Wisconsin's 2008 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Our Best Hunting Areas

Wisconsin's 2008 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Our Best Hunting Areas

While the winter may have been snowy, there is still a high population of deer in Wisconsin, and 2008 should prove to be another excellent year for hunters. (November 2008).

For a great deal of Wisconsin residents, it is deer season, not Christmas that is the most wonderful time of the year. The leaves have changed, the air is cold and crisp, and the deer are on the move. It is time to pack up the gear and head to deer camp to reconnect with old friends. And while the talk around the campfire might revolve around the one that got away, for many of Wisconsin's deer hunters, a truly successful deer experience ends with meat in the freezer. Last year's season may not go down as a record year, but it was still one of the state's best, and certainly there were many hunters with good stories for the campfire.

During just the nine-day gun deer season, 354,384 whitetails were harvested, up from the 2006 total of 342,176. The total deer harvest including archery and muzzleloading was a whopping 518,573. In fact, in the past 10 years, hunters have registered 4.9 million deer in Wisconsin. That's plenty of deer. And while the argument rages on about herd control and the Earn-a-Buck program, the Department of Natural Resources maintains that there are some 1.6 million to 1.8 million deer in the state -- plenty of animals to help make this year a successful one for hunters.

That being said, we all remember the deep snows of last winter and many were worried about how it would affect the deer population. Keith Warnke, big game biologist with the Wisconsin DNR, said, "Last year's winter had some impact on the availability of food for deer in some areas. For instance, in the northwest region, we had a normal or average winter and the deer numbers should remain steady. In the northeast, there was some impact because the winter snows piled up and stayed. The area most affected was Ashland to Ladysmith and to the east. In the central forest, there was some impact as well. This area had a lot of snow and there is less agriculture to sustain the deer through the winter. In the rest of the state, the winter wasn't severe enough to have much impact. There was a good break in the weather in March and April and most of the deer were concentrated around food sources like agricultural fields."

So, while the winter may have been snowy, there is still a high population of deer in Wisconsin, and 2008 should prove to be another excellent year for hunters. Here are the results of last's year's season.

Two of the best deer management units are 61 and 59C, which are essentially in the counties of Buffalo, Trempeleau and Jackson. These two DMUs were also the top two for the past several years. DMU Unit 61 had a harvest total of 12,665 during the nine-day gun season; 3,673 were antlered and 8,981 were antlerless. That averages out to 1,407 deer per day or about 118 per hour.

The top producing counties in 2007 were Marathon, Clark and Polk. Marathon continues to lead the list year after year. In 2007, the gun harvest from this county was 13,356 -- 4,449 bucks and 8,893 does.

Other counties in the top 20 included: Waupaca with 10,983; Shawano, 10,713; Jackson, 10,551; Bayfield, 9,489; Marinette, 9,237; Douglas, 8,974; Sauk, 8,856; Trempealeau, 8,633; Columbia, 8,517; Grant, 8,374; Monroe, 8,217; Vernon, 8,262; Rusk, 8,071; Buffalo, 8,066; Barron, 7,976; Burnett, 7,920 and Taylor, 7,908.


The total gun harvest of deer in the Northern Forest Region was 95,613. Of that total, 38,447 were antlered and 57,032 were antlerless. The highest DMU in 2006 and 2007 was Unit 15. Hunters bagged 2,177 bucks and 4,366 antlerless deer for a total of 6,550. This is down slightly from the 2006 total of 6,598. Coming in second was Unit 16. Hunters harvested 5,809 deer, about 200 less than the year before. There were 3,944 does taken by gun and 1,857 bucks. Most of the DMUs in the western half of this region are herd control units, while most in the east are regular deer season units.

According to the 2007 Wisconsin Big Game Hunting Summary, produced by the WDNR, "Yearling bucks comprised 58 percent of the total buck harvest in the Northern Forest during 2007 well above the five-year 51 percent average and matched the long-term 58 percent average." This is attributed to the mild winters over the past six years. It will be interesting to watch the harvest data from 2008 to see if last year's winter has any effect.

Some of the best deer hunting in the state continues to be in the Eastern Farmland Region. Units 62A, 62B, 63A and 65B all made it into the top 20 best units this year.

"This region has the benefit of a good mix of habitat, as well as good sources of nutrition," Warnke said. "Most units have some sort of herd control or Earn-a-Buck, so those hunters who have their EAB sticker have a good chance at a big buck."

In 2007, the total gun harvest was up slightly to 87,764 animals. Total bucks taken were 27,877 and 59,672 does. The highest DMU in the area was 62B. It ranks as the fourth highest in the state with a total harvest of 9,009 deer. For the past two years, hunters have improved the total gun harvest by 1,000 deer each year. Hunters bagged 6,183 antlerless deer, while 2,810 had some kind of horn.

The second highest DMU was 63A. This unit had a total harvest of 7,387 with 2,333 bucks and 5,030 antlerless. This is an increase of about 300 animals over 2006.

In the West-Central Region, the gun harvest numbers have always been very strong. In 2007, the number of registered animals hit 81,190. Of this total, 24,589 were bucks and 56,466 were does. This region has the top two DMUs within its borders. Units 61, 59C, 22A, 58 and 59B are all located in the top 20 units statewide.

Unit 61 was once again the No. 1 unit, and 59C was again the No. 2 unit. Hunters killed a whopping 13,895 deer in DMU 61, up from the year before when 13,800 whitetails were killed. Despite high deer harvest numbers, this unit continues to be No. 1 year after year. The second highest unit in this region was 59C. This unit saw 12,127 deer harvested, of which 3,186 were bucks and 8,913 were antlerless. The third highest unit in the area was 58. Here hunters got 8,106 whitetails, with 2,547 being bucks and 5,517 without antlers. With the continuation of high harvest numbers in these areas, many of these units will be herd control again this year.

