Temperatures dipping down to 5 degrees at sunrise and winds gusting to more than 30 miles per hour made for challenging conditions for the opening of the 2013 Wisconsin nine-day gun deer season.
“The predawn cold and winds made it clear that opening morning was going to test the will of deer hunters today,” noted Tom Hauge, wildlife management director for the Department of Natural Resources, who was hunting near Plain in Sauk County. “Even our blind did not offer much shelter. Snicker candy bars are frozen solid but still a treat.”
Kurt Thiede, DNR Land Division administrator, reported “even the squirrels were hunkered down today,” near his hunting stand in southeast Richland County. “There were a few distant shots from the ridge tops and valleys but I didn’t hear any shots from our guys. That wasn’t the story everywhere, though, as I headed in to warm up and get some brunch I had a nice buck with an 18-inch wide spread on a tail gate go by.”
It didn’t start out as windy in the north, but very cold temperatures and up to 6 inches of snow on the ground in some areas made it a frigid opening.
“The morning started out nice in the Northwoods,” reported Kevin Wallenfang, DNR big game ecologist who was aging deer at a registration station in Conover. “We heard about a dozen shots before the wind picked up at 8 a.m.”
He had registered 13 bucks by mid-morning. “There were some nice older bucks, but not big antlers, so it’s obvious that winter had an impact on size.”
Wildlife biologists had expected the heavy snows late last winter and early spring across northern Great Lakes to have an impact on deer mortality and health. Michigan wildlife officials reported that at about half way through the season the harvest in the Upper Peninsula appeared to be down. Minnesota also experienced a drop, with their wildlife officials there reporting the harvest down 6 percent from 2012.
Cold weather, warm memories
Despite cold temps and strong winds creating some challenges in the field, hunters are coming in to share stories and warm memories made during the hunt.
Zach Czaikowski, 11, of Milladore, shot a buck on opening morning while hunting near home with his grandfather, Ed Czaikowski. He is a second-year hunter. In 2012, on his first hunt, he shot an 8-point buck.
“There was a lot of shooting,” Zach said. “Two fawns walked out. My grandpa told me not to shoot them because they were small. An hour later the buck came out.”
Sam Botwinski and his father, Mike, both from rural Mosinee, were hunting in Marathon County when they each harvested a deer opening morning. Sam got an 8-point buck and his father shot a doe.
Mike James from La Crosse took advantage of the reduced price $5 dollar deer hunting license for any first-time hunter or anyone who hasn’t hunted in the last 10 years. In his first time back out in the field in 25 years he shot a 14-point buck while hunting between Fennimore and Boscobel.
DNR licensing officials reported 26,690 people took advantage of the reduced first-time licenses, 33 percent of the resident adult first-timers were female. Keith Warnke, DNR hunting and shooting sport coordinator reports efforts to reach out to female hunters appear to be successful, with the number of female hunters aged 10 to 30 increasing by 10 percent this year and overall, females making up 10 percent of all deer license sales.
Scott Gunderson, DNR assistant deputy secretary, was mentoring Anna McCabe, a first time hunter partaking in the traditions of “deer camp” in Thorp.
“While we were disappointed to not get any deer by mid-afternoon, everyone was having a great time taking part in the hunting tradition.”
But not all female hunters are new to Wisconsin’s deer hunting tradition. Jeannette Gull of Black River Falls has been hunting for 61 years, ever since she was 12. She was fortunate this year to bag an eight-point buck, but said her real motivation for hunting is fun, family and tradition. Gull said she loves the gun deer season because all her family, all her nieces and nephews, come home for the hunt.
Though DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp was unable to hunt opening weekend due to a family medical issue, she still plans to go out.
“For hunters who haven’t harvested a deer to talk about today, it’s important to remember that the opportunities don’t end with opening weekend. Since my opening weekend plans changed, I will be looking to take advantage of the whole nine-day season to get out, or maybe even opportunities in December,” Stepp said.
Total gun deer license sales for 2013 as of Nov. 23 were 615,872 up a little less than 1 percent from 2012.
People can find out more about this year’s Wisconsin deer season by searching for keyword “deer” on the DNR website, or by participating in DNR social media efforts through the DNR Facebook page,Twitter feed, and Pinterest sites where they can view photos and stories or post their own to share with other hunters.