Department of Natural Resources officials say nearly 40 percent of juvenile deer the agency was tracking with radio collars in northern Wisconsin have died since Jan. 1. That's up from 33 percent in 2013 and 6 percent in 2012. Adult deer mortality has ranged between 7 percent and 15 percent over the last three years.
DNR big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang told the Wisconsin State Journal for a story Wednesday that the recommendation to suspend antlerless hunts would cover firearms and archery seasons over most of the 17-county northern forest zone. Youth, disabled, military personnel on leave and tribal members would still be able to hunt antlerless deer, however.
"It's going to be a regrowth period. We've had two bad back-to-back winters," Wallenfang said. "People want to see deer. Seeing deer is the number one measure of a quality hunt for people, and they've been seeing fewer and fewer."
Wisconsin Wildlife Federation executive director George Meyer said the DNR might have to protect antlerless deer for two seasons. But he said hunters likely would welcome the restrictions in order to rebuild the herd.
University of Wisconsin-Madison wildlife ecologist Tim Van Deelen said he understands the move but doesn't necessarily agree with it. The DNR has to respond to hunters who want a bigger herd but deaths of juvenile deer have relatively little impact on future herd size compared with adult doe deaths, which haven't increased greatly.
"Hunters agitate for more deer," he said. "People who wouldn't be activists about anything else will crawl out of their hospital bed and crawl across broken glass to advocate for more deer."
The DNR's board plans to take up the recommendation May 28.