During just the nine-day gun deer season, 354,384 whitetails were harvested, up from the 2006 total of 342,176. The total deer harvest including archery and muzzleloading was a whopping 518,573. In fact, in the past 10 years, hunters have registered 4.9 million deer in Wisconsin.

The DNR reports, "Sampling efforts were widespread throughout this region. Those samples showed the percentage of yearling bucks

-- 58 percent -- harvested in the Western Farmland during 2007 fell below the new five-year 62 percent average, which represented a revised expectation in view of dramatic changes and continuing decline in hunter exploitation since 1990 from the previous long-term 72 percent average. With hunters filling up their freezers as they fill their antlerless tags, it is suspected that many hunters are passing up opportunities to take yearling bucks."

The smallest DNR region is the Central Forest, with only five DMUs, yet three of those five (67A, 55 and 54A) are among the top 20 units for the second year in a row, and Unit 53 made the top 20 this year as well. The total gun harvest for this region in 2007 was 28,794. Antlered deer totaled 9,626, while antlerless were 19,075.

The top producing DMU in this area for the nine-day gun season was 67A. Here hunters harvested 500 more animals last year for a total of 6,957 deer. There were 1,910 that had antlers, while 5,026 did not. The region's next best producing DMU was 54A. Hunters harvested almost 1,000 more animals than last year, taking 6,331 whitetails. There were 2,245 with horns, and 4,078 were antlerless.

This unit typically has additional antlerless tags available and should be a good region for those looking to fill their freezer with venison. The DNR summary reports that "yearling bucks comprised 58 percent of the sampled buck harvest and is similar to the five-year (52 percent) average. However, yearling bucks comprised 78 percent (on average) of the buck harvest prior to 1990 and the long-term average is 70 percent."

The Southern Farmland encompasses most of the southern third of the state and includes the entire Chronic Wasting Disease Zone. The total gun harvest data for the region was 109,002, of which 32,516 were antlered and 75,602 antlerless. The unit with the highest gun harvest was 71 CWD with 10,526 total animals during the gun season. More than 30 percent of the harvest was bucks, while the rest, 7,281, were antlerless.

Coming in second was DMU 69 with a total gun harvest of 5,460; of this, 1,828 were bucks and 3,502 antlerless. Unit 76A CWD was close behind with a total of 5,406; however, this is a CWD unit and has a longer gun season.

Antler growth in this region continues to be strong. A combination of several mild winters and an abundance of agricultural fields have helped fuel good antler growth. More than 89 percent of the 2007 buck harvest consisted of yearling forked bucks.

In 35 DMUs, the Earn-a-Buck program is in place, which requires hunters to shoot an antlerless deer before they can legally take an antlered buck. There is a one-buck limit for each license, archery and gun. Warnke reminds us, "EAB stickers are good anywhere in the state, meaning if you shoot an antlerless deer in an EAB unit, you can use that sticker anywhere in any other EAB unit, including chronic wasting disease units. EAB stickers are not weapon specific, so a hunter can earn one with his bow and then use it with his or her gun tag."

Just because there are supposedly 20 deer in the square mile you are hunting, it doesn't mean they will walk close enough to you to get a clean shot.

If a hunter registered an antlerless deer last year in a unit that is designated an EAB unit this year, he will be pre-qualified for the EAB program. If that unit was not EAB last year, the DNR will mail him a sticker in August. If that unit was in EAB last year, you got a sticker at the registration station and if you did not use it, it is still valid this year. If you did use that sticker, then you have to earn another one. If you lost that sticker, you'll have to shoot another antlerless deer.

In the DMUs not in Earn-A-Buck, most are under herd control season structures, which means that unlimited antlerless deer tags are available for $2 each. There are a few DMUs, mostly in northeastern Wisconsin, where the populations are near goal and antlerless tags are limited and will be on sale for $12 each.

In the chronic wasting disease management zones, there is an unlimited Earn-a-Buck season. This means that hunters will earn the authorization to take one buck for every antlerless deer they register.

Regulations for the CWD units as well as the final deer season regulations have not been finalized, so before going into the woods this fall, consult the DNR's Web site at www.dnr.wi.gov, or obtain the 2007 Wisconsin Deer Hunting Regulations pamphlet issued with each license and available from any DNR service center.

Experienced hunters know that deer generally move in herds. They can concentrate around food sources or bedding areas. Just because there are supposedly 20 deer in the square mile that you are hunting doesn't mean they will walk close enough to you for a clean shot. In fact, many hunters reported anecdotally that the deer were hardly moving during last year's season when there were slightly warmer temperatures and barely any snow on the ground. As always, it will be important to scout the land you are going to hunt to find high-traffic areas with good visibility that will give you the best chance at a safe shot.

Last year, there were more than 643,000 licensed hunters in the woods for the nine-day gun hunt and they harvested approximately 354,000 deer. This means you had a 55 percent chance of harvesting a deer, a percentage that will likely hold for this year as well. Will everyone get a deer this year?

Obviously not.

However, with good scouting and woodsmanship, with any luck, you will be one of those with a great story at the end of deer camp this year. (Editor's Note: Judy Nugent can be heard every week on the radio show "Outdoors with Dan Small and Judy Nugent." She also appears on the TV show "Outdoor Wisconsin." Check local listings for times and stations.)'‚'‚

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

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