Wisconsin’s avid deer hunters can find little to complain about year in and year out, as harvest numbers run well over 300,000 annually. That’s well above New York’s harvest of 230,000 whitetails and not far from Pennsylvania’s near half-million bucks and does taken each year.
While Wisconsin’s categorical harvests tend to rise and fall due to the vagaries of weather, hunter participation and other factors, it’s safe to say that any hunter who wants to tag a whitetail in 2018 should make room in his freezer before he heads for the woods. All indications are that he will not only be successful but will probably see more deer per day than many Eastern-region hunters encounter all season.
There isn’t much point in quibbling about numbers when it comes to Wisconsin’s deer harvest. The difference between 2017’s take of around 320,000 deer is just about 4,000 more than were tagged in 2016, barely more than a percentage point. The difference in most individual categories (archery and crossbow, youth and muzzleloader) were equally scant — blackpowder hunters took exactly two more deer in 2017 than previously. Other numbers were substantially different, but weather or hunter participation were likely reasons for the shift — with an estimated herd of 800,000 animals going into last season, it’s safe to say that there were plenty of deer to go around. Some hunters stayed home on certain days due to bad weather, lack of interest or other obligations; some missed their targets, and some never went out — all of which add up to lost hunter-days and slightly reduced kills. Changes in antlerless permit allocations might have affected final harvest totals as well, and some unfortunate hunters focusing on big bucks saw only immature deer; hence, their tags were not filled.
Add it all up and there’s no reason to look negatively on Wisconsin’s 2018 deer season and nothing to suggest that hunters won’t match or exceed that 300,000 threshold this season.
With all this in mind, here’s a look at some of Wisconsin’s top deer harvest counties with some insight on why these counties are so productive and where hunters can go to take part in the action in 2018.
It should come as no surprise that last year’s top-ranked counties for deer harvest are all in the Central and Southern Farmland zones. One of the simplest, most common equations in deer hunting is farmland = deer. The reasons that there are more whitetails found and tagged in Wisconsin’s farm zones are many, ranging from food availability, quality of cover, access to hunters and winter severity.
Add it all up and the math is clear — if you want to tag a deer in Wisconsin this year, head for any one of the following counties, selected because they were the top-producing counties during the 2016 firearm season:
Waupaca, Marathon, Polk and Dunn
Polk, Dunn, Waupaca and Marathon counties are included in Central Farmland Zone 2. The state contains two farmland zones where Farmland (Zone 2) Antlerless Deer Tags may be included at no cost with the purchase of each deer hunting license. Both zones contain several deer management units (DMUs), most of which can be identified by county boundaries and names. Note that nine DMUs (Adams, Clark, Eau Claire, Jackson, Juneau, Marinette, Monroe, Oconto and Wood) are each split by zone boundaries. Farmland (Zone 2) Antlerless Deer Tags may be used only in the DMU and land type (private or public) specified on the tag.
Tags may be filled during any deer season with the allowed weapon. Tags are Deer Management Unit (DMU) and land type (public or private) specific. The hunter must specify the DMU and land type for the tags he plans to use. If more than one tag per license is offered in the DMU, as is the case in Polk County, different land types may be chosen for each tag.
Tags may be used by Class A & C disabled permit holders and certain active duty military personnel on leave to harvest an antlerless deer in any DMU statewide while hunting on the land type specified on the tag, including buck-only DMUs.
Tags may be selected by Junior deer hunting license holders in addition to the Junior Antlerless Deer Tag included with their deer hunting license. However, they are valid only in the DMU and land type specified on the tag. See the Wisconsin 2018 Deer Hunting Regulations or log onto dnr.wi.gov for complete details.
Vernon, Richland, Sauk
These counties are in the northwest portion of Southern Farmland Zone 2. Vernon County is covered by statewide regulations and is bucks-only with two antlerless deer tags available. The same is true of Sauk County. Richland County offers four antlerless tags. Richland and Sauk counties are also open during the antlerless-only Holiday Hunt.
The DNR Call Center is available to answer hunters’ questions seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Interested hunters should call 1-888-936-7463.
According to the Wisconsin DNR, there is a variety of interesting and exciting deer research taking place in Wisconsin that includes opportunities for hunters and volunteers to get involved. Opportunities, outcomes and project specifics are changing regularly.
Visit the Wisconsin DNR website at dnr.wi.gov and search for “white-tailed deer research.” The top search result should be a page titled “White-tailed deer research projects.” Check that for current information.
In addition, fall 2016 marked the start of the largest and most comprehensive deer research project ever undertaken in Wisconsin: The Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study. This venture comes from Governor Scott Walker’s commitment to reevaluating chronic wasting disease in Wisconsin. The project’s goal is to comprehensively examine all factors that might impact deer survival and deer population growth in southern Wisconsin. These include chronic wasting disease, predation, habitat suitability and hunter harvests.
Other studies will occur simultaneously in areas with differing rates of CWD infection, which will help the agency better understand how CWD might or might not be interacting with other factors that ultimately affect the deer herd. Interestingly, this study will also directly estimate the abundance and distribution of deer predators (bobcats and coyotes) within study areas and examine their impact on deer survival and behavior.
Hunters who harvest a deer with a radio collar should call the number on the radio collar so that the research staff can record that deer’s information and re-use the collar. To get involved in the research project click on the DNR’s “CWD Research” link.
For specific questions contact Daniel Storm, ungulate research scientist, 715-365-4712, or e-mail him at DanielJ.Storm@Wisconsin.gov.
2019 DEER SEASON DATES
For trip-planning purposes, Wisconsin’s 2018 deer hunting seasons are:
4Archery and Crossbow: Sept. 15 through Jan. 6, 2019
4Archery and Crossbow Metro Sub-Units Only: Sept. 15 through Jan. 31, 2019
4Gun Hunt for hunters with disabilities (not statewide): Oct. 6-14
4Youth Deer Hunt: Oct. 6-7
4Gun Hunt: Nov. 17-25
4Muzzleloader Hunt: Nov. 26 through Dec. 5
4December 4-day Antlerless Hunt: Dec. 6-9
4Antlerless-Only Holiday Hunt: Dec. 24 through Jan. 1, 2019
Wisconsin’s Central Farmland Zone 2 has historically been a major deer producer, and 2017 was no exception. Headed by Marathon County, which has led the state in deer harvests in total harvest, total gun harvest, total archery harvest and total Youth Hunt harvest for the past five years, the Central Farmland Zone accounted for well over half the state’s total deer harvest this past year.
So, what makes this portion of Wisconsin so special? And why does it account for so many deer?
Many of the counties comprising the Central Farmland Zone feature terrain well equipped to support good numbers of deer. It’s typically a good mix of farmland, forest, fields and wetland habitat. Nowhere is this perhaps truer than in Marathon County, which, in addition to offering prime habitat for deer, also offers a fair amount of public access to hunters.
The crown jewel of, and a major focal point for, public hunting in Marathon County is, of course, the 33,000-acre George W. Mead Wildlife Area. The area encompasses an array of different ecosystems, including grasslands, conifer bogs, hardwood forests, wetlands, ponds (reservoirs), upland habitat and agricultural fields. Mead also extends into Wood and Portage counties.
Other Central Farmland counties also offer public land opportunities. Mukwa Wildlife Area in southeastern Waupaca County, Navarino Wildlife Area in northeast Waupaca and southern Shawano counties and other options are also available to hunters.
Although private land hunting accounts for the vast majority of deer harvested in Wisconsin, that doesn’t mean some of these public opportunities should be overlooked. For more information on Wisconsin’s deer hunting seasons, regulations, licensing and other details, log onto dnr.wi.gov.