Annual deer harvest numbers up this season

Joseph Craker, Sports Editor

As hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin hunters pack away their blaze orange for the year, it is well worth a look back on the short but successful nine-day whitetail deer gun hunting season which concluded near the end of last month.

What made this season successful? 

First of all, the numbers say so. Although there has been a significant downward trend in gun hunting license purchases since the mid 2000s – this year being no exception – initial reports show total harvests up 7 percent from last year. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported 211,430 deer registrations statewide, 13,000 over 2017’s totals.

Manageable weather conditions lead to more hunters making it to their tree stands and blinds this year, especially on opening morning. Cracks of gunfire broke the morning silence throughout the entire state on Nov. 17 as the harvest got off to a great start. It was cold enough for game to need to seek food, and the wind was just right. Too little and the animals make lots of noise when they move, too much and they can’t determine the source of noise that they aren’t making.

There was also a layer of snow across most of the state, which made food more difficult to find for wildlife, while also making animals easier to pick out against the landscape for hunters.

Last but not least, there were only two reported firearm safety incidents on opening weekend, both of which were not life-threatening and entirely avoidable. Per a press release from the DNR, both occurred on the second day of the season, Nov. 18. DNR Chief Conservation Warden Todd Schaller was delighted to report that “2018 is the lowest year [for reported incidents] in the history of this hunt.”

The first incident occurred in Columbia County during a deer drive, when a man shot at a running deer and struck the victim in the foot. A deer drive consists of members of a hunting group chasing deer to others who are waiting to fire. The second incident occurred in Dunn County (northwestern Wisconsin), when a man who was field dressing his downed deer took a bullet in the arm from a nearby shooter who thought the victim himself was a deer.

These incidents could have been avoided had standard hunter’s safety precautions been taken. The most typical yet costly mistake comes when the hunter’s golden rule is broken: Be certain of your target and what’s beyond. The second case was further complicated, as the victim was not wearing the mandatory minimum of 50 percent blaze orange, and the shooter acted well after the sun had set for the day.

One of the few concerns that the DNR does have about the future is the declining number of licensed hunters. As Wisconsinites—especially under 25s—continue to lead more sedentary lifestyles and spend less time in the great outdoors, numbers have begun to plummet. However, as a pioneer for the nation in creating programs to get hunters back in the woods, the Wisconsin DNR is hopeful for the future. 

“There are good programs and campaigns that have been successful at recruiting and retaining hunters, but it will take time to build them to scale,” said Keith Warnke, DNR R3 (Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation) Coordinator. “With the full support of our partners, DNR will be able to maintain the hunting and angling tradition.”

With such as successful season in the books, both the DNR and Wisconsin’s hunters should already be looking forward to next year’s harvest.