Whitetail Hunting in Wisconsin
- Wisconsin has one of the largest deer herds in the country. Deer herd estimates vary each year, due to factors such as winter severity and number of deer killed by hunters. However, most years, the pre-hunt herd estimate numbers about 1.5 million animals. The highest deer harvest of any state in a single season occurred in Wisconsin in 2000 when state hunters killed more than 618,000 deer. The central area of the state, which contains a mix of farmland and forest, has the highest deer numbers. The northern part of the state has the most public hunting land, but the lack of farm fields means it harbors the smallest deer population.
- Wisconsin grows some large-antlered bucks. The state boasts numerous entries in the Pope and Young Club record book (archery hunting) and the Boone and Crockett Club record book (any hunting method). The Number 2 entry in the B&C record book in the typical category came from Wisconsin. It was the world record for many years. The state's fertile soils grow nourishing food that can produce trophy bucks anywhere in the state. The best chance for trophy potential, however, is in the fertile soils in the bluffs along the Mississippi River. Buffalo County, in particular, is recognized as one of the best trophy-producing areas in the country.
- Wisconsin hunters enjoy a long deer hunting season. Archery season opens in mid-September and runs through early January, except for a closure during the firearms season. The nine-day firearms season always opens the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The firearms deer season is a time-honored tradition when families regather to hunt and enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. More than 600,000 deer hunters don blaze-orange clothing for the firearms season, making for a sometimes crowded, frenzied hunt. Muzzleloader season runs 10 days and opens immediately after deer season. Special four-day firearms hunts for antlerless deer only (does and fawns) are sometimes held in October and December. These herd-control hunts are implemented to help keep deer numbers in check. Special hunts are also offered in some state parks, metropolitan areas and in the area in southern Wisconsin where chronic wasting disease has been discovered in the deer herd. Consult current Wisconsin deer hunting regulations for details. All hunts are open to both residents and nonresidents. Licenses can be purchased over the counter at any license-issuing agent, such as sporting goods stores.
Where to Hunt
- Hunting in Wisconsin is generally best on private lands, which tend to have fewer hunters and more deer. If you don't know a landowner, leasing land to hunt may be an option. The state also has thousands of acres of public lands, but they tend to be crowded, especially during the firearms season. The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest boast thousands of acres in northern Wisconsin open to public hunting. Other places to hunt are state forests, some state parks, wildlife recreation lands, county forests and some lands owned by timber companies.
General Deer Hunting Regulations
- All hunters must display their deer tag on the middle of their back while hunting. During firearms and muzzleloader season, hunters must wear blaze-orange clothing on the upper part of their body and on their hat. Immediately after killing a deer, the hunter must validate the deer hunting tag and attach it to the deer's ear or antler. The deer must be transported to a deer registration station and registered within five days. For a full listing of deer hunting regulations, consult the Wisconsin deer hunting regulations pamphlet.
Deer Management Units
- The state of Wisconsin is divided into 139 Deer Management Units (DMUs). Using DMUs, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources can manage the deer herd at a local level. Hunters may hunt in more than one DMU, but they must abide by the rules in the DMU they are hunting in. Some DMUs have special regulations to help manage the deer herd, such as an earn-a-buck restriction that requires hunters to kill an antlerless deer before they may shoot a buck. Some DMUs have a four-day October antlerless season. The number of antlerless deer tags available to hunters varies by DMU. DMUs in the southern part of the state where chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been discovered have longer seasons to thin the deer herd to help slow the spread of CWD.
What to Expect
- Hunting pressure is low during archery season. Early in the season, temperatures may be warm and mosquitoes may be present. Late October and early November are prime archery-hunting times, as bucks become less cautious and more active as they pursue does for breeding. Falling leaves at that time increase visibility in the forests. The firearms season typically brings cool weather, with high temperatures from 30 degrees to 60 degrees. Snow may be present. The woods will be filled with hunters, especially opening weekend. During muzzleloader and the late archery seasons, there are few hunters afield and many deer will already be killed. Cold temperatures makes hunting more challenging, but snow may be an asset for tracking deer. Late season also brings solitude and relaxation.