Warm weather a factor as hunting numbers decrease

In a season plagued by high temperatures and a low number of deer harvests, the Department of Natural Resources reports that Wisconsin deer hunters had a large drop-off in registration numbers compared to last year.

During the nine-day deer hunt, weather across the state was atypical of a season which usually sees snow. With highs in the 50s and 60s, rain and sometimes fog were scattered along the state, which produced less than ideal hunting conditions.

Bacteria grow rapidly on deer meat in temperatures above 40 degrees, causing many hunters to opt not to store their meat and instead bring it directly to processors, who often turn it into sausages or patties.

The warm weather also created longer lines at DNR processing plants, which must register deer before the meat can be processed. In most years, hunters could wait to process their deer meat and hang the carcass in their backyard.

Many meat processing businesses bought additional refrigeration trailers and added workers to deal with the increased number of hunters bringing deer out of the woods and directly to the processor.

Other hunters placed ice in deer cavities to make sure their meat didn’t spoil until they brought it in for processing. Other do-it-yourself hunters waste no time or money having their deer processed, opting to skin and quarter their animal by themselves.

Last fall, hunters killed a record 600,000 deer. This year, about 24 percent fewer deer were registered over opening weekend compared with last year’s opening weekend. Hunters registered 159,929 deer over the first two days in Wisconsin this year, down from 200,628 last opening weekend.

To account for the low number of deer kills, some hunters will say the warm weather kept deer from moving and others will say that too many deer were killed either by last year’s T Zone hunts or from the heavy winter snows.

As seen in years before, this season brought accidents and injuries. Among the most tragic were the accidental shootings, which is of the less enjoyable experiences one can endure during their deer hunting experience.

Every year there are reports of Wisconsin deer hunters shooting themselves, shooting their friends, shooting strangers, having heart attacks and falling out of their tree stands. And this year produced the same such reports.

An estimated 700,000 hunters took part during the opening weekend of the hunting season, according to the Department of Natural Resources. At least five fatalities were reported during hunting on opening day, three as a result of accidental shootings in Adams, Trempeauleau and Vernon counties, police reported.

Another hunter died during a fall in La Crosse County and another from natural causes in Waupaca County. A reported seventh man was killed in Clark County later in the week after he failed to return from hunting Friday night.

However, contrary to what some may say, not all deer hunters are wandering the woods whiskey bent and hell bound, ready to pump lead at the slightest movement. A large portion of most hunting deaths could be reduced if hunters would stick to the basics of hunting safety.

With seven estimated hunting-related deaths this year, officials say it’s the highest total in a nine-day deer hunt since 1987, when eight people died. Last year two hunters were killed. The safest year was 1997, when 10 accidents and no fatalities were reported.

Registration station numbers reported around half as many kills as last year and the DNR estimated the deer population to be about 1.65 million compared to 1.8 million last year.

But the deer hunting season has yet to finish as the week-long muzzleloader gun season began Monday and bow season in most parts of the state ends Dec. 31.

Hunters may complain less of the warm weather in these late season hunts and use it more to their advantage as it becomes more tolerable to sit three hours in the woods in mid-December.