Kevin Naze column: Tough winter for deer, but plenty remain

Apr. 19, 2013

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Even though there have been scattered reports of dead deer throughout the Northeast Region and across the state this year, far more whitetails survived the winter and 'late' spring as evidenced by large groups of deer seen foraging on farmland since the snow finally melted. / Kevin Naze/For


Reports of dead fawns and even some adult deer have been coming in from across the state in recent weeks, signs of a stressful past 21/2 months.

DNR Northeast Regional wildlife supervisor Jeff Pritzl said fewer antlerless permits will be awarded in regular units up north, but he noted that there’s still plenty of whitetails in farm country.

Reports of 20 or more dead deer found scattered on several properties along the Ahnapee River northwest of Forestville in recent weeks — all but two of them fawns born last spring — may lead hunters to believe that they should be more conservative this season.

But Pritzl called it “a natural correction by Mother Nature” after a one-two punch of too many deer concentrated in a small area combined with the winter-like weather that just doesn’t want to end.

“The take-home message may be that you should feel a little more comfortable shooting antlerless deer,” Pritzl said. “Winters like this only seem to come around once or twice a decade, but it’s a roll of the dice each year.”

Logging activities may have concentrated even more deer than usual in the area, Pritzl said, and whitetails “tend to stay put and hunker down” even when they run out of food in winter, he said.

The smallest deer — last year’s fawns — are the most likely to suffer as adult deer outcompete them for limited food resources. Too, fawns often enter winter with less fat, and lose more body heat than larger deer in cold weather.

Wildlife researcher John Ozoga has long written that hunters would be wise to selectively harvest more fawns in the northern ranges, but that’s a tough sell for most hunters.

Every now and then, though, you hear of a hunter who specifically targets doe fawns on antlerless tags, figuring it’s tender venison and still allows young bucks to reach their potential and mature does to have more fawns the following spring.

Bottom line: year in and year out, deer hunters have decisions to make for their hunt areas.

Earn-a-buck was overused, true enough. But it’s also true that some of us, perhaps, haven’t shot enough antlerless since.

If hunters don’t thin the herd, Mother Nature often will.

Ice on the move

There’s been a mix of boats and ice anglers this week, with most of those in boats trolling for brown trout or walleyes but some using boats to traverse open water and reach ice that is still more than a foot thick on Green Bay.

Even with gale winds off southern Door Friday — opening day of the Baileys Harbor brown trout tournament — ice anglers could be seen fishing for walleyes and other species in some areas while boats trolled less than a half-mile away.

The ice is breaking up fast and the Coast Guard is warning all outdoor users to stay off of it.

You can get a look at how things have changed whenever it’s clear enough at The last quality image Tuesday showed a lot of broken ice sheets off Door County.

Today might produce another look, but after that more clouds are expected Sunday through Wednesday.

Anglers are fishing open water at Sturgeon Bay, the lakeside, lakeshore tributaries and off very limited areas of northern Door, where powerful northwest winds pushed ice back in Friday.

Strong winds are expected from the west/northwest today and south/southeast tomorrow, making things very difficult for trout tourney participants.

As of late Friday afternoon, an 11.8-pound brown caught by Andy Stuth of Sturgeon Bay was the leader.

Steelhead and suckers are in the creeks and Ahnapee and Kewaunee Rivers, offering wading and shore anglers a shot. Some fishermen are also casting off shore or docks for walleyes and pike in Sturgeon Bay.

Short shots

We’re halfway through the second period of the wild turkey hunt, and still some birds are gathered in large winter flocks.

That makes it either feast or famine for those who have all their eggs in one basket, so to speak, with limited spots to hunt.

The good news is that somewhat warmer weather in the past week combined with hunting pressure seems to be spreading the birds out. Week three hunters should do quite well.

• Anyone age 10 or older who has never hunted bear before can apply to participate in a Learn to Hunt black bear outing with instruction and a real hunt with skilled mentors.

The deadline is May 24, and there is a limited number of available permits.

Last year, DNR conservation wardens and dedicated hunters coordinated events for 56 participants in nine counties. A total of 42 bear were harvested: 25 over bait and 17 using dogs.

For more information or to apply, visit

• The April issue of the Division of Forestry can be found online at

— Kevin Naze is a freelance outdoors writer. Call him at (920) 883-9792 or email

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