Wisconsin's 9-day gun deer hunt gets underway
A Wisconsin tradition appeared to get off to a safe start Saturday as Department of Natural Resources officials said they had received no immediate reports of accidental shootings or other injuries on the opening day of the state's nine-day gun deer hunt.
DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp told reporters on a conference call that officials have been hearing "lots of good reports from the field," although her own hunting party hadn't seen many deer.
"Being the eternal optimist that I am, I'm very confident that plenty of folks in our hunting party are going to have some successful harvests to report by the end of the season," Stepp said.
Mild, if locally rainy or foggy weather generally made it a pleasant day for hunting. But conditions varied across the state, with the snow disappearing in southern Wisconsin, central Wisconsin enjoying enough snow to make tracking deer easier, and much deeper snow in northern Wisconsin. Rain in Sunday's forecast could put a damper on hunting, though.
Wildlife managers expect a smaller harvest this year in northern Wisconsin, where two consecutive harsh winters have depleted the herd. The agency bared hunters in 19 northern counties in whole or in part from taking antlerless deer this year.
Kevin Wallenfang, the DNR big game ecologist, said the stress from last winter also took its toll on antler development. He said he expects many bucks registered in the north will have just small "spike" antlers, and he said the aftereffects are even being seen in some southern counties.
"Some of the older-age bucks that should be carrying much better antlers seem to have been impacted by the harsh conditions," Wallenfang said. "After a harsh winter, their first obligation to themselves is to pack on body weight, and then (grow) their antlers."