SUPERIOR, Wis. — Deer numbers and hunter success in the upcoming 2019 firearms deer season should be about the same as 2018 when hunters across northwestern Wisconsin head into the woods Saturday, Nov. 23.
That was the prediction this past week by wildlife biologists for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who say deer numbers are mostly stable across the region.
In Douglas County, hunters in agricultural areas asked for ample doe permits this year while some hunters in forested areas wanted a bucks-only season to rebuild deer numbers. A compromise was struck among the county’s Deer Advisory Committee to offer some antlerless permits on private land and still try to preserve deer in other areas. Overall, only 800 antlerless deer permits were issued in the county this year, down from 2,500 last year.
“We have about 60% fewer (antlerless permits) available this year compared to last year, so we will certainly see fewer does taken,’’ said Greg Kessler, DNR wildlife manager in Brule. “But I expect the buck harvest to be about the same as last year, or pretty close. We seem to have about as many deer out there as we did last year going into the season.”
Of course, deer keep moving: They move to mate, to find better food, to avoid hunters and to escape wolves. Habitat also changes. So at any one time there are local areas with lots of deer, areas with some deer and some areas with seemingly no deer, Kessler noted. Like anglers who move between favorite fishing spots, or even move to different lakes when fishing slows, hunters are urged to have more than one spot available to hunt.
Deer numbers "really vary a lot across the area," Kessler noted. "But hunters who can move around, who do their scouting and look for signs, should do well ... I’m hearing reports of lots of deer signs near oaks with good acorn crops."
Two things could drop the buck harvest this year from last, Kessler noted. One is that the rut likely will be entirely over before the Nov. 23 opener, the latest opener possible under current regulations, compared to last year’s earliest possible opener that landed during the rut. The other factor would be very cold weather, which often limits how much effort and time hunters put in afield.
Over in Ashland and Bayfield counties, Todd Naas, DNR wildlife biologist in Ashland, also said the deer outlook depends on where you hunt. In Bayfield County, the goal of the county Deer Advisory Committee, and thus the goal of the DNR, is to reduce deer numbers overall, so more antlerless permits were issued. In Ashland County, the goal was to build deer numbers over 2018 levels, so fewer permits were offered this year.
“I’d say it should be about the same as last year. Maybe the fact that the season is a week later, and mostly after the rut is over, might reduce the number of deer that hunters see. But it should be pretty similar,’’ Naas said.
Hunters urged to turn in deer heads for CWD testing
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is collecting deer heads for CWD from hunters in Douglas, Washburn, Bayfield, Burnett, Barron and Polk counties this fall through archery and firearms deer hunting seasons.
The DNR is conducting an "intensive" CWD sampling effort in northern counties this year, the first such testing in the are since 2007, to check for the fatal disease, said Todd Naas, DNR wildlife biologist in Ashland.
Hunters are asked to turn in heads from all adult deer they shoot. The testing is free and results should be available within three weeks. Through the youth rifle and fall archery seasons, however, DNR officials report few deer heads being turned in. It’s unclear why more hunters aren’t complying with the request.
“It’s not as many as we hoped. The more we have, the more accurate the survey,” said Greg Kessler, Brule area wildlife manager for the DNR.
Tami Ryan, DNR acting director for the Bureau of Wildlife Management, said each deer sample is important because it "contributes to an accurate understanding of the health of Wisconsin's deer herd."
Self-service CWD kiosks are up and running at the Gordon, Brule, Ashland, Washburn and Minong DNR offices, open 24 hours every day during all deer seasons, as well as kiosks at VP Wild Rice in Superior; Timber Ghost Taxidermy in Iron River; and PJ's Cabin Store in Barnes. In addition, many meat processors and businesses offer in-person sampling assistance, including Hursh Meats In Poplar. Some sampling locations also have DNR Wildlife Management staff available to take samples and answer hunters' questions.
Kessler said most samples so far have come from the meat processors where hunters don't have to collect their own sample.
For hunters who don't mind the work, the kiosks include a box with bags for deer heads and instructions on how to record the geographic location where the animal was shot. There also are tools, including a bone saw, and a freezer nearby to preserve the heads for testing. For an interactive map with sampling locations available in your area, go to dnr.wi.gov and search keywords "CWD sampling." There is also a searchable database available as an alternative to the map view.
A proper sample for CWD testing consists of the deer head with 3-5 inches of neck attached. Hunters will also need to have their harvest authorization number, harvest location and contact information when submitting a sample. To make special arrangements for large bucks, call a nearby DNR wildlife biologist.
To view CWD results for a harvested deer, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keywords "CWD results." Hunters will need to enter a customer ID or CWD sample barcode number to view test results. The average turnaround time from when the deer is brought to a sampling station to when the results are available is typically two weeks.
Don't eat CWD-positive deer
If test results come back positive for CWD, hunters should follow advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin's Department of Health Services and the World Health Organization and not consume venison from that deer.
There has been no known case of CWD jumping to people who ate infected meat, but some health officials say that species jump is possible.
Meanwhile, the DNR said that because of a positive CWD test on a dead elk from a deer farm in Burnett County, all deer feeding and baiting is now prohibited in Burnett County for the next three years and is banned for at least two years in neighboring Washburn, Polk and Barron counties.
DNR staff are interested in reports of sick deer and deer with an unknown cause of death, but this does not include examining car-killed deer. Contact local wildlife staff listed above to report a sick or dead deer or call the DNR Customer Service hotline at 800-847-9367.
What we know about CWD
Chronic wasting disease is an always-fatal nervous system disease found in cervids, including deer, elk and moose. There is no known cure. It is not a virus or bacteria. It's one of a family of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies caused when a naturally occurring protein, called a prion, mutates and then resists being broken down by the body the way normal proteins are.
When a deer become infected — from contact with contaminated soil or saliva, blood or feces of an infected animals — the bad prions multiply and damage the animal's nervous system. It can take up to two years for the symptoms to show, but then deer die quickly.
In just 50 years, it's spread from a single known location, a wildlife research station in Colorado, to 26 states, two Canadian provinces, North Korea, Norway and Finland.
In Wisconsin, 55 counties are labeled as CWD-impacted. Of those, 25 have had confirmed CWD in wild deer, and 16 are within 10 miles of a wild CWD positive deer. Another 14 counties have had CWD-positive deer in deer farms or are within 10 miles of those farms.
In August, a farm-raised elk in Burnett County was confirmed to have been carrying chronic wasting disease. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection confirmed that a 6-year-old bull elk from a breeding farm in Burnett County tested positive for CWD after it had suffered an injury and was euthanized and tested.
The state has quarantined the farm, and the remaining five elk in the herd, so that no animals can move in or out of the property. The move also restricts movement of carcasses. No elk have left the farm since the herd was formed in 2014.
In Minnesota, CWD has been confirmed in Crow Wing County near Brainerd in both one wild deer and several tame deer that died on a deer farm. It appears to have spread in three southeastern counties: Houston, Olmstead and Filmore. It's also been confirmed in animals on deer farms in Aitkin, Meeker, Crow Wing, Stearns, Lac Qui Parle, Olmsted and Winona counties.