Late-Season Wisconsin Whitetails

Many of you quit deer hunting for the year after the regular gun season ends. Big mistake. Gun and bowhunting opportunities abound in December all around our state. Here's the scoop. (December 2005)

Photo by Curt Helmick

After all Wisconsin's 2004 deer hunting seasons closed and the registrations tags were tallied up, the final white-tailed deer kill released by the Department of Natural Resources was 517,169. Slightly over 6 percent, or 31,543 whitetails, were harvested during our late-season archery, muzzleloader, Zone T and CWD Zone deer hunts.

That's a lot of venison going into the freezer after the regular nine-day gun season has ended.

YOUR OPTIONS

The non-chronic wasting disease (CWD) deer management units (DMUs) offer some late-season opportunities.

Bowhunters get their late season from Nov. 28, 2005, through Jan. 3, 2006. The muzzleloader season also begins on Nov. 28 and runs through Dec. 7. A second Zone T herd-control hunt is scheduled for Dec. 8 through Dec. 11 in Zone T DMUs south of Highway 8. Metro units 1M, 59M, 60M, 64M and 77M are designated as Zone T units for 2005, but metro unit 1M will not have a late-season antlerless-only hunt in December.

If you are interested in hunting in CWD units, check with local DNR Service Centers or visit the DNR's Web site at www.dnr.wi.gov for more information. CWD units are covered by separate regulations, bag limits and offer expanded hunting opportunities.

BAITING RULES

Special regulations covering deer baiting and wildlife feeding are in effect in Wisconsin.

The DNR has a two-page pamphlet available online and at Service Centers to clarify these regulations. Currently, feeding and baiting deer is banned in 26 counties. Wildlife- and bird-feeding activities are regulated as well.

TAG AVAILABILITY

Antlerless deer carcass tags are available for most regular DMUs and Zone T DMUs this year.

Resident tags are $12 and non-resident tags are $20. Sales continue throughout the season until each unit is sold out. Hunters are allowed to purchase two tags per day. It's important to note that tags issued for regular DMUs must be used in the unit for which they are issued, while Zone T tags are generic and can be used in any Zone T unit in Wisconsin during any open deer season in that unit.

ARCHERY SEASON

Our state's late-season archery deer kill in 2004 totaled 10,145 deer. That figure is about 200 animals less than in 2003, but still much higher than the 2002 total, which didn't even reach the 3,000 deer mark.

Statewide in 2004, the percentage of antlered deer killed by late-season archers increased 3 percent over 2003. The 2004 figure of 26 percent is slightly above the 25 percent average buck kill for bowhunters in December.

Our top 10 late-season archery kill county list for 2004 reads almost identical to the 2003 list. In fact, nine of the 10 counties are the same. The 10 in order from the top were Marathon, Marinette, Douglas, Oneida, Wood, Price, Waupaca, Bayfield, Shawano and Lincoln. Tenth-place Lincoln County replaced Vilas County and, as usual, all these counties are in the northern part of our state.

Not surprisingly, bowhunters killed 39 percent of the 2004 total late-season archery harvest -- or 3,940 whitetails -- in the top 10 counties. This represents nearly a 10 percent increase over the 2003 figure.

Marathon County was our best county last year for late-season archers. Exactly 500 whitetails were registered, with 24 percent sporting legal antlers. Marinette County took second place with a kill of 463 deer, but only 18 percent were bucks. Douglas County in the far northwestern part of Wisconsin was our third-best bow kill county with 435 whitetails dying by arrow, and 33 percent -- 145 deer -- were antlered.

When the December archery kill was totaled up, Oneida County was our fourth-best county with 427 deer, of which 126, or 30 percent, were bucks. Central Wisconsin's Wood County was in fifth place with 405 archery registrations in the late bow season, but only 75 of them had antlers over 3 inches long. Price County's kill was two deer below the 400 mark at 398, but 148 of them -- 37 percent -- were registered as bucks.

Waupaca County, well known for both trophies and high kill figures, was in seventh place for 2004 with 382 deer, and 109 (29 percent) were legal bucks. Bayfield, another county located in the far northwest part of our state, took eighth place with 318 archery deer registrations. Of those, 32 percent -- 103 deer -- were antlered. Shawano County archers killed 310 whitetails to rank that county ninth, and 99 of those deer -- or 32 percent -- were registered as antlered. Tenth-place Lincoln County had a total kill of 302 whitetails during the late-archery hunt and 68 -- 23 percent -- were antlered.

