Eau Claire (WQOW) - We are exactly 50 days from the start of the gun deer hunt. Hunters have the date circled on their calendar every year. This year, they had to look a little deeper into November to find it. Plus, there's a new rule regarding rifles.
"Last year it was the earliest opener it would ever be, this year it's the latest opener that it could possibly be," said Kris Belling, DNR Wildlife Supervisor.
The gun deer hunt kicks off each year in Wisconsin on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. For hunters, the calendar didn't do them any favors this year.
"This year with the season opening as late as it does, pretty much for sure the rut is going to be over. So the deer should have gone back to their more normal patterns," Belling explained.
Mother Nature certainly didn't help either.
"Kind of a strange winter with the late snow, we did actually see some mortality of fawns due to the winter, which is really unusual in the farmland parts of the state," said Belling.
But one thing hunters may look forward to is the fact that rifles will be allowed statewide for the first time in years.
"The department basically looked at a 10-year period from 1998 through 2007 and specifically looked at how shotguns were involved with hunting incidents. It was approximately 33% of the counties in the state that had shotgun-only hunting zones, and it turned out that there were actually over 40% of accidents in that small percentage of counties," Richard Rosen, DNR Regional Conservation Warden.
The DNR says overall, the deer population is healthy as the season approaches. But they'll be keeping an eye out for one disease in particular.
"This past year for the first time we had three deer that tested positive for CWD in the West Central District. One each in Adams County, Juneau County, and Portage County. So hunters that are hunting in those areas, we're really asking for hunter cooperation to let us take lymph node samples from their deer," Belling added.
The rule change will not be in effect for the youth deer hunt which takes place this weekend.