LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
When the 2013 Wisconsin Big Game Harvest Summary arrived in July, I inspected the bookshelves behind my office chair and pushed the 90-page booklet alongside its 24 plain-Jane paperback predecessors.
Then I tapped its spine with pride. There. I have now collected a quarter-century of statewide county-by-county, unit-by-unit, gun-to-archery, and antlered-to-antlerless annual harvest data for what is arguably North America’s top deer hunting state.
The Wisconsin DNR packs its annual Big Game Harvest Summary with hunting data on deer, bears, turkeys and wolves.
These annual reports are your typical low-dollar government-issue printed products, held together at their folded spine by two large staples 8 inches apart. Although they make up my longest-running book series and I treat them as collector’s items, they’re neither available with an author’s signature nor offered in hardback leather covers.
But whenever I need historical harvest data on Wisconsin deer, assessments of deer ages and herd conditions, and summaries of deer-season hunting accidents, I turn to these comprehensive annual reports from the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
In fact, if I were Governor, I wouldn’t listen to any griping about deer hunting unless the complainants could prove they study these reports regularly. A working knowledge of harvest histories seems a fair, relevant prerequisite for a conversation starter. Once that’s proven, we can dissect and debate the data’s infinite nuances.
For that matter, I’d hold the same standard for anyone wanting to discuss bear, turkey or bear hunting in Wisconsin. After all, recent editions of the Summary include harvest data for those species, too. Back in the 1980s these booklets only covered deer. A smaller booklet covered bears, and a simple one-stapled four-page summary handled turkeys.
Deer data still dominates today’s annual Big Game Harvest Summary, but bears, turkeys and wolves now generate enough annual harvest data to justify inclusion. Specifically, deer data consume the first 62 pages of the 2013 Summary, followed by wild turkeys, 21 pages; bears, 10 pages; and wolves, six pages.
Wisconsin’s reputation as a top deer hunting state helps it lure bowhunters like Slavi Vrecek Kirn of Slovenia to visit the Badger State each fall.
What follows are some comparisons to contemplate from the 2013 Wisconsin Big Game Harvest Summary. As you read through them, you’ll get some idea why the Badger state is a perennial destination for nonresident hunters. Granted, none of the information pertains to antler scores, but it gives you a good look at recent trends, current data and educated guesses about the near future.
Here are some highlights:
- Gun-hunters registered 102,221 antlered bucks (minimum 3-inch spikes) in autumn 2013, second lowest since 1984. That was the year the buck kill exceeded 100,000 for the first time in modern deer hunting history. The gun-buck kill has fallen below that mark only one year since, 2009, when it reached 92,754.
- The record gun-buck kill was 171,891 in 1995.
- Bowhunters registered 41,517 antlered bucks in autumn 2013, seventh highest all-time, and the 10th time the harvest exceeded 40,000 since 1999, which was the first year bowhunters reached that mark.
- The record archery-buck kill was 45,988 in 2012.
- Gun-hunters registered 255,003 deer in autumn 2013, third highest in the past five years, but fifth lowest since 1984.
- The record gun-deer kill was 528,494 in 2000.
- The first gun-deer harvest to surpass 200,000 occurred in 1984. It surpassed 300,000 for the first time five years later, 1989. It surpassed 400,000 for the first time 10 years later, 1999.
- The gun-kill exceeded 400,000 four times between 1999 and 2007.
- The gun-kill exceeded 350,000 for the first time in 1990, and surpassed that mark 13 times the next 19 years.
- Bowhunters registered 87,628 deer in autumn 2013, third highest in the past five years, and ninth highest all time.
- The record bow-deer kill was 116,010 in 2007.
Caption: Jeff DeLaura arrows big deer nearly every year near his home just outside Madison, Wisconsin, the state’s capital.
- The first bow-deer harvest to surpass 20,000 occurred in 1980. It surpassed 30,000 for the first time two years later, 1982; 40,000 in 1985; 60,000 in 1991; 70,000 in 1996; and 90,000 in 1999.
- The bow-deer harvest has slipped below 83,000 only once since 1999, falling to 54,133 in 2002, months after chronic wasting disease was discovered in Wisconsin.
- Hunters registered 3,952 black bears in autumn 2013, the lowest harvest of the past five years, but the fifth highest in state history.
- The bear harvest surpassed 3,000 for the first time in 2000 (3,075), and has exceeded that mark seven times since.
- Wisconsin’s record bear harvest occurred in 2010 when it hit 5,133. The kill hit peaks of 4,646 in 2012, 4,257 in 2011 and 4,009 in 2009.
- The bear kill exceeded 2,000 for the first time in 1996 (2,325), 11 years after the DNR closed the season in 1985 out of fear of over harvest.
- Hunters set turkey-harvest records 22 consecutive springs from 1983 (182) through 2004 (47,477).
- Hunters killed a record 52,880 gobblers in spring 2008. That record followed a harvest of 52,428 in 2007, and preceded a kill of 52,581 in 2009, the next highest harvests on record.
- The spring turkey harvest surpassed 30,000 for the first time in 1999 (33,168), and has remained above that mark ever since.
- Wisconsin held its first regulated wolf season in history in 2012, capping a 30-year effort to restore the population to sustainable levels.
It’s hard not to look at all these numbers without realizing a simple fact: Big-game hunting in Wisconsin has been exceptional in recent memory, possibly so special that the state will never again see such sustained success.