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Statewide antlerless deer hunt underway

MADISON -- Wisconsin's deer hunters' next big opportunity takes place this week during a statewide antlerless gun deer hunt that runs from Dec. 7 through Dec. 10.

State wildlife officials say more than 100 of Wisconsin's 130 deer management units have deer populations that need strong hunting pressure put on antlerless deer to control population size. These units are designated as either Herd Control (HC), Earn-a-Buck (EAB) or Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

Antlerless deer carcass tags in HC and EAB units are available in unlimited numbers at $2 each. In regular deer management units hunters will need a unit specific $12 antlerless carcass tag. These are limited in number but are still available in 16 of 25 regular units in this year's hunt.

The December antlerless hunt was created following hunting groups' request for additional opportunity to hunt antlerless deer without interrupting the early bow deer hunting season.

"This December hunt is very important to hunters and I think most realize that," said Keith Warnke, DNR deer and bear ecologist. "Whether or not the October gun hunt returns next year depends on an adequate antlerless deer harvest this year."

Harvest records show that the four-day October gun hunt has produced around 70,000 antlerless deer in past seasons.

Another reason to get out and shoot an antlerless deer, Warnke said, is to prequalify for a buck harvest sticker for deer units that are Earn-a-Buck this year or on the watch list as a possible EAB unit in 2007. The prequalification program was launched in 2005 and more than 70,000 hunters took advantage of it, hitting the woods on opening day with a buck sticker already in their pocket. A list of EAB watch units is on the DNR Web site.

"If your freezer is full, consider hunting for the venison donation program," said Laurie Fike, donation program coordinator. "Fifty-three counties have participating meat processors in 2006. A list of participating processors is on the DNR Web site and you can also locate the closest processor by calling a DNR Service Center."

Since 2000, hunters have donated more than 35,000 deer and 1 million pounds of venison to this program. There is no cost to the hunter other than transporting the registered carcass to a participating processor.

"This year, I received a call from a group of hunters who had received venison from a local pantry to feed their families in the past," said Fike. "They were calling to say how much it had helped them and now they were going hunting themselves with the intention of donating venison to help other families."

Hunting officials say it will take a little time to crunch the harvest numbers and get a clear picture of hunting totals from all deer management units around the state. Proposed hunting rules for 2007 typically go to the Natural Resources Board in late January. After the board reviews the proposals they are taken out around the state in a series of public hearings to gather comment.