The deer hunting gods and/or state wildlife agencies didn’t single out individual states for slower firearms deer seasons in late autumn 2013.

No, deer hunting was tougher during November and early December’s firearms seasons across the Upper Midwest, with statewide kills falling short of 2012’s totals in all preliminary figures released by the agencies.

In Wisconsin, for example, the gun-season totals aren’t yet final, but the state’s nine-day firearms season produced 226,582 deer, a seven percent decline from 243,739 in 2012. The buck kill fell to 97,765 bucks, 15 percent lower than 2012.

Even so, the Badger state’s results were apparently tied for the region’s best with Minnesota. Consider:

  • In Minnesota, hunters registered 142,927 deer during the 16-day gun season in most of the state and the first two days of the shorter season in its southeastern corner. That’s seven percent below the 153,224 deer registered during the same time in 2012.
  • In Illinois, the combined kill from its two firearms seasons was 74,191, a 25 percent decline from 99,546 in 2012.
  • In Michigan, the Upper Peninsula’s kill fell an estimated 15 to 20 percent, while the Lower Peninsula’s kill fell about 10 percent. The annual Mackinac Bridge Authority’s survey of deer on hunters’ vehicles showed a 34 percent decline, with 4,207 deer counted in November, down from 6,420 in 2012. Further, the bridge survey was 26 percent below 2011’s count, 5,731.
  • In Iowa, the kill during the first of its two gun seasons fell an estimated 18 percent from 2012.
  • In Missouri, another of the Midwest’s big whitetail states, the kill was 157,272, a 23 percent decline from 204,654 in 2012.

What’s behind the regional decline? Well, in Wisconsin, the U.P., and northeastern Minnesota, hunters often blame timber wolves for low deer numbers, and black bears for killing fawns. But those large predators aren’t a factor in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, or southern portions of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

So, what plagued the region’s deer hunting if not four-legged predators? Weather during the firearms seasons received much blame. Brutal cold beset Wisconsin’s late-opening gun season (November 23). Kevin Wallenfang, the Wisconsin DNR’s big game ecologist, said hunters responding to the agency’s online wildlife survey during the first half of the season ranked weather as the poorest in the survey’s five-year history.

Iowa reported similar conditions during its early December hunt, as did Illinois during its second season, December 5-8.

In contrast, when Michigan’s gun season opened November 15, hunters in the Lower Peninsula endured unseasonably warm weather the first two days. On day three, winds up to 70 mph blew in, keeping most hunters out of the woods. In the days that followed, many Lower Peninsula hunters stayed home to deal with storm damage and no power to their homes.

Missouri also cited warm, windy weather for its November 16 opener, but a bigger factor was likely widespread deer die-offs caused by epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in August and September. Illinois and Michigan’s Lower Peninsula also reported localized losses to EHD, which is linked to drought-driven increases in biting midge flies that spread the virus.

Farther north, the long 2012-13 winter and late-April snowstorms likely killed many young deer and old bucks in the northern forests of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota; and suppressed survival of fawns born to winter-weakened does in May and early June. Wildlife agencies cut or eliminated antlerless quotas across the upper Great Lakes in response, but only time replaces mature bucks.

Sales of hunting licenses, meanwhile, were mostly stable or down only slightly region-wide, so it’s hard to blame the downturn on lower hunting pressure. Wisconsin’s license sales (633,602) were nearly identical to 2012 (633,460), while Michigan reported a two percent increase to about 640,000, and Minnesota a slight decrease to about 460,000. Iowa’s sales were down about seven percent during its first firearms season.

In other words, those who didn’t like the deer hunting in late 2013 shouldn’t feel that they alone suffered. Maybe 2014 will bring better results.

Image by Patrick Durkin

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6 thoughts on “Firearms Deer Season Tallies Drop Across Upper Midwest

  1. As a property owner in S.W. Michigan with 100 acres of our own and 160 acres of my parents across the road, we’ve always enjoyed outstanding whitetail hunting….until last year when EHD decimated our deer herd, almost nothing in our area survived. From what I personally saw, I wouldn’t have harvested or eaten anything that did survive. The carcasses of every deer we found dead remained untouched by coyotes, opossums, or vultures. Of a couple does that did survive from last year, we only saw one with fawns, which soon disappeared, I’m certain, due to the coyote infestation we now have here in Michigan (another brainstorm brought to us by the DNR). My story is not unique, so why wouldn’t the numbers be down? No deer left to hunt, who is going to bother to buy a license and go hunting? The DNR can blame the weather all they want, that was not and is not the problem!

    1. We have 40 acres in SW Mich too and saw about the same number of deer as last year, but they’re definitely packs of does (sometimes up to 25) and plenty of fawns. We never came across any EHD victims, so that’s promising. However, bucks are never to be seen. Only caught maybe two on camera this year and none last year. My husband didn’t take a deer in SW Mich either year deer since he’s looking for the trophy buck – but scored nice ones both years in NW Indiana. But we’re going to have to thin out these packs of does. Agree about coyotes. NW Indiana also has an issue. Buddy got a nice buck late season this year, but only because it had been shot once – which likely weakened it and had a bite in both its throat and back – one tough buck! But uneatable due to infection. I’ve seen coyotes running through downtown Michigan City. We thought moving up here would be a boom for hunting, but agree with you, these first two years are not!

  2. All of the factors mentioned in the story all have an effect on deer harvest numbers. Other factors must be considered seriously as well. I have hunted deer and small game for more than 45 years and have kept a detailed log of conditions and sightings for many, many years and feel qualified to make the following observations. Here in Southern Michigan the number of coyotes has exploded in the last 10+ years. Coyote depredation on fawns in particular is well documented and can be extensive. Coyote killing adult deer is consistently downplayed by DNR and so-called “experts” far too much. A factor that I have not seen discussed is the lack of time in the field. Far more hunters only hunt for a couple of hours in the morning and a couple in the late afternoon, (but many never come back in the PM.) When I first started hunting the norm was to sit for a couple of hours then meet up with other farmers and friends and drive woodlots and corn fields. Admittedly the majority of deer taken were does and young bucks, but it did boost the harvest. Today there is virtually no “deer drives” in my area. Finally, access to land to hunt was much greater. On gravel roads that used to have few homes on them are now overrun with homes on 1-20 acre lots and are unhuntable and many farms are tied up by leases or denied to honest hunters.

    1. As stated, there are multiple reasons. Can wildlife compete with the $7.00 corn we’ve seen in the past few years? How many new combines do you see? Walk a field after being picked by a new combine…how much waste grain do you find? How much habitat has been lost?
      Here in NW Illinois, woodlots, hedge rows, and wooded waterways are disappearing at an alarming rate. City folks buying escapes or hobby farms, often not allowing hunting, create refuges that deer quickly discover when the 1st shots are fired.
      Drive hunting was mentioned. We had the same situation when I started hunting this area, 25 years ago. We had 4-5 large groups that drove at one time or another throughout the season. They kept deer moving, increasing sightings and opportunities for stand hunters. Now, mainly due to aging and young men leaving the farms, never to return, we have one small group driving.

  3. I don’t know how our average harvest numbers are doing here in Alabama, but my son-in-law and I have taken 5 so far, we have 18 days left in the season and I would like to take two more.
    I need one more for my freezer and a young family has been asking for a deer to be donated as the wife is terminally ill and they need the meat!
    They have ask for an as killed deer but if I can get them one my family will process and vacuum seal the meat before delivery!

  4. All the comments I do agree with. There are a lot of factors for the harvest numbers being down. We could probably discuss it all day. Coyotes are bad to a deer herd, now we have to try and control them. EHD climbing, nothing we can do about it. Hunter access is declining, this is a problem. The farmers have the money to gobble up land buying or leasing. Populations are increasing. property is getting sold in smaller acreages or increments. We have some problems down the road for sure. What we can do is improve the habitat that is there. Control invasive species and improve native vegetation. Plant native grasses and other desirable species. Michigan is getting a lot more cost effective programs which should help land owners/leasers. Don’t forget that hunters are getting more selective on what they want to take. We all need to get more involved in our local deer herds and come up with ideas to help improve them. The DNR or NRC cannot do this township by township.

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