Warm temperatures and heavy fog in many areas greeted hunters on the opening weekend of Wisconsin's 158th gun deer hunt.
Hunters participating in the traditional November nine-day gun deer hunt registered a preliminary tally of 100,330 deer over the first two days of the hunt.
The 2009 preliminary count compares to a similar opening weekend count of 133,828 from 2008. Buck harvest statewide in 2009 was 49,583 (52,477 in 2008) and antlerless harvest was 50,478 (81,351 in 2008)
"We want to remind folks that these preliminary numbers come from a staff call-around to deer registrations stations this morning," said Tom Hauge DNR's wildlife management director. "The final opening weekend tally will likely be somewhat larger, when all the registration stubs are entered into the data base over the next couple of months."
A breakdown of the harvest by DNR Region and county is available in portable document format.
This fall, wildlife staff indicated that they expected lower total harvest numbers - especially antlerless deer harvest numbers - due to several factors including lower deer numbers in many areas of the state, fewer herd control units and no earn-a-buck units outside of the chronic wasting disease management zone.
"There was pretty dense fog until 10-11 a.m. opening morning," reported Kris Belling DNR West Central Region wildlife expert. "The fog coupled with wet conditions, made it hard to hear anything coming and definitely impacted the morning hunt. Hunters I talked to (in West Central Region) enjoyed the mild temperatures and it was comfortable enough for them to stay out hunting, and that seems to have offset the original difficulties due to the fog. Overall, it was just a nice week-end to be out. Lots of interest in getting the deer butchered quickly."
However, the weather improved later in the day.
"Those deer are still out there," said Keith Warnke, DNR big game ecologist. "Many folks take this week off leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday and given the slower start to the season, there should continue to be good opportunity out there in many areas. There is still a lot of hunting left."
As of early Monday afternoon, 571 "opening weekend" hunting trip reports have been recorded on the department's new online reporting database. Hunters reported seeing 796 total deer on those trips which translates to an average of 1.39 deer per trip. These numbers will also likely change as trip reports were still coming in at a rapid pace. Hunters wish to report their hunting experiences can do so from the DNR website.
Enthusiasm for hunting remains high
DNR Secretary Matt Frank visited several registration stations along the I-39, Saturday morning.
"At the stations I visited it was really gratifying seeing our next generation of hunters taking their place," said Frank. "I especially enjoyed the chance to visit with the youngsters who brought in their first deer. Congratulations to all hunters for keeping our heritage strong. I wish them all success and an enjoyable and safe hunting experience during the remainder of the seasons."
The department's license sales office reported 626,404 hunters hit the woods with a license to participate in the 2009 nine-day gun deer season. The number of gun hunting licenses included a new category this year, 9,592 10- and 11-year-old hunters who for the first time were able to participate as mentored hunters under Wisconsin's new Mentored Hunting Law.
Deer license and tag sales will continue through the hunting seasons.
The long custom of buying a license on the way to deer camp is also intact. Over 43 percent - nearly half - of all deer hunters purchased a license in the eight days preceding the gun deer opener; 82,463 licenses were sold on Friday. At peak, which occurred at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, the DNR's online licensing system - known as ALIS - was processing 212 transactions per minute
Nearly 270,000 licenses were issued in the eight days preceding the season opener.
Of the hunters hitting the woods on Saturday:
592,287 (95 percent) were residents and 34,117 were nonresidents;
More than 79,000 youth hunters under 18 years old participated in this year's hunt, representing 13 percent of the total number of deer hunters;
More than 54,000 hunters were age 65 or older, and over 191,000 (31 percent) are under 30-years-old;
Females represent 8.5 percent of the total hunters, and 20 percent of new 10- and 11-year-old hunters;
Hunters throughout the U.S. and several foreign countries purchased a Wisconsin gun deer license. The highest number of nonresident hunters came from Minnesota (16,413), Illinois (8,568), Michigan (1,078), and Florida (898);
The most deer licenses were sold in Dane County (29,024), with Brown, Washington, Marathon and Waukesha counties following;
More than 170,000 antlerless deer tags have been sold this year.
Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegates also shared their experiences over the weekend.
Scott McCauley, Conservation Congress delegate from Wood County was hunting in Waupaca County and noted that for his party opening day was off to a promising start.
"Last year we had our best season ever taking nine deer. This year is looking even better with five people taking three deer and the season is just starting," said McCauley.
Mike Riggle, Conservation Congress delegate from Taylor County called in, "Seven in camp now, including 11-year-old Austin Riggle hunting for his first time as a mentored hunter. Austin didn't see anything but enjoyed being in camp and will be out again having a good time."
There were no confirmed fatal shooting incidents recorded during the first two days of the hunt but there were five non-fatal firearms-related incidents, reports DNR Hunter Education Administrator Tim Lawhern.
"We are grateful these five incidents were not fatal and wish a speedy recovery to the victims, but the fact remains that all five could have been prevented if strict firearm safety rules had been observed by the shooters and by the victims who wounded themselves."
Three woundings occurred on Saturday. In Grant County a hunters was struck in the back of the leg by shrapnel when a hunting companion's gun discharged into the door of a vehicle as he attempted to unload the gun.
In Price County, a hunter suffered a self-inflicted wound in the left hand from a handgun, and in Green County a hunter sustained a gunshot wound to his leg when he slipped crossing a stream on a log and his shotgun discharged
On Sunday a Barron County hunter was wounded in the thigh by a bullet, and in St Croix County a hunter sustained a self-inflicted gunshot would to the right hand from a .30-30 caliber rifle.
Hunter Safety Administrator Tim Lawhern noted that historically about half of Wisconsin's shooting incidents happen during deer drives, usually because someone wasn't where they were supposed to be or someone shot at a deer when they did not have a safe backstop or in a direction they should not have been shooting. "It is really important that hunting parties wanting to drive deer have a plan and that they follow that plan to the letter. Knowing where your hunting mates are and where safe shooting lanes are is critical," he said.
Statistically, about half the hunting incidents happen during opening weekend. "I am hoping we buck that statistic and can avoid further incidents this year," Lawhern said. "Compared to the 'good ole' days,' hunting is safe and getting safer. In 1915, of the state's 155,000 hunters then, 24 were killed and 26 were injured. That meant 1 in about 3,100 hunters could expect to be killed or injured. Today it's 1 in 100,000 or better. Still any shooting incident is one too many. Hunters need to remember the shooting TAB-K safety rules and be careful with deer drives later this week," he said.