Hunting season starts in just a few short weeks. The question is always: will there be lots of game to chase and harvest? Last season’s results, which can be found in the annual DNR Big Game Harvest Summary, is a fine place to begin looking at game populations for 2017.
In the spring of 2016, hunters harvested 43,564 turkeys, which was a decline of 2,196 birds from 2015. As usual, Zone 1 saw the largest harvest with 12,564 birds while Zone 2 had a harvest of 10,664 toms. In Zone 3, 9,919 birds were taken. Dunn County, which is in Zone 4, had a harvest of 6,774 toms, an increase in the harvest total. The harvest in the three remaining zones were Zone 5: 21966, Zone 6: 817 and Zone 7: 514 toms. In the fall of 2016, hunters bagged 4,992 total birds. It will be interesting to see if the fall turkey harvest numbers increase from 4,992 birds taken last fall.
For all you larger game hunters, bear season begins on September 6. Last year, Wisconsin hunters harvested 4,682 bears. The largest number of bears (1,624) were harvested in zone D, which is far Northwestern Wisconsin. An estimated 1,141 bears were harvested in Zone A, which is in the north central portion of the state and 850 bears were taken in Zone B which is in the northeastern part of the state. Zone C, which is the southern two-thirds of the state, had a harvest of 1,067.
Bayfield county was the harvest champion with 488 bears taken. Dunn County recorded 39 harvested last fall, for a harvest total of 484 bears. Forty-nine percent of those kills were male, while 51 percent were female. Even so, the state’s bear population continues to increase in numbers and in range.
Last season, bow hunters bagged 48,272 deer, of which, 28,173 were bucks and 20,100 were does. Crossbow hunters harvested 23,562 bucks and 16,215 does. Considering general crossbow hunting is only three years old, it has proven to be a very popular and effective way to hunt. Gun hunters bagged 105,186 bucks and 123,510 does for a total gun harvest of 228,726. In Dunn County, hunters harvested 4,362 does and 1,275 bucks for a total harvest of 5,637. During the muzzle loader season, hunters smoked 116 deer in Dunn County alone while 6,400 were killed statewide.
For the harvest
The harvest numbers for the three big games species were up or held steady statewide. However, in some areas, the numbers were down. Generally, the declines can be attributed to a lack of suitable habitat for that species. Habitat changes over time and that can either be a benefit or a drawback, depending on the situation.
Landowners must regularly keep up with habitat improvement projects if they want to maintain populations of specific critters on their land. Another major factor in wildlife populations is weather conditions. The two big weather factors include the severity of any given winter (i.e. how cold and snow depth), and any kind of weather anomalies in the spring.
This last winter was very mild and with no April blizzards, most to all our animal species should have had no difficulties in rearing their young. In my travels around the county and the state, I have seen more does with twins than single fawns. That is an unscientific marker of deer numbers, since does only have twins when weather conditions are most favorable.
The CDAC committees, DNR biologists and the Natural Resources Board has approved a deer season that is based on increasing numbers. Most of the state will have an antler-less harvest and the holiday hunt is also expanding. In fact, a holiday hunt will be held in Dunn County this year. The holiday hunt runs from December 24 to January 1, and is an antler-less hunt only. Dunn County hunters will receive one antler-less tag with the purchase of their deer license and 500 public and 2,100 private land additional antler-less tags will be issued. The projected antler-less harvest in Dunn County will be 6,830.
Statewide projections for the antler-less harvest is 276,515, which would be an increase of 19,740 deer from the 2016 season. Of course, the projected numbers never equal the actual numbers of deer harvested during the season.
Waterfowl season should also have some shining times this year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service is reporting that habitat conditions were the same or have improved from last year. In most locations, a good amount of rain and snow was recorded, causing the wetlands to be full of generous breeding sites. The population of teal mallards is higher or equal to last year’s population, and the Canadian goose population is still increasing to record levels in northern breeding grounds, especially Dunn County.
Early teal season begins on Sept. 1 while duck and goose hunting opens in the mid-September. However, these dates may fluctuate depending on the zone.
Good shooting to all the hunters going afield, and remember the four principles of hunting safety: Treat every firearm as if it were loaded; always keep the muzzle in a safe direction; be sure of your target and beyond; keep you finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.