By Cole Daniels
Wisconsin is a premiere destination for deer hunters. 2009 was considered a down year with a total harvest of over 325,000 deer. This season, hunters will see a new management strategy from what they have become accustomed to. Over the past decade, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have offered liberal limits and regulations in an effort to decrease deer populations. It worked. Many hunters in Northern management units reported no deer sightings the entire season. This season, many of those low density areas will have buck only restrictions.
Wisconsin is a dynamic deer management state. The northern regions are dominated by large stands of forest, while southern areas are made up of large blocks of agriculture broken up by strips of woodland habitat. Thanks to agricultural activities, food is abundant for deer in this area and population densities in the Southern Wisconsin are generally high. Chronic Wasting Disease has yet to be discovered in Northern Wisconsin. But there are over 1,300 confirmed cases of CWD in southern counties. High deer densities coupled with the cloud of CWD has prompted the DNR to continue with Earn-A-Buck regulations in CWD units in 2010.
It’s easy to focus on the negatives, but Wisconsin still remains one of the best states in the country to hunt whitetails. Buffalo County has a legendary reputation for producing monster bucks. It has put more Boone & Crockett bucks in the record books than any other county in the US. But Buffalo County isn’t alone. Waupaca County ranks tenth nationally with 17 B&C bucks over the past ten years. Trempealeau County is also on the B&C Top 10. As a state, Wisconsin ranks second in record book bucks, behind only Illinois.
Deer numbers should be higher this year thanks to a milder winter and a quick thaw. Fawn survival rates were good and farmers are experiencing a banner year. Good crop conditions provide food and cover for young deer.
In 2010, some areas of Northeast Wisconsin restrictive regulations offer buck only hunting. Hunters in this area have said populations are way down and the WDNR went to buck only hunting in an attempt to bolster deer herds. There are still some areas offering limited antlerless tags, so check regulations before heading into the field Much of the wooded land is managed forest that is cut every 20 to 30 years. Keep in mind, deer tend to favor younger growths over mature trees. Wolf activity is also increasing in the northern forests. Wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare, but be alert when moving through the woods to and from the stand.
That’s the story in the northern forests. Just about every northeast county south of Highway 64 is still under herd control regulations. This is farm country and deer populations are generally thriving. Harvest success in this area is often tied to land access and hunter pressure. The month of October has been dry and most of the corn will be off the fields before the season. This should concentrate deer into the small woodlots and valleys. Hunters that didn’t see a lot of deer last year due to standing corn should have a much better season.
Sort Of Secret Public Hunting Lands
The New Wood Wildlife Area in Lincoln County isn’t a bullseye on anyone’s deer radar. However, it’s 4,000+ acres of mixed forest encompasses a legendary deer yard. Much of the property is newly acquired and hasn’t had the historical pressure as some other public hunting areas. The Copper and New Wood Rivers flow through the property making for a gorgeous hunting experience.
The Nicolet National Forest covers over 650,000 acres in Florence, Forest, Langlade, Oconto, Oneida, and Vilas Counties. Much of it is managed forest with plenty of browse and cover for deer. Populations are down in this area and most of the forest is under buck only regulations. Check the regulations book before going afield.
A fairly mild winter and light snowfall helped deer get through winter without much trouble. DMU 13 which makes up most of Sawyer County and parts of Bayfield County has buck only restrictions. But most of Northwest Wisconsin is under regular or herd control regulations. Douglas County has some great trophy potential. It has put nearly 20 deer in the Boone & Crockett record books in the past 15 years. Clark County is perennially among the top counties in total deer harvest. Northwest Wisconsin has more public hunting land than any other part of the state. All-in-all, there is a lot to like about deer hunting in Northwest Wisconsin.
The 2008 year class suffered heavy losses due to tough winter and spring conditions. Because of that, the population of deer that would be two-and-a-half year olds this fall, is down. Those are deer that would be sprouting their first set of impressive antlers. However, the 2010 year class is very strong and there should be plenty of inexperienced deer in the woods this season. Hunters may just have to wait for a few years to see those deer mature into trophy animals.
