Hunters kill nearly 18% fewer deer during Wisconsin's 2023 9-day gun season

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported about 174,000 deer harvested in the 2023 gun season, down 17.6% from 2022 and roughly 11% below the state's five-year average.

Associated Press

November 28, 2023

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A deer hunter wearing a blaze-orange jacket and cap holds a rifle while standing on leaf-covered ground among different types of trees.

A Wisconsin deer hunter walks in snowless woods on Nov. 24, 2015. According to preliminary data released on Nov. 28, 2023, by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, hunters killed significantly fewer deer during the state's nine-day gun season in 2023 than they did in 2022. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

By Harm Verhuizen, AP/Report for America

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Hunters killed significantly fewer deer during Wisconsin’s nine-day gun season in 2023 than they did in 2022, according to preliminary data released Nov. 28 by the state Department of Natural Resources.

After kicking off with a slow opening weekend, hunters reported a total of 173,942 deer harvested from Nov. 18-26, a 17.6% decrease from the 2022 season and roughly 11% below the state’s five-year average. Hunters in northern Wisconsin saw the steepest declines.

“There were probably fewer deer on the landscape than there were last year at this time,” Jeff Pritzl, the DNR’s deer specialist, said in a news conference. According to Pritzl, a severe 2022-23 winter may have diminished populations in northern forests and across the state.

The 2022 gun deer season in Wisconsin was above average thanks to snow cover that made deer stand out and a lack of standing corn for them to hide in. In 2023, hunters were met with warm temperatures and a lack of snow on opening weekend. Pritzl called the total harvest of 85,390 bucks and 88,552 antlerless deer “on the low end of the five-year average, but certainly not unprecedented.”

The decreased harvest comes despite a negligible change in the number of hunters statewide. As of midnight on Nov. 26, the DNR had sold 553,479 licenses that permit a hunter to kill a deer with a firearm, down only a fraction of a percent from the 554,898 licenses sold in 2022.

The DNR reported three gun-related injuries during the season. On opening weekend, a 53-year-old man in Argonne shot himself in the foot while walking to a tree stand, and a 62-year-old man in Big Flatts shot at a dog on private property that he believed was a deer. His bullet struck a 47-year-old woman who was walking the dog, and she was flown to a nearby hospital for her injuries. On Nov. 24, a hunter in Rib Lake shot a 30-year-old man in the thigh during a deer drive. None of the injuries were fatal.

The DNR has reported an average of roughly six gun-related injuries per deer season over the past 10 years. Four of those years saw fatal incidents. In 2022, eight gun-related injuries were reported, including four that were self-inflicted.

Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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