Hunters preparing for the gun deer hunt may find more deer, wetter hunting conditions

Dan Hansen
Thanks to sound deer management and good habitat, hunters have the opportunity to harvest trophy bucks like this in many areas of the state.

Hunters will have to wait six days longer this year for the Wisconsin firearms deer hunting season, which opens on Saturday, Nov. 23. 

The season has the potential for high hunter success. According to Department of Natural wildlife managers, there are currently 1.8 million deer on the Wisconsin landscape. 

An abundance of antlerless harvest permits, should provide hunters with ample opportunities to put some venison in the freezer, if the weather cooperates. Unusually wet weather this spring, summer and early fall, could prevent hunters from accessing many of their favorite hunting areas.

For the first time in 10 years, no deer management unit will be restricted to buck-only deer seasons, and even the far northern counties have at least some limited antlerless hunting opportunities. 

County Deer Advisory Councils (CDACs), in the Farmland Zones especially, are struggling to bring deer populations down to socially and biologically acceptable levels. 

Many counties have made multiple antlerless harvest authorizations available, including them with each deer hunting license. Hunters are encouraged to use at least one antlerless harvest authorization this fall, especially in units that offer 3-6 authorizations. 

Wildlife managers from around the state provide their views on hunting prospects.

Northern District

Northern Wisconsin continues to see good deer numbers across many portions of the region. This is evident by increased hunter sightings in the field and increases in antlerless harvest quotas. 

“The “severe” 2018/2019 winter may have slowed population growth but did not cause large population decline. Overall the northern herd came out of winter in good condition, which is a sign of a balanced deer herd that has enough habitat to support them through a more severe winter,”  said Curt Rollman, DNR deer biologist.

Iron County deer populations seem to be rising with promising fawn recruitment. 

Hunters looking for the best opportunities in Douglas County should focus on the northern and eastern areas of the county where deer numbers are greatest while the south and western areas have fewer deer but offer a quality big woods hunting experience with fewer hunters. 

This map outlines the 2019 Wisconsin Deer Season structure.

The modest 2018 antlerless quota in Price County allowed the herd to slightly increase this year. Public land hunters should look for recently managed parcels that will have the young forage deer will be seeking.

Population levels have been rising over the last several years in Lincoln County, resulting in a predicted population for this year being about the same as last year. Langlade County is predicted to see an increase in deer from last year. 

Both counties have increased public land harvest authorizations over last year, especially in Langlade, allowing for greater availability of antlerless harvest authorizations. 

Hunters in Vilas County should see deer numbers similar to last year. Those looking for new hunting spots should check newly harvested timber that provides nearby thick cover, plenty of hiding places and diverse forage for deer. 

A great mix of agricultural land blended into the northern forests provides good hunting opportunities in both Rusk and Taylor counties. Both CDACs are using local data and have concluded that the population is continuing to increase and, therefore, are providing an increase in antlerless hunting opportunities for 2019.

Hunters should find plenty of deer when they head to the mixed field and forest habitat of Barron and Polk counties this fall.

Along with mature bucks, these counties produce good numbers of deer for those who want to fill the freezer. Polk County is consistently in the top 10 counties for total harvest, and Barron County cracked the top 10 in total harvest in 2018. 

The upcoming deer season in Forest County should be about the same as last year. A limit of 300 private land antlerless harvest authorizations is expected to help grow the herd while still providing harvest opportunity where appropriate. 

Hunting in Florence County has been very productive the past several years and that trend is expected to continue during the 2019 seasons following a “moderate” winter. Maintaining the population at the current level is the 3-year objective. 

Northeast District

A fifth consecutive mild winter contributed to strong fawn production throughout northeast Wisconsin. 

Wetter-than-normal weather has delayed agricultural production by 12-20 days.  Hunters are encouraged to scout their hunting areas, as deer movements and availability could be impacted by a possible later-than-normal harvest of corn and soybeans. 

Marinette and Oconto counties are each split into two Deer Management Units (DMUs) by the boundary of the Northern Forest and Central Farmland zones. 

Both counties are looking to increase the antlerless deer harvest in the Central Farmland portions of their counties. Both are providing additional hunting opportunities in the Central Farmland Zone with a Holiday Hunt, and Oconto is extending the archery and crossbow seasons in their Central Farmland Zone. 

The Natural Resources Board has approved these population goals for the state’s deer herd.

Shawano County is issuing six Farmland (Zone 2) antlerless deer harvest authorizations per license, double the number issued in 2018. “Extreme deer browsing to hardwoods is causing forest regeneration issues that will reduce quality habitat and is affecting the overall condition of the deer. 

Door County is offering five Farmland (Zone 2) antlerless deer harvest authorizations per license again this year. Kewaunee and Marquette increased their offering to four per license, up one harvest authorization compared to 2018 as a way to emphasize the overpopulation of deer in these counties. 

Outagamie, Brown, Kewaunee, Door, Sheboygan, Green Lake, and Marquette are offering the antlerless- only firearm Holiday Hunt. Outagamie, Sheboygan, Kewaunee, Brown are also extending the archery and crossbow seasons through January 31.

Hunters in Calumet, Fond du Lac and Winnebago counties are limited to one Farmland (Zone 2) antlerless deer harvest authorization included with each license.

Outagamie, Brown, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Waushara will provide two antlerless harvest authorizations per license. Waupaca and Green Lake counties will continue to issue three antlerless authorizations per license.