Our state's top 10 deer management units for the 2004 late archery season were 63A, 62B, 53, 77M, 25, 46, 64M, 62A, 57C and 2. While most of these DMUs overlap our top 10 counties, there are two notable exceptions in metro units 77M and 64M. Unit 77M covers parts of Manitowoc, Sheboygan, Ozaukee, Milwaukee, Washington, Waukesha, Racine and Kenosha counties. DMU 64M includes most of Brown County. These metro units offer deer hunting opportunities for archers, with extended seasons and hunting in areas not open to firearms hunters. Check with local DNR offices for more information.

MUZZLELOADER SEASON

This year the Badger State's muzzleloader season opens on the same day as the late archery season and runs for 10 days. During the 2004 season, 7,074 whitetails fell to smokepoles. Of that number, 2,153 deer, or 30 percent, were legal bucks, and the total muzzleloader kill increased by approximately 1,000 animals over the 2003 figure. The top 10 muzzleloader-kill counties for 2004 were Price, Marathon, Oneida, Waupaca, Douglas, Ashland, Vilas, Bayfield, Sawyer and Taylor. The first eight were also in the top 10 during 2003, so the list is much the same. These top 10 counties accounted for 2,611 dead whitetails, or 37 percent of our state's total muzzleloader season harvest.


Our top 10 late-season archery kill county list for 2004 reads almost identical to the 2003 list. In fact, nine of the 10 counties are the same. The 10 in order from the top were Marathon, Marinette, Douglas, Oneida, Wood, Price, Waupaca, Bayfield, Shawano and Lincoln. Tenth-place Lincoln County replaced Vilas County and, as usual, all these counties are in the northern part of our state.
 

In 2004, Price County was the No. 1 producer during the primitive firearm season with a total of 333 whitetails. Hunters registered 151, or 45 percent, as antlered deer. Not far behind was Marathon County where 318 deer died by muzzleloader bullet, with 77 sporting legal antlers for a buck kill of 24 percent. In third place was Oneida County where hunters shot 285 deer. There, 39 percent, or 110 animals, were antlered.

One of our most famous whitetail counties, Waupaca, took fourth place for the muzzleloader season. Hunters tallied up a kill of 269 deer in Waupaca County, with 68, or 25 percent, registered as legal bucks. Douglas County was next on the list. Hunters tagged 248 deer during the 10-day December season there to place the county fifth. Of those deer, 91 were antlered. Sixth on the top 10 muzzleloader county list is Ashland County with 241 dead deer. DNR figures show 110, or 46 percent, sported racks.

Vilas County took seventh place on the list with 241 whitetails, of which 91 deer, or 38 percent, were bucks. Also with a total muzzleloader kill of 241 was eighth place Bayfield County where 86 whitetails, or 36 percent of the kill, were bucks. Sawyer County took the ninth position with a total kill of 225 animals, and 73 of them, or 32 percent, were antlered. Finally, Taylor County hunters bagged 210 animals, of which 67, or 32 percent, were registered as antlered deer.

After last year's muzzleloader hunt, the top 10 deer management units -- in order from first to 10th -- were 61, 63A, 62B, 62A, 59B, 53, 69, 28, 25 and 65B. Four of these units -- 63A, 61, 62B and 65B -- were on the 2003 list, too. In addition, hunters bagged 1,669 deer in these 10 DMUs, which is 24 percent of our state's total 2004 muzzleloader kill, and 29 percent of the harvest was antlered deer.

Smokepole shooters put DMU 61 in first place with 224 dead deer. Of those animals 67, or 30 percent, were antlered. Unit 63A on the other side of the state took second place with a kill of 204 whitetails, including 75 legal bucks. Third best for the 2004 muzzleloader hunt was DMU 62B with 199 registered deer, with 51 wearing antlers. Nearby DMU 62A came in fourth with a figure of 167, and 36 were bucks.

For the fifth place DMU we jump across to the western side of the state to 59B located just north of DMU 61. Here hunters killed 159 deer with primitive rifles and 46 of those deer were bucks. DMU 53 registered the next greatest total during the muzzleloader season with 154 deer for a total kill, and 43 of them were registered as bucks. Seventh place is held by DMU 69, a lakeshore unit, where 145 whitetails died by muzzleloader, and only 19 were antlered deer.

The top 10 2004 muzzleloader kill units continue to be spread across the state, with eighth place DMU 28 in the far north. Here, 144 whitetails were bagged, and 55 of them were bucks. The ninth place unit was DMU 25 where 142 deer died by muzzleloader and 45 wore antlers. Finally, the 10th place unit for 2004 is DMU 65B where hunters registered 131 whitetails, 41 of them as bucks.


