Northwestern Wisconsin’s whitetail deer population should be about the same as last year, or maybe even a little larger, heading into the nine-day firearms deer season that starts Saturday.

Greg Kessler, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist stationed in Brule, said a mild winter allowed more deer to thrive, including more does that had more fawns.

But a few more bucks born in recent years also may have wintered well, and that should mean a few more shot during the season.

“We should see an uptick in the gun buck harvest this year,” Kessler said, adding, however, that hadn’t happened so far during the archery season that started in September.

“Our bowhunt numbers are tracking very similar to 2018 and 2019, but a little below last year,” Kessler noted.

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In Douglas County, there were 600 antlerless or doe permits available for this season for public land hunters and another 900 available for private land hunters.

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Kessler said deer in Northwestern Wisconsin had been hit by a few harder, deep-snow winters of late, but that the mild winter of 2020-21 should help. Deer populations can rebound quickly if mild winters continue.

Whether they will ever get back to the record-high harvest years of the early 2000s is uncertain. Wisconsin hunters saw record deer populations, and record harvests, from about 2000-2007 during an unprecedented string of mild, low-snow winters.

“It was the highest deer populations of the last half-century and the mildest winters we have ever seen,” Kessler said. “We don’t know if that will happen again.”

A hunter climbs into her deer stand on opening day of the 2018 Wisconsin firearms deer hunting season. Hunters should see a few more deer, and bag a few more bucks, this year compared to last.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
A hunter climbs into her deer stand on opening day of the 2018 Wisconsin firearms deer hunting season. Hunters should see a few more deer, and bag a few more bucks, this year compared to last. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

In 2007, hunters in Douglas County registered more than 11,000 deer, including nearly 9,000 during the nine-day firearms season, four times the harvest of recent years.

Hunter participation continues to be an issue, with the number of licensed hunters in Wisconsin dropping about 1% each year now, down 10% in the last decade, with older hunters aging out and fewer younger hunters coming in. The decline in hunters has been especially noticeable in northern Wisconsin’s forested areas which now hold fewer deer than the state’s central and southern mixed farmland and woodlands.

“This used to be where everyone came to hunt deer 50 years ago because this is where all the deer were,” Kesller noted. “Now, there are more deer to the south. … So more people are staying south to hunt where it’s closer and easier.”

Last year, hunters in Douglas County registered 2,057 deer, up nearly 17% from 2019. Bayfield County hunters registered 2,311 deer in 2020, up 7% from 2019, while Washburn County hunters registered 2,528 deer in 2020, up 13% from 2019.

Statewide, Wisconsin hunters registered 188,712 deer during the 2020, nine-day firearms season, up 16% from 2019.

The nine-day firearms deer season in Wisconsin runs Nov. 20-28.

Free CWD testing available

The Wisconsin DNR reminds all hunters that they can get their deer tested for chronic wasting disease free by dropping off the head at local sites.

In northwestern Wisconsin, DNR CWD drop-off sites are located at the Bait Box in Superior as well as DNR Offices in Brule, Mellen, Minong, Ashland, Hayward and Washburn.

For more information, including a complete list of drop-off sites and instructions on how to prepare the sample, go to dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/WildlifeHabitat/registersample.html.

DNR Violation Hotline

Anyone with information regarding natural resource violations may confidentially file a report at dnr.wisconsin.gov/contact/Hotline.html or by calling or texting 800-847-9367. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Trained staff will relay the information to conservation wardens for further investigation.

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