Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer season opened to foggy conditions in many areas, but it quickly burned off due to bright sun and seasonally warm temperatures that revealed big bucks aren’t just for seasoned hunters anymore.

Of the more than 600,000 licensed hunters taking to the field, about 25,700 were first time hunters, and more than 32 percent of those were female and 35 percent were youths age 17 and under, indicating Wisconsin’s long tradition of deer hunting is being passed along to a new generation of hunters.

Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp hunting in Buffalo County reported a 13-year-old member of her hunting camp on his second year hunting got his first doe. She was thrilled to see “the light in his eyes, the excitement in his face and I don’t think his feet were even touching the ground.”

Stepp said she “had a really special morning…it was really beautiful out there,” and even though she was not successful in getting a deer so far, she planned on heading back out into the field Sunday and will be encouraging everyone else to do the same thing. Stepp added she was very excited by the license figures that showed an increase in female and young hunters.

“Deer hunting is really part of the DNA of Wisconsin and it’s what makes us a world deer hunting destination,” she said. “Passing on tradition to new hunters, that is what is keeping the hunting heritage in Wisconsin alive. To me the deer season is about connection to the outdoors and connection to others… and when we get the women involved with hunting, along comes the family. Deer hunting in Wisconsin is all about family, friends, fun, and now females can be added to that list.”

Tess Novak of Ripon was out conducting a mentored hunt this morning with her 11-year-old daughter, Lynn, on private land in Green Lake County when a 1.5-year old buck walked in their sights behind a doe. It was Lynn’s first mentored hunt with her mom who has hunted since she was 12. Tess ended up shooting this buck a little less than an hour after the season opened, but Lynn was very excited and predicted to DNR Wildlife Biologist Ellen Barth that she would be back this afternoon with her deer.

Mitchell Murphy, age 10, of Ridgeway shot his first deer on the first day of his first ever deer hunt. He was hunting with his dad. When asked what he thought of the experience Mitchell would only say, “pretty cool.” After registering his deer he and dad were heading back to the woods to meet up with Grandpa who was still sitting in his tree when they left.
Twelve-year-old Bri Johnson is the youngest of three girls in her family. This was a good year for Bri as she has now scored a double first of sorts. In this, her first year of hunting she bagged a fine buck while hunting with her dad, James Johnson, and she also bagged her first ever turkey during the 2012 spring wild turkey hunt.

Brittany Peckham, 18, has been hunting for six years but bagged her first deer early opening morning near Blue Mounds. Brittany, a senior at Oregon High School, was in a ground blind with her friend when he said, “Brittany, there’s a deer so close it’s almost touching the blind.” She raised her gun but the gun touched the side of the blind making just enough noise to cause the deer to jump away. Fortunately for her it stopped and that is when she shot her first deer.

In northern Wisconsin, more than 60 deer, including a pair of big bucks taken by a Clear Lake husband and wife team had been registered by noon at the Lake Magnor Store in Polk County. Several hunters gathered around Dave Somen’s 14-point buck to admire the deer taken about 8 a.m.

“It’s my biggest buck,” said Dave, 55, who has been hunting for about 40 years. “And his wife’s biggest buck, too,” said a beaming Carol, who began hunting about five years ago.

“He was in rut and chasing a doe,” Dave said, noting conditions were excellent. “It was a beautiful, gorgeous day.”

Carol, who took a 10-point buck about five minutes after her husband, said she saw many deer, and passed several until taking her shot.

“We knew there were deer out there and we saw many deer,” she said. “It was pretty exciting.”

In Sawyer County, in the four county chronic wasting disease area, a steady stream of deer was being registered at the Shell Lake Cenex station. Most were also volunteering to have their deer tested.

“It’s the right thing to do. We want to learn as much as possible,” said Aaron Merchant, 39, who got a nine-point buck while hunting south of Shell Lake with his son, Tyler, 17, and his son’s friend, Paxton Pocernich, 17, of Spooner.

Kevin Wallenfang, DNR big game ecologist said calls to wildlife managers around the state indicated good numbers of deer were being registered across the state.

“From a first day perspective it seems we have a lot of happy people out there,” Wallenfang said. “As far as conditions go, I heard from some hunters that the only thing that would have made conditions a 10 would have been snow on the ground. It got a little warm in the afternoon, which probably slowed rutting activity, but I did hear from hunters in the morning who said they were still seeing bucks pursuing does. The fact that we are seeing good antler growth across the state, with most yearling deer showing forked antlers, is probably a result of the mild winter and early spring green-up.”

DNR conservation wardens reported that there had been a shooting incident in Manitowoc County that involved two members of a hunting party with non-life-threatening injuries. There were also two reported incidents involving falls from tree stands, one of which resulted in injuries. Wardens say statistics show one in three hunters will suffer a tree stand fall in their hunting careers and strongly urge hunters to use safety harnesses that can save their lives in case of a fall.

It appears deer hunters engaged in another long standing tradition, buying their license on the way up to deer camp Friday. Between 4 and 5 p.m. Friday, deer license sales peaked at 200 licenses sold every minute. By mid-night, license sales had topped 2011by 16,621 licenses for a total of 614,435.

Deer licenses can be purchased through-out the season and totals are expected to rise. Licenses are available at about 1,400 retailers across the state and DNR offices. For more information, contact DNR’s Customer Call Center 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily for a live operator. The call center is available sever days a week, including Thanksgiving Day. The Call Center’s motto is, “We’re here for you!” Call Toll-Free 1-888-WDNR INFo (1-888-936-7463)

Image courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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