After opening weekend to the 2012 Wisconsin gun deer season, buck registration numbers were up a bit across the Northwoods, while antlerless numbers were down with fewer tags available in all area deer management units, as well as several buck-only units.
Kurt Justice of Kurt’s Island Sports in Minocqua said they registered more bucks opening weekend of the gun deer season this year than they did a year ago.
“I’ve got a feeling that, because it was kind of warm, that we’ll see more .... early registrations,” he said.
Saturday, 67 bucks and 12 antlerless deer were registered at his shop. Sunday saw 81 bucks and 23 antlerless deer registered. Two archery kills were also registered over the weekend.
Justice said some of the bucks were nice.
“Biggest one, I think, was a 14-pointer,” he said. “Some nice eights and tens.”
He said he believes the early opener and gun hunters catching more of the rut contributed to some of the nice bucks taken.
“I know one of the tens was shot [Sunday] following two does. We’re hearing a lot that, when [hunters] are seeing bucks, they’re tailing does right now.”
This year’s buck numbers compare favorably to the number registered at Justice’s shop last year, when 65 bucks were registered opening day and 62 were registered Sunday.
Antlerless registrations, 89 overall for opening weekend last year, fell to 35 this year with far fewer antlerless tags available in the area, Justice said.
This means that though buck registrations were higher, overall numbers from the opening weekend were down from a year ago. This year, Kurt’s Island Sports registered 181 total gun kills compared to 216 on opening weekend of 2011.
DNR service center
Bucks were being registered at a pretty steady pace at the Rhinelander DNR Service Center opening weekend. DNR wildlife biologist Jeremy Holtz was aging deer over the opening weekend. Though they were seeing happy hunters there and quite a few bucks, Holtz said the weather could impact early registration numbers.
“A few people are worried about leaving their deer hang. They’re worried it’s too warm,” he said.
The bucks coming in were largely in good physical condition. Holtz said the size of the antlers when considering the body size of some of the bucks was good, and that they were seeing some older bucks.
“One observation I’ll make is that we’ve had good antler development. So, we’ve had some nice eights – lot of nice eights, and the other thing we’ve had is higher survival. We’ve had a number of bucks that were three, four, five years old, and in some other years it’s very uncommon to see a buck over two. We’ve had good survival – mild winter, early spring, really good conditions.”
There were 120 bucks and 33 antlerless deer registered at the Rhinelander DNR Service Center opening day, and 107 bucks along with 75 antlerless deer registered Sunday.
The 227 buck total was up a bit from 209 registered at the Rhinelander DNR Service Center opening weekend 2011, but with fewer available tags, antlerless registrations fell from 160 to 110. Overall totals were down a bit, 337 this year compared to 369 in 2011.
One DNR big game ecologist was optimistic about the sate’s opener.
“We’re seeing lots of good things out there,” Kevin Wallenfang said.
He said he heard that registration stations in the Northwoods area were steady over the opener, with some nice bucks being taken and happy hunters.
“But, you know, you’re always talking to the happiest of them when they come into the registration station because they do have a deer,” Wallenfang added.
Wallenfang said some of the hunters were even happy that there were bucks-only management units to hunt, because the woods seemed to hold fewer hunters in those units.
“[Hunters] said that they did see more antlerless deer this year, so it does appear that deer numbers are up across the area,” he pointed out.
Wallenfang said the warm weather was one factor that makes comparing numbers and anecdotal evidence from opening weekend this year and last year difficult.
“A lot of those deer might be getting registered earlier than they normally would because of the warm weather,” he said.
“People are saying that they aren’t hearing as much shooting around there as they used to, but there might not be as many hunters up there right now – without the doe tags.”
Meanwhile, the herd appears to be booming across southern Wisconsin.
“The farmland regions here in the southern part of the state, they did very, very well,” Wallenfang said. “They did have some fog and that, with the warm weather, hurt some people early in the day both Saturday and Sunday ... couldn’t see a hundred yards in a lot of areas I guess.
“A lot of the registration stations down here are saying they are up from last year. Most of the counties it sounds like are up. Lots of really, really big bucks. We’ve got donation sites and meat processors that are turning deer away because they just have more than they can handle.”
DNR preliminary numbers
Statewide, 134,772 deer were registered in Wisconsin during the opening weekend of the nine-day gun season, based on preliminary call-in numbers collected from registration stations by the DNR.
Overall, the opening weekend harvest was up over 19 percent from 2011, and registration increased in all regions of the state. According to Tom Hauge, director of the DNR wildlife management program, the opening weekend harvest is usually about 60 percent of the total harvest.
Vilas County registration stations reported 716 bucks registered, up from 619 in 2011. There were 93 antlerless deer were registered, down from 261 a year ago. Overall opening weekend registrations were down 8 percent, with a 16 percent increase in buck registrations.
In Oneida County, 849 bucks were registered along with 435 antlerless deer. Last year, 730 bucks and 636 antlerless deer were registered in Oneida County on opening weekend. Buck registrations were up 16 percent this year, with overall registrations down 6 percent.
Iron County registered 232 bucks and 86 antlerless deer opening weekend, compared to 144 bucks and 111 antlerless deer a year ago – a 61 percent increase in bucks registered and a 25 percent increase overall.
Hauge said final opening weekend totals will likely be higher when all registrations are entered into the data base.
Three hunting related injuries were reported. One was self-inflicted and two were two-party incidents. The incidents occurred in Columbia, Manitowoc and Portage County and are still under investigation. Additionally, Fort McCoy authorities are investigating the death of a hunter on the military base.
Though the DNR does not track non-firearm related incidents, there were reports of injuries resulting from falls from tree stands.
Safety reminders and tips are available by visiting dnr.wi.gov. Search “tree stand safety,” and also view a safe hunting feature.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.