Several Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff presented the preliminary 2019 deer harvest number to the Natural Resources Board (NRB) last week. DNR information and outreach services supervisor Mark Rappe told the board license sales were on track with recent history at 794,712 in 2019 as compared to 806,442 in 2018; 101,839 of those licenses this year, he said, were sold on the Friday before the nine-day gun deer season’s kick off. That hunting season-eve license purchase number ticks up a little each year, he said.
Hunters this year came from every state in the United States as well as 43 foreign countries. Germany was the top foreign country from which hunters traveled to deer hunt in Wisconsin this year. The top 10 states from which hunters came were Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, California and Florida. Those out-of-state numbers, he said, were about normal.
As far as the hunters themselves, Raffe said approximately 39,000 of those orange-clad hunters were new to the sport this year. Women comprised 22.9% of new hunters and 10.4% of those continuing to enjoy their time in the woods. Mentoring numbers, he said, dropped a bit, but attributed that partially to the novelty of purchasing a mentored hunt tag newborns and the like, which was popular when the mentored hunting age was first dropped.
Of course, there was a discussion about chronic wasting disease (CWD) and testing. Agency CWD spokesperson Tami Ryan told the board that when a hunter would register a deer in a CWD surveillance area, they would get a prompt to have their deer tested. She also told the board the department would have a full update on the status of the disease in the state as early as the April NRB meeting.
“You would think the department has gone through extraordinary efforts to get folks to test their deer, specifically in the six townships, you know where I’m talking about,” DNR secretary nominee Preston Cole said. “But they haven’t come to the fore.”
He said he wished the department to think uniquely different and find ways to get people to get their deer tested at a higher rate. Eighteen counties in the northern part of Wisconsin, DNR section chief Bob Nack said, were part of the rotating surveillance areas in the state for this year. The department reported approximately 11,000 preliminary tests at the time of preparing for the meeting, and expected more deer to be tested before all was said and done. He reported there were 117 in-person sampling stations statewide a well a 177 self-serve kiosks. For those looking to have their deer tested, he said, there were many options throughout the state. The Adopt-A-Kiosk and Adopt-A-Dumpster programs were growing as well with 22 and 56 locations throughout the state, respectively.
Questions about registration itself surfaced as well, with the department estimating 90-94% compliance with registration, which is in line with what it was estimated to be with in-person registration in the past. The majority of hunters, 67%, utilized online registration for their harvest. Thirty-One percent used the toll free number, and still 2% of hunters called in to the call center to register their quarry.
“It is something we’re worried about,” Nack said. “And it’s something we’re tracking annually.”
Other modes of tracking, he said, included hunter surveys, warden field checks and analysis of overall harvest trends. Through all of these tactics, the department was able to be fairly sure of their compliance estimate.
Chief warden Casey Krueger spoke about enforcement over the course of the gun deer season. Wardens had contact with the public 14,521 times, 56% of which as during opening weekend of the season, he said. There were also approximately 1,000 service calls in to the department over the gun hunt season. Hotline calls accounted for 41% of those and 59% were field-generated.
Krueger also told the board eight of the last 10 gun deer hunt seasons were fatality free. There were no fatalities and only four non-fatal injuries over the course of the season this year.
Nack also went over the deer season number with the board. He said there were no “buck only” counties in the state this year. Overall, the harvest was down by over 14%. The nine day gun hunt was down the most at 23.5%. In 2019 168,091 deer were registered, compared to 219,715 in 2018. Bow, crossbow and muzzleloader saw slight upticks, but not enough to account for the decline in the gun season. There were also fewer youth hunters in the field, with 6,750 this year, which was down 14.1% from last year. The forest zones showed the biggest decline in harvest. In the northern forest, 27,810 antlered deer were harvested and 18,089 antlered deer, which was a decline of 27.3% and 29.8% respectively.
Nack said there were likely several reasons for the gun hunt harvest numbers being down this year, but said a portion of it, at least, could be attributed to the timing of the hunt. When the hunt falls late in the year, as it did in 2019, he said, with the breeding season over, deer are much less likely to move during the day, meaning harvest numbers are not as good. The average change in harvest numbers in years when the hunt is later he said, is a decrease of approximately 12.9%. With this year’s hunt being down just over 14%, he felt much of that could be contributed to timing, although other factors were likely in play as well.
The 20th year of the deer donation program showed good results this year. 1,234 deer had been donated through the season. There were also 90 processors taking deer for the program, which was an increase over last year.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected].