While preliminary opening weekend harvest numbers were up in the Northern Forest Zone, for many hunters it still depended on being at the right place at the right time. Overall, though, most sport shops and processors said hunters they have talked to felt fairly positive about the deer populations in the Northwoods.
According to the Department of Natural Resources numbers, the buck kill remained almost steady in the Northern Forest Zone, but the antlerless harvest went up over 2,000 animals. Overall deer kill, then, rose to 21,941 for opening weekend, as opposed to 19,686 last year.
In Vilas County, antlerless numbers were almost even, and the buck kill was up slightly. This lead to 723 animals being harvested opening weekend versus 697 last year. Vilas County did not opt to give out any antlerless tags, as Oneida County did. The antlerless kill in Oneida County on opening weekend, according to DNR numbers, went from 121 last year to 342 this year. Buck numbers were down slightly, moving the total number of harvests to 1,132 from last year's 1,009.
In Iron County, a few more bucks were harvested than last year, bringing that total to 271 animals versus 201 last year. Statewide, 102,903 animals were reported to be harvested on opening weekend, down slightly from last year's 116,615.
"A lot of guys saw a lot of doe groups," said Jeff Smith from J&J Sports in Lake Tomahawk. "And that's the future of the herd. I'm pretty optimistic. I think it's picking up."
He went on to say he is not convinced the doe to buck ratio is quite where hunters would like to see it yet, but he feels it is moving in the right direction. His buck pool, as of Monday, had 15 bucks of 71 entrants. He said this was not too far off from being average for the season.
"We've seen a lot of different size deer, too," he said. "And that's encouraging. We saw eights and 10s and a nine and spikes and forks, of course. But not all the deer coming in are those spikes and forks."
Youth hunt numbers, he said, were about the same as in years past. He attributed that to the limited amount of time hunters had, once the law was passed, to get their younger kids trained, pick out the proper fire arm for them, and get them ready to be in the woods for the season. He also believes getting kids into hunting early is key.
"By the time they are 10 or 11, you may have lost them already," he said. "I think it is a good ruling. People know if their kid is ready to hunt and getting them in early is important. With all of the electronics and social media out there, sometimes if you wait, it is too late and they aren't interested anymore."
Kurt's Island Sport Shop, too, said people seemed please with the deer they were seeing, for the most part. Of course, some hunters still were not seeing the deer they wanted to see, but many reported being pleased with their hunting experience this season.
Larry Stenz from TJ's Butcher Block said it would be hard to tell just yet if their numbers would be up or down yet this year, but he felt they were processing at least the same amount, if not a bit more deer this year.
"We didn't see as many big deer this year, though," he said. "There weren't as many guys wanting capes, but they would take the horns. The European mount is getting more popular, too." He felt it was a pretty decent year and most of the hunters he talked to said they were seeing more deer than last year.
For Bailie and Travis Strasburg at North County Taxidermy, bow season was better than normal but they had not seen many local bucks this year. The few hunters who did bring in nice bucks, they said, reported those animals as being the only deer they had seen. For many, it was a "right place, right time," scenario in the woods. But for most, the feelings were optimistic that things may be moving in the right direction as far as deer numbers in the Northwoods.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at email@example.com.