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Hunters will see more limits, and opportunities, on bagging does up north this fall

Despite a mild winter, a late start to the gun deer season could mean the deer harvest will be similar to last year

A deer runs through a field away from the camera.
Jon DeLong (CC BY 2.0)

The Natural Resources Board has expanded opportunities for hunters to kill does on public lands in two northern Wisconsin counties — but they’ll only be able to bag bucks in two other counties this fall.

The policy-setting board for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources unanimously approved recommendations for the 2024 deer season on Wednesday. Under the recommendations, Ashland and Iron counties are the only two counties in the state with buck-only restrictions for hunters this fall after they harvested far fewer deer up north last year.

During the gun deer season last fall, hunters killed about 14 percent fewer bucks and 27 percent fewer does in northern Wisconsin compared to the five-year average. Although the mild winter is expected to grow the herd, a late start to the gun deer season this fall could mean the harvest will be similar to last year. As a result, the DNR said northern counties are reducing their antlerless deer harvest recommendations by about 25 percent from last year.

Despite concerns about the harvest, board members took exception with county recommendations that would have barred hunters from killing antlerless deer on public lands in Bayfield and Oneida counties. The board unanimously approved increasing the number of doe tags by 400 on public lands in each county.

“Hunters are concerned that they’re not seeing as many deer. The signs are not there. The deer aren’t there, and I’m sure that’s the case in many locations. But the bottom line is, to me, there needs to be a social adjustment here to at least provide some opportunity for public hunters,” said Bill Smith, the board’s chair.

A deer watches over a goose nesting in an urn in a cemetery in Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday, April 7, 2011. David Duprey/AP Photo

Bayfield County recommended harvesting 1,200 does this fall and providing 4,510 tags on private land. The change shifts 400 of those permits to public land. Oneida County proposed an antlerless harvest of 540 deer and issuing 2,160 tags, of which 400 will now be available on public land.

Rob Bohmann, chair of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, urged the board to honor the recommendations put forth by county deer advisory councils, or CDACs, for managing their local deer herds.

“A lot of people that hunt public land (have) stopped hunting because they’re not seeing a deer on public land. That’s why Bayfield made the decisions that they did,” Bohmann said. “We’re not going to see this year in and year out for the next 10 years. It’s only a couple-year move to help increase that (deer herd).”

Kevin Schanning, chair of the Bayfield County CDAC, said most members will likely be pleased with the changes as the council has typically offered some hunting opportunities on public land in the past. Even so, he said the move could face pushback from the public, which wants to see more deer.

“There is a very large, vocal, strong contingent that does not want any antlerless harvest on public lands,” Schanning said. “The CDAC has consistently weighed that in relation to the science.”

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Deer hunter in the field
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo

While it seems like no antlerless harvest would increase the herd, State Deer Program Specialist Jeff Pritzl said the science suggests otherwise.

“In almost all cases, the department in these discussions (has) usually said, ‘There’s room for (a) minimum quota,” Pritzl said. “Beyond that, then it is more of a social discussion, and we see that playing out in these various recommendations.”

Some board members expressed concerns whether hunters may return if opportunities are eliminated in counties with a lot of public land. Participation has dwindled over the last two decades as hunters age and fewer young people are heading to the woods. Robin Schmidt, the board’s secretary, said limiting harvest on public lands almost feels like privatizing hunting.

“I know that’s not the intent here,” Schmidt said. “But I do agree that having zero harvest on public lands — especially in a county like Bayfield where we have significant amounts of public land available — it’s just not the right recommendation to make.”

About half the land in Bayfield County falls under public ownership. 

Marcy West, the board’s vice chair, said the board needs to send a message that it’s doing whatever it can to offer hunting opportunities on public land.

White-tailed deer
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo

Extended archery season approved for Iowa County

The DNR also proposed that Iowa County hold an extended archery season in January, which wasn’t recommended by the Iowa County CDAC. The agency noted surrounding counties hold the season.

Mike Foy, a former DNR wildlife biologist, said chronic wasting disease is severe within the county. First found in Wisconsin near Mt. Horeb in 2002, the disease attacks the brains of deer and causes drastic weight loss and death over time.

Foy said holding an extended season has received public support for the past six years in a row. He added the DNR’s deer management advisory committee noted the county has not met its antlerless deer quota since 2015.

The board approved the extended season. Recommendations for the 2024 deer season also include a holiday hunt that will be offered in 41 counties, which provides an additional nine days for hunting antlerless deer in farmland zones. That hunt runs from Dec. 24 through Jan. 1. An extended bow and crossbow season will also be offered in 35 counties that hold the holiday hunt.