2012 Wisconsin Deer Hunting Outlook
by Chris Larsen
Wisconsin is one of America’s best states for whitetail hunting. In fact, Wisconsin hunters have taken more Boone & Crockett bucks than any other state in the past five years. However, Wisconsin’s deer herd is much more than just trophy deer. The state is perennially among the top states for total harvest and there are millions of acres of public hunting land. There is a lot to like but there are some issues… new and old.
I recently interviewed Wisconsin DNR Big Game Ecologist Kevin Wallenfang. Wallenfang is not just a scientist, he is an avid hunter as well. He believes Wisconsin is set for another great deer season. “Wisconsin has a lot of deer out there. We shoot a lot of deer. No we’re not shooting as many deer as we did in the early 2000s and the 1990s and that was by design. But there is still plenty of deer out there.”
Drought conditions have been in the headlines throughout the summer and into the fall. Drought has had a severe impact on agricultural crops and if you’ve been trying to put in food plots, it’s probably been a struggle. Wallenfang says the drought won’t have a significant impact on the deer herd as a whole, but there may be some localized problems. “One of the things that has happened over the last couple of weeks is EHD, Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease. It is a disease that is very common throughout the South. It’s getting a little more common in the Midwest. It is a disease that you typically see in a drought year, like we’re having this year. It is caused by a biting midge… There is some evidence here in Wisconsin that we may be having a problem with it… There have been some deer reported dead for no apparent reason some of those deer have been collected and the department is doing tests on them.”
Wallenfang says EHD can make an impact over a small area, but it is not a significant threat to the state’s deer. “It wouldn’t be something we would expect to see across the state. It is something that deer populations typically rebound from quickly. We don’t expect a big die off any kind this year. I don’t want anyone to be alarmed by it. But locally it could impact deer herds.”
With dry weather, the crops are coming off the fields early. With corn being picked in August and September, Wallenfang says deer will have fewer places to hide. He expects hunters to benefit from clear fields in 2012. “I think that is going to put more deer in the woods… in the marshlands… Hopefully, they will be more accessible to hunters.”
As is the case just about every year, there are some regulation changes this season. Archery hunters will be able to continue hunting with bow and arrow as long as they abide by gun season regulations, including wearing blaze orange. “You can fill your gun tag with archery equipment or your crossbow this year.” There are some other changes as well. Hunters in Northern Wisconsin will be able to shoot coyotes during the gun deer season. This change was made because of looser restrictions on wolf hunting.
Earn-A-Buck and the October antlerless hunt are a thing of the past in the CWD Zone. In an effort to boost harvest in the CWD Zone, the DNR is implementing the Bonus Buck tag. “Earn-A-Buck has been discontinued but we have a second Earn-A-Buck situation. You could fill your gun tag or archery tag with the first buck you saw, but then if you wanted to shoot a second buck you had to shoot a doe. That is still there, but it’s called a Bonus Buck.”
The Deer Trustee Report, also known as The Kroll Report, was a political firestorm during the spring. Wild rumors were flying around about what it could lead to. On the other hand, some believed the report wouldn‘t lead to anything significant. Wallenfang says the DNR is using the report as a tool to make deer hunting better in the state. “There are a lot of things in that report the department has been advocating for a long time. For example, consolidation of the deer management units. A telecheck system is something I think is going to happen no matter what. And we are looking into the possibilities of going to some sort of a telephone system and/or internet system that will allow people to register their deer at least during the early season or late seasons. We’re kind of leaning toward the idea of continuing with the mandatory registration during the gun deer season. But everything is on the table right now… We’re taking that report to heart. Anything that gets people talking about deer management is a good thing.”
To listen to the entire conversation with Wisconsin DNR Big Game Ecologist Kevin Wallenfang, press play below or at the top of the page.