WILD THINGS: Crossbows May Be Steering Big Drop in Gun Deer Harvest

The rise in the popularity of crossbows looks to be driving a big decline in recent gun deer harvests, including a 7.9% drop in the nine-day season statewide this year. Preliminary figures showed 84,952 bucks and 90,715 antlerless, for a total of 175,667. 

Locally, Door’s buck kill of 1,045 was up 11.8% over 2020, but down 11.9% from the five-year average. Door’s antlerless take of 1,225 was down 4.6% from 2020, and off 16.6% from the five-year average.

Kewaunee County’s buck take of 737 was down 3.8% from last year and 15.9% from the five-year average. The antlerless total of 1,088 was down 18.6% from 2020 and 16.3% from the five-year average.

Although the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) touted a 9.3% increase in the gun deer kill in the Northern Forest – the only one of the state’s four management zones to show an increase – the northern gun buck harvest was still down 11.4% from the five-year average.

It remains to be seen whether the DNR or the state Natural Resources Board will make any moves to try to return the firearm hunt to its former glory, or accept a continuing slide in licenses sold. 

The trend of falling gun licenses is not a good one for a November tradition that is the highlight of deer hunting’s billion-dollar economic impact. Just 564,440 gun, Conservation Patron and Sports licenses were sold – down from a record high of 699,275 in 1990 and more than 70,000 fewer since crossbows were allowed for all in 2014.

There were 694,712 gun deer licenses sold in 2000, a year in which Wisconsin hunters registered 528,494 gun whitetails, and with bows combined for more than 615,000 – at that time a national record.

The discovery of chronic wasting disease following the 2001 season and the resulting fear factor fueled by a questionable story in a Milwaukee newspaper – one insinuating that several hunters may have died from eating venison at a wild game feed – saw the largest drop in license sales ever: more than 100,000 fewer sold in 2002, including nearly 70,000 fewer gun licenses. 

As more information came in, tens of thousands of gun hunters returned. The biggest sustained drop has been since the crossbow inclusion. Prior to 2014, only those ages 65 and older and hunters with disabilities could use them. 

Since mid-September, more than 270,000 deer have been killed in Wisconsin, including about 145,000 bucks. Heading into the gun hunt, crossbow users had reported nearly 54,000 whitetails, and archers nearly 36,000. Most of the remainder were taken during the youth and disabled gun hunts in October. 

Snowy Owls Spotted Here

With more snowy owls being seen in the state, the DNR is reminding people to keep their distance so they don’t stress the owls. This owl was photographed at a distance with a telephoto lens. Photo by Reggie Gauger.

Nearly two dozen snowy owl sightings have been reported during the past week, many of them along the water near Oconto, Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay and Kewaunee. 

Thousands of tundra swans are migrating through the state. The Mississippi River has been a hot spot, but swans have been seen – and more often heard high overhead – in our area, too.

Big numbers of diving ducks and Canada geese are still in the area, along with plenty of mallards. Sandhill cranes were still seen here during the past week, though many have headed south.

Report your finds, and find out what others are seeing at To learn more about snowy owls, visit

State Park Stickers

New Wisconsin State Park annual admission stickers are now on sale, and they’re valid from the date of purchase through Dec. 31, 2022. The DNR recommends purchasing stickers by Dec. 10 if purchasers are interested in receiving them in time for Christmas gift-giving.

Resident and nonresident stickers are available online at, as well as at individual state parks and forest properties through drive-up window service, from self-registration kiosks or by phone. Learn more at

Background Checks

The National Shooting Sports Foundation said that the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) processed 687,788 background checks during the week leading up to and including Black Friday. 

The FBI’s NICS recorded 187,585 on Black Friday alone, ranking it among the top 10 highest days for NICS checks. It was a small increase from the Black Friday 2020 figure, which was 186,645. 

The year has been shaping up to be the second-strongest year for firearm sales on record, second only to 2020’s record-breaking number of 21 million background checks for a firearm sale.

Weekly Water Levels

Lake Michigan is down five inches during the past month and 18 inches during the past year, but it’s still 13 inches above the 100-year November average. Levels were 25 inches below the all-time monthly high set in 1986, and 46 inches above the all-time low, set in 1964. The lake is expected to drop another two inches during the next month.