Hunting license

Brian Huser, owner of Rock River Bait Box in Fort Atkinson, waits on Todd Pergande of Watertown. Huser said business has been steady selling deer hunting licenses last week.

Standing in his bait shop only a few steps away from the Rock River, Brian Huser finished helping a customer during a steady morning.

“So far, so good,” he said. “That’s about all I’ve done all week here is sell licenses.”

People were not quite ready to put away their fishing poles Nov. 17 with a surge of nice weather, but sales for deer hunting licenses have kept Huser busy last week at the Rock River Bait Box in Fort Atkinson.

The nine-day deer hunting season began Saturday across Wisconsin with license sales on pace to match last year’s spike.

“This year, so far conditions are looking pretty good. Less than 1% below last year,” said Eric Lobner, Bureau Director for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Management. “We are holding those numbers for licenses sold this year.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said hunters registered 188,712 deer during the nine-day gun deer hunt in 2020. That was up almost 16% statewide with people looking to get out during the height of the pandemic.

“It was a combination of different things,” Lobner said of the increase in numbers. “Definitely the pandemic and the increase in numbers of people going out.”

In Jefferson County, deer harvested last year saw a 33% increase over the 2019 season with 1,925 deer taken, according to DNR records.

In Rock County, numbers were about the same with a 34% increase in deer harvested with 1,341 deer.

Dodge County saw a 23.5% increase with 2,749 deer taken.

Lobner said one of the factors that drives up numbers is the weather.

“With a dry year during corn harvest there is more access to areas to hunt,” he said.

“We are right even with last year’s general forecast. I always hesitate to say it will be up. The harvest numbers are driven by opening weekend. And weather drives that.

It can really impact overall harvest,” Lobner said.

Even though numbers were up last season, COVID-19 presented its challenges for hunters and deer camps.

“Last year was about avoiding deer camps,” Lobner said. “More people got vaccinated and those risks have gone down with people who have been vaccinated.”

Right now, Lobner said the state is at about the five-year average for numbers during the hunt.

The issue of deer being able to get COVID also has been a concern lately, with a study out of Iowa recently that showed deer had the virus.

The report conducted by Penn State University, Iowa State University and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources found that 80 percent of white-tailed deer sampled in different parts of Iowa from December 2020 to January found the animals tested positive for the virus.

So far, the study says there is no evidence deer can infect humans with the virus.

“I read that article that came out of Iowa. There is no evidence that COVID can be transmitted from handling or eating of wild game,” Lobner said.

There are still lots of questions about the study to be looked at, he said.

“What will that mean for deer population? We have not seen any (cases here). We have not had any large groups,” Lobner said.

“It does not right now have a significant impact on the deer population.”

While the deer harvest was up last year, another growing area in Wisconsin is female hunters, remaining the fastest-growing demographic — up 12% last year.

The DNR said hunters fared better in southern farmland zones compared to some northern forest zones. There were 85,350 antlered deer harvested in the state last year and 103,372 antlerless deer taken.

The state reported nine gun-related injuries and one death during the gun season.

For business owners like Huser who sell licenses, the steady stream of customers has been good as the season changes from fishing to hunting.

“Even though the fish are biting — good walleye — a lot of guys are switching gears,” he said.

“Deer tag sales are good this week. I would say not above normal.

It’s fairly normal,” Huser said.

By mid-week, he sold 48 licenses for deer hunting.

Todd Pergande of Watertown was one customers stopping in before the hunt begins.

“For being a small bait shop, there is definitely more of the fishing genre, but we still do online tags,” Huser said.

Lobner did point out that there are more antlerless tags available in the northern part of the state this year.

“People are seeing deer and enjoying their time,” he said. “Getting back to normal. It looks like it’s going to be a good year.”

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