The numbers are in and the 2014 nine-day gun deer harvest in Crawford County was definitely down from previous years.
The 2,964 deer registered in the county in 2014 represented an 8.9 percent decrease from the 3,252 registered in 2013. However, it should be remembered the 2013 harvest was a 12.2 percent decrease from the 2012 harvest of 3,703.
However, this year’s nine-day gun season harvest of 2,964 was almost identical to the 2010 nine-day gun season harvest of 2,982 and the 2009 harvest of 2,990.
Wait a second though, none of these seasons compare to the Crawford County harvest of 2008 at 4,056 or 2007 at 4,359 or 2006 at 4,217.
What causes the fluctuation?
Well, lots of things can cause it, according to Viroqua-based DNR Wildlife Biologist Dave Matheys.
However, one of the biggest factors in the nine-day gun season harvest number is probably opening day weather—even more specifically opening morning weather.
Matheys reiterated a point made often about the gun deer season.
“The driving force in deer harvest numbers is the number killed Saturday morning,” Matheys said. “In fact, it really comes down to the first three hours of opening morning. Those three hours have a disproportionate impact on the total number killed in the season. It’s probably 50 or 60 percent of the total. If something goes wrong in those first three hours, all bets are off.”
Something definitely went wrong on opening morning this year in Crawford County, as wet weather and dense fog limited visibility and kept some hunters out of the field. Actually, the last three seasons present a classic study in opening morning weather’s impact. While the fog and rain of opening day may have lowered this year’s number of deer killed, the previous year, 2013, had lower total kill due to cold and windy conditions impacting the hunters on opening day. The highest total of the past three years by far was 2012, when hunters were greeted with an unseasonably warm sunny morning. The real difference can be seen when you compare 2014 to 2012. This year, there were 20 percent less deer registered in Crawford County during the nine-day gun deer season than there were in 2012 and the opening days were total opposites for weather.
There are definitely other factors, besides the weather on opening day, that affect the nine-day gun season deer harvest in the county. There’s the population of deer. There’s also availability of antlerless and bonus permits and their cost or lack of cost. There is the number of hunters in the field and hunter pressure.
In 2006, 2007 and 2008, the size of the county’s deer herd, the ready availability of permits and Earn-a-Buck rules all played a part in boosting the county’s gun deer harvest over 4,000 for each year.
Nevertheless, opening day weather may still play the biggest single role.
At the Ferryville Cheese deer registration station, convenience store employee Kristy Fisher couldn’t believe the difference in numbers for the opening weekend compared to previous years.
“This year was way down compared to last year,” Fisher confirmed. “Opening weekend was terrible (for registration numbers). Actually, the second weekend was better than opening weekend.”
Fisher explained that the convenience store with a cheesy emphasis, located on Highway 35 in the Village of Ferryville, usually sees hunters “coming in droves” to register deer on Sunday of opening weekend.
The official numbers bear out Fisher’s claims. In 2013, Ferryville Cheese registered 309 deer on opening weekend. This year, there were only 229. However, for the nine-day hunt, the registration station recorded a total of 477 deer compared to 504 in 2013. The milder weather, particularly on Saturday of the second weekend closed the gap considerably.
Crawford County DNR Game Warden Cody Adams saw the hunters struggling on opening day.
“I’d have to agree hunters had a difficult time in the inclement weather,” Adams said. “The fog was not conducive to hunting. It really limited visibility.”
Adams noted as others had that fog was particularly bad on the ridge tops. However, from the warden’s point of view lots of things worked out well.
“Overall it was a very successful season,” Adams said. “I’m very satisfied with the season.”
The local warden noted that there was a minimum of complaints that he fielded during the season. The major complaint being the observation of road hunting in rural areas. He noted the practice is dangerous and typically the road hunters are hunting without permission to hunt on the land.
Adams said he spoke with hunters on the second weekend that were continuing to hunt and that fair amounts of deer were harvested later in the season this year.
Some hunters reported to Adams they had seen many deer and others had not seen many or even any.
“It all depends on so many factors,” Adams said. “Where they’re hunting how much hunting pressure there is on a property and lots of other things.”
However, what cheered the warden most was the safety of the hunt in Crawford County. He noted there were no reports of hunting accidents or incidents and there were no injuries as a result of the nine-day hunt.
In addition to bow hunting, a holiday hunt for antlerless deer with guns will commence on Wednesday Dec. 24 and run through Jan. 1. The warden explained that anyone with archery license has an antlerless deer tag included that is not weapon–specific. This means the antlerless tag included with an archery license can be used to gun hunt during the holiday hunt. However, he cautioned that the Holiday Hunt is for antlerless deer only and even bow hunters are not allowed to kill and tag bucks during the weeklong hunt.
The Holiday Hunt will run from Wednesday, Dec. 24 through Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015.