Published December 02, 2011, 02:07 PM

2011 hunt unkind to northwestern Wisconsin

For most of Wisconsin, the 2011 nine-day gun hunt is being heralded as a success. In Douglas County, preliminary numbers show a 23 percent decrease in the overall deer harvest. Hunters took 17 percent fewer bucks and 28 percent fewer antlerless deer than in 2010.

By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram

For most of Wisconsin, the 2011 nine-day gun hunt is being heralded as a success.

Preliminary numbers statewide show a 3.6 percent increase in the harvest compared to last year, with a six percent increase in antlerless deer taken.

Wisconsin hunters harvested 226,260 deer over the nine-day hunting season — 102,837 bucks and 123,423 antlerless deer. Overall, hunters took thousands more deer this season than last.

Early figures for northwestern Wisconsin, however, paint a different picture.

In Douglas County, preliminary numbers show a 23 percent decrease in the overall deer harvest. Hunters took 17 percent fewer bucks and 28 percent fewer antlerless deer than in 2010. They harvested 4,084 deer in the 2011 hunt compared to 5,308 in 2010.

Although a lower harvest was anticipated for northwestern Wisconsin after a blustery opening weekend, the decrease is greater than expected.

“I don’t think it’s all due to weather,” said Fred Strand, DNR wildlife biologist for Douglas County. “There are probably fewer deer out there than we thought there were.”

Gusting winds and snow on the opening two days of the 2011 hunt may have been an issue in northwestern Wisconsin, Strand said, but the DNR will need to look at all of the data before reaching a conclusion. Had weather been the sole factor in this year’s downturn, Strand said he’d have expected harvest numbers to pick up significantly in the remaining days of the hunt.

As a whole, the 18 counties in the Northern District saw a 12 percent decrease in bucks harvested for the nine-day hunt. But the district still finished with a one percent increase in the overall harvest thanks to more liberal seasons in some counties.

Vilas and Iron counties, for example, both had a more than a 1,000 percent increase in the number of antlerless deer harvested. Ashland County, with a 380 percent increase in its antlerless harvest, was one of seven other counties in the Northern District to see an increase of 100 percent of more in the antlerless harvest.

There was no silver lining for the five counties clustered in northwestern Wisconsin. Barron, Burnett, Douglas, Polk and Washburn counties all suffered more than 10 percent drops in both their buck and antlerless harvests. Sawyer County saw its buck totals plummet 20 percent, but a 43 percent gain in the antlerless harvest offset those losses.

Burnett County hunters ended the nine-day hunt at the bottom of the pile. Their 38 percent overall decrease in harvest numbers was the worst in the state.

Washburn County rebounded slightly after a dismal opening weekend. Preliminary numbers from the first two days of the hunt had put Washburn County 50 percent below last year’s harvest, but hunters made up ground in the final seven days of the hunt to land 32 percent below last year at the final count.

The 32 percent decrease in Washburn County was the second largest drop in the state.

When the DNR has compiled final numbers for entire 2011 deer harvest, Strand said the data will be scrutinized. Officials will look at age/sex information for harvested deer, check information submitted on registration stubs and review hunter observations.

Final deer harvest numbers are expected in February.

Strand said the DNR will also re-examine its assessment of last winter’s impact on the deer population.

“We would have said it was a normal or average winter for deer,” Strand said. “That was somewhat substantiated with our spring fawn surveys.”

Temperatures were not extreme last winter, Strand said, but it was a long winter, with snow on the ground from November to March.

“But deer are very resilient,” he added.

Anything other than a severe winter this year should keep Wisconsin’s deer herd at its current level. A winter with average temperatures and little snow would likely lead to an increase in the deer herd, Strand said.

Tags: