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Gun deer harvest takes significant plunge in Taylor County, statewide

Deer registration numbers were on a downward trend after opening weekend of the annual nine-day gun hunt and two winter storms in the back half of the season did nothing to help them.

Preliminary registration totals released by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday show a 27.2% drop in the totals from this point a year ago, including a 35.7% drop in the buck kill.

The 2,519 deer registered during the nine-day season is the third-lowest total in Taylor County since 1993, with the preliminary totals of 1,736 in 2014 and 1,480 in 1993 being the only ones lower.

Statewide, the registration total was 160,769 deer, representing a 24.9% drop from 2018. That’s reported to be the largest percentage drop from one year to the next in 39 years.

“I don’t want to say surprised because we understand when we shift from the earliest start date to the latest start date like we did this year that the numbers tend to drop a little bit,” said Joshua Spiegel, the DNR’s wildlife biologist for Taylor and Rusk counties. “I wouldn’t say we were expecting this big of a drop. But it’s not super surprising when you’re talking about the two storms that we dealt with during the week.”

Mother Nature delivered several inches of wet, heavy snow to the area on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, fouling up many hunters’ mid-week plans and then ended the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with another winter storm that started with light snow and then some ice Saturday and finished with about 8 inches of snow in the Medford area and higher totals to the north.

The storms followed an opening weekend Nov. 23-24 that featured above normal temperatures. How that affected deer movement, like always, depended on where people hunted.

“From my personal perspective and observations, the deer seemed to be moving the first Saturday into mid-morning,” Spiegel said. “But as it warmed up and we got later into Saturday and into Sunday and even Monday, they locked up a bit. For us, we saw them by still hunting and not sitting.”

DNR figures show 1,264 bucks being registered by Taylor County hunters compared to 1,966 being registered on opening weekend last year. Opening weekend buck registration numbers were 1,860 in 2017, 1,689 in 2016, 1,522 in 2015 and 1,209 in the rock-bottom year of 2014 after the back-to-back severe winters that hit Wisconsin.

The antlerless registration total in Taylor County was 1,255, down 16.1% from 1,495 last year and lower preliminary figures of 1,305 in 2017 and 1,338 in 2016 when permit levels were not as high as they were this year.

As they were after opening weekend, overall regis- tration numbers were down in all counties throughout the state, generally anywhere from 20 to 35 percent. However, some counties in the DNR’s Northern Region were down over 45 or even 50%.

Some of the largest drops in the Northern Region were found in Florence County (53.6% overall), Oconto County (51.8% overall), Vilas County (49.3% overall), Forest County (47.6% overall) and Ashland County (44.9% overall).

Registration totals in neighboring Price County fell 29.1% overall from 2,442 to 1,732 with a 43.7% drop in bucks (1,775 to 1,000) but a 9.7% increase in antlerless registrations (667 to 732). Rusk County fell 28.6% overall with a 33.3% drop in bucks (1,842 to 1,229) and a 21.4% drop in antlerless deer (1,189 to 934).

While the nine-day gun deer harvest is typically viewed as a major indicator of deer population trends, Spiegel said this year may be an aberration. He noted crossbow and archery numbers were solid heading into the gun hunt. The late start to the season meant a lack of rutting activity and Spiegel noted there were many more fields with standing corn than normal for this time of year where deer may have been holding tight.

“I was talking to (Taylor County) warden Kurt Haas and he mentioned that he had talked to hunters in Taylor County who were saying they knew the deer were there, but they were having trouble getting set up on them,” Spiegel said. “Obviously there pockets of land that are tougher to hunt, but it sounds like there were good pockets that had a tough hunt.”

Once all the final numbers are compiled, the results of this year’s hunt as well as the effects of winter could make for some interesting discussions among county deer advisory councils as they set antlerless quotas and permit levels for 2020.

“Everything points to population levels still being in that stable to slightly upward range,” Spiegel said. “Now we’ll see how winter impacts them. If we got 20inch snowstorms every week we’ll be talking differently in the spring.

“On the flip side, if we end up having a winter that’s mildly better than some of the severe ones we’ve had we may end up with higher deer populations and growth just because of the hunting season we had. We’ll see what winter brings.”

Spiegel said early indications were there was a decent response to the DNR’s call for deer heads to be sampled for chronic wasting disease testing and the Taylor County Sportsman’s Club dumpster that was set up in Medford for hunters to dispose of deer carcasses appeared to be a success as well.

Statewide report

Overall, preliminary figures show that 160,769 deer were registered during the nine-day hunt in Wisconsin, compared to 213,972 in 2018. Of the deer harvested this year, 75,236 were antlered compared to 105,315 in 2018. There were 85,533 antlerless deer registered, a decrease of 108,657 from last year.

Reports from hunters around Wisconsin indicated low daytime deer activity throughout the gun deer season. Hunters afield within even a few miles of each oth- er reported varying levels of deer sightings, confirming that deer are not evenly distributed on the landscape.

Standing corn proved to be an additional factor that likely influenced success in the field. At the conclusion of the nine-day, harvest was 66% complete, 22 days behind the 2018 harvest.

Wisconsin held the earliest possible deer season in 2018 followed this year by the latest possible season opener. When this occurred between the 2012-13 and 2007-07 seasons, there were similar declines in year-toyear registration totals.

The 2019 harvest breakdown by Deer Management Zone (with percent change from 2018) included:

_ Northern Forest Zone: 16,051 antlered (39.5% decrease) and 10,470 antlerless (36.1% decrease).

_ Central Forest Zone: 2,972 antlered (33.7% decrease) and 2,049 antlerless (21.5% decrease).

_ Central Farmland Zone: 39,450 antlered (23.5% decrease) and 52,995 antlerless (17.3% decrease).

_ Southern Farmland Zone: 16,763 antlered (26.4% decrease) and 20,019 antlerless (21.8% decrease).

Hunting incidents

The DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement reports four firearm-involved injuries and zero fatalities for the entire 2019 nine-day gun deer season.

Three of the four incidents occurred on Saturday, Nov. 23, in Oneida, Marathon and Fond du Lac counties.

_ In Oneida County, a 38-year-old man suffered a self-inflicted firearm-related injury, striking his left foot.

_ In Marathon County, a 29-year-old woman suffered a self-inflicted firearm-related injury, striking her left foot.

_ In Fond du Lac County, a hunter shooting toward a running deer struck a 19-year-old woman, who was a member of his same hunting group, in the left hand.

The fourth weekend incident occurred in Washburn County on Sunday, Nov. 24.

_ In Washburn County, a 31-year-old man was struck by a single bullet from a hunter in a different hunting group. The shooter has been identified. The investigation continues, and no additional details are being released at this time.

Wisconsin’s 10-year average for hunting incidents during the nine-day gun deer season is 6.8.