Badger State Bowhunting Outlook

Wisconsin bowhunters harvested more than 116,000 deer last year, breaking the previous record set in 2006. The signs look good for a three-peat in '08. (September 2008)

Summer is winding down and fall is approaching. You've sweated out the last several months anxiously awaiting the arrival of cooler weather and even more important, Wisconsin's archery deer season. With luck, the arrows you've been flinging around in the backyard are consistently finding the bull's-eye and you're ready for the real thing.

So how does the coming season look? Pretty good if 2007 is any indicator. Let's take a closer look.

Wisconsin bowhunters harvested a record 116,042 deer, breaking the previous record set in 2006. The bow kill represented 22 percent of the 518,573 deer killed last season by both gun and bow.

Of the 116,042 deer shot during the 2007 archery season, 38,013 were antlered, representing 33 percent of the total bow kill and the eighth highest number of bucks ever taken during Wisconsin's archery season. The number of antlerless deer taken during the 2007 bow season was 78,029, breaking the 2006 record of 73,837.

"The fourth highest year as far as licensed archers in Wisconsin was 2007," DNR big-game biologist Keith Warnke said. "The high number of licensed archers contributed to the record archery kill. But the main contributing factor for the record harvest is probably the increase of Earn-a-Buck units from 2006 to 2007. Many archers went out in the woods early to earn their buck sticker so they could shoot a buck later in the archery season or during the gun season."

The WDNR divides the state into five deer management regions. Let's take a look at how archers fared in these regions last year because you can expect similar results in many of these areas again this year.

Southern Farmland
This region generally consists of DMUs south of a line from Sheboygan to LaCrosse and includes all CWD units. The five DMUs with the highest number of bow kills were units 67A, 69, 76ACWD, 77C and 68A, respectively. The units occupy large portions of Marquette, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Jefferson and Washington counties. The percentage of bucks killed in four of the top five DMUs ranged between 19 percent and 29 percent, but Unit 69 was much higher, with 49 percent of bow-killed deer having antlers. Unit 69 includes most of Sheboygan County, the eastern half of Fond du Lac County and northern Washington County.

When looking at the region in its entirety, the five units with the highest percentage of bucks killed by bow were units 69, 72, 73B, 73D and 74B, with the percentage of bucks ranging between 46 percent and 57 percent. Interestingly, three of these top five units border the Mississippi River in Grant and Crawford counties. (Continued)

Most non-CWD units in the Southern Farmland Region will have a similar hunting season format as 2007, except units 72, 73B, 73D and 74B, which will move from herd control status to Earn-a-Buck units.

Western Farmland
This region generally consists of units in west-central Wisconsin, including units 15, 16, 21, 22, 22A, 23, 23A, 59A, 59B, 59C, 59D, 59M, 60A, 60B, 60M, 61 and 61A. The five DMUs recording the highest number of bow kills were units 61, 59C, 59B, 59A and 23 occupying all of Buffalo County and large portions of Trempealeau, Jackson and Dunn counties. The percentage of bucks killed in four of these top five DMUs ranged between 19 percent and 32 percent, but Unit 59A was much higher, with 50 percent of bow-killed deer having antlers.

The five units with the highest percentage of bucks killed by bows were units 22, 59A, 59D, 60A and 60B, with the percentage of bucks ranging between 47 percent and 52 percent. Unit 61 covers part of Pepin County, the western half of Trempealeau County and almost all of Buffalo County -- one of the best-known areas for trophy-class bucks not only within the state, but the entire country. More deer were killed with a bow last year in this DMU than any other in the state, with 4,660 deer taken -- 1,475 were bucks -- equating to 32 percent of the total bow kill.

Several units in the region that were under herd control structure in 2007 will move to Earn-a-Buck status, including 60B and 59D.

Eastern Farmland
This region includes units 27, 33, 46, 47, 48, 51A, 51B, 57, 57A, 57B, 57C, 57D, 62A, 62B, 63A, 63B, 64, 64A, 64M, 65A, 65B, 66, 80A, 80B, 80C and 81. The five units with the highest number of bow kills were 62B, 63A, 65B, 62A and 63B. Unit 62B, which covers most of northern Waupaca County and southern Shawano County, recorded the highest number of bow kills, with 3,975 deer taken. The percentage of bucks killed was very consistent, ranging between 23 and 26 percent.

Unit 65A in western Waushara County and southeast Portage County and Unit 33 in northwest Marathon County scored the highest percentage of bucks killed by bow, with 56 and 50 percent, respectively. All units in this region have either herd control or Earn-a-Buck season structure for 2008.

Central Forest
The Black River State Forest, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and county forests in Clark, Jackson and Juneau counties comprise most of the region, including units 53, 54A, 55, 56 and 58 deer management regions. Of these, 2,940 or 44 percent were bucks. All units in the region were under herd control structure in 2007 and will be again in 2008. However, DMUs in this region won't be part of the antlerless deer hunt being held in October throughout much of Wisconsin.

Northern Forest
This region generally consists of areas north of SR 64 except Barron and Polk counties and parts of several other counties on the western side of the state. During the 2007 archery season, DMUs were either part of a herd control season structure or were regular units, where deer populations were at or near goal. Of the 46 DMUs in this region, the five DMUs with the highest number of bow-killed deer were units 26, 10, 02, 32 and 36, in that order. These units each had between 1,042 and 1,306 deer killed in them during the archery season. The percentage of bucks killed with a bow in these units ranged between 28 percent and 37 percent.

