Wisconsin Lawmakers Present Bill to Ban Doe Hunting in Northern Forest Zone

By Paul AnnearJanuary 24, 202411 Comments

Northern Wisconsin deer hunting is far removed from the charm it once held in the 1990’s and 2000’s. It has yet to recover from a few harsh winters, but a recently introduced bill aims to restore the tradition of Northwoods deer hunting and bolster deer numbers. Legislation introduced on January 17th was endorsed by multiple Wisconsin politicians and aims to prohibit doe hunting with any weapon in the Northern Forest Zone of Wisconsin for the next four deer seasons.

This bill comes at a time when many believe Northwoods Wisconsin deer hunting hit rock bottom years ago. Wisconsin State Representative Chanz Green told me in an email “I think there is still plenty of time for the deer herd to recover, and this bill is a step in the right direction.” Doe harvest in the Northern Forest Zone was down 27.2% in 2023 when measured against the 5-year average. Senator Romaine Robert Quinn said “The deer herd in the Northern Forst Zone needs help. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this over the finish line.”

The Good, Bad & Ugly Of Bowhunting Deer In December

How Did We Reach this Point?

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources developed a Winter Severity Index (WSI) for predicting winter’s impact on deer herds. The WSI is calculated by adding the number of days with a snow depth of at least 18 inches to the number of days when minimum temperatures were 0°F or below. Days when both of those conditions occur are scored as 2. They take measurements from December 1st through April 30th and assign a winter as Mild, Moderate, Severe or Very Severe.

The winter of 2013-14 was a brutal winter for the northern Wisconsin deer herds. Chilling temperatures began well before the traditional 9-day rifle season, and old man winter held on late into Spring. The winter of 2013 was ranked as Very Severe on the Winter Severity Index. Many claim the winter of 2013 killed so many deer that it sent northern Wisconsin deer populations into a downward spiral, and it has yet to recover. Deer hunter, Ryan Lindstrand, hunts Vilas County and told me “It’s tough hunting and not a lot of deer numbers.”

Interestingly, every other winter from 2001-2022 except 2013, scored as a Moderate winter on the index. Despite this, counties like Iron, Vilas, Ashland, and Florence haven’t bolstered what many would classify as a respectable deer herd in years.

What Role are Predators Playing?

This bill that was introduced to ban doe hunting for 4 years in the Northern Forest Zone will not address predator management, or wolf hunting. However, it’s hard to have a deer hunting conversation in the Northwoods without addressing wolves. So here we are. While many hunters deer hunting in the Northwoods like to point fingers at the Wisconsin DNR, it’s important to understand who manages the Wisconsin wolf population.

In February of 2022, gray wolves were listed as an endangered species in the lower 48 states. Wolves are federally protected, and their harvest is federally controlled. Wisconsin Assembly Bill 137 passed the Senate in an earlier session and if signed into law, it would require the Wisconsin DNR to have a population goal in its wolf management plan. Representative Green said, “Hopefully we will see it on the floor in the Assembly soon.”

In 2023, Wisconsin models estimate the Wisconsin wolf population to be at 1,007 wolves. In 2014, they estimated there were 660 wolves. Let’s not forget bears though. Wisconsin’s bear population is estimated at 25,000. Despite Wisconsin seeing its lowest bear hunting harvest in 15 years during the 2023 season, the population remains strong and finding bears on trail camera or rummaging through a cornfield throughout Wisconsin’s Northwoods is no hard feat. Bear love acorns too, so experts attribute the bumper acorn crop to the lower harvest during the 2023 season.

Ahead of the harsh winter of 2013, the Wisconsin DNR collared 29 fawns in the Northern Forst Zone during May and June of 2013. Just 44.8% of fawns survived in that Zone. Predation was determined to cause 68.8% of the fawn deaths with most of these deaths occurring at a young age during the summer months.

Did Wisconsin Hand out Too Many Antlerless Tags?

The short answer? Probably not, at least in the Northern Forest Zone of Wisconsin. Each county in Wisconsin has a County Deer Advisory Council (CDAC) to provide input and recommendations to the department on deer management within their county. They are tasked with recommending the number of free antlerless permits given out when a hunter buys their license. While the Northern Forest Zone for the most part did participate in regular doe harvests in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s, Wisconsin’s harshest winter on record changed everything.

Beginning in 2014, Wisconsin restructured their deer management units into five zones. Due to the most severe winter on record, the entire Northern Forest Zone except Marinette County went to a buck-only deer harvest for the fall 2014 season. In 2015, they allowed 7 of the 18 counties in the Northern Forest Zones to harvest a limited number of does. In 2016, 9 of the 18 Northern Forest Zone counties were still buck-only. The number of counties implementing buck-only harvests slowly declined from then on, until no counties in the state chose to do buck-only in 2019. The Northwoods is now back to square one though.


If passed, this bill would put the Northwoods of Wisconsin back in rebuild mode. Not everyone agrees with the bill, however. An anonymous Northwoods hunter told me “A lot of areas have abundant deer. I wholeheartedly disagree with banning antlerless harvest, it will take hunters out of the woods and limit opportunity. A 4-year stretch of taking away the opportunity to shoot an antlerless deer will take the casual hunter out of the game in the Northwoods.”

State Representative Green and Sen. Quinn jointly said, “This past month, we have heard from hundreds of constituents at multiple listening sessions about the poor deer season this year. There is a clear consensus that we must act now to save and improve our deer herd, and this bill is a critical step.”

What are your thoughts on this proposal? Comment below, and let us know.

Paul Annear is a freelance writer born and raised in the picturesque region of southwest Wisconsin's Driftless area. He currently resides in northeast Wisconsin. He is a proud father of three, willing mini-van driver, and a former 7' high jumper for the Wisconsin Badgers. 
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