Higher quotas, more permits are proposed
The coronavirus shutdown didn’t stop Taylor County’s Deer Advisory Council (CDAC), which met via conference call Monday and proposed increasing antlerless harvest quotas and permit allocations for the 2020 deer hunting season.
The private-land harvest quota of 2,500 antlerless deer with 8,350 available permits and the public-land harvest quota of 300 deer with 1,000 available permits are preliminary. The council will meet again on Monday, May 4 at 7 p.m. to finalize this year’s numbers. Whether that meeting will be held by conference call or at the usual site of County Market in Medford has not been determined.
In between, a public comment period will take place April 16-28 where those interested can fill out a county-specific survey to provide feedback on the proposed numbers. That feedback is more important this year since no public comments were able to be taken on Monday’s conference call.
Starting April 16, the survey can be found by visiting dnr.wi.gov and searching key word “CDAC.”
The start of the 2020 quota-setting process follows a 2019 hunting season that was progressing well in Taylor County but then took some wrong turns in November. A major cold snap early in the month may have slowed down the rut and lowered hunting pressure at the typical peak of the archery/ crossbow season, warm weather on opening weekend of the nine-day gun season may have slowed down deer movement and two major snowstorms during the back half of the gun season brought hunting in northern Wisconsin to a near standstill.
There were significant drops in Taylor County’s gun harvest statistics compared to 2018, while traditional archery tallies were slightly lower than 2018 and crossbow harvest numbers were slightly higher.
The starting points for Monday’s discussion were a post-hunt deer population estimate in Taylor County of 25,588 after last season ended and a predicted pre-hunt population estimate in 2020 of 34,500. Those figures compare to a post-hunt estimate of 30,190 after the 2018 hunt and a pre-hunt 2019 estimate in the neighborhood of 35,356 deer. These numbers were presented by the council’s DNR wildlife liaison Josh Spiegel.
“Last year in 2018 we had 30,000 deer post-hunt, this year we have 25,000, but our pre-hunt is about the same both years. I’m just wondering how there was that big of an increase if we’re starting out with 5,000 less deer this year?” council member Brian Bucki asked.
Spiegel said there are two key ideas to keep in mind when it comes to this year’s projections. The first is Taylor County’s Winter Severity Index figure, which sits at a low mark of 24 for most areas of the county. A year ago, it was 64 and there was concern over winter’s harsh finish.
“The big thing that we’re seeing this year is we’re going to have –– and there’s always some –– but we’re going to have very little overwinter kill this year and our deer should be in very good condition, which should result in very good reproduction this spring,” Spiegel said. “The model is indicating that we’re going to have very good herd growth prior to the 2020 deer hunting season.”
The other key point was that the DNR’s Sex-Age-Kill models are largely driven by the previous season’s buck harvest. Taylor County’s total buck harvest for all 2019 seasons was 2,447, down 21.4% from 2018’s total of 3,114. A drop wasn’t a big surprise because, historically, the buck harvest during the gun season drops an average of 12.9% statewide in years where opening day shifts from the earliest possible date to the latest, as it did last year. The 2019 statewide gun season buck harvest dropped 13.9%.
“All indications are, I think you guys will see this as well, our poor gun deer season wasn’t necessarily influenced by the deer population itself but more other factors on the landscape,” Spiegel said. “So we’re fairly confident that the deer population is still plenty strong.”
The DNR’s figures also show a solid ratio of 0.83 fawns per 100 does late last summer in the county, which continues an upward three-year trend. Deer observed per hour increased as reported in two different surveys and Taylor County’s 2.5 bucks harvested per square mile still ranked among the state’s best.
Each of the council members agreed increases in quotas and permit numbers are needed to keep deer numbers in check and there was a general consensus that deer numbers aren’t likely to have shifted significantly upward or downward prior to this year’s fawns being added to the herd.
Bucki said in the days prior to Monday’s meeting he polled 15 large farm or large land tract owners in the county.
“Seven thought the population was slightly down on private land, four of those thought it was up and four thought it was about the same,” Bucki said. “Now in saying that, the people that were saying it was up or down it was always slightly. So overall, it was pretty unanimous that the 15 farmers and large tract land owners that I talked to were pretty much telling me they thought this year’s population was right about what it was last year.”
