EAU CLAIRE — Good weather and a healthy deer population contributed to a slight increase in the statewide deer kill on opening weekend of Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer season, state Department of Natural Resources officials said Tuesday.
Wisconsin hunters killed 95,257 deer Saturday and Sunday, up 2.3% from 93,155 on opening weekend a year ago, according to preliminary statistics released Tuesday by the DNR. The number of bucks registered rose 1.6% from 48,252 in 2019 to 49,025 this year.
Following the statewide trend, the deer kill was up in most west-central Wisconsin counties, led by a 15.6% uptick in Eau Claire County. Hunters bagged a total of 1,055 deer in Eau Claire County over the weekend, compared with 913 last year.
“I was happy to see more hunters did have success on opening weekend than last year,” said Kris Johansen, wildlife management supervisor for the DNR’s west-central region.
The best weather in several openers was a key contributing factor, Johansen said.
“Short of having snow, I would say we had almost perfect weather conditions,” he said. “We also had low wind speeds so people could hear deer moving in the woods.”
The deer kill numbers remained down from two years ago, which Johansen attributed in part to Thanksgiving week falling later in the year than usual, a circumstance that typically leads to less rut activity. Anecdotal evidence gathered by Johansen backed that up, with hunters reporting that deer were active right away in the morning but then mostly off their feet the rest of the day.
The boost in statewide registrations was significantly higher in the archery and crossbow seasons, when hunters killed 17% more bucks and 17.5% more antlerless deer than last year.
Other west-central Wisconsin counties with the largest increases in the deer kill were: Rusk, up 11.9%; Trempealeau, up 11%; Dunn, up 10.3%; Chippewa, up 9%; and Pepin, up 8.7%.
Regional counties where hunters killed fewer deer than last year were: Jackson, down 16.4%; St. Croix, down 4.3%; and Buffalo, down 2.8%.
In a statistical rarity, hunters in Barron County registered the exact same number of deer — 1,962 — on this year’s opening weekend as in 2019.
Preliminary figures indicate the number of deer hunters in Wisconsin increased from the same period of 2018 and 2019, with sales of all forms of licenses totaling 810,233 as of midnight Monday, up 3.2% from the same time last year. Of that total, 559,591 were for gun privileges only, the DNR reported.
“That’s tracking along with what we’ve seen throughout the fall,” Johansen said. “People have more time on their hands and are not traveling as much this year due to COVID, and hunting is one of the best things you can do because it’s out in nature and you’re generally pretty isolated.”
Hunting is also a great way to add some protein to freezers at a time when a lot of people are facing financial difficulty, Johansen added.
Female hunters represented the largest growing demographic in 2020, with their ranks reaching nearly 90,000, up 9% from last year. However, the agency indicated the number of nonresident licenses sold decreased this year, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hunters are required to register their deer by 5 p.m. the day after harvest through GameReg, the game registration system.
“The registration process is critical to the management of Wisconsin’s deer herd, so hunters who forgot to register their deer are encouraged to complete this process, even if they do so beyond the 5 p.m. deadline,” said Eric Lobner, DNR Wildlife Management Bureau director, in a news release. “Knowing life is busy, the best practice is to register your harvest immediately so you don’t forget. Some hunters are completing the registration while still in the field, which works great.”
For those hunters who haven’t had success yet this year, Johansen stressed that the nine-day gun deer season runs through Sunday, leaving them plenty of time to change their fortunes.
“There’s a lot of season left, and I hope they get back out there,” Johansen said. “I can say with 100% certainty that their odds of success are a lot better if they’re out in the woods than if they’re sitting inside back at home.”
The DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement reported four firearm-involved hunting incidents on opening weekend, including one each in St. Croix County, Washburn County, Adams County and Door County. A 65-year-old male died in Door County when he tripped while exiting his blind, causing his shotgun to discharge into his chest.
The DNR continues to encourage hunters to provide samples at self-service kiosks for chronic wasting disease testing.