Fall antlerless hunt sees quiet return in WisconsinThe return of the fall antlerless deer hunt was welcomed with little fanfare last week.
By: Emily Kram, Forum Communications Co.
The return of the fall antlerless deer hunt was welcomed with little fanfare last week.
The early hunt was reinstated this season after a two-year hiatus, and this time it’s here to stay.
“We’re hoping for a good turnout, but based on the first day — it was pretty quiet out there this morning,” said Greg Kessler, wildlife biologist for the Wisconsin DNR.
The fall antlerless season was originally suspended after a number of hunters complained. They assured wildlife officials they could harvest enough deer to keep the population in check without the October hunt. During the two-year span, however, hunters failed to reach the required 2:1 ratio of antlerless to antlered deer harvested, and the fall hunt was reintroduced.
Not all herd control units failed to meet the 2:1 requirement. The region in central Wisconsin just barely made the benchmark and so remains without the October antlerless gun hunt this year. The hunt may return in units in 2009 if the antlerless to buck ratio falls below 2:1.
Mike Zeckmeister, wildlife supervisor for the northern region of Wisconsin, said those who opposed the hunt before were part of a “very vocal minority”
“This hunt is one of the most popular hunts in the state,” Zeckmeister said. “It’s a great time to be out.”
One of the original issues with the fall antlerless hunt was that it interfered with bow hunting season. The bow deer hunting season runs from Sept. 13 to Nov. 20 this year. The antlerless gun hunt began Thursday and will continue through Sunday.
The fall hunt used to take place later in the month, running when most deer were in rut — a time bow hunters have some of their best chances to get a deer. The early gun antlerless season was moved up two weeks to prevent the interference this season.
A few archery enthusiasts are still unhappy with the return of the early antlerless gun season, however.
“The bow hunters don’t like it, but they rifle hunt too,” said Mike Lemay, owner of Sportsman’s Choice in Superior.
Lemay said some customers claim the early gun hunt spooks deer and causes them to adopt nocturnal behavior. For the most part, though, he has heard just general grumbling from his archery clients. Some bow hunters are upset, but the majority simply plan to trade in their bows for a rifle during the four-day antlerless gun season.
Pat Kukull, owner of Superior Shooters Supply, has heard mostly positive feedback about the antlerless hunt from her customers.
“Mostly it’s been positive unless you’re an avid bow hunter, which creates problems,” Kukull said. “You’re bow hunting and you need to wear orange and you have a lot more people in the woods that weekend than there were. But overall the reaction has been positive.”
Kukull can understand the feelings of bow hunters. As a turkey hunter, she also has to deal with overlapping seasons.
Kukull also said she thinks more young hunters will be taking part in the antlerless hunt with their families this year. She has not seen the numbers from the youth hunt held last weekend, but Kukull expects greater numbers of youth to turn out for the antlerless hunt this weekend to be with their parents and experience the tradition.
At Superior Shooters Supply, people were still crowding into the store Wednesday an hour before closing time. Business was good, but Kukull couldn’t say if it was necessarily better because of the early antlerless hunt.
“We’ve certainly seen quite a bit of activity,” she said. “License sales have been higher than I believe they were in prior antlerless hunts, at least here.”
Bow hunters and rifle hunters may not agree upon the reintroduction of the October antlerless gun hunt, but one thing all hunters can agree upon is a shared dislike of Earn-a-Buck regulations. The EAB rules prohibit hunters from harvesting a buck until they have first killed an antlerless deer. All of the units in northwest Wisconsin — 1M, 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9 — were under an EAB watch for this season.
“We had the potential of going EAB this year,” Zeckmeister said. “The reason we decided not to was because of this October hunt we have this year.”
Zeckmeister said he and other wildlife managers wanted to give hunters a chance to bring down local deer populations before placing EAB regulations on the herd control units with booming growth.
“Instead of imposing EAB, let’s just have a regular season and see how that goes first,” Zeckmeister said.
But units 1M, 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9 are all still under an EAB watch for next season. If hunters are not able to harvest enough deer to bring the population down to a manageable level, chances are very good the units will fall under EAB rules for 2009.
In order to meet the benchmark to prevent EAB introduction, Kessler said the harvest in Douglas County and the surrounding area would have to be “considerable more” than last year.
He estimated a 20 to 30 percent increase in the number of deer killed would be needed. The deer population has just barely been close to even for the past two years, and Kessler said the statewide deer population has been too high for most of a decade.
“Hunting this October is a very important method to control the herd,” Zeckmeister said.
After record or near record harvests in recent years, the Wisconsin DNR still estimates the state deer herd to be between 1.5 and 1.7 million animals.
“It’s going to be a nice weekend coming up,” Zeckmeister said. “The leaves are off of most trees. It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold. It’s a nice time to be out in the woods.”
The weather may be favorable for hunting, but at least on Thursday, hunters were not scrambling to get a deer. Kessler said he expects many hunters were not in the woods Thursday morning because they have so many other opportunities left to bag a deer. The October antlerless hunt is the first gun hunt of the 2008 deer season. This year’s regular gun deer season will run Nov. 22-30.
The regular hunt is the latest possible on the calendar this season, so hunters need to be prepared for colder temperatures if they plan to go hunting during the nine-day season in November.
Zeckmeister said those hoping to avoid the frigid weather should consider hunting this weekend.
Either way, hunters in northern Wisconsin will need a very large harvest this season to control the deer population and put off EAB status for at least another year.
All hunters except waterfowl hunters must wear blaze orange clothing in any area open to gun deer hunting. Hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts also need to be aware of the October gun season and wear brightly color clothing to remain safe.