MADISON – Cool rainy weather across much of the state on Oct 24 and 25 appeared to reduce hunter interest and success during the first two days of the 2002 Zone T gun deer hunt, but activity picked up with drier weather Saturday and Sunday. A preliminary total of 27,676 deer were registered statewide, with a handful of registration stations left to report numbers.

The Zone T hunt was also the first chance for state wildlife managers to gather large numbers of deer heads for chronic wasting disease testing. Department of Natural Resources wildlife health officials said more than 6,000 deer were submitted for sampling. The total number of samples taken was still being compiled as of Tuesday.

Tom Hauge, director of the DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management cautioned that it is difficult to compare Zone T harvest numbers to previous years. The number of deer management units included under the Zone T framework changes from year to year, as it is based on reducing herd size in units that surveys show are over population goals. This is unlike the November hunt when all units statewide participate every year.

“There were 76 deer management units designated as Zone T in 2001,” Hauge said. “This year it was down to 56 units. I know there’s the impulse to crunch numbers and compare things but with the constantly changing number and distribution of Zone T units from year to year, the results don’t really tell us much. The main object of Zone T is to reduce the number of units needing this kind of hunt and I think we’ve been pretty successful at reducing the number from last year.”

Final registration numbers for the 2001 October Zone T hunt in the 76 deer management units were 44,478. Hunters registered another 13,600 in the four-day December 2001 Zone T season. In 2000, there were 86 deer management units in Zone T and hunters registered 66,417 deer in the October Zone T season. In 1999 there were only eight Zone T units and registrations were about 6,990.

“Hunters produced an average harvest of 585 deer per Zone T unit in Oct of 2001 and about 500 per unit this past weekend,” said acting state deer and bear ecologist, Dave Evenson. “This represents a 15 percent drop but it’s important to remember that deer units do have different sizes, habitat types and total deer populations so direct comparisons are difficult. Overall I’m pleased with the effort.

“Its important to maintain Wisconsin’s hunting tradition and we appreciate the invaluable assistance hunters give us as deer managers through their hunting efforts – they are the ones that really manage the deer population in Wisconsin through their sport.”

All test results are expected to be reported by March 31, 2003. A running tally of results by county as they come in will be posted on the CWD page of the DNR Web site. Hunters submitting heads for testing will be sent a postcard and will be able to check the results of their deer’s test on the Internet.

Hunters were able to shoot both antlerless and buck deer in the CWD management and intensive harvest zones but were limited to antlerless deer only in Zone T units elsewhere. Reports from a number of field biologists indicated that many hunters were providing heads at collection stations and then taking their venison home for processing. Earlier, fears expressed by some hunters at statewide CWD information meetings raised the possibility that large numbers of deer would be end up in landfills.

“I’m quite pleased with the weekend’s hunt,” said Hauge. “In just four days we were able to sample over six times the number of deer we’ve sent for CWD testing in the previous three years. We made a good start toward our goal of sampling 40,000 to 50,000 deer statewide. We didn’t get enough samples to close out any of our collection stations. This week, we will bring together regional wildlife staff to discuss the collection system and any improvements we want to make before the November deer hunt. We want to make it as easy as we practically can for a hunter to assist with the sampling efforts.”

The effort to collect samples mobilized hundreds of current and retired DNR staff, workers from other state and federal agencies, and individuals from a variety of organizations, universities and colleges. Sampling stations were operated from approximately 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in most areas. Stations in the intensive harvest zone will remain open from now through Jan 31, 2003.

In June, the state Natural Resources Board extended the gun-hunting season in the intensive harvest zone through Jan 31 and liberalized bag limits in both the CWD intensive harvest and management zones. The goal is to reduce the whitetail deer population to as close to zero as possible in the intensive harvest zone and to 10 animals per square mile in the CWD management zone.

“We are attempting to test every deer that comes out of the intensive harvest zone,” Hauge said. “In the area surrounding the intensive harvest zone we want to test 500 deer from each management unit and in the rest of the state we want to test 500 in each county – all at no charge to the hunter.

“Its important that we get the number of samples we need in order to reach the level of confidence we’ve set for our statewide surveillance efforts. We urge hunters to assist us by bringing in deer to the collection stations.”

The Zone T hunt was first used in 1996 as a tool to manage high whitetail deer populations in certain areas of the state. Zone T hunts are limited to deer management units where a normal hunting season framework is not expected to bring the unit to within 20 percent of the unit’s established population goal. The number and distribution of Zone T units varies from year to year.