Jerry Davis’ DeerTrails: State of the deer herd is ‘good’

November 16, 2018

Editor’s note: Jerry Davis writes daily DeerTrails 11 times during the nine-day, gun deer season. This is the first column.

Kevin Wallenfang and Bob Nack, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources top deer biologists, say the herd is in good condition.

There are abundant deer around the state, they say. As a result, there are more antlerless opportunities for hunters, too.

Wallenfang, DNR big game ecologist, identifies Iron County as a buck-only deer management unit, the only one. In the other management units, hunters can take some antlerless deer. Protecting antlerless deer is one method of increasing the population, which has been used recently to push up the numbers in northern Wisconsin.

“All things look very promising for hunters,” said Nack, DNR big game section chief, of the nine-day season which opens Saturday, Nov. 17.

Both biologists are hunters and plan to spend opening weekend in northern Wisconsin, in spite of living in southern Wisconsin. Traditions speak loudly.

Nack looks at the state, in general terms, as north and south and says in the south there are good numbers of deer and in the north there are increasing populations.

Hunters are always cautioned, however, that deer are not evenly distributed and not all habitats have the same biological carrying capacity, even though the social carrying capacity may be higher. Some folks would like still more deer, others fewer.

“This past winter was moderate in most areas of the north,” Wallenfang said. “This year the opener (Nov. 17) is one of the earliest possible. That bodes well for deer movement during the early part of the season, which could overlap with the tail end of the rut.”

Bucks have continued on the move this week.

Other factors favoring hunters this year are the corn harvesting is ahead of last year and more will be combined or picked before the Saturday opener.

This year has, however, been one of the wettest years ever and hunters favoring lowland hunting may have limited access unless the recent freeze-up helped enough.

The possibility of snow in the north is good, too, which helps hunters with sighting and safety.

“Lining up all those factors, I’m optimistic,” Wallenfang said.

“Personally, with the early season like this we see it being an influence on deer movement opening weekend,” Nack believes. “We see more deer if mating behavior is still influencing the bucks.”

Wallenfang said when the rut and opening weekend overlap, there is a 10-15 percent increase in bucks registered.

As hunters, these ecologists don’t base their excitement for the season on populations or even deer sightings.

“I’m looking forward to the season, spending time with family and friends,” Nack said. “Regardless of whether the population is up or down, I’m going deer hunting.”

Nack’s younger daughter killed a buck during an earlier youth hunt, so having her along as a licensed hunter instead of just going along is special, too, her father said.

Season Snippet: The first game laws pamphlet was published in 1888.

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