The Butternut Lake area in Forest County was home to four generations of deer hunters this year in the Gemer family. They include, from left, Alan, A.J., Ari and Art Gemer, who have hunted the national forest for many years. —Contributed Photo
The Butternut Lake area in Forest County was home to four generations of deer hunters this year in the Gemer family. They include, from left, Alan, A.J., Ari and Art Gemer, who have hunted the national forest for many years. —Contributed Photo
Preliminary registration numbers from the 2019 gun deer season show the buck harvest dropping 45.4% in the tri-county area, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

While opening weekend saw mild temperatures throughout the state with some snow in the North Woods, hunting conditions deteriorated throughout the remainder of the season as heavy wind and snow moved through northern Wisconsin — dropping up to 20 inches of snow in parts of Vilas, Oneida and Forest counties.

In Vilas County, the buck kill dropped 38.7% from 991 bucks in 2018 to 607 this year. The Oneida County buck kill dropped 46.8% from 1,555 in 2018 to 827 this year. The Forest County buck kill dropped 49.5% from 1,079 last year to 545 this year.

In the 18-county Northern Region, the buck kill dropped 39.5% from 26,516 last year to 16,051 this year.

Overall, preliminary state­­­wide figures show that 160,769 deer were registered during the nine-day gun deer hunt, compared to 213,972 in 2018. Of the deer harvested in the 2019 nine-day season, 75,236 were antlered compared to 105,315 in 2018. The nine-day hunt also provided hunters with 85,533 antlerless deer, a decrease from 108,657 in 2018. Statewide, the buck kill dropped by 28.6%, the antlerless harvest by 21.3% and the overall kill by 24.9%.

Chuck McCullough, DNR wildlife management supervisor for the Northern Region, said Wisconsin held the earliest possible deer season in 2018 followed this year by the latest possible season opener. When this occurred between the 2012-’13 and 2007-’08 seasons, there were similar declines in year-to-year registration totals.

The Wisconsin gun deer season always coincides with the Thanksgiving holiday, with the season starting the Saturday before. 

McCullough said the rut was pretty much done by the start of the gun deer season Nov. 23. In addition, the largest declines in buck harvest occurred in the northern forest zone, where blizzard-like conditions and significant snow accumulation hindered hunter access later in the season.

The antlerless harvest also dropped in the tri-county region in 2019. Vilas dropped 70.3% from 498 to 148; Oneida dropped 32.2% from 854 to 579; and Forest dropped 39.8% from 264 to 159. Some of the decline in the antlerless harvest can be attributed to fewer antlerless harvest authorizations issued this year season due to a harsh winter in 2019.

The Northern Region antlerless harvest dropped 36.1% from 16,383 last year to 10,470 this year. 



More seasons


Hunters have additional opportunities to harvest a deer with several upcoming seasons:

• Now through Dec. 11 — statewide muzzleloader hunt;

• Dec. 12-15 — statewide four-day antlerless-only hunt;

• Dec. 24 to Jan. 1, 2020 —nine-day antlerless-only holiday hunt in select Farmland Zone counties;

• Now through Jan. 5, 2020 — remaining archery and crossbow seasons; and

• Jan. 5-31, 2020 — extended archery and crossbow seasons in select Farmland Zone counties.

Hunters may use any unfilled antlerless harvest authorization during any of these hunts, but they must be used in the zone, county and land type designated on the harvest authorization. For more information regarding hunts offered in each county, check out the interactive deer map at dnr.wi.gov, keyword “DMU.”

Hunters are required to register harvested deer before 5 p.m. the day after recovery

at gamereg.wi.gov or by calling 1-844-426-3734. Any hunter who failed to follow mandatory registration rules should do so now, despite having missed the deadline.

Reports from hunters indicate that going online is the fastest and easiest way to register deer. The GameReg internet registration system and call-in phone option worked well, while hunters continue to visit walk-in stations that offer these services. 

DNR officials say the accuracy of deer harvest numbers is directly related to the level of hunter compliance. If a hunter forgot to register their deer, they still have time to use GameReg and help ensure each deer harvest is counted. For more information, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keyword “GameReg.”



License/accidents

As Wisconsin hunters put another gun deer season in the books, preliminary li­cense sale and hunting incident numbers were an­nounced.

In 2019, 564,664 gun deer licenses were sold through the end of the nine-day gun deer season, compared to 576,277 in 2018. This is a 2.02% decrease.

In total, 792,548 gun, archery and crossbow licenses (not including upgrades) have been sold through the end of the nine-day gun deer season, compared to 803,772 in 2018, a 1.40% decrease. Of the licenses sold to date, 54% were sold in person through transactions at DNR license agents, including through DNR offices and agents. The remaining 46% of licenses were purchased online. 

Deer hunting license and harvest authorization sales will continue throughout the remaining deer hunting seasons.

The DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement reported four firearm-involved injuries and zero fatalities for the entire 2019 nine-day gun deer season.

Three of the four incidents occurred on Saturday, Nov. 23, in Oneida, Marathon and Fond du Lac counties:

In Oneida County, a 38-year-old man suffered a self-inflicted firearm-related injury, striking his left foot.

In Marathon County, a 29-year-old woman suffered a self-inflicted firearm-related injury, striking her left foot.

In Fond du Lac County, a hunter shooting toward a running deer struck a 19-year-old woman who was a member of his same hunting group in the left hand.

The fourth weekend incident occurred in Washburn County on Sunday, Nov. 24 when a 31-year-old man was struck by a single bullet from a hunter in a different hunting group. The shooter has been identified. The investigation continues, and no additional details are being released at this time.

Wisconsin’s 10-year average for hunting incidents during the nine-day gun deer season is 6.8. 

“This is the fourth consecutive nine-day deer gun season without a fatality,” said DNR Chief Conservation Warden Todd Schaller. “Four incidents are tied with the lowest on record. This is certainly a tribute to our hunters and volunteer safety education instructors.”



CWD sampling

Hunters are reminded that chronic wasting disease (CWD) sampling opportunities are available throughout the remaining deer hunting seasons. To find a sampling location, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keywords “CWD sampling.”

A CWD sample site is located at the DNR Ranger Station on Highway 45 North in Eagle River. 

Thanks to generous contributions from numerous partners, the Adopt-a-Kiosk and Adopt-a-Dumpster programs gave hunters additional options to submit their harvested deer for CWD sampling and safely dispose of carcasses.

The cooperation of hunters and private businesses has become increasingly vital to the success of the sampling process, according to the DNR.