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Quiet opening gun deer weekend here, in much of the state

Quiet opening gun deer weekend here, in much of the state Quiet opening gun deer weekend here, in much of the state

If you thought it was quiet in your hunting area of Taylor County during opening weekend of Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer season, you probably weren’t alone.

Preliminary registration totals for the weekend released Tuesday by the Department of Natural Resources show registrations totals for Taylor County were down 27% overall from last year over the first two days of the season, including a 26.1% drop in buck registration numbers and a 28.4% drop in antlerless numbers.

That’s the biggest percentage drop for opening weekend in Taylor County since there was a nearly 31% drop in total registrations on the first weekend of the 2019 season. That year saw a dramatic 43% drop in the buck harvest in the county over opening weekend.

A total of 1,303 deer were registered through 5 p.m. on Monday by Taylor County hunters, of which 789 were antlered bucks and 514 were antlerless deer. The antlerless figure is the lowest in the county for opening weekend since 456 were registered in 2017. A year ago, 1,786 deer were registered through the first two days of the season. In that total, 1,068 were bucks and 718 were antlerless deer.

This year’s totals so far are, not surprisingly, also below Taylor County’s five-year averages for opening weekend, which are 1,529 total deer, 886 bucks and 643 antlerless deer.

Taylor County is part of the DNR’s Northern Forest Zone, where the overall count also was down 27% from last year and 16.9% from the five-year average. The region experienced a 32.7% drop in antlerless registrations from last year’s opening weekend and a 24.3% drop in buck kills.

Every region of the state saw on overall drop in registration numbers, though 11 counties saw increases, led by a 15% increase in Rock County.

“I think people are using the word quiet and slow to a certain degree based on what people saw and heard based on shots fired and hearing about deer harvested,” DNR Deer Program Specialist Jeff Pritzl said Tuesday in a briefing with statewide media. “Indeed harvest numbers were down this year compared to last year. That wasn’t unexpected because comparing to last year when we had snow cover, we didn’t this year. We kind of anticipated we wouldn’t hit last year’s opening weekend marks.”

While weather conditions were perfect for humans taking part in the hunt with temperatures in the 40s and 50s throughout the state and virtually no wind in this area, the lack of snow cover makes deer harder to spot and track and the warmth may have curtailed deer movement to some degree.

“In general, hunters were saying we had really great conditions in the mornings of calm winds, cold temperatures,” Pritzl said. “We had everything we’d want except for that snow cover. But then as the days progressed and the temperatures warmed up, and it got really comfortable. That’s a good thing. It’s nice to be outside and enjoy the hunt and comfortable conditions, but that also means, I myself included, I spent more time just sitting and waiting. When hunters aren’t moving around on the landscape, that sometimes leads to less deer movement on the landscape, especially if those deer don’t want to move naturally.”

Pritzl noted the most concerning percentage drop came in the Central Farmland Zone, where antlerless numbers are down 20% from a year ago and by about 6,000 deer. As for the Northern Forest Region, he said drops in harvest were expected, especially in areas hit hard by last year’s deep snow.

“In the Northern Forest Zone, percentage wise they’re down a little bit further running more in the neighborhood of 25%, which is not unexpected based on what we saw with the archery harvest so far and given the extreme snowfall we had last winter,” Pritzl said. “That’s a pretty standard reaction to when we have winter severity like we did last year, especially in the northwest we can see about a 25% decline in harvest the following year and that’s where we are.”

Pritzl said in most years, opening weekend will account for about half of the nine-day season’s total harvest. With a little bit cooler temperates and no storms in the forecast through the rest of the week, he’s hopeful the pace of the harvest can still pick up.

“Looking ahead the rest of this week, once we get through this wet condition in the eastern half of the state (Tuesday) we’re going to see another temperature drop associated with Thanksgiving and the rest of the week,” Pritzl said. “Conditions are looking pretty good other than, again, a lack of snow. I’ll be hoping to see especially those antlerless harvest numbers in the farmland zones catch back up over the rest of the week.”

In total, hunters registered 92,050 deer statewide during the opening weekend of the 2023 gun deer hunt, compared to 103,623 registered for the same period in 2022. This is a 16% decrease from 2022 and 10% below the 5-year average. A majority of the decrease was due to a decline in antlerless deer harvest, but that usually picks up over the second half of the season.

A total of 51,870 bucks were registered on opening weekend, compared to 56,638 in 2022. This is a 13% decrease over 2022.

Reports of breeding behavior were still coming from across the state, however not as common as some may have hoped, given the early start to the season.

Two incidents

The DNR reports two firearm-involved hunting incidents during the opening weekend of the 2023 gun deer season.

In Argonne Township in Forest County Saturday, in the morning hours, a 53-year-old male suffered a selfinflicted gunshot to the foot. The victim was walking to his tree stand on public property and adjusted his rifle sling when he accidentally pulled the trigger. The victim was transported to the hospital for non-life threatening injuries.

In Big Flats Township in Adams County on Sunday, in the morning hours, a 62-year-old male disabled hunter, hunting from a vehicle, shot once at a dog, which he believed was an antlerless deer on private property. The 47-year-old female victim who was walking that dog was shot in her abdomen. The victim was transported via Med Flight for her injuries and is still being treated in a hospital.

Comparatively, during the opening weekend of the 2022 gun deer season, the DNR reported six firearminvolved hunting incidents. Of those incidents, three were self-inflicted gunshots.

Conservation wardens remind all hunters to always follow and practice the four main rules of firearm safety, otherwise known as the TAB-K formula: T - Treat every firearm as if it is loaded. A - Always point the muzzle in a safe direction. B - Be certain of your target, what’s before it and what’s beyond it.

K - Keep your finger outside your trigger guard until you are safe to shoot.

Following the TAB-K formula is the best way for hunters to their part in preventing hunting incidents from occurring. This year, the DNR stresses the importance of always pointing your muzzle in a safe direction in addition to being certain of your target, what’s before it and what’s beyond it.

License sales data

Preliminary figures indicate the number of deer hunters in Wisconsin slightly decreased compared to 2022.

As of midnight Sunday, Nov. 19, sales for gun, bow, crossbow, sports and conservation patron licenses reached 774,369. Of that total, 421,525 were for gun privileges only. The year-to-date sales for all deer licenses are down 0.61% from the same time last year. The number of conservation patron licenses sold in 2023 is 1.5% higher than conservation patron licenses sold in 2022.

Of the total licenses sold, 65% were sold online, and 35% were sold in-person by DNR license agents and DNR service centers, which includes private businesses across the state.