2019 deer hunting season forecast for the Northwoods
PROVIDED BY THE WISCONSIN DNR
Northern Wisconsin continues to see a good number of deer across many portions of the region. This is evident by increased hunter sightings in the field, increases in antlerless harvest quotas as recommended by local County Deer Advisory Councils (CDAC) and increasing harvest totals in many areas over the previous years.
Pending favorable hunting conditions, hunters can expect similar deer sightings as compared to last year. The 2018/19 winter had a winter severity index of “severe” across most of the north, which marks it as the first region-wide severe winter since 2013/14. This winter may have slowed population growth but did not cause a large population decline.
The 2018/19 winter started out very mild and did not have any meaningful severity until record snowfall occurred in February. The high snowfall amounts impacted deer movement and feeding. However, deer largely prepare for winter during the previous spring, summer and fall by building up large fat reserves to carry them through a Wisconsin winter. The early mild winter left deer with most of their fat reserves going into the most severe period in February.
A quick snow melt and timely spring green up helped many deer before their fat reserves were fully depleted. Biologists across the north walked through deer yards and noted increased use but little winter mortality. The observations suggest that the snow was deep enough to move deer into traditional deer yards, which is another strategy of deer to make it through winter, but not deep for long enough to cause widespread mortality.
The deer they found dead were largely fawns in their first winter or very old adults with deep tooth wear, which are the age classes expected to have a harder time during rough winters. Prime age adults (2-8) are very hardy and can withstand most whatever a Wisconsin winter can throw at them. While population growth rates may be impacted, overall the northern herd came out of winter in good condition, which is a sign of a balanced deer herd that has enough habitat to support them through a more severe winter.
This will be the first year of negative or only moderate population growth in the northern herd after years of high growth rates as populations experienced four consecutive mild winters. Many deer metrics suggest deer are fully utilizing quality habitat and are saturating areas of high-quality habitat. To keep the herd in balance with the habitat, County Deer Advisory Councils (CDACs) recommended an antlerless harvest in every deer management unit (DMU) across the north, with multiple CDACs recommending higher antlerless quotas than last year.
These recommendations came after review of deer metrics, public reports, and biologist analysis. Deer metrics can be found for any deer management unit (DMU) at dnr.wi.gov, keywords “Deer Metrics”. Reports of fawns have been coming in across the north suggesting average to above average fawn numbers, however sightings of twins appear to be down in a few areas which may be an artifact of the winter.
The winter could also impact antler growth as adult bucks will take more time to replenish their body before having energy to put into antler development. The growing season has been particularly good, leaving the woods lush with green vegetation which may make up the difference for the bucks. The lush vegetation is also welcome for lactating does and fawns looking for cover. Also, many hay fields have been left un-cut due to heavy rains leaving additional cover and forage for deer later into the summer.
As with any year, deer are not evenly distributed on the landscape. They favor areas of high-quality habitat which leads to a patchy distribution as they find the best pockets of habitat. It is important for hunters to do their scouting early and keep an eye out for any changes from the previous hunting season.
In the north, the largest changes occur around timber harvests and acorn production. Hunters can scout around their hunted area for aspen that has been cut within the last five years that will provide good forage in early fall and good escape cover during the hunting seasons. Hunters can also scout acorn production in late summer by walking oak ridges to look for developing acorns at the tops of oaks. Hunting near acorns is most effective in the early bow season but can be productive throughout the entire deer season if it is a large acorn crop. As always, it is important for hunters to scout and stay mobile to maximize their opportunities this hunting season. Enjoy the time outdoors and remember to have fun!
Lincoln and Langlade County
Janet Brehm, DNR wildlife biologist
Both archers and gun hunters can look forward to good deer numbers this fall in Langlade and Lincoln counties. This has been noted by members of the public as well as area foresters working in the area.
As for reproduction, does with one fawn are commonly being seen, a few twin fawns as well. The winter started out very mild, with virtually no snow December and January, but started to cool down in January. In February and March, deep snow and cold temperatures caused the Winter Severity Index to accumulate points quickly.
Lincoln County hit the “severe” winter category and Langlade County was still considered a “moderate” winter overall. The WSI this past winter seemed severe at times, but overall it wasn’t close to the “very severe” winter of 2013-2014.
Winter/spring deer health assessments looked at fat content and pregnancies from car-killed deer to see how they coped with the winter. Our assessments indicated that most deer carried sufficient fat content, and a few does were pregnant with singles and twins. Minimal losses were thought to have occurred, knowing only a portion of the winter experienced harsh weather.
Population levels have been rising over the last several years in Lincoln County, resulting in a predicted population for this year being about the same as last year. Langlade County is predicted to see an increase in deer from last year. We’ve had a good growing season of lush browse, further helping deer reach prime condition going into fall.
The acorn crop looks to be moderate. Both counties have antlerless harvest opportunities, offering 7,625 bonus antlerless harvest authorizations for sale in Langlade County (3,050 public, 4,575 private lands), and 6,400 available (1,900 public, 4,500 private lands) in Lincoln County. Langlade and Lincoln Counties have increased public land harvest authorizations over last year, especially in Langlade, allowing for greater availability of antlerless harvest authorizations. Overall, I expect hunter satisfaction to be very good in each county.