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County deer harvest drops during opening weekend

County deer harvest drops during opening weekend County deer harvest drops during opening weekend

Deer harvest totals over the opening weekend of the nine-day gun season were down throughout the area, according to preliminary numbers from the Wisconsin DNR.

Marathon County hunters harvested a total of 2,970 deer over the weekend, a 10.8 percent decrease from 2020, when 3,329 deer were killed. That number represents a 20.8 percent slide from the county’s five-year average.

The county’s harvest included 1,689 bucks (down 1.4 percent) and 1,281 anterless deer (down 20.7 percent).

Statewide, deer harvest totals were down 14 percent over last year. The only deer manage­ment zone to see an increase was the northern forest, with hunters killing 9.3 percent more deer than last year.

Across Wisconsin, 85,860 deer were harvested by gun over opening weekend, compared to the 99,832 registered for the same period in 2020.

Eric Lobner, director of the Wisconsin DNR’s wildlife management program, said license sales were down 1.7 percent over last year, but “it was still a great number.”

A total of around 795,000 licenses were sold this year, he said, which included 42,931 first-time license buyers as of midnight on Sunday.

“Wisconsin continues to be a key destination location,” he said, noting that an additional 2,000 out-of-state licenses were sold this year.

Jeff Pritzl, the DNR’s deer program specialist, said the opening weekend numbers are in line with a shift toward the early crossbow and archery seasons, when hunters have a chance to fill their tags.

“It’s too early to draw any narratives or conclusions, and that’s why we wait until the end of the year to really look at numbers and put them all together,” he said.

Weather conditions were very pleasant on opening day, Pritzl noted.

“A lot of people commented that it was a nice day to sit in the stand,” he said. “The upside of that is a lot of people are out there hunting and enjoying the conditions.”

However, as more hunters stay stationary in a stand, he said they have to rely more on the natural movements of deer rather than those sparked by human activity.

“Deer activity did not seem to be that high on opening day even though the conditions were nice for hunting,” he said.

Pritzl said outdoor conditions deteriorated considerably on Sunday, when a winter storm front moved through the state, which could have had a negative impact on harvest numbers.

“The decrease really seemed to be playing out in the farmland,” he said.

Pritzl said registration numbers for the nine-day gun season remain “robust,” but more hunters are taking advantage of the earlier seasons.

“If you think about it, a pretty good chunk of the hunting community already had an opportunity to put a deer in the freezer, so to speak,” Pritzl said. “So, their incentive to take a deer this weekend wasn’t as strong as it might have been.”

During a conference call with reporters, DNR officials were asked if the ongoing ammunition shortage might have something to do with the decline in harvest numbers.

Pritzl said he does not believe the ammo shortage affected the harvest, though Lobner said it may have affected hunters’ firing decisions.

“Certainly people were being a little bit more judicious in their shot selection because they didn’t have as much ammunition in their pocket, but we really have not heard any issue associated with individuals not choosing to hunt because they didn’t have ammunition,” he said.