Late Gun Deer Opener a Mixed Bag for Hunters

Hunters have just two weekends left to sight in firearms, wrap up scouting and ready stand sites in preparation for the 2019 gun deer season opener. 

Opening day, Nov. 23, is the latest possible under the current nine-day format that includes the Thanksgiving holiday. Last year’s Nov. 17 opener was the earliest possible and hit the tail end of the whitetail mating season head on.

DNR Northeast District wildlife biologist Jeff Pritzl said this year’s late start means hunters will likely miss most of the rutting activity. 

“On the other hand, if this cold weather continues, that gives us a better chance at having snow cover and maybe freezing up some of those wet areas,” Pritzl said. “Adapting to whatever conditions we have is part of the challenge. There are a lot of deer, but with some crops still not harvested and all the water, scouting is going to be really important this season.”

Hunters who need a spot to sight in their firearms can take advantage of extended hours at many Door, Brown and Kewaunee County rifle ranges. 

Need a target? Whitetails Unlimited offers them at no cost. The targets measure 14 by 16 inches, with one-inch grids and a six-inch center highlight ring. To find out more, call Whitetails Unlimited in Sturgeon Bay at 800.274.5471.

Bear Harvest Down

Higher-than-expected harvests in Zones A and C helped to prevent a big drop in the state’s black-bear harvest during a five-week season that ended in early October.

The preliminary total of 3,648 is the lowest since 2008, but it’s down less than 1 percent from last year. Warm, wet weather during much of September and abundant natural mast frustrated plenty of bait sitters. 

Wisconsin’s black-bear population was estimated at more than 24,000 heading into 2019, a significant dip from a decade of estimates in the 28,000 range between 2008 and 2017.

Still, the state’s annual harvest – 3,500 to 5,000 for the past decade – has been the highest in the nation. Pennsylvania is No. 2, but a growing population there and extended seasons in 2019 could move that state to the top spot in 2019.

A total of 120,926 hunters applied for either a harvest tag or preference point, second only to a record 124,053 in 2018. There were 11,595 harvest permits issued, down from 12,970 in 2018, and the quota was set at 3,835, compared with 4,550 last year.

About half of the hunters who drew tags in Zones A, B and D filled them, but only about one in seven Zone C hunters were successful. The preliminary harvest includes 939 bears in Zone A, 650 in Zone B, 898 in Zone C, and 1,161 in Zone D. 

The deadline to apply for a 2020 tag is Dec. 10. 

Next fall could be the last season under the current four-zone system. Six zones were approved earlier this year, and they could take effect in either 2021 or 2022.

In 2018, about one in every three hunters applying for a Zone C tag got one with one preference point; it was a five-year minimum in Zone D, at least eight years in Zone A, and at least 11 years in Zone B.

About half of the annual black-bear harvest takes place during the first week of the season. After that, the majority is taken on weekend days, when hunter effort is highest. 

Surveys have found that about 75 percent of hunters use firearms when bear hunting. The remainder use bows or crossbows.

During the past decade, about 70 percent of the bears taken are by those using only bait. About two of every three bears taken over baited sites are on private land. In comparison, about four of every five bears taken with the aid of trailing hounds are shot on public land.

Wisconsin will use cutting-edge technology to get a fresh estimate of the bear population this year, including DNA samples of hair from live bears throughout their range (844 “hair snares” of barbwire were set this year) and DNA samples of pulp extracted from more than 3,000 teeth of hunter-harvested bears. 

In addition – and as is done annually to get an idea of the average age of bears harvested – a tooth from each hunter-taken bear will be cross-sectioned and aged at a lab in Montana.

Deer Harvest Update

Through late October, Door County deer hunters had registered 569 whitetails, including 274 with crossbow (104 bucks), 192 with vertical bow (57 bucks), and 103 in the youth gun hunt (49 bucks).

Kewaunee County hunters had 479, including 209 with crossbow (77 bucks), 166 with vertical bow (58 bucks) and 95 during the youth gun hunt (53 bucks).

Statewide, nearly 45,000 deer were registered, including more than 20,000 with crossbow (10,325 bucks), 17,000-plus with vertical bow (8,011 bucks) and 6,738 during the youth gun hunt (3,213 bucks).

Full Moon Tuesday

The November moon will peak early Tuesday, be at half visibility Nov. 19 and be in the new-moon (dark) phase Nov. 26, four days into the gun deer hunting season.  

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