

Region

The Southern Farmland Region of Wisconsin encompasses most of the southern third of the state and includes the entire Chronic Wasting Disease Zone.

Whitetail hunters regionwide during the 2006 gun season tagged 99,030 animals.

The No. 1 unit in the region was 71CWD with 5,801 animals. Nearly half of the harvest -- or 2,823 animals -- were antlered deer. Unit 69 followed in 206 with 4,773 whitetails killed, of which 1,890 were antlered deer. (Author's Note: DMU 69 was the only unit in the region to hold a regular deer season for 2005. All remaining units were designated HC, EAB or CWD.)

It appears hunters can have a quality deer-hunting experience in areas marked for eradication, and the 2006 deer harvest in the Southern Farmland Region supports the claim. CWD management units are obviously widespread in the region, and that draws an unlimited EAB hunting season across much of the region. This means that hunters will earn the authorization to take one buck for every antlerless deer they register. Hunters who have taken advantage of these opportunities in past years report less hunting pressure and good numbers of deer.

Antler

Development

Hunters in search of horns may find the 2007 Wisconsin deer-hunting season will prove to be a very good year. According to the WDNR, antler development in the Northern Forest was above the five- and 10-year averages during 2006, and much improved from 2003, 2004 and 2005. Increasing trends in branched antlers during 2006, the WDNR reports, may have been associated with mild winters during 2004-05 and 2005-06. Deer with forked antlers were also prevalent in the Eastern, Western and Southern Farmland regions.

Hunters lucky enough to get that buck of a lifetime would do well to consider having their kill recorded with the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club (WBBC). This club often operates a booth at the local sport shows throughout the winter. Bring a deer rack to the booth for scoring and you can often get a discount off the admission to the show. Official scorers who can measure your deer at any time for the WBBC also are located around the state. To find out more, go to www.wi-buck-bear.org or call (877) 273-6408.

This Season's Regulations

Despite what hunters hear about the 2006 Wisconsin deer season, many would do well to consult the WDNR's Web site -- www.dnr.wi.gov -- or obtain the 2007 Wisconsin Deer Hunting Regulations pamphlet before striking afield. Pamphlets are usually issued by vendors with each hunting license or are available from any WDNR Service Center.

The WDNR Service Centers also are where hunters find out how they can donate properly handled deer carcasses or processed meat they will not eat.

Also, the Hunt for the Hungry (HFTH) venison donation program is active in northeast Wisconsin. The organization accepts whole deer donations in the hide, so long as the deer has been properly field-dressed, tagged and registered. In the event of warm weather, deer carcasses and processed meat should be stored at 40 degrees or below to avoid spoiling. Frozen venison from years past will be accepted, too, as long as it is in good condition. There is no cost to make these donations. For more information, visit the HFTH Web site at www.huntforthehungry.com, or call Lee Dudek at (920) 498-1522.

Too Much of a

Good Thing?

Many sportsmen proclaim the recent years of Wisconsin deer hunting as "the good old days." But too much of a good thing sometimes proves to be too much of a good thing.

The deer population this season in the Badger State is projected to be 1.6 to 1.8 million animals strong. It's a herd some say can eat its way out of house and home. Some hunters look at the land and see green and assume there is plenty of food for the deer. It may be true, and many thousands of pounds of waste grain may lie in the fields.

But what is not often talked about is the effect the high deer densities have on tree recruitment. Deer don't stick to only one food. If there is corn in the field, they will certainly eat the corn. But they will also nip

off the tops of small oak trees and graze on any cedar branches they can reach.

High deer numbers also mean more traffic incidents with deer. Buying extra tags and taking more deer not only helps the environment, but it can help save lives as well.

Herd reduction also is key to the WDNR's plan to reduce the spread of CWD. In the past, harsh winters and predators kept the population in check. Now, controlling the population is left in the hands of hunters who need to pick up where Mother Nature has left off.

This season, deer hunters are encouraged to take as many antlerless deer as they can. The effort can transform Wisconsin's deer-hunting reputation from that of high quantity to that of high quality. And if you can't eat all that fine lean red meat, donate it to the less fortunate (see above).

Find more about Wisconsin fishing and hunting at: WisconsinSportsmanMag.com

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