Fourteen of the 46 units in the region had more than 40 percent of the total bow kill being antlered bucks. The DMU with the highest percentage of bucks was Unit 28 with 49 percent. This unit occupies northern Iron County and the east-central part of Ashland County.

The counties with the highest number of kills in 2007 were Waupaca (4,976), Marathon (4,917), Shawano (4,440), Buffalo (3,198), Clark (3,072), Marinette (2,821), Polk (2,652), Jackson (2,590), Taylor (2,519) and Oneida (2,467). Except for Sh

awano, Waupaca and Polk counties, the percentage of bucks killed during the bow season varied between 32 and 38 percent. Of the top 10 counties, Shawano and Waupaca counties scored the lowest percentage of bow-killed bucks -- 23 and 26 percent, respectively -- and Polk County scored highest with 42 percent.

Of Wisconsin's 72 counties, the average buck harvest with a bow was 33 percent. Milwaukee County scored the highest percentage of bucks, 64 percent, but only 33 deer were taken with a bow. Only two other counties, Crawford and Sheboygan, recorded buck bow kills higher than 50 percent. Ten counties, Ashland, Monroe, Iron, Polk, Pierce, Adams, La Crosse, Forest, Sawyer and Barron scored between 40 and 44 percent.

Door, Shawano, Lafayette, Calumet and Brown counties scored lowest with percentages in the low 20s.

When discussing the effect of winter weather on Wisconsin's deer herd, it's usually relevant only to the northern part of the state. Last winter, however, southern Wisconsin endured one for the record books. Normal seasonal snowfall ranges between 30 and 50 inches, but 99 inches was recorded in Milwaukee by mid-April, the snowiest winter since 1885. In Madison, it was the snowiest winter ever with 101 inches recorded by mid-April. Rock, Racine, Dodge, Washington and Jefferson counties also received more than 100 inches.

"During the late spring months, some dead deer were reported in the southernmost counties, but weather-related mortalities in the farmland regions aren't expected to have much impact on reducing the deer population," Warnke said.

The five counties with the highest number of kills in 2007 were Waupaca (4,976), Marathon (4,917), Shawano (4,440), Buffalo (3,198) and Clark (3,072).

To monitor winter weather conditions in northern Wisconsin, the DNR maintains a winter severity index. Developed in the 1970s, the WSI is calculated by adding the number of days with 18 inches or more snow on the ground to the number of days when minimum temperatures were 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below between Dec. 1 and April 30. Days when both conditions exist get two points. At the end of the winter, all points are added. A winter with an index of 50 points or less is considered mild, 50 to 79 is moderate, 80 to 99 is severe and over 100 is very severe.

Although last year's numbers aren't complete, most data indicates the very severe category.

"The effects of this past winter are going to have the greatest impact on the deer herd in the forested regions of north-central and northeast Wisconsin," Warnke said. "The availability of nutrient-rich food sources is less in this area and the winter severity was the greatest, which impacts deer mortality and recruitment of new fawns in the spring. Many deer management units in this area are already near overwintering goals, therefore, more northern DMUs will enforce a regular status with a bucks plus quota system that restricts antlerless harvest."

"The effects of this past winter are going to have the greatest impact on the deer herd in the forested regions of north-central and northeast Wisconsin."

In 2008, 56 units are designated herd control units, including five state parks, 35 are designated Earn-a-Buck units, including six state parks, and 22 are designated regular units, including one state park.

A two-year trial moratorium on the October antlerless gun hunt expired last year. Because the minimum 2-to-1 harvest ratio of antlerless to antlered deer wasn't met in four of five regions, October gun hunting will return in most herd control and all Earn-a-Buck units. This may not be popular with bowhunters, but the good news is that it will occur earlier than prior years, from Oct. 16-19, instead of the end of the month.

"Part of the reason for having the four-day antlerless-only season in the middle of October is to reduce conflicts from bowhunters who prefer to hunt during the early part of the rut, usually the last week of October," Warnke said. "The earlier October gun hunt should also provide hunting opportunities for many deer hunters who prefer warmer conditions."

Several changes in CWD units may affect bowhunters. Hunters in the CWD units will likely have a new season framework based on a proposal adopted by the Natural Resources Board last April. The herd reduction zone and the herd eradication zone have been combined into a single management zone.

A holiday firearms season is from Dec. 24 through Jan. 4 for CWD units. Earn-a-Buck rules apply and bowhunters may continue to hunt as long as they comply with blaze orange requirements.

One rule change may affect bowhunters who use ground blinds for bow and gun hunting on state land. This season, all portable ground blinds used on state land during the gun deer season must have a minimum of 144 square inches of blaze orange that is visible from all directions. Additionally, ground blinds left unattended during the day on state lands must display the owner's DNR customer ID number or name and address in a conspicuous location near the entrance. So, if you plan to use your ground blind to bowhunt right up until gun season, remember to retrofit it with the necessary blaze orange.

Earn-a-Buck regulations are in effect in 35 deer management units outside the CWD management zones. EAB requires a hunter to first shoot an antlerless deer before shooting a buck.

Prequalification was introduced in 2006 in response to hunters' concerns about having to pass up a buck because they hadn't shot an antlerless deer first. Prequalification allows a hunter to harvest an antlerless deer in any EAB or CWD unit and receive a buck that may be used in the current year or the next year in any EAB unit in the state.

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