MADISON – A preliminary count of deer registered in the Oct. 30-Nov. 2 Zone T gun deer hunt showed Wisconsin hunters bagging 38,803 deer in mixed weather conditions across the state. Oct. 30 also marked the start of the extended gun hunting season in the chronic wasting disease (CWD) intensive harvest zone, and the registration totals include some antlered deer that were shot in the CWD zone. A total of 47 Zone T deer management units and 15 CWD units were part of this past weekend’s hunt.
Bill VanderZouwen, chief of the DNR Wildlife and Landscape Section 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 41 deer management units designated as Zone T in 2002,” VanderZouwen said. “This year it was 47 units. With the changing number and distribution of Zone T units from year to year, then preliminary results don’t really tell us much.
Final registration numbers for the 2002 October Zone T hunt was 28,144. Hunters registered another 8,084 in the four-day December 2002 Zone T season.
“Hunters produced an average harvest of 625 deer per Zone T unit in October 2002 and about 860 per unit this past weekend,” VanderZouwen said. “This looks like a big gain but it’s important to remember that deer units do have different sizes, habitat types and total deer populations so direct comparisons are difficult.”
Hunters in the southern region experienced good conditions Thursday, Friday and Saturday but also awoke to a cold rain Sunday morning. Late Saturday registration was brisk between sunset and station closing at Barneveld where four registration lines were busy with three and four vehicles at a time in each line. Many vehicles brought in three and four deer at a time.
“I saw and spoke many hunters who took to the woods this weekend,” said DNR Secretary Scott Hassett, who worked at the Black Earth registration station on Saturday and the Barneveld registration station Sunday. “While it was great recreation for the hunters I talked to, most also were aware that their efforts were helping manage the deer herd in the state, and we truly thank them for those efforts.”
Rutting activity was evident in most areas of the state with hunters reporting good deer movement and excellent deer condition in many areas. The focus of the four-day hunt was antlerless deer but many landowners in the CWD disease eradication zone who applied for a landowner permit and were issued two free buck tags with the permit used the opportunity to fill their buck tags. Many others earned the right to shoot a buck by first shooting an antlerless deer. In the DNR South Central Region, which primarily includes the CWD zone units, 71 percent of the deer registered were antlerless deer.
Biologists were collecting deer heads for CWD testing at registration stations across the CWD management area west of Madison and in selected other areas around the state. In the CWD intensive harvest zone gun hunting will continue through Jan 3. All other areas of the state will return to archery hunting until the nine-day November gun hunt opens on Nov 22.
Dry late summer conditions made for good access in wetland areas that would normally be difficult to hunt, said Bob Michelson, regional wildlife biologist from Eau Claire. In other areas, most of the corn has been harvested, reducing escape cover and improving chances of success. While hunting conditions in general were favorable for the four days, rain on Sunday kept hunters out of the woods in some places.
Northern region hunters experienced somewhat different conditions according to regional wildlife biologist, Mike Zeckmeister.
“There were 18 northern deer management units in the Zone T hunt this year,” said Zeckmeister. “The weather was overcast all four days and it was rainy on Thursday and Friday but little or no rain fell Saturday and Sunday. Temperatures were in the mid 40s. Overall, there were good hunting conditions for late October to early November.”
State hunter safety education coordinator, Tim Lawhern, reported a single nonfatal self-inflicted gunshot injury occurred on Nov. 2 in connection with the Zone T hunt. The hunter, a 14-year old, apparently fell asleep but awakened as his rifle slipped between his knees. The hunter grabbed at the firearm causing it to discharge, hitting his foot.
“As we track the conditions and circumstances under which hunting accidents occur we find that one-third to one-half of all hunting accidents are self inflicted,” said Lawhern. “Following firearm safety precautions at all times, such as making sure the firearm safety is on at all times except when ready to shoot, can help reduce the number of self-caused injuries.”
The Zone T hunt coincided on Nov. 1 with the statewide Youth Deer Hunt. On this day, youth aged 12 through 15 could hunt antlerless deer with a firearm in any non-Zone T and Zone T deer management unit. This special season, especially in non Zone T units, gives youths a quality hunting experience during a time when there is less hunter pressure than during the regular gun-hunting season, Lawhern said. Youth must be accompanied by an adult 18-years or older and provides an opportunity for mentoring and bonding.
A second Zone T hunt will be held Dec. 11 through 14. That hunt is only held in deer management units located south of Highway 8. Hunters may also use their Zone T tags to shoot antlerless deer in Zone T units during any other hunting season, including the archery, or regular gun season, which runs Nov. 22-30, or the muzzleloader season.
“Zone T hunts are an invaluable tool in helping to lessen the impact caused by high deer populations, said VanderZouwen. “I would guess that nearly every driver in the state has hit or knows another driver that has hit a deer. Farmers lose thousands of dollars worth of crops to browsing deer and homeowners have found entire ornamental plantings mowed down by hungry deer.
“This Zone T hunt made a significant contribution to controlling the deer herd, but we still have a long way to go in most units if we are to drop the Zone T hunts or avoid earn-a-buck regulations in 2004.”
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** Includes antlered harvest from CWD zones