Reducing quotas, permits is 2023 recommendation from county CDAC
TAYLOR COUNTY DEER ADVISORY COUNCIL
The Taylor County Deer Advisory Council is recommending a reduction in the county’s antlerless quotas and bonus harvest authorizations for the 2023 deer hunting seasons.
The recommendation was finalized in the group’s Monday meeting at Medford Area Senior High School by a 6-2 vote. In a change this year, this was the only CDAC meeting during the quota-setting process following an online public input period in mid-April. In previous years, CDACs met twice in this process, setting preliminary and then final recommendations.
While data metrics presented by Emma Hansen, the DNR wildlife biologist for Taylor and Rusk counties, showed deer populations are expected to be higher in the county based on an improved harvest in the county during the 2022 hunting season, most council members were reluctant to raise quotas and permit numbers.
In 2022, Taylor County hunters registered 6,174 total deer, including 3,114 bucks and 3,060 antlerless deer up from 2,686 and 2,666 in 2021.
The belief that the stubborn winter weather and predation may dent deer numbers in some areas, particularly the forested public land, was one reason. Another was the reality that raising tag numbers on private land is pointless because the county has been unable to sell the 10,000 tags it’s made available for private-land hunters the past two years.
Continued concerns about an apparent lack of growth in the public land herd led to the council cutting that part of the antlerless quota in half from 250 to 125. Using a success rate of 21% resulted in 595 public antlerless tags being the recommendation, down from 1,200 tags in 2022.
On private land, the council dropped the antlerless quota from 2,500 last year to 2,300. Using the 27% success rate hunters had with the 7,895 tags sold last year, the recommendation came out to 8,520 bonus authorizations for this year. The county did sell out its 8,350 private land tags in 2020, but sales were in the 7,800 range the past two falls when 10,000 were available.
The Winter Severity Index, which assigns one point for days where the temperature gets below zero and one point for days with snow depths exceeding 18 inches, will end up at about 50 for Taylor County, Hansen said, which puts this winter on border between mild and moderate. By comparison, the historicallybad winter of 2013-14 had an index in the 150s.
As has been the case in recent years, the private land quota and tag numbers were set fairly quickly by the council, noting that most respondents in the April public survey favored quotas and permit levels that were the same as last year or lower. Agricultural representative James Livingston said those he’s talked to with agricultural interests would’ve like to see increases in deer harvests.
“Where we have ag land that’s next to forested public, they’re there but they’re coming out onto those ag fields and they’re fairly significant,” Livingston said.
Forest representative Jake Walcisak, the Taylor County Forest administrator felt the public land quotas and tags could go up based on what his crew has seen on the county forest in the northeastern part of the county. In the April online survey among those who indicated hunting public land was their primary interest, 14 of 43 said they wished to see the same number of permits and 17 wanted higher numbers while 11 wanted to see lower numbers.
Walcisak said four winter killed deer have been found in the county forest and he said practicing foresters on federal land in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest that he’s talked to have found only a few dead deer.
“On the Taylor County Forest, we run five Snapshot cameras and from last year to this year, just as we’d seen the previous year, a notable increase in total deer triggered and a notable increase on unique bucks identified on the county forest,” Walcisak said. “So far this spring we have seen anecdotally more deer than previous springs and I’ve been here now for 11 years and can say this is the highest occurrence of deer than I’ve seen in any other spring.”
But the comment that seemed to have the most impact on the council’s thinking on public lands came from Brian Bucki, the Deer Management Assistance Program representative, who noted that Taylor County’s public land buck registration totals from 2019-22 are 371, 395, 403 and 416, while the totals were 409, 484 and 520 in the three years after the record severe winter of 2013-14.
“If that’s what we’re using truly as our population level, we’re way below the three seasons following those two rough winters. We’re way below that even,” Bucki said. “I don’t want to go on a rant here, but 10 to 12 years for a bear tag, nothing being done about the wolves, 10 to 12 years for a bobcat tag and to me, it’s showing. Man isn’t killing these deer. It’s predators.”
“We’ve been doing this for nine years now and we have been trying to grow the herd on public land by keeping the tags at a relatively low number,” CDAC chairman Mike Riggle said. “Other counties in the Northern Forest have been even more severe. We had a zero quota for two years. There were counties up north that had zero quotas for about five, six, seven years. The reality of the situation is none of those counties, including us, really rebuilt our herds on public lands. At least not to the extent to which you would figure it would come back when you look at buck kill.
“My thought process is, then there’s a lot of other factors that are playing into this other than antlerless quotas and anterless permits and those are things we can’t control. I was hoping we’d be way, way better off than we are now.”
“The way I see it is that there is only so much habitat out on the landscape,” Hansen said, adding that lower hunter numbers and more hunter selectivity might be factors too along with predation. “I think we’re kind of reaching the point where we see over time we’re not really increasing our buck harvest no matter how many antlerless tags we issue.”
Kurt Haas, the county’s DNR conservation warden, said the public land numbers are likely skewed by hunters who shoot deer on those lands but register them under private land tags, often from Marathon and Clark County, or they don’t register them at all. The lack of carcass tags is certainly an issue in forest/ farmland boundary counties like Taylor, Chippewa and Lincoln.
“You can’t put a number on it,” Haas said. “I can’t tell you how many but it happens and I think it happens a lot by the few people, the small minority of people I talk to and these large groups and you ask them, ‘who registered those six deer?’ “I don’t know, cousin Bill and Bob and Jim’ and it turns into that.
“Talking to large groups especially this last year on public land mostly in the county forest, people were very happy with what they saw,” Haas said. “They were pushing deer, they weren’t choosing to shoot does, they were shooting bucks. It goes back to the dynamics of do people even eat deer anymore or how many do they want?”
Bucki proposed the 50% cut in the public quota, transportation representative Scott Mildbrand countered with a 20% cut and tourism representative Allan Koffler first said he sat somewhere in the middle. Riggle called for a vote between 50% and 20% and 50% won 4-3.
Walcisak and Livingston were the council members who voted against the recommendation. The council was also required to add a junior antlerless quota for the first time. It used the four-year harvest average of 413 for that. Rounding up that creates a total quota recommendation of 2,840 for the county.
“I think you’re on the right track with private land with about how we want to try to make it a somewhat realistic number but also try to keep pushing to show that we need to have that maintain objective,” Hansen said in her assessment at the end of the meeting. “I disagree with the public land assessment. I don’t think it’s really going to have that much impact. You are considering public perception so that’s definitely something to balance. But having that 1% (of the population) decrease in tags isn’t really going to equate to much of a population increase in my opinion. I think it’s just limiting hunter opportunity.”
The recommendations will be submitted to the Natural Resources Board May 23, which is set to give its final approval to quotas and permit numbers on June 21.