Deer Hunt 2017: The health of the herd

Buck deer on alert in Door County field, November 3, 2017 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

DOOR COUNTY (WLUK) -- The countdown is on for Deer Hunt 2017.

The annual ritual begins Saturday. An estimated 600,000 hunters will take to the field for the nine-day gun season.

So what are your chances of bagging that trophy buck? Experts say the health of the herd varies from region to region.

On the edge of a Door County farm field, the deer mating season called the rut, is underway.

"Last week of October I've already heard multiple stories of bow hunters, that have seen deer in what they call chase mode. Bucks chasing does, Does aren't ready to breed yet, so they're running away from those bucks. But I talked to a lot of people in the last couple days, that have seen a lot of buck activity during the day," said Jeff Pritzl, DNR District Wildlife Supervisor.

Pritzl says three relatively mild winters mean there are plenty of deer throughout Northeast Wisconsin. In July, a doe was spotted with her two fawns in Marinette County.

"I think in this district, in the farmland area, there's no reason that fawn production should have been impeded, by weather, or predators, or those types of things," said Pritzl.

Hunters have noticed too.

"If I run across in my daily travels, if I run across and see a big buck, I'm boy, that's got me going," said Bob Ellingson, Lakewood.

Oconto County hunters say deer are common, especially in the farmland zone.

"The population is very high. I always hate to say the most I've ever seen, I can't remember a year when there was more," said Wade Jeske, Lena Swamp Archery Owner.

In places along the Lakeshore, like Door County, deer sightings are common.

"We do have deer populations in the farmland that are showing signs of being up against you know, maximum biological carrying capacity," said Pritzl.

In the northwoods conditions are improving as well.

"The deer numbers, they were getting pretty low for a while, but now they are coming back fairly strong. Northern Wisconsin, I hunted in Bayfield County two weeks ago. I notice that's coming back strong in that area that I hunt anyway, So, hopefully that keeps going," said Dane Hartl, Medford.

The Northern Forest bucks-only zone has shrunk from 17 counties in 2014, to just three heading into Deer Hunt 2017.

"The option of have a buck-only season certainly is a reflection of the local interest in seeing that deer population recover as quickly as possible," said Pritzl.

Meanwhile, bucks continue to show signs of the season.

"We have a relatively early opener for the gun season, so that increases the chance of overlap of breeding activity with the hunting season. Yeah, we're kind of in the high time right now for deer activity, and the question of course for the gun hunters will be how much of that behavior will carry on into the gun season," said Pritzl.

The nine-day gun season begins Saturday at dawn.

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