Setting the numbers
Chairman Mike Riggle threw out a private-land harvest quota of 3,000 to start the nuts-and-bolts part of the discussion. Forestry representative Jake Walcizak countered with 3,400, while the other members favored 2,400 to 2,500. The 2,500 figure wound up winning out on a 5-1 vote.
“Based upon what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard and kinda the math that I have done, I think (3,000 is) a little bit on the high side,” council member Chip Courtney said. “I would be more comfortable with a private-land quota in that 2,400-2,500 deer range. I think that’s still a substantial increase from 2018 and I think that when you consider the input that we’ve gotten from landowners and other interested individuals, I think it probably is the best reflection on kind of maintaining where we are with our overall herd population.”
The next step was to project a hunter success rate to determine a number of permits proposed to be offered. Last year’s success rates in the county took a hit, falling from 34.1% with private tags in 2018 to 28.5% last year. The privateland tag success rate was 34.2% in 2017 and 39.1% in 2016.
A lower predicted success rate results in a higher number of tags. Council member Scott Mildbrand said putting a higher than expected number of tags up for sale could create a negative public perception.
“I understand perception, but the reality is that our success rate has been dropping,” Riggle countered. “Do I think we should go to 25%? No. But I think maybe if you take the average of this year and last year 34% and 28%, if you go 30%, you’d have 7,500 tags. We can’t do things because well we don’t want to have that many tags because we don’t like the perception. Perception isn’t reality sometimes. If people say, ‘oh my god, 7,500 tags, you’re going to kill 7,500 deer,’ that’s not the reality. The reality is we’re trying to kill 2,500 deer and in order to do that we have to put out this many tags.”
Spiegel noted antlerless harvests have come in below quota the past three years, by 14% in 2017, 5% in 2018 and 16% in 2019. A fourth straight year of underharvest could have consequences next year.
“We don’t want to get to the point where the population gets out of control,” Spiegel said. “We have to remember that a large portion of our county is located in fairly agricultural and open area. It’s not all big woods like the northeast quarter.”
A 30% success rate passed unanimously, resulting in the 8,350 permit amount. In 2019, the private-land quota was 1,900 deer with 5,600 permits issued.
Switching to public lands, Riggle started by throwing out a quota number of 300, up from last year’s 200, and that passed 4-2 with Walcizak pushing for 400 and Bucki looking for about 250.
“My rationale for seeing higher than a 300 quota is largely based on two items outside of any deer damage metrics,” Walcizak said. “We sold out of our public land deer tags last year in one hour and 18 minutes I think it was. In the last two years we’ve underharvested our quota by 22% between 2018 and 2019 on public lands. I think it’s clear that hunters want the opportunity, they’re seeking the opportunity, they’re even in some instances violating to do so.”
The success rate on the 675 public-land tags last year was just 25%, down from 28.7% in 2018. Only one-tenth of the 50 extra tags issued by county officials for specific areas in the Taylor County Forest were filled, leading to Bucki’s hesitation to go to 300.
“The less tags, the more precious they are and with us only giving out 500 tags in 2018 you would think those people with those tags would really be putting in an effort to fill them and we still only came up with 28% that year,” Bucki countered. “Last year was 675 and they sold out in an hour. There again, you would think those people are really trying to fill those tags and we came up with a 25%. That’s still where I’m at with this.”
A 30% success rate wound up passing unanimously, resulting in the proposed 1,000 public-land tags.
“We really have to be careful with these success rates,” Spiegel said. “In the two years we’ve issued public land tags, we haven’t touched 30% yet, so if we don’t touch it again we’re going to be below our goal of harvest and that would be the third year of being below the goal of harvest. Please just think about that before the final meeting and take all the public comments and everything in there too. One of the ways this can get out of hand is not projecting the accurate numbers. We definitely want to hit our goal.”
Spiegel also noted the DNR is looking to make another big push this fall to get as many Taylor County deer tested for chronic wasting disease as possible. Despite a big public relations push last year, only 104 deer wound up being tested in the county. All results came back negative.
“The better sample we can provide the stronger we’re obviously going to be in defense of CWD and confirming it’s not here,” Spiegel said. “In order to make our sample viable, we need about 300 deer sampled over a two-year time frame and we only sampled just over 100 last year. We’re going to need to double our effort.”