The top 10 muzzleloader-kill counties for 2004 were Price, Marathon, Oneida, Waupaca, Douglas, Ashland, Vilas, Bayfield, Sawyer and Taylor. The first eight were also in the top 10 during 2003, so the list is much the same. These top 10 counties accounted for 2,611 dead whitetails, or 37 percent of our state's total muzzleloader season harvest.
 

LATE ZONE T

Only Zone T units south of Highway 8 have the December four-day herd-control hunt. During the 2004 late Zone T hunt, the top 10 DMUs were 59C, 54A, 62A, 53, 61, 62B, 77M, 67A, 46 and 65B. This year, two of those units, 54A and 53, are classified as normal deer hunting units. The remaining eight are once again Zone T and will have the December hunting opportunity.

The highest late-season Zone T kill figure came out of DMU 59C last year. During the four-day hunt, 372 whitetails were killed. Unit 54A was second with a total harvest of 309 deer. Third place was taken by unit 62A with 301 dead deer. Unit 53 hunters bagged 291 whitetails in the December hunt. Fifth place is held by DMU 61 with a figure of 290 deer.

The sixth spot is held by unit 62B, where 245 antlerless deer met their demise. Unit 67A hunters registered 211 baldies during the late Zone T hunt. The kill figure drops below 200 with DMU 46 where 195 does and fawns were culled from the herd. Lastly, unit 65B is in 10th place for 2004 with another 195 dead deer.

CWD UNITS

The DNR includes the late-season CWD Zone figures in with the December Zone T hunt numbers. One thing you note immediately upon examining the DNR report is that quite a few antlered deer are taken during the late-season hunt. Unit 71-CWD was far above the other CWD units in total deer killed. Last year, hunters killed 1,342 deer during the late-season hunt, and 392 of those deer were bucks. The unit ranking second in the CWD Zone is Unit 70B-CWD where 648 deer were tagged and 214 were legal bucks. Unit 70-CWD came in third place with a total of 570 harvested deer. Of those animals, 178 were antlered.

The fourth best unit was 70G-CWD where 143 bucks and 392 does and fawns died for a total of 535 deer. Fifth place is held by DMU 54B-CWD with a total deer registration of 511 deer during the late-season hunt, and 124 were legal bucks. The sixth-ranking unit is 77A-CWD where 131 antlered and 358 antlerless deer add up to a total of 489.

The seventh place CWD unit was 70A-CWD where hunters downed 482 whitetails, of which 135 wore horns. In the eighth-best position is 77B-CWD. There, 480 whitetails met their doom and 118 were legal bucks. Unit 76-CWD took ninth place but dropped below the 400 mark with 381 registered deer. Bucks accounted for 123 of that figure. Finally, DMU 75A-CWD is in 10th place with a total late-season harvest of 365 whitetails. Hunters registered 94 of those as antlered deer.

CONCLUSION

Our state has many late-season deer hunting opportunities in December, whether you want to hunt with a bow, modern firearm or primitive muzzleloader. The late-season harvest, at 31,543 whitetails in 2004, is only a small percentage of the overall deer kill, but you are assured a quality hunting experience during the late-season hunts because you will have little competition from other deer hunters.

Although hunter participation seems to be increasing in December, weather is an important factor. In fact, too much snow or cold effectively shuts down the late-season hunts, so these hunts will likely remain more recreational than effective tools for reducing deer numbers.


The late-season harvest, at 31,543 whitetails in 2004, is only a small percentage of the overall deer kill, but you are assured a quality hunting experience during the late-season hunts because you will have little competition from other deer hunters.
 

After the regular nine-day firearms season was ove

r last year, there was considerable whining from hunters in some DMUs. A common complaint was a lack of deer sightings, and although that alone doesn't mean there are few or no deer, experienced hunters were reporting a lack of deer sign in the woods in some locations. It's likely DNR herd-reduction strategies are working in some areas, and hunters who think there are fewer deer in their hunting area may consider moving their hunting efforts elsewhere.

If you are looking for a new place to hunt, any of the DMUs or counties that appear in the top 10 lists year after year is a good choice to consider. The late season is a good time to explore new areas while actually hunting and not just scouting. You won't have much else to do if it's warm and the ice hasn't formed on our lakes yet. Wisconsin's December weather can vary from very wet with temperatures in the 60s to very dry with lows in the sub-zero range -- or almost any combination of the above.

This article focused on our best late-season deer hunting areas, but don't let that cause you to overlook any county or DMU in Wisconsin. Most of our state has excellent deer hunting, and plenty of it.

If you plan to hunt in the CWD Herd Reduction Zone, check with the local DNR Service Centers before doing so. The CWD situation is dynamic and new regulations may go into effect with little notice. For general information on deer hunting in Wisconsin, log on to

www.dnr.wi.gov.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.