Hunters in Wisconsin will be presented with seasons and whitetail deer opportunities this fall and winter that are little changed from last year, according to rules approved by the Natural Resources Council Wednesday in Madison.
The council, the seven-member citizen body that sets DNR policy, made just two changes – to reduce antlerless deer licenses in two northern counties – to the hundreds of recommendations put forward by the Department of Natural Resources and County Deer Advisory Councils.
Once again, hunters statewide will receive a “more antlerless buck per permit” privilege with every gun and bow deer license.
Each permit will come with one to four free wood-free permits (number varies by county) in farmland areas.
Regular statewide seasons include archery, crossbow, muzzleloader, nine-day deer hunting, and a four-day antlerless hunt in December.
Additionally, 37 counties (down from 36 in 2021-22) will offer gun hunting from Dec. 24 through Jan. 1, and 29 counties (down from 27) will have an extended bow season through January.
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The rules reflect the state’s large deer population and the general failure of regulations and hunter efforts to meet harvest goals in agricultural areas.
County Deer Advisory Councils, made up of local residents and representing hunters, agriculture, tourism and other stakeholder groups, have increasingly added hunting opportunities since their inception in 2014.
Also indicative of the state of the deer herd: no county will have “deer only” hunting this year, a rarity in the past nine years. The regulations are implemented to protect antlerless deer and are intended to help increase deer numbers.
This year, the CDAC, MNR and council agreed that no forest area county required the rule.
The 2022-23 regulations were set after a year in which hunters recorded 9% fewer deer, but also a mild winter which is expected to support deer numbers this fall.
The number of deer killed in Wisconsin in 2021-22 was reported at 308,429, up from 338,839 the previous year, according to DNR data.
Deer kills statewide over the past nine years have ranged from a low of 290,220 to a high of 342,632 in 2013.
Reflecting the decline in catches last year, the statewide antlerless quota is 4% lower than last year.
The total includes a 22% decrease in the northern forest area, following a 49% increase in 2020.
The northern forest, large in size and with a deer population more influenced by winter conditions than any other region, showed the greatest fluctuations in deer numbers from year to year.
“There’s a fair amount of approach variability in northern forest units,” said MNR deer specialist Jeff Pritzl. “And I think that just reflects the fact that it’s a big area. It captures the diversity and variability of the culture, so we see different approaches.”
The two changes made by the council were aimed at reducing timber-free permits in Bayfield and Florence counties.
In the case of Bayfield County, the council made the change to a recommendation that had been forwarded by both the CDAC and the DNR. In Florence County, it reinstated the CDAC recommendation after the DNR pushed for a higher number.
The changes were outliers among the hundreds of recommendations in the package.
The slate includes wood-free tags on public lands in every county in the state, including Ashland County for the first time since the private and public tag system was established in 2014.
The DNR received 10,291 comments in its online input process this year, up from 8,728 in 2021.
The agency said a growing number of people are expressing a desire for the option of obtaining a timber-free permit for public lands.
As a result, some CDACs have recommended small increases in the availability of public land permits in northern counties, according to the DNR.
Equity of access to a public resource is one of the main reasons cited by the CDACs.
The 2022-2023 Wisconsin Bow Deer season opens Sept. 17, a youth deer hunt will be held Oct. 7-8, and the nine-day whitetail deer season will run Nov. 19-27.
To purchase a deer license, visit a license vendor or visit gowild.wi.gov.