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Wisconsin deer hunters keeping expectations in check

Wisconsin hunters seem to be approaching the state's gun deer season with tempered expectations this fall. The nine-day gun season opens Saturday.

"It's definitely at a lower ebb than usual," said Carolyn Swartz of Anglers All in in Ashland. "They think there aren't a lot (of deer) around."

Hunters may be right about that. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says the lingering, snowy spring may have affected the deer population, and the agency has limited the number of antlerless deer permits available this fall.

"Last winter arrived late and stayed long into spring. Deer, along with migrating birds, found ice- and snow-covered ground instead of succulent shoots of new growth," a DNR deer forecast said.

Nearly all deer management units across Northwestern Wisconsin are classified as "regular" units this fall, meaning that hunters can take a buck, plus antlerless deer with bonus permits. But the bonus permits are in short supply and have been sold out in many units, Swartz said.

"People are buying licenses, but it seems a lot of people don't have high expectations for this year," she said. "Our game manager has predicted it would be a lower kill due to the severe snows in the spring. And we know predation is up."

Predation on deer doesn't mean just wolves, she said.

"People are fast to blame wolves," Swartz said, "but they are starting to realize that we have a large number of bear, which do a lot of predation, and coyotes, not to mention bobcats."

Hunters who have been scouting for deer and deer sign are coming back with conflicting reports, said Steve Dinda of the Bait Box in Superior.

"Some say there's plenty of deer. Some aren't seeing much," Dinda said. "I was out myself scouting and didn't see hardly any sign where we hunt, not like we have in the past, when you could follow a scrape line and see where they're running the trails. It seems like it's going to be a different year."

Last fall was a good year for Wisconsin deer hunters. Gun hunters took more bucks than they had since 2007, and bow hunters took the highest number of bucks on record, according to the DNR. In all, the state's deer hunters took 368,314 deer last year, up from each of the three previous seasons.

The 2012 season ranked Wisconsin first by the Boone and Crockett Club among all states and Canadian provinces for producing trophy bucks. As of Tuesday, the state's hunters had registered 84 typical bucks measuring 160 inches or more, according to the club. The next closest state was Kentucky, with 31.

New this year for the Wisconsin hunt, hunters with junior licenses will be given a free antlerless permit.