With nearly all registration stubs from the 2006 season compiled, hunters harvested just under 500,000 white-tailed deer, which would make 2006 the third highest year on record for deer harvest in Wisconsin, according to state wildlife officials.
Based on the nearly final harvest numbers for all 2006 deer hunting seasons, a moratorium on the October antlerless deer hunt will continue into its second year, according to Keith Warnke, deer and bear ecologist for the state Department of Natural Resources.
Harvest numbers, which are still considered preliminary, put the antlered harvest at 175,355 and antlerless harvest at 321,280, with 3,344 unknowns (usually reflecting incomplete registration forms) for a total of 499,979. Registration numbers will not be final until completion of the 2006 Wisconsin Big Game Hunting Summary this spring.
In deer management units designated as "herd control units," hunters harvested about 1.7 antlerless deer for each antlered deer, Warnke said. This is above the 1.4 to 1 ratio needed to continue the moratorium into a second year, but "well short" of the 2 to 1 ratio needed over the two-year trial period to discontinue the October antlerless hunt in the future, he said.
"We hope to work with hunters to make a real concerted effort on antlerless deer next year, or the October hunt will return (in 2008)," Warnke says.
The moratorium on October gun deer hunting was implemented on a two-year trial basis following more than a year-long effort involving wildlife managers and stakeholder groups from across the state to develop a new strategy to control Wisconsin's burgeoning deer herd. Many hunters – especially archery hunters – did not like the October antlerless hunt, referred to in past years as a Zone T hunt. Although it was effective at reducing deer populations, hunters felt that the October hunt interfered with archery deer hunting and caused behavioral changes in deer that made hunting more difficult.
The state Natural Resources Board approved the new season structure on a trail basis with an option to reinstate October gun deer hunting after one year if deer harvests in herd control units dropped below a 1.4 to 1 antlerless to buck ratio, and with a return to the October hunt if the antlerless to antlered ratio was below 2 to 1 over the two-year trial. The trial was established in Wisconsin Administrative Code, which passed legislative review to become law. The October hunt will return in 2008 if the harvest goals are not met.
Other provisions of the trial deer season framework included:
* providing hunters with one free antlerless tag for use in herd control and Earn-a-Buck units
* making unlimited additional herd control antlerless tags available for $2 each
* eliminating the Hunter's Choice permit program
* providing archers with an additional archery antlerless deer carcass tag
* expanding the youth hunt to two days
For deer management purposes, Wisconsin is broken down into five deer management regions (Western Farmland, Southern Farmland, Eastern Farmland, Central Forest and Northern Forest), which are further divided into approximately 135 deer management units.
"Each deer management region will be evaluated separately," Warnke says. "If the 2 to 1 harvest ratio is met in any of the regions, there will not be an October hunt in that entire region."
Deer herd status meetings begin this week for all deer management units. DNR wildlife managers will discuss deer harvest results by DMU, population estimates, proposed antlerless quotas for the units, and the likelihood of reaching those quotas with the regular nine-day hunting season framework. A complete list of the meetings can be found on the DNR Web site.