The end of a deer hunting era
The firearms deer season is fast approaching. DNR wildlife staffers are ramping up preparations for what is possibly the largest big game survey in North America, the mandatory firearms deer harvest registration. Wisconsin is unique among its Midwestern states, as it requires hunters to wear backtags, register their deer in person, and requires a sampling of deer ages at registration stations across the state. These requirements were put in place to help us manage the deer herd to the standard set long ago. We had two main goals, managing a deer population within the habitat’s capacity to sustain it while also providing maximum yield—in other words, to harvest as many deer as possible every year.
This is not the end of our year in deer; it is simply the pinnacle of it. After deer season, we have the second-to-last set of numbers we need to set the quota for next November’s gun deer antlerless harvest. When we get to December, we record the snow depth and low temperature every day until early spring, to supply our Winter Severity Index, the last piece of information used to adjust our planned harvest for the fall.
As soon as winter’s effects have been quantified, we watch for fawn drop. Then, in midsummer, we write down every deer we see during daylight hours for our summer deer observation survey, which helps us calibrate our surviving deer numbers, and we collect our deer reproduction rate from the number of live fawns per doe observed. Really, that is the start of our process for the following year. When we started writing down the fawns we saw this summer, we were setting the stage for deer season 2015.
While it is not the end of our deer year, it is the end of an era. Transitioning to Wisconsin’s new deer management system has already begun. This year Deer Management Units (DMUs) are basically using county boundaries in most cases. Last year Oneida County contained portions of five DMUs; now it is one unit. This will also be the last year that hunters will be required to register deer in person at a registration station.
Retired DNR Wildlife Biologist Ron Eckstein tells me that deer have been registered and aged opening weekend at the Rhinelander DNR office for a very long time, since back before I was born anyway. Next year, hunters will be able to register using telephone or internet registration methods, similar to what we have already been using for Canada goose and turkey. While the details of the 2015 process are still being worked out, it is likely that there will still be some kind of in-person registration option available. We will also have to figure out the best way to get our deer age sample moving forward. In Michigan, where deer registration is not mandatory, they have voluntary aging stations. Successful hunters can bring their deer in to get weighed, aged, and have some other measurements taken. Will Wisconsin have something similar? Or perhaps we can have hunters collect jawbones for us, or send a digital photo of their deer jaw? The options are intriguing.
Finally, the biggest change may be the County Deer Advisory Council, or CDAC. These volunteers have come together to evaluate the data and pertinent information about our deer herd and will be tasked with making an antlerless deer quota recommendation for their respective counties. In Oneida County, the CDAC will be meeting on December 9th at 7 p.m. in the meeting room in the lower level of the airport. The CDAC has already met twice; they take their charge very seriously, and I think they are really doing a good job considering how much there is to learn, to do, and the adjustments we will have to make on the fly in this first year. There is truly a lot of change going on in this year of deer.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.