A lack of snow and warm temperatures that suppressed deer movement led to a lackluster opening weekend of Wisconsin’s nine-day gun season, with hunters killing thousands fewer deer than last year.
The state Department of Natural Resources released preliminary data Tuesday that showed hunters registered 92,050 deer compared with 103,623 deer last year. That’s a 16% drop-off from 2022 and 10% fewer deer than the five-year average for opening weekend. Hunters also registered 51,870 bucks, down 13% from 56,638 over opening weekend in 2022.
The number of potential hunters didn’t vary much from last year, however. The DNR reported that sales of all deer licenses stood at 774,369 as of midnight Sunday, with 421,525 of those licenses exclusively for gun use. Overall, sales of all deer licenses were down 0.61% from the same time last year.
The DNR’s deer specialist, Jeff Pritzl, speculated during a news conference that the lack of snow across the state likely helped deer blend into the landscape, making them harder to spot and trail. And warmer temperatures on Saturday and Sunday likely discouraged deer from moving, he said. Pritzl said, too, that he’d heard anecdotes of areas with a lot of acorns on the ground, which means deer don’t have to move much to find food.
He added that northern Wisconsin saw a particularly severe winter last year, which may have led to heightened deer mortality and a sparser herd in that region of the state, he said.
Forecasts call for cooler temperatures and dry weather for the rest of the nine-day season, which could spark more deer movement in the woods, DNR officials said.
Hunters killed 203,295 deer during last year’s nine-day gun season. Pritzl said about half of the season total comes during opening weekend; that would put the state on pace for a 184,100 deer harvest this season.
Separately, DNR officials reported two firearm-related injuries over the weekend.
On Saturday morning a 53-year-old man in Forest County shot himself as he was adjusting his rifle sling on the way to his tree stand.
On Sunday morning a 62-year-old man in Adams County was hunting from a vehicle on private property when he shot at a dog that he thought was an antlerless deer. He missed the dog but hit the 47-year-old woman who was walking the dog in the stomach.
The woman was taken to a hospital, Lt. Mike Weber, a DNR warden who serves as administrator of the department’s hunter education efforts, said during the news conference. Asked if the hunter would be charged, Weber said the man was disabled and as such was allowed to legally hunt from a vehicle, but the incident remains under investigation.
The DNR reported six firearm-related hunting injury incidents during the 2022 gun season. Three of those incidents involved self-inflicted wounds.