Deer harvest numbers down nearly 25%

Several factors likely contributing to lower deer harvest
Morgan Rode
Sports Editor

MADISON — While gun deer license sales numbers were on par with previous seasons, harvest totals took a big hit.

After 213,972 deer were registered statewide in 2018, a total of 160,769 were registered during this year’s nine-day season, according to a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources news release on Tuesday. That is a 24.9% decrease.

About the same number of licenses were purchased between the two years — 564,664 licenses this year, compared to 576,277 last year.

Shawano County, part of the Central Farmland deer management zone, saw a 19.9% drop in total deer harvests — 5,407 this year to 6,751 in 2018. Antlered deer harvests (2,195) dropped 27.7% from 2018, while antlerless harvests (3,212) took a 13.5% dip.

Oconto County is split into two management zones, the Central Farmland and Northern Forest.

In the Central Farmland, harvest totals dropped by 23.1% for antlered and antlerless deer. A total of 3,354 deer (1,615 antlered, 1,739 antlerless) were registered in 2019 opposed to 4,363 total deer in 2018.

Oconto County’s North Forest zone saw a 51.8% drop in deer harvests. Just 444 deer (323 antlered, 121 antlerless) were registered this year after 922 total were taken in 2018.

As of Wednesday, Paul Hartrick, a conservation warden in Oconto County, said he hadn’t heard much negative feedback from hunters regarding not seeing as many deer during the gun season, although he did mention he didn’t see as many people out as he had in past seasons.

Central Farmland zones as a whole saw a 20% drop in harvests, while the Northern Forest zones went down 38.2%.

Surrounding counties didn’t fare any better, with Waupaca (24.7%), Outagamie (26.3%) and Brown (18.4%) all seeing drops in harvest numbers. All three counties fall under the Central Farmland zone.

In fact, not a single deer management zone that had over five deer harvested in it saw an increase in harvests from 2018.

Full preliminary harvest totals can be found at

Factors that could have played a role in the vast drop in harvest totals —according to the DNR release — include the season starting later, weather conditions and standing crops.

The DNR noted that because of the way the calendar laid out, Wisconsin had it’s latest possible season opener this year. In 2018, the season started as early as it could have.

Similar hits in harvest numbers occurred in 2012-13 and 2007-08 when the season lined up in the same way.

With the season starting later, less rutting activity also took place across the state.

Hartrick said he saw and was told of strong rutting activity “the couple weeks building up to the gun deer season, and honestly, the week before the gun deer season, it shut off. I was not seeing as many deer moving.”

Opening weekend brought warmer temperatures for most of the state before mid-week snowstorms made hunting, and traveling to hunting destinations, tough for many.

While some hunters had the chance to hunt over or near cut crop fields, many hunters didn’t have that luxury. Some crop fields were still up because of wet and rainy conditions during a good portion of the summer and fall, giving deer more areas to hide and evade hunters.

While each county will assess how to move forward following the down year, Hartrick doesn’t anticipate any major changes in the way the season is structured and how many tags are distributed per hunter.

“I still believe the deer numbers are up. There’s a sufficient amount of deer,” said Hartrick about the farmland units.

“To be honest, I really think that buck numbers are going to be up next year because of the amount of bucks that were saved due to them not moving after the rut.”

A total of four hunting incidents were reported as of Tuesday, with one each in Oneida, Marathon, Fond du Lac and Washburn counties.

Any hunters that forget or failed to register their deer are urged to do so online at or by calling 844-426-3734.

For hunters still hoping to harvest more deer, there are an ample amount of opportunities to do so.

The statewide muzzleloader hunt runs through Dec. 11 before a statewide four-day antlerless-only hunt from Dec. 12-15. In select Farmland Zone counties, a nine-day antlerless-only hunt will also be held from Dec. 24 to Jan. 1.

The archery and crossbow seasons will continue through Jan. 5 for the state, while select Farmland Zone counties have an extended archery and crossbow season from Jan. 5-31.