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Wisconsin opening weekend deer harvest up 15%, in line with 5-year average

Minnesota registrations were down 9% statewide and 12% in the northeast, where the season ended Sunday.

deer infield
Wisconsin hunters registered 15% more deer over opening weekend this year compared to 2021.
Contributed / Wisconsin DNR
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Wisconsin deer hunters registered 15.1% more deer over opening weekend of the 2022 firearms deer hunting season compared to last year, bringing the harvest back in line with recent years after a slow 2021.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday reported 103,623 deer had been registered so far, up from 90,023 at the same time in 2021, which was an unusually slow year. A total of 55,503 bucks were registered on opening weekend, compared to 47,529 in 2021. That’s a 14% increase over 2021 and 2% above the five-year average.

Deer populations have shifted to areas with crops and away from deeply forested areas.

Jeff Pritzl, the DNR’s deer program specialist, said the 2022 season is now right in line with the five year average across most of the state.

“This is a return to normal,’’’ Pritzl said, noting 2021 was the anomaly.

This year's biggest increase came in the central forested region of the state where registrations were up 37%.

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About half the deer shot each season, and 60% of the bucks shot each year, are taken over opening weekend, the DNR notes.

This year, many Wisconsin hunters had the benefit of snow on the ground for the first days of the season, which often helps hunters see movement and track deer. But they also faced high winds and cold temperatures which can keep hunters out of the woods.

In Douglas County, hunters registered 1,139 deer shot over opening weekend, up 10% from 2021, but still 1% below the five-year average. That includes 855 bucks, up 3.4% from 2021, but still 6.7% below the five-year average.

In Bayfield County, hunters registered 1,355 deer, up 6% from 2021, but down 7.2% from the five-year average. In Washburn County, hunters registered 1,573 deer, up 15.4% from 2021 and up 3.1% from the five year average.

Wisconsin firearms hunting licenses sold this year hit 421,474 through opening weekend, down 2% from 2021.

11-year-old shot, killed

There were six firearms-related hunting accidents over opening weekend in Wisconsin, including one fatality in Green Lake County. In that case, a 41-year-old man was unloading his rifle as he was putting it in a vehicle when it discharged, striking an 11-year-old boy in the chest. The boy died en route to a hospital.

All five of the other victims are expected to survive. Half of the six victims shot themselves, while the other three were shot by members of their own hunting party.

Minnesota registrations down 9% statewide, 12% in northeast

Minnesota firearms deer hunters had registered 119,715 through Tuesday, down 12% from 2021, but 17% for the recent five-year average.

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In the 100-numbered deer permit areas, which includes all of Northeastern Minnesota, the total harvest was 33,494 deer, down 12% from an already low 2021 and down 26% from the recent five-year average. The 16-day season in those areas ended Sunday.

Lower deer numbers in the far north and bad weather during season combined for poor hunter success.

In the 200-numbered areas — all of western, southwestern and central Minnesota — registrations hit 75,373, down 8% from 2021 and down 14% from the five-year average.The nine-day season in those areas ended Nov. 13.

In southeastern Minnesota’s 300-numbered areas, registrations were at 11,048 as of Tuesday, up 4% from 2021 and up 1% from the five-year average. The season continues through Nov. 27 in those areas.

Meanwhile, Minnesota firearms deer hunting licenses sold hit 418,846 through the season, down 2% from last year and down 12% from 474,751 licenses sold in 2012.

Minnesota DNR conservation officers reported another mostly quiet week to end the season up north.

"The last week of the regular firearms deer season fizzled into the least active weekend of any deer season in memory," conservation officer Sean Williams, of Ely, said. "Miles of empty, snow-covered roads and clear-cut pull-ins revealed that hunter interest did not return after a very disappointing first week of the season. Few hunters were contacted and fewer still reported seeing deer.”

Conservation officer Troy Fondie, of Orr, reported that “the firearms deer season came to a close much like it started: Few hunters, if any, out hunting, no deer observed harvested, and numerous complaints about the lack of deer.”

Conservation officer Jake Willis, of Brookston, said he saw “hunting activity decrease this week, as the weather was particularly harsh with wind and snow. The hunters who were out seemed to have some success.”

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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