Hunters killed nearly 18% fewer deer this year in Wisconsin's nine-day gun season

Posted at 2:37 PM, Nov 28, 2023

MADISON (AP) — Hunters killed significantly fewer deer during Wisconsin's nine-day gun season this year than they did last year, according to preliminary data released Tuesday by the state Department of Natural Resources.

After kicking off with a slow opening weekend, hunters reported a total of 173,942 deer harvested from Nov. 18-26, a 17.6% decrease from the 2022 season and roughly 11% below the state's five-year average. Hunters in northern Wisconsin saw the steepest declines.

“There were probably fewer deer on the landscape than there were last year at this time,” Jeff Pritzl, the DNR's deer specialist, said in a news conference. According to Pritzl, a severe winter last year may have diminished populations in northern forests and across the state.

Last year's gun deer season in Wisconsin was above average thanks to snow cover that made deer stand out and a lack of standing corn for them to hide in. This year, hunters were met with warm temperatures and a lack of snow on opening weekend. Pritzl called the total harvest of 85,390 bucks and 88,552 antlerless deer "on the low end of the five-year average, but certainly not unprecedented.”

The decreased harvest comes despite a negligible change in the number of hunters statewide. As of midnight Sunday, the DNR had sold 553,479 licenses that permit a hunter to kill a deer with a firearm, down only a fraction of a percent from the 554,898 licenses sold in 2022.

The DNR reported three gun-related injuries during the season. On opening weekend, a 53-year-old man in Argonne shot himself in the foot while walking to a tree stand, and a 62-year-old man in Big Flatts shot at a dog on private property that he believed was a deer. His bullet struck a 47-year-old woman who was walking the dog, and she was flown to a nearby hospital for her injuries. On Friday, a hunter in Rib Lake shot a 30-year-old man in the thigh during a deer drive. None of the injuries were fatal.

The DNR has reported an average of roughly six gun-related injuries per deer season over the past 10 years. Four of those years saw fatal incidents. Last year, eight gun-related injuries were reported, including four that were self-inflicted.