Hunters and state wildlife officials are gearing up for the fall hunting seasons, including the 2021 archery and crossbow deer seasons that run concurrently state­wide from this Saturday, Sept. 18, to Jan. 9, 2022.

For the fourth straight year, some archery hunters in the Northern Forest Zone will be allowed to harvest an antlerless deer if the deer hunter has an authorization permit. In addition, there are no buck-only units this year. 

Throughout the rest of the state, antlerless hunting opportunities are available through the use of Farmland Zone and bonus antlerless author­izations.

Archery and crossbow deer hunters have a continuous season framework that includes hunting during all gun deer seasons in November and December, plus the option to fill a gun deer tag using crossbow or archery equipment during open firearm seasons.

In its first seven years, hunting with a crossbow has provided additional opportunity for many hunters throughout Wisconsin and accounts for the highest rate of participation by women, more than any other deer hunting method, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Those interested in using a conventional bow and/or a crossbow may do so by paying full price for one of the licenses and purchasing a $3 upgrade for the second license. Hunters will use the same buck and antlerless authorizations issued with their first license of choice.

Last year, archery and crossbow hunters harvested more than 110,000 deer, including more than 64,000 bucks, an increase from 2019.

Mild winter

While the winter of 2020-’21 certainly had its local impacts on deer, it lacked factors to make it as harsh as other winters such as 2013-’14.

While some winter losses are experienced every year, they were not known to be significant this past winter. Population objectives by County Deer Advisory Councils in most northern deer management units were to increase deer numbers over three years.

Curt Rollman, DNR biologist for the Northern Forest Region, said Wisconsin provides a wide range of deer hunting experiences.

“Hunters can tree stand hunt small forest lots in a mix of agricultural and forest land or be mobile while still hunting large blocks of remote woods,” said Rollman. “This ranging habitat also leads to varying deer populations across the region with some areas able to sustain more deer than others.”

The 2020-’21 winter was mild across most of the north, according to Rollman.

“Many areas did not have deep snow all year, and we saw only a few snaps of bitter cold. A few counties in the snow belt received enough snow and extreme cold to be into the moderate category, but overall, the winter was a reprieve from the harsher winters.” 

Rollman noted the 2020 gun season had more favorable weather, which contributed to an increased harvest. A majority of the northern deer management units experienced an increase in buck harvest. 

“Buck harvest can be a better comparison from season to season as it does not fluctuate based on permit availability in the way antlerless harvest does,” said Rollman. “Even though gun season still accounts for a majority of harvested deer, the archery season continues to play a larger role in overall harvest. This is a trend that has been occurring for decades and is expected to continue.”

Habitat vital

The 2021-’22 deer seasons are looking promising due to an expected increase in population for most areas, according to Rollman, who noted finding good habitat is vital to locating deer. 

“It is important to continue to adapt to deer movements as the habitat changes, including new timber harvests found across the north,” said Rollman. “Another variable habitat feature is the acorn crop, which is always important to consider when hunting the forested areas of the north.”

Last year, hunters had spotty reports of good acorn production which is typical of the three- to five-year cycle that most of the region experiences.

“This year is expected to be another spotty year of acorn production, which again lends itself to the importance of scouting,” said Rollman. “Not all oak stands will be equal as deer will leave low producing areas to find areas that have a better acorn crop.”

Deer hunters are reminded that baiting is not allowed in Vilas, Oneida or Forest counties.

Hunters are reminded all harvested deer must be registered electronically by 5 p.m. the day after the deer is recovered.