West Central District

The landscape in west-central Wisconsin offers some of the most productive white-tailed deer habitat in the United States with its rolling valleys, fertile farmland, big rivers, and wooded ridge tops. Winter impacts on the deer herd appear to have been minimal. A cold, wet spring does not appear to have impacted fawn production. 

In Dunn and Pepin counties, deer populations are stable to increasing. Spring and summer conditions have been great for deer habitat. Both counties will offer two antlerless harvest authorizations with each deer hunting license. Pepin County will have an antlerless-only Holiday Hunt and extended archery and crossbow seasons through January 31.

Buffalo and Trempealeau County deer populations are very strong. Hunters in Buffalo County will have the opportunity to harvest antlerless deer during the Holiday Hunt. 

Conditions during the 2018 hunt were almost perfect in Vernon and Crawford counties. Both increased their antlerless quotas and will include ample antlerless tags (four) with each license, along with a Holiday Hunt and extended archery/crossbow season. 

In Pierce and St. Croix counties, hunters will also have good opportunity to harvest deer. Both counties will once again offer two antlerless harvest authorizations per license. Pierce County will have a Holiday Hunt and extended archery/crossbow season. 

The number of deer in La Crosse and Monroe counties has been increasing steadily since 2015. Fawn-to- doe ratios have increased in both counties between 2017-2018. 

Hunters within the central Wisconsin counties of Wood and Portage may experience more deer sightings from their tree stand this year, too. Population estimates and observations suggest the local herd is growing. 

n order to keep Wisconsin’s rich deer-hunting tradition alive and well, it’s vital to mentor new hunters, especially youth and women.

In the farmland portion of Marathon County, the wet spring delayed planting of crops which could impact harvest and potentially lead to more crops still standing during the 2019 deer hunting seasons. For hunters who prefer to hunt public land, the Marathon County forest system offers nine scattered forest units totaling close to 31,000 acres of quality deer hunting land. 

Winter conditions will not negatively affect herd population growth in Juneau and Adams counties. However, persistent wet weather has caused flooding and abnormally high water levels in the northern portions of the counties, which may affect where deer are spending time. 

RELATED: Portage Co. deer farm depopulated due to CWD

There should be more deer sightings and buck harvest opportunities in Clark and Jackson counties. The hunting season structure in both counties will be similar to previous years. However, the Forest and Farmland Zone boundary in Clark County changed in 2018 and hunters must be aware of which zone they are hunting. 

Public land hunters in Eau Claire and Chippewa counties should be encouraged by the reports and observations of rebounding deer herd numbers in the county forests. Hunters should focus on recent timber harvests, including clear cuts and oak shelter woods. 

Southern District

Although last winter brought frigid temperatures and lasting snow cover, hunters in the Southern District should still expect to see strong deer numbers. Below recommended antlerless harvests and highly productive habitat have led to increased populations throughout much of the Southern Farmland Zone. 

The district encompasses a wide range of deer habitat types, from the high wooded ridges and coulees in the southwest to the flatter, urbanized landscapes. 

Deer populations in both Grant and Richland counties have grown compared to last year. While population growth in Richland County is more uniform, the increasing trend in Grant County may be most evident in the northern third of the county. 

Much of the public land in Sauk County, including Dell Creek Wildlife Area, the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, Devil’s Lake State Park, and the Baraboo Hills Recreation Area have had timber harvests in recent years, creating young forest vegetation that provides both cover and a high-quality food source for deer. 

The deer herd in Iowa County has been on the upswing over the last five years and is higher than the CDAC would like to see. Hunters also can expects good hunting in Lafayette County this fall. 

The increasing-to- stable population trend continues in Columbia County. Hunters can benefit from the large amount of public land throughout the county. The deer population is generally highest along the northern tier of townships. 

In Dane County, the deer herd is projected to be higher this season. The crops seem to be slightly behind due to a very wet spring, but deer sightings have been quite frequent in alfalfa and soy bean fields. Several larger properties can offer opportunities for deer hunting including Brooklyn, Lodi Marsh, and Goose Lake. 

The Green County deer herd appears to be trending towards an all-time high. There should be good opportunities to harvest deer across nearly 4,500 acres of various state managed lands. 

Deer are bedded down Sunday at Kettle Moraine State Forest-Lapham Peak Unit in Delafield, unperturbed by the gusty winds and a passerby.

In Rock County, signs indicate that the deer population’s rapid increase is continuing. The nearly 8,000 acres of state-owned land and over 9,000 acres of leased public hunting lands are are intensively managed and contain everything from prairies to marshland and oak forests to ag fields. 

Jefferson County is seeing the same increasing population trend. The buck harvest has continued to increase each year for 5 years which indicates an increase in the overall deer herd. 

Fawn production appears to be excellent in Dodge County, and there should be plenty of opportunities to see and harvest deer within the county. Hunters should pay attention to upland sites which are often managed for oak regeneration and attract a variety of game species, especially deer. 

Deer numbers in Waukesha and Walworth counties, are projected to show a moderate increase this year due to a good growing season and a relatively low antlerless harvest in 2018. 

The deer herd in the Kenosha and Racine counties is continuing to see an increasing trend. The New Munster Wildlife Area, a 1,682-acre property in Kenosha County, provides good deer hunting opportunities with a mixed landscape. 

Properties in the more urbanized southeast that provide opportunities during the deer season include the Big Muskego Lake and Vernon Wildlife Areas within Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. 

Washington and Ozaukee County deer populations remain high for 2019. The CDAC in both counties has approved the issuance of three Farmland (Zone 2) antlerless deer harvest authorizations to be included with each license purchase as well as the antlerless-only Holiday Hunt and extended archery/crossbow seasons. 

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