MADISON, Wis. — It’s that time of year again in Wisconsin, when the leaves fall, the snow flies and the crack of rifles echo across the countryside as the state’s traditional gun deer season begins. Hunters will see some new wrinkles when the season opens Saturday morning, including an end to the state’s minimum hunting age, relaxed tag requirements and maybe even more deer in the woods.
Here’s a look at Wisconsin’s gun season:
HOW LONG DOES THE SEASON LAST?
Nine days. It begins Saturday and runs through Sunday, Nov. 26.
CHILDREN AND GUNS
Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill on Saturday, Nov. 12, that eliminates Wisconsin’s minimum hunting age. Until now, a state resident had to be 12 years old to purchase a hunting license or hunt with a gun. Children as young as 10 could participate in the mentored hunt program. The bill allows anyone of any age to participate in a mentored hunt and the mentor and student to each carry their own weapon.
The law went into effect on Monday. It’s not clear how many children under 10 may head into the woods. The Department of Natural Resources had sold 11,325 mentored hunt licenses that would allow children to hunt with a gun during the nine-day season as of Wednesday. That includes 456 licenses purchased since Monday.
The agency had sold 11,441 mentored hunt licenses by the same point last year.
NO MORE TAGS?
Hunters will no longer have to attach carcass tags to their kills. They will still need to carry their tags and hunting license with them as proof of authorization to hunt and what zone can be hunted. The tags also contain information for registering kills online or by phone.
CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE
The DNR is again asking hunters to voluntarily submit the heads and necks of their kills for testing. Hunters can turn the heads in at various sampling stations at bars, restaurants and unmanned kiosks around the state. A list of stations can be found here .
WHAT’S THE HARVEST OUTLOOK?
Hunter participation was down about 2 percent in 2016 as compared with 2015. Hunters killed 6 percent fewer deer last year than the year before.
DNR officials anticipate hunters will take more deer this season than last. They say Wisconsin’s herd appears to be growing after three straight mild winters. The buck kill in the northern forest management zone was up 30 percent during the 2016 nine-day season. In another sign the herd is growing, four counties — Ashland, Iron, Vilas and a portion of Eau Claire — will be buck-only this year, down from 10 counties last year. The DNR is offering no less than five antlerless tags to Door County hunters to reduce deer density in that area.
As of Wednesday, the DNR had sold 306,482 licenses that allow holders to hunt with a gun during the nine-day season. That’s down from 318,392 from the same point last year, although large numbers of hunters typically purchase their licenses the night before opening day.
WHAT’S THE WEATHER ON OPENING DAY LOOK LIKE?
Forecasts call for temperatures in the upper 20s to the low 30s with a chance of snow.
This story has been updated to correct the number of gun licenses and mentored hunt licenses sold through Wednesday. The license numbers reported previously included archery license sales.