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Deer management

deer mgmt
Photo Credit: Linda Freshwaters Arndt

White-tailed deer are an iconic and important part of the Wisconsin landscape and culture. Depending on your point of view, deer can be either a wonderful or troublesome part of living in Wisconsin. The DNR manages deer in consultation with each County Deer Advisory Council (CDAC), considering the hunting and recreational opportunities deer provide as well as their ecological and economic impacts.

2021-2023 Deer Population Objectives

Every three years, the DNR approves population objectives for each deer management unit based on population metrics and CDAC input. 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. Ideally, population objectives will produce a healthy herd, a robust ecosystem, fewer deer damage complaints and good hunting and wildlife watching opportunities for everyone to enjoy.

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County Deer Advisory Councils

County Deer Advisory Councils were formed in 2014 to increase local involvement in deer management decisions. Representatives from local hunting or conservation clubs, forestry, agriculture, tourism and local governmental interests make up each council. Each CDAC is led by local Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegates. A team of three liaisons from the DNR’s wildlife, forestry and law enforcement programs attend CDAC meetings to present data and offer professional perspectives. Each county’s council members directly participate in reviewing and recommending population objectives, antlerless harvest quotas and antlerless harvest authorization levels. Members also provide recommendations on various season structure options that will affect the 2021 deer seasons. These include whether to implement the Dec. 24 to Jan. 1 antlerless-only firearm season known as the holiday hunt and whether to extend the archery and crossbow seasons through Jan. 31.

Visit the County Deer Advisory Council page for more information.

Deer Metrics, Monitoring And Research

Since the early 1900s, Wisconsin state officials have been tracking deer populations and harvests. As technology and scientific methods have advanced, population and harvest data have become more readily available.

Wildlife biologists closely monitor deer population dynamics so they can then recommend 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

The DNR uses the Sex-Age-Kill (SAK) population model to estimate the number of deer in Wisconsin. With the help of SAK, wildlife officials estimate how many bucks will be harvested and then how many 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 that includes 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 that helps to gauge the effects of winter weather on deer survival. 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, including the following spring reproduction.

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.

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 more than 30 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

In addition to observations and research done by DNR biologists, citizen volunteers help inform deer population models by participating in these annual or ongoing wildlife 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 the 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 impact other outdoor recreation user groups, necessitating the need to find a balance between these interests and minimize conflict whenever possible.

Over the last several years, a number of changes have occurred with Wisconsin deer hunting 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 are 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 the number of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) positive deer across the state.

This effort allowed 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 is 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 met 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.