The 2023 deer hunting season is finally ready to kick off. Archery and crossbow season starts this weekend. Hunters have spent countless hours in the woods scouting and preparing to harvest that big buck or get some meat for the freezer.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently released their fall forecasts for hunting and trapping. One of those looked at the upcoming deer season. DNR wildlife biologist Curt Rollman compiled the outlook for the Northern Forest Zone, which includes Oneida, Vilas and Iron Counties within its borders.
“The diverse habitats, from mixed hardwoods or conifer forests, aspen stands, open grasslands of vast wetlands, offer abundant opportunity,” the report stated.
Habitat management by private land owners continues to be more and more important in the Northwoods, with deer being one of the most iconic animals for which to manage land.
“Recognizing and responding to habitat transitions is helpful,” the report went on. “Changing your hunting strategy as deer behavior changes can lead to a fulfilling hunting season.”
The report highlighted the deep snowpack that remained well into late winter. During County Deer Advisory Committee meetings, too, biologists spoke about the Winter Severity Index and made adjustments based on the freeze and thaw conditions that made things a bit more difficult for deer, but were not specifically reflected in the Index by late winter. The Winter Severity Index gives one point for each day of below zero weather and one point for every day with over 18 inches of snow cover. The higher the numeric value, the more severe the winter is said to be. Even with this Index adjusted for notable conditions this past winter, general observations and a quickly receding spring snowpack in some places showed the deer herd, by and large, came out of winter in good condition.
Last year, harvest rates were reported as being up 19% on average for the zone. Harvest numbers were up for both antlered and antlerless deer. The increase in buck kills pointed toward a growth in deer populations overall in the zone, according to the DNR report.
In the Northwoods, a general consensus is that where deer are present, there are “too many” deer, causing issues by over browsing. However, in other areas, there are markedly fewer deer than in past years, according to hunters. While it remains to be seen how the harvest season will play out, hunters are sure to enjoy their time in the woods this fall. The following are some things hunters should remember when heading out this season.
All deer harvested in the state must be registered by 5 p.m. the day after the deer carcass is recovered. Registration can be done through the online platform Game Reg, which can be found on the DNR website dnr.wi.gov by searching “game reg.” Hunters should have their harvest authorization number available before logging on to the Game Reg system. In addition to the online option, hunters may register their harvest by phone at 1-888-426-3734. There are also in-person registration stations available across the state.
In the Northwoods, there are several in-person registration stations available including the Three Lakes Convenience Store, J&J Sports, Lake Tomahawk BP and Moran’s Landing on Swamp Lake.
Once the hunter submits their harvest data, a ten-digit number will be generated. This number no longer needs to be written on the authorization tag, but the hunter should retain it for their records. This number may be required when taking the deer to be processed at a meat processor or when bringing it to a taxidermist.
By logging in to the Go Wild Game Reg system, hunters can view their current tags and harvests as well as register a harvest directly. Hunters also have access to their harvest history on this platform. More information can be found on the DNR website, by searching for the Go Wild system.
Baiting and feeding ban
By state statute, the DNR must prohibit the feeding and baiting of deer in any county where Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been found in the wild or captive white tail deer herd. This ban must remain in effect for three years. Any county within a 10-mile radius of where that animal was harvested must also have a ban enacted for two years. With each new finding of the disease, the clock effectively “resets,” and extends once again for that period of time from the new finding.
Due to findings of CWD positive deer having been harvested in Oneida County in two locations — one near the Wisconsin River in the southwestern part of the county and also near Three Lakes at a game farm, Vilas, Oneida, Forest, Lincoln and Langlade Counties remain under a feeding and baiting ban. Hunters are not allowed to bait deer and residents are not allowed to feed deer for any purpose, including the desire for wildlife viewing.
According to the feeding and baiting regulation, food may still be places for birds and small mammals under certain conditions. Feed for those animals can be placed if:
• It is placed in bird feeding devices and structures at a sufficient height or design to prevent access by deer.
• The structures and devices are within 50 yards of an occupied dwelling devoted to human occupancy.
• When any other animal such as deer, bear or elk are found to be utilizing bird feeding devices they must be removed, enclosed or elevated higher to prevent access. Placement of plain water for drinking or birdbaths is allowed.
CWD sampling in the Northwoods
As in years past, the DNR is asking for help from hunters in determining the prevalence and location of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in the deer herd. In recent years CWD has been found in both Oneida and Vilas Counties. For that reason, the DNR is asking hunters to have their deer tested for the disease. It is recommended humans not consume meat from deer that ultimately test positive for the disease. Although no direct link to the disease has been found in humans, there is some concern it may be possible.
Chronic wasting disease is an always-fatal brain disease in cervids such as deer and elk. It was first detected in 2002 and has since been making its way across the state. Eradication efforts have been unsuccessful and the best hope now that the disease is so prevalent on the landscape is containment. In order to contain any disease, how the disease spreads must be determined.
It is known that CWD can be spread through direct contact, from one deer to another. It can also be spread through the environment and has been found in urine, saliva and feces. The prions that cause CWD can persist in the environment, being taken up by plants growing there. It is unsure how long prions can remain viable on the landscape, but it is know to be more than several years.
The more deer that are able to be tested, according to the DNR, the better handle the department will be able to get on how and where the disease is spreading. For that reason, hunters are asked to continue to have their deer sampled.
Sampling locations in the Northwoods include:
• The DNR Service Station in Rhinelander
• Lake Tomahawk Meat Market
• Strasburg’s North Country Taxidermy
• TJ’s Butcher Block
• The DNR Service Station in Woodruff
• Prime Choice Meat Market
• The Eagle River Ranger’s Station
• The Three Lakes Shell Station
Full instructions on how a hunter can prepare their own deer for sampling can be found on the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected].