Douglas County deer hunters can expect another increase in antlerless permits for the 2018 season.
The Douglas County Deer Advisory Council made its preliminary season recommendations March 12 and set antlerless permit levels at 2,500 for the county with 300 for the Superior metro subunit. Permits will be split evenly between private and public land for the county overall and the subunit will have 200 tags for public land and 100 for private.
Antlerless permit levels for the metro subunit are unchanged from 2017.
For Douglas County as a whole, the 2018 recommendation is more than double the 1,000 antlerless tags available for the 2017 season.
The Council arrived at its proposed permit level by setting the antlerless quota at 1,000 and assuming a 40 percent success ratio.
Greg Kessler, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist, said he expects to see the herd grow at least 10 percent based on the council's recommended quota and estimating an additional antlerless harvest from sources like youth and disabled hunters.
"I think we can all agree we've come a long way from where we started. It was pretty dire," said Al Horvath, chairman of the Council.
The buck harvest in Douglas County has been up the past three seasons, including a 20.6 percent increase in 2017. The 2017 buck harvest tied for the 16th highest in the last 58 years.
"You look at those numbers, and I think you've got to feel pretty positive about that," Horvath said.
However, Horvath acknowledged that deer numbers have not rebounded in all areas of Douglas County.
Chuck Ager was among the hunters pushing for a more conservative antlerless quota at Monday's meeting. He expected the final decision but felt it was still important to voice the concerns of hunters in the Dairyland area.
"I think their hands are tied right now until they can split our county up," Ager said. "Where I'm at, there's maybe five deer per square mile. Where Greg (Kessler) was talking about, there's 22 to 27. That's a huge difference."
Horvath said the 1,000 antlerless quota is the right decision for the county as a whole, but he knows it's unwelcome news for hunters in western portions of the county.
"They are a great bunch of guys," Horvath said. "They understand that we have to make the decision for the county, but they feel that it's their responsibility to voice their concerns and to share that and to come in and pitch their positions.
"They deserve a break. I wish I could do it. I wish I could help them out a little bit more, because they just get slammed with this."
Horvath had hoped this would be the year the Natural Resources Board would grant the authority to subdivide counties along previous deer management unit lines to better manage herd levels.
The full-county model has been problematic for Douglas County, where deer numbers remain low in the west but have soared in the east.
The local council proposed subdividing the county during its fall meeting, but Douglas County hunters will have to wait at least another three seasons before that becomes a possibility.
"It wouldn't happen until then if it does happen at all," Horvath said. "They may not let us do it ever. There's no guarantee."
Douglas County was one of half a dozen counties in Wisconsin that requested permission to break the zone into smaller regions beginning in 2018.
"You'd think with scientific data they'd have enough to say, 'Wow, there's that many deer over here and none over here. Everybody's unhappy over hear and everybody wants more tags over here,'" Ager said. "And all the forestry issues are over there because we don't have any deer."
Mark Hager, speaking on behalf of the forestry stakeholders, made a pitch for a significantly higher quota during the meeting. He favored setting the antlerless quota at 3,900 to keep the population near its current level.
"If we go much higher, forestry is going to be in a difficult place as far as our regeneration," Hager said.
Hager was the only member of the council who voted against the 1,000 antlerless quota, which was approved 3-1.
A public comment period on the preliminary recommendations runs April 2-12, and the Douglas County Deer Advisory Council reconvenes April 18 to vote on final recommendations.
The Natural Resources Board gives final approval for recommended season structures. The Board is set to vote on the matter at its May 23 meeting.