Sort Of Secret Public Hunting Lands
The Chequamegon National Forest makes up nearly one million acres in Northern Wisconsin. It’s certainly no secret, but with that much acreage, you are sure find a spot to hunt. Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in Burnett County is also a great place to check out. It’s a well known waterfowl destination but the marshes, prairies, and forests of Crex Meadows are also prime deer habitat. For classic hardwood forest deer habitat mixed with cedar swamps and river bottoms, check out the Eau Claire and Clark County forests. These two areas encompass over 175,000 acres, with nearly all of it open to hunting.
The Hay Creek-Hoffman Lake Wildlife Area comprises over 13,000 acres of excellent deer habitat including hardwood and evergreen forests, streams, and swamps. It’s located in Iron and Ashland Counties. While it’s not a private hunting experience, crowding usually isn’t an issue if you know where you are going.
Southwestern Wisconsin is the epicenter of the chronic wasting disease outbreak in the state. The good news is CWD doesn’t appear to be spreading outside of the areas in which it was first discovered. The main counties affected are Dane, Iowa, Rock, and Walworth counties with small amounts of deer testing positive outside those four counties. Most hunters have resumed normal hunting practices and the DNR continues to monitor the situation while imposing Earn-A-Buck regulations. Simply put, hunters must harvest an antlerless deer before shooting a buck.
Much of the Southwest Wisconsin deer population is counted by aerial surveys. This differs from most of the state where the Sex-Age-Kill formula is used. Wildlife officials visually count deer from helicopters to determine populations. Biologists say densities vary tremendously with one square mile holding as few as ten deer and the next as many as 60 deer. Habitat and hunting pressure are key factors in hunter success.
In Buffalo and Trempealeau counties, the beat goes on. Record book bucks are being harvested and populations remain well over goal. Most of both counties are deemed herd control units which allow hunters to harvest either sex. The main issue in these two counties is access. Their reputations for giant bucks has land values and lease prices skyrocketing.
Sort Of Secret Public Hunting Lands
Tiffany Wildlife Area is in Buffalo County making it a premiere public hunting destination. There are plenty of deer and deer hunters. But there is a big disadvantage that could be an advantage if you are in good physical condition and adventurous. The Tiffany bottoms are essentially a 12,000 acre slough of the Chippewa and Mississippi Rivers. It’s tough going and you shouldn’t even think about hunting the area without hip boots. Many hunters use canoes, kayaks, or waders to access out of reach areas. I’ve seen some big bucks come out there, but be prepared to work for them.
The Mazomanie unit offers over 4,000 acres of marsh, pothole, forest, and river bottom habitat which provide perfect cover for whitetails. It’s less than 45 minutes from Madison and a few hours from Milwaukee. This can make for a busy opening weekend of gun season but bow hunters and weekday gun hunters can enjoy a quality hunt.
Most of Southeast Wisconsin is also over population goals. But again, access can be a problem. Much of the land in this part of Wisconsin is privately held. Only Unit 69, which makes up the majority of Sheboygan and Fon du Lac Counties, is a regular unit. A big issue with hunting in the Milwaukee area is urban sprawl. Many suburban communities require discharge permits for guns and bows and some do not allow rifle hunting. Check with local authorities before hunting these areas.
In Waupaca County, things are looking good. This county is ranked tenth over the past ten years in Boone and Crockett entries with 17. Last season was tough but the Waupaca County buck harvest was down just 4 percent.
Sort Of Secret Public Hunting Land
The Grand River Marsh Wildlife Area near Kingston offers nearly 7,000 acres of state owned land. The habitat is made up of marsh, farmland, and forest areas. It’s well known for waterfowl hunting but the deer hunting isn’t bad considering it’s close proximity to Milwaukee and Madison. A pair of hip boots or even a canoe can get you into areas other deer hunters won’t go.
The Brillion Wildlife Area in Calumet County can be a tough hunt with a lot of marsh, wetland, and river bottom habitat. However, deer numbers are generally strong. Covering about 5,000 acres, the Brillion Wildlife Area experiences some pressure during gun deer season. But it’s definitely worth investigating.
Despite recent hunter dissatisfaction, Wisconsin continues to be one of the top destinations for deer hunting. The population is strong and there is about 5 million acres of public hunting land available. Wisconsin is also a friendly non-resident hunting state. There are no drawings for tags. Licenses are available over the counter or online. According to Wisconsin DNR Senior Public Affairs Manager Bob Manwell, hunters from all 50 states buy a deer license in Wisconsin every year. If you haven’t hunted the cheese state yet, this may be a good season to start.