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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Anecdotal reports to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources about the opening of the gun deer season is that it was “quiet and slow” to a certain degree.
People reported hearing fewer gunshots and seeing fewer hunters, and the harvest was down this year on opening weekend by 16 percent statewide, said Jeff Pritzl, DNR district wildlife program supervisor, during a news conference held via Zoom on November 21.
Opening weekend was November 18 and 19.
The decline in harvest numbers was anticipated because there was no snow cover this year, but there was snow cover on the opening weekend last year, he said.
There was a decline in the antler-less deer harvest in the central farmland region, which was down about 10,000 deer. The northern forest region was down 25 percent, Pritzl said.
The decline in the northern forest region was not unexpected because the number of deer taken during bow hunting has been down, he said, adding that the lack of snow cover this year and the extremely bad winter last year probably accounted for the 25 percent decline.
As readers will recall, last winter was especially difficult for deer because of the alternating periods of rain and snow so that landscape was covered with many layers of ice and snow, making it difficult for the deer to dig through the ice and snow to find food.
The deer harvest in the central forest region was stable, and the southern farmland region was down, but not as much, Pritzl said.
This year’s gun deer season opener started with calm winds and cold temperatures but no snow on the ground, Pritzl noted.
As the day grew warmer, many hunters, as he did, probably got comfortable and spent more time sitting and waiting, so there were not as many hunters moving around, so the deer were not moving around, he said.
Total deer hunting license sales were not down significantly, with a less than 1 percent decline at .6 percent fewer licenses sold, Pritzl said.
Many of the deer hunters are dual license holders with a gun license and an archery license, he said.
Some hunters had their best opening day ever, some had their worst, and others were in between, Pritzl said.
If you consider opening weekend county by county, those on the eastern side of the state had a better opening weekend, and then as you went farther west, the success “faded off,” he said.
Erin Larson, herd health specialist with the DNR, started off by thanking those hunters who have had their deer tested for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).
Each deer that is sampled expands the DNR’s data set and shows where the disease is and where it is not as well as providing individual hunters with information on their own deer, she said.
For those hunters who want their deer preserved in a full head mount, take the deer to a taxidermist and have the taxidermist remove the “cape,” and then the hunter can take the skinned head to a sample site and send in the sample, Larson said.
For those who want a European mount (skull mount), there is information on the DNR website about how to remove the lymph nodes or call your local DNR office for assistance, she said.
If hunters see sick deer, they are asked to report those to the DNR so the agency can get a better picture of the pattern for deer health concerns, Larson said.
To report sick or dead deer, go to the DNR’s website and enter “sick deer” or “dead deer” as a search term and that will take you to the webpage where you can make your report, she said.
There were two incidents of gun injuries on opening weekend, said Mike Weber, a DNR warden who serves as the administrator of hunter education.
One incident occurred in Forest County where a 53-year-old man suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the foot and was then transported to the hospital, he said.
Forest County is in the northeast part of the state.
The second incident occurred in the Town of Big Flats in Adams County, Weber said.
Adams County is in the central/south central part of the state.
A 62-year-old man thought a dog was an antler-less deer and shot at the dog and ended up hitting the 47-year-old woman in the abdomen who was walking the dog, he said.
The woman was transported by helicopter to a hospital for treatment, Weber said.
One reporter asked if the man was going to face charges since he had shot the woman from a vehicle.
The investigation is on-going, but the man was a disabled hunter, and disabled hunters can hunt from vehicles, Weber said, noting that no charges, if any, would be filed until the investigation is complete.
Hunters should always observe the four rules of firearm safety: treat every gun as if it is loaded; always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction; make sure of your target and what is behind the target; and keep your finger off the trigger guard, Weber said.
Hunters should always have at least 50 percent of their upper body covered in blaze orange or fluorescent pink. Non-hunters should also wear blaze orange, fluorescent pink or wear a highly visible vest and put blaze orange vests or collars on their pets, he said.
When friends and family get together to do deer drives, communicate your plan, and then hunt your plan. Identify safe zones of fire, identify targets and be sure there is a safe backstop, Weber said.
Hunters also should inspect their tree stands, check straps and buckles, and follow other safety precautions such as wearing a full-body safety harness and using a tether rope to pull up your firearm, he said.
One reporter noted that the bear hunt is down because of the acorn crop this year and wondered if that might be a factor in the decrease of deer being shot on opening weekend.
The acorn crop probably is related to the decrease in the deer hunt, Pritzl said.
The acorn crop is on the ground yet up north, and that was a factor in the archery season as well, he said.
When there is a bumper crop of acorns, the deer are not moving around as much because they do not have to travel as far to find food, Pritzl said.
The acorn crop can be very site specific, and it could be one of multiple factors that affected the deer hunt on opening weekend, he said.
Another reporter wanted to know if standing corn was an issue for opening weekend this year.
Across the state, whether corn had been harvested is again site specific. Statewide the amount of corn already harvested is close to the five year average and is only a few days off, Pritzl said.
People were combining corn on opening weekend. Where the corn needed to be dried down, the corn dryers have been full, so the farmers are waiting to harvest corn based on capacity to dry their corn, he said.
Another reporter asked how the deer harvest for opening weekend compared to the five-year average.
The deer hunt on opening weekend was 16 percent behind last year and about 10 percent behind the five year average, Pritzl said.
One reporter asked what hunters out in the woods should do if they see something suspicious or find what appears to be human remains.
If anyone sees something suspicious that person should contact law enforcement immediately, Weber said.
One reporter noted that in terms of statistics, related to the incident in Adams County, it is rare for someone to be shot by someone else who is outside of the individual’s hunting party.
Being shot by someone outside of your hunting party is a fairly uncommon occurrence, Weber said.
Hunter Education started in 1967, and since then, deaths during the hunting season have decreased by 95 percent, he said.
Another reporter asked about the number of incidents being fewer on opening weekend than the past few years.
The reduction in incidents is likely due to people taking hunter safety seriously and applying the firearm safety they have learned as well as the safety law that requires blaze orange or fluorescent pink, Weber said.
One reporter asked about the percentage of deer registered on opening weekend.
About half of the deer that are killed in a hunting season are registered on opening weekend, and the other half are registered during the following seven days, Pritzl said.