MADISON – A preliminary call-in tally of registration stations across the state shows hunters taking 261,093 deer during the regular nine-day gun deer hunt that closed Sunday.

That figure is about 10 percent lower than the similar phone tally of 291,563 from Wisconsin’s 2001season, and about 20 percent lower than the 10-year average of call-in numbers of about 328,000. The preliminary total includes those deer shot in the chronic wasting disease (CWD) zones during the nine-day season. Those zones have extended gun seasons as part of the state’s effort to control the fatal deer brain disease.

“I’m very pleased with the effort hunters made to get out and with the number of CWD samples they volunteered to our surveillance effort,” said Department of Natural Resources Secretary, Darrell Bazzell. “I think that given the unusual nature of this year’s hunt, with the early lag in license sales, the fear and uncertainty caused by discovery of CWD in Wisconsin, and the extraordinary effort to collect CWD samples, hunters and staff can be proud of the effort they’ve made. The success of Wisconsin’s statewide surveillance effort will be because of their contributions.”

“Hunting conditions were near average almost everywhere in the state with the only complaint being a wish for more snow cover to aid in spotting deer in the field,” said Tom Hauge, director of the DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management.

Gun deer hunting license sales hit 618,945 by the close of business on Nov 22. This was a drop of 10 percent from 2001and up considerably from the 19 to 20 percent deficit only 10 days earlier. DNR records show that nearly 70,000 licenses were sold in the last day before the season opener and 37 percent of all license sales occurred in the last week before the opener.

“This was both a most unusual season and yet very similar to dozens of past seasons,” Hauge said. “Thousands of hunters waited until the last minute to purchase their licenses while hunters in the CWD eradication zone could hunt without a license and an unlimited bag. Yet at the same time, today I saw a picture of a Door County hunter his first buck, a beautiful, mature 12-pointer. You could see by his face that he was just as proud of his deer as you’d expect in any other season, regardless of CWD”

The pre-hunt deer population was estimated at about 1.6 million going in to the 2002 hunting seasons with 41 units designated as Zone T — where the population is more than 20 percent over goal. Leading into the fall gun hunting seasons, wildlife managers stressed the importance of the Zone T seasons for managing the state’s deer population and the need for a solid hunting effort during the nine-day season for the same reason. Any shortfalls in harvest this year will need to be addressed in the 2003 hunting seasons, Hauge noted. Hunters shot about 28,000 deer during the early Zone T hunt that was held Oct. 24 through 27, compared to nearly 44,450 in 2001. But, Hauge noted, that the number deer management units included in the Zone T hunt changes from year to year. A second Zone T season will be held Dec. 12 to 15 in those Zone T units located south of Highway 8.

Efforts to collect the large CWD surveillance sample were successful enough to provide wildlife health experts with a wealth of information on the health of Wisconsin’s deer herd according to Dr. Julie Langenberg, DNR wildlife veterinarian. With a just over 36,000 samples collected statewide to date scientists will have a lot of data to analyze over the coming months.

“Perhaps the toughest duty was pulled by the 1,200-plus state employees and citizen volunteers who staffed CWD sample collection stations throughout the opening weekend in sometimes windy, 30-degree temperatures,” Langenberg said.

Hunters registered approximately 2,006 deer over the nine days at the three registration stations in the CWD Intensive Harvest Zone (IHZ). Combined with earlier hunts in the area this brings the total harvest from the IHZ to approximately 11,000 deer since Feb 28 when Wisconsin was notified CWD had been found west of Madison.

State wildlife managers want to reduce the deer population in the CWD infected area to as low a level as possible. Estimates place the pre-hunt deer population in the area at about 25,000 to 30,000. Gun hunting will continue in the IHZ until Jan. 31. Hunting in the CWD Management Zone, an area surrounding the IHZ, will continue to Dec. 15 and resume Dec. 21 through Jan. 3.

“History will tell us that we took the appropriate steps based the best science available at the time,” said DNR Secretary Bazzell. “Some have claimed that our actions are too aggressive but we feel good about the effort we’ve made and our commitment to defining the CWD problem in Wisconsin. What’s important for the future is that we continuously evolve our management of CWD as we learn more from the laboratory and the field.”

“Outside the CWD Management and Intensive Harvest Zones a ten-day muzzleloader hunt is underway,” he said. “And there is a second Zone T hunt Dec 12 to 15 in Zone T designated units south of Hwy. 8 so there’s lots of hunting opportunity remaining in many areas of the state”