The preliminary harvest totals from opening weekend of the gun deer season are in and the numbers are down from a year ago. This year in Wisconsin, 90,286 deer were harvested by gun and registered during the opening weekend in comparison to 123,090 deer taken during the 2018 opener.
Buck harvest was down by over 20,000 deer as 46,866 bucks were registered this past weekend compared to 67,636 in 2018.
According to Jeremy Holtz, DNR wildlife biologist for Oneida County, the low numbers could be due to timing.
“All the indications are that harvest was down from last year,” Holtz said. “In 2018 our opening weekend was the earliest it can possibly be. So we hit the rut. This year our opening weekend was as late as it can possibly be, so we’re on the tail end of the rut.”
Holtz has received reports of less bucks chasing, more does than bucks sighted, and low buck activity during the day.
“I think most of the bucks have pretty much gone nocturnal,” Holtz said.
Another challenge to the weekend was the lack of snow.
“We tend to see a dip in success rates when there isn’t snow on the ground,” Holtz explained. “It’s harder to follow a blood trail. It’s harder to see deer moving when everything’s brown.”
Though the numbers were down, there was definitely some hunter success locally.
In Oneida County, 520 bucks and 286 does were harvested for a total of 806 deer. In Vilas County 407 bucks and 83 does were shot for a total of 490 deer, and in Iron County 140 bucks and 28 does were harvested for a total of 168 deer.
With all those deer, area meat processors were busy.
“I would say the numbers are up from last year,” Cindy Carlson said about the amount of deer brought into TJ’s Butcher Block in Minocqua.
TJ’s Butcher Block also offers CWD testing, but Carlson said participation was low this year.
“The majority of the people that I talked to, they opt not to have it done,” she said. “It’s a small percentage that actually want that done.”
Todd Ahrensdorf, from the Lake Tomahawk Meat Market, was also busy this past weekend.
“We probably got 100 deer in so far so that’s not bad for the first three days,” he said.
And he got quite a few CWD samples.
“We would rather have you have your deer tested than not to have it tested so we push it,” said Ahrensdorf, who added that more people than not submit their deer heads at the Lake Tomahawk Meat Market. “Why not? It’s free of charge and the DNR needs the information.”
CWD sampling participation at the self-serve kiosks was spotty throughout Oneida County.
“We’ve got areas where we had good participation and areas where it was surprisingly light,” Holtz said.
He expects to receive more samples in the coming weeks, especially those from meat processors and from hunters who let their deer hang over the week.
Holtz also expects more deer carcasses to show up in the donated dumpster at the Rhinelander DNR Service Center.
“When it’s this cool and the hunting is a little tougher it’s not uncommon for guys to leave their deer hang until they’re done hunting and then cut them up,” he said. “So we expect that there’s probably going to be more deer showing up in the dumpster the second weekend here.”
Due to weather changes, Holtz also expects activity in the field to pick up.
“We’re about to get a big snow storm and that’s going to change deer behavior,” he said Tuesday. “I think they’re probably going to move around a little bit more in the daylight. So I would encourage people, if they didn’t get their deer, to consider going out the second half of the season. There’s still plenty of opportunities to hunt.”
There was one hunting incident in Oneida County during opening weekend.
Norbert DePuydt, a 38-year old from Arbor Vitae, accidentally shot himself in the foot while arranging himself on his tree stand.
According to Dave Walz, DNR law enforcement warden supervisor who responded to the scene, DePuydt had climbed up into a tree stand and was maneuvering the gun to lay across his lap, while taking a seat, when the semi-automatic firearm discharged twice.
“The first round went through his foot. Right behind his toes,” Walz said. “So where he shot himself, that was probably the location to do the least amount of damage. So pretty lucky in that respect.”
The second round missed DePuydt completely.
DePuydt was able to climb down the tree and walk 300 yards to a parking lot where he was met by one of his hunting partners who immediately drove him to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rhinelander.
Walz investigated the scene and found no branches that could’ve got into the trigger guard.
“It was a clean open trunk of a tree. Big maple tree so no branches nearby,” said Walz, who also added, “his safety was off and his finger must’ve been on the trigger.”
There were three other incidents in the state on opening weekend.
A 29-year old Marathon County woman also shot herself in the foot, a Fond du Lac County hunter shot toward a running deer and struck a 19-year old woman in the left hand, and in Washburn County, a 31-year old man was struck by a single stray bullet.
Jacob Friede may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]