Madison — Wisconsin hunters killed about 7,500 fewer deer on opening day of this year's nine-day gun deer season than they did last year, according to data from state wildlife officials.
Hunters killed 68,756 deer on Saturday, according to preliminary estimates the Department of Natural Resources released Sunday evening. That would be 7,467 fewer deer than the 76,223 that were killed on opening day last year.
Hunters killed more deer — 38,273 of them — in the central farmland zone than in any of the state's three other hunting zones. Last year, hunters killed 45,607 deer on opening day in the central farmland zone, which includes 36 counties across the state's mid-section.
They killed the fewest deer — 3,215 animals — in the central forest zone, a seven-county, L-shaped chunk of territory in the middle of the state. That was about 500 fewer than last year's opening day.
Hunters in the northern forest zone killed 12,330 deer on Saturday, which was more than the 10,071 killed there last year. It was the only zone where the number of deer killed was higher and is an encouraging sign for DNR game managers, who have been trying to regrow the herd in that region after harsh winters in 2012-13 and 2013-14 devastated the population.
Gun deer license sales suggest far fewer hunters took to the woods on opening day this year. According to DNR tallies, the agency had sold 533,502 licenses as of 4 p.m. Friday, which was about 17,250 fewer than it had sold by the same point last year.
Weather conditions were raw on Saturday, too, with gusty winds and temperatures in the middle to lower 30s. Many hunters may have decided to stay indoors or gave up early.
Kevin Wallenfang, a DNR big game ecologist, declined to comment on Monday morning, saying the agency was still compiling reports from the field. The DNR was expected to release preliminary harvest data for Sunday on Monday evening.
According to the DNR, additional daily harvest updates will occur on Tuesday, Nov. 22 and Wednesday, Nov. 23. A final summary for the nine-day hunt will be posted on Tuesday, Nov. 29.