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Deer management

deer mgmt
Linda Freshwaters Arndt

From many perspectives, white-tailed deer are a very important part of the Wisconsin landscape and culture. Deer are a wonderful and troublesome part of Wisconsin, depending on your point of view. Wisconsin’s deer herd is managed by setting three-year population objectives for sections of the state called deer management units. While someone will always want more or fewer deer in a given area, the DNR must look at the big picture in attempting to keep deer numbers within a range that is both ecologically responsible and acceptable to most Wisconsin residents. Ideally, the population objectives proposed by wildlife managers and County Deer Advisory Councils will produce a healthy heard, a robust ecosystem, few deer damage complaints and good hunting and wildlife watching opportunities for anyone to enjoy.

Deer Management In Wisconsin

2021-2023 Deer population objectives

Deer population objectives are set every three years. Objectives are determined through recommendations from the County Deer Advisory Councils and consideration of deer population metrics. Once the objectives are set, wildlife biologists and the CDACs work together to set hunting quotas and seasons to move the local deer population in the direction of that objective.

NRB approved deer population objectives, DMUs and zone boundaries

Click here to view a larger PDF.

Deer Metrics, Monitoring And Research

Since the early 1900s, Wisconsin state officials have been tracking deer populations and harvest. As technology and scientific methods have advanced, population and harvest data has become more accurate and readily available. Wildlife biologists closely monitor deer population dynamics so they can then estimate the numbers that may be harvested to keep populations at healthy levels that are socially acceptable to both hunters and non-hunters alike.

Population Metrics

Sex-Age-Kill Model

SAK Video

The Sex-Age-Kill (SAK) population model is used by the DNR to estimate the number of deer in Wisconsin. SAK estimates help determine how many bucks and antlerless deer can be harvested each year during the hunting season in order to make the population increase, decrease or stay the same. SAK is based on a robust dataset including the number of bucks harvested each year and the ratio of fawns per doe observed each year.

Learn more about SAK:

Winter Severity Index

The winter severity index (WSI) is a measurement to help gauge the effects of the winter weather on deer survival. The index was developed in the early 1970s and is calculated by adding the number of days with 18 inches or more of snow on the ground to the number of days when the minimum temperatures were 0 degrees F or below. In general, the severity of the winter is based on the total number of points accumulated over the collection period. A winter with an index of less than 50 is considered mild, 50 to 79 is moderate, 80 to 99 is severe and over 100 is very severe.

Annual harvest plans take into account the WSI totals, as this index provides insight into the number of deer that may have been lost due to the weather conditions. Deer have both physiological and behavioral characteristics that allow them to survive Wisconsin winters, provided the harsh conditions do not persist for long periods of time. However, in very severe winters, up to 30% of the deer herd may be lost, dramatically affecting the overall populations. The WSI is calculated for 34 locations throughout northern Wisconsin. Collecting WSI information at these many locations allows biologists to manage deer populations at a localized level where differences in weather conditions between stations can be dramatic. WSI data is not collected in the southern portions of the state because the milder conditions do not impact the deer herds as significantly there.

Monitoring surveys

Deer health

Damage and nuisance deer issues

Wisconsin has programs designed to help farmers and other residents when deer are damaging crops or property, or when they become a safety hazard.

2020 Deer Hunting Stakeholder Group

White-tail deer hunting in Wisconsin is a fabric of our hunting heritage. Deer are important to society for several reasons including economic impacts, recreational pursuits and viewing, and the biological impact they play in Wisconsin’s ecosystems. Activities associated with deer hunting and deer management have the potential to negatively impact other outdoor recreation user groups, necessitating the need to find balance between these interests and minimize conflict whenever possible. Over the last several years, a number of changes have occurred with WI deer management program that have resulted in some unintended challenges and consequences. Specifically:

  • Challenges expressed by the snowmobiling community due to antlerless gun deer hunting from Dec. 24 – Jan. 1 (aka Holiday Hunt).
  • Forested landowners concerned with forest regeneration and the issuance of antlerless deer harvest authorizations.
  • Challenges with the deer damage program.
  • Challenges meeting population objectives in some deer management units.
  • Continued increase in number of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) positive deer across the state.

This effort is intended for stakeholders to have an open discussion with the DNR to brainstorm ideas to address deer management in the state and to generate a variety of potential solutions acceptable to stakeholders involved. The results of this effort will be incorporated into future deer management discussions by the DNR and the Natural Resources Board (NRB). Identified solutions may include changes to DNR policy, WI Administrative Code, and WI State Statutes. Statutory changes will be provided to the legislature for their consideration and Administrative Code changes may be pursued through the normal rule making processes. The list of ideas generated through this effort are in no way absolute or assured to be implemented. The Deer Stakeholder Group charter [PDF] contains further details on the scope and goals of this project.

Project Goals And Objectives

The Deer Hunting Stakeholder Group will convene discussion with stakeholders and hunters to accomplish its goal of identifying a deer hunting framework and potential programs to accomplish the following objectives:

  • Objective 1: Address concerns and areas of conflict expressed by the snowmobiling, forestry and agriculture communities.
  • Objective 2: Provide deer hunting opportunities that are easy to understand and that will support hunter recruitment, retention and reactivation.
  • Objective 3: Provide the best available tools to achieve population objectives and to reduce the proportion of CWD-infected deer.

Meeting Information

Deer Advisory Committee

The Deer Advisory Committee is a diverse group representing government agencies, non-governmental organizations, tribal interests and conservation groups. The committee reviews and makes recommendations on the management of white-tailed deer in Wisconsin. The committee advises the Wildlife Policy Team on a variety of topics such as hunting regulations, surveys, research priorities, depredation, disease management and designing public input opportunities.