Deer harvest can?t rally, season ends with disappointing results
The nine-day gun deer hunt got off to a cold start and the preliminary final numbers of deer harvested shows it was never able to warm up.
Across the state, almost 20,000 less bucks were harvested this year compared to 2012 for a decrease of 15 percent.
But that decrease was not completely unexpected due to the timing of this year’s hunt.
“This year we had the latest possible season opening date, Nov. 23,” DNR Wildlife Biologist Jeremy Holtz said. “Last year we had the earliest possible opening day, Nov. 17. This is a six day delay, and statistically, we have seen over the decades that our harvest on a late opener year is about 15 percent lower than in an early opener year. So, a drop of 10 to 15 percent from the previous year is not unexpected.”
In the Northern District of the state, the hunting was worse as the area saw a 19 percent drop in the number of bucks harvested. The late spring and harshness of the previous winter played a part in that number, according to Holtz.
“We know from years of close monitoring that the severity of the winter significantly impacts buck harvest the following fall,” he said. “Buck rut and breeding activity interferes with feeding, and consequently males have less fat reserves and are in poorer physical condition through the winter than females. Last winter, we had deep snow that lingered well into spring, which results in reduced buck survival. It could well have impacted fawn survival too, which means there would have been less ‘yearling’ or ‘spike’ bucks available to harvest, which seemed to be what I saw while aging deer. We will have more information when we process our aging information and harvest tags.”
Oneida County saw an overall decrease in deer harvested as hunters took 18 percent fewer deer this season than last year. Bucks harvested totaled 1505 while in 2012, 1632 were taken. A decrease of 8 percent. Anterless totals dropped even further as hunters harvested 792 deer, down 25 percent from last year’s total of 1054.
Forest County had a bigger drop in the number of deer harvested. Hunters there took 27 percent less deer this season that last. While hunters saw a 15 percent drop in bucks, the drop in anterless deer harvested was 43 percent.
In Vilas County, hunters saw an overall improvement thanks to a rise in anterless deer harvested but the buck totals were still down. Hunters in that county took 1113 bucks down 11 percent from 2012 when 1249 were harvested.
The anterless numbers decrease is in part due to the DNR attempting to boost the herd population.
“Last year, we saw indicators that our herd was not growing at the rate we would have liked, so we decided to reduce antlerless permits for this year,” Holtz said. “We further reduced the harvest quota when winter lingered in our part of the Northwoods. As a result, we reduced antlerless tags in Oneida County by almost 40 percent, so a reduced antlerless harvest is in line with our intentions, and happened by design. If we see after our population models work that the population is still not climbing, we will lower permit levels as far as is appropriate to bring the herd back up to goal.”
While the numbers are down, the final totals are a little better than the statistics coming out of the first weekend when cold weather hampered hunting efforts.
“Historically, 60 to 70 percent of our deer are harvested in the first day and a half of the season, so if we have poor weather conditions like we did this year, we expect harvest success to drop as a result,” Holtz said.
After that first weekend, deer harvested were down 17 percent statewide and 27 percent in Oneida County.
DNR Area Wildlife Supervisor Chuck McCullough said with all those factors playing a part, the lower numbers were expected.
“Historic observations tell us that, everything else held equal, gun buck kill will drop about 15 percent when we move from the earliest possible opener to the latest possible opener, as we did this season,” McCullough said. “When you also consider that we had cold and windy opening weekend, and the overall importance of those two days to deer harvest, the deck was stacked against a good deer kill this season.”