A second strait mild winter in most parts of Wisconsin saw the state’s adult whitetail deer herd enter spring in generally good health and in greater numbers.
The mild winter also contributed to improved fawn production. During the summer months, most does were seen with at least one fawn, and twins also were a common sight, according to Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists.
Here’s a look at what hunters can expect to find the state’s four deer-hunting regions.
Hunting prospects are very favorable in most of the region’s 19 counties. From Dunn County in the north to Crawford County in the southern end of the district, deer in the WCD’s farmland units are doing well, and hunters can expect an increase in deer numbers from those experienced in 2015. Deer numbers in the WCD’s Central Forest Zone are comparable or slightly higher than in 2015.
Wildlife biologist for St. Croix and Pierce Ccounties, Ryan Haffele, expects very similar hunting conditions in 2016 as last year. “We are seeing a lot of good fawn recruitment, with most does guiding two fawns around,” he reported.
Mark Rasmussen, wildlife biologist for Buffalo and Trempealeau counties, says, Deer numbers are very strong in both counties, and there should be ample hunting opportunities for archers and gun hunters.
While 4,000 bonus antlerless tags are available for private lands and 500 for public lands in Buffalo County, Rasmussen mentions that only 500 bonus antlerless tags are available for private lands in Trempealeau County. There are no bonus permits for Trempealeau County public lands.
Hunters in Dunn and Pepin Ccounties can generally expect to see slightly more deer this year, according to Jess Carstens, wildlife biologist for these two counties. “Irregular deer distribution throughout the two counties will continue to pose challenges to some hunters, but overall herd numbers are strong,” Carstens added.
Bill Hogseth, DNR wildlife biologist, says hunters in northern Chippewa County should benefit from recent timber harvests that created improved deer habitat as regenerating timber provides plentiful food and thick shelter for winter cover and fawn production. No free Farmland Zone antlerless tags will be issued, and only a limited number of bonus tags will be available.
Deer hunters in Crawford, Vernon, La Crosse, and the farmland portions of Monroe, Adams, and Juneau counties should also encounter strong deer populations this fall. Some of the stronger deer numbers in the WCD continue to reside in Vernon County. “Like most counties in the driftless area, Vernon County’s rugged topography and small amount of public land leads to challenging deer hunting,” said Anna Jahns, DNR wildlife technician in Viroqua.
The department’s Black River Falls wildlife biologist, Scott Roepke, reports that after the mild winter and low overall antlerless harvest, deer numbers continue to rebound in both Jackson and Clark counties. Roepke reminds hunters that elk reintroduction efforts continue in the Central Forest Zone of Jackson County, and elk are currently a protected species.
Portage County DNR wild life biologist Lesa Kardash also expects deer numbers and hunting opportunities to be improved from 2015.
DNR District Wildlife Supervisor Mike Zeckmeister predicts that an extremely mild winter combined with an early spring green-up will have a big impact on deer populations across northern Wisconsin.
“Winter health assessments conducted during late winter and early spring reinforce what we already suspected,” he said. “Body conditions of these deer were good and there was good productivity from does. We had several cases of doe fawns (born in 2015) carrying fawns. Although this is more common in southern Wisconsin, it is more significant for northern Wisconsin.”
Researchers and local wildlife managers expect fawn recruitment to be very good. “This is good news for those counties where we have had zero or very low quotas the past few years as we attempted to rebuild the deer herd.” Zeckmeister said. However, hunters can expect that this re-building will still take some time - especially in northern tier counties.”
The mild winter also should contribute to improved antler development. “Conservative quotas in much of the north, as recommended by the County Deer Advisory Councils (CDACs), should help increase deer numbers in Northern Wisconsin,” Zeckmeister said.
Joe Weiss, Washburn County CDAC chair, said, “I am encouraged by the number of young deer I am seeing this summer, and despite the opinion that shooting does is not popular, it does seem to be warranted in many areas. We are hoping that our predictions for herd growth are proven right this fall.”
“Deer harvest totals in the Northern Forest Zone portions of Marinette and Oconto counties did not show evidence of herd growth during the 2015 season,” reported Jeff Pritzl, the district’s wildlife supervisor, “but after a second mild winter, we can expect more adult deer in the herd this fall.”
Pritzl expects buck sightings to improve as fawns from 2015 sport their first set of antlers. “County Deer Advisory Councils in these counties recommended a conservative antlerless harvest approach, waiting to see harvest evidence that the herd is growing before making more aggressive recommendations in the coming years,” he added.
Antlerless quotas are reduced a bit in the Forest Zone portions of the counties, and held steady in the Farmland Zone. Conditions appear favorable for a solid acorn crop.
Fawn production and survival are expected to be very good again this year in the Central Farmland Zone. “Some Farmland Zone County Deer Advisory Councils are finding it challenging to meet their objective to stabilize their deer herd in the face of high fawn productivity,” Pritzl emphasized.
He noted that the call for increasing the antlerless portion of the harvest in an attempt to stabilize herd growth was led by the Waupaca County CDAC’s initial recommendation to have an antlerless-only season in 2016.
“Their final recommendation was to allow buck harvest,” he said, “ but the message from Waupaca and surrounding counties, as well as the Lake Michigan coast counties of Door, Kewaunee and Manitowoc, is that in order to demonstrate the ability to maintain a stable deer population, the antlerless harvest must increase.”
According to Pritzl, these counties have provided hunters with generous opportunities to achieve that goal in the form of multiple antlerless permits and implementation of the Holiday Hunt in some counties. “Buck harvests are expected to be good throughout the District this year,” he added.
The deer herd across the 18-county Southern District, all of which falls within the Southern Farmland Zone, came through an extremely mild winter in great shape.
“In general, the population is looking very good to great,” said Bret Owsley, area wildlife supervisor. “The expected increase in deer numbers has resulted in higher antlerless permit recommendations by most County Deer Advisory Councils (CDACs) within the district,” he added
The Southern District encompasses a wide range of deer habitat types, from high wooded ridges and coulees in the southwest, to flatter, agriculturally-dominated landscape in Green, Rock and Walworth counties along the Illinois border. There are also rolling kettles in the east and extensive wetland and woodland areas in Dodge and Columbia counties.
“This high level of variation in habitat types and conditions results in local deer numbers that can vary dramatically from one square mile to the next,” said Owsley. “Hunters should expect that the corn and soybeans will be harvested early which will impact deer movements.”
For the first time in a few years, hunters in six counties within the Southern District will have the opportunity to enjoy the winter Holiday Hunt. Those counties include Columbia, Milwaukee, Richland, Rock, Sauk and Waukesha. Other surrounding counties just outside the district will also offer a Holiday Hunt, including Crawford, Green Lake and Marquette counties. The Holiday Hunt runs from Dec. 24 to Jan. 1.
Hunters in the Southern District will also receive from 1 to 2 free Farmland (Zone 2) Antlerless Deer Tags with each deer hunting license. Also, all counties have Bonus Antlerless Deer Tags available for sale, except Kenosha and Racine counties in the far southeastern portion of the District.