Wisconsin and deer hunting go hand in hand. Deer hunting in Wisconsin isn’t just a part of the culture, it is the culture. Almost everyone in the state gets involved in some manner, even if it’s just joining in for an Old Fashioned at deer camp on the Friday before the gun season starts. Deer are plentiful and so are the hunting opportunities. Overall Wisconsin is a very friendly state to the outdoorsman. Licenses can be purchased over the counter and are typically significantly cheaper than other Midwestern States. Multiple hunting opportunities and options exist from early season bow and crossbow, rifle, muzzleloader and late season antlerless. A 9-day gun season is the mainstay for most Wisconsin hunts and rifles can be used in most parts of the state.
Population and Habitat
2017 whitetail populations were estimated at between 1,200,000 and 1,500,000 deer, 2% higher than 2016. For 2018, that number rose to an estimated 1,300,000 to 1,600,000. While final harvest results aren’t published yet for the 2019 season, numbers will be down due to an early snow storm that dumped several feet of snow across the state and kept most traditional hunters out of the deer stand for several days. The deer herd is managed well and holding strong, with approximately 300,000-500,000 animals harvested every year. Milder winters, especially in the northern regions of the state have allowed for a very stable herd and there is an abundance of food, especially in the farmland zones. Chronic Wasting Disease monitoring started in 1999 and has become a part of the yearly conversation with small flare ups here and there. Between 2018 and 2019, 17,224 animals were tested with 1,061 testing positive, the vast majority coming from the Southern Farmland Zone. Increasing wolf and bear numbers in the north have put a damper on the population numbers in certain areas but the farmland zones are full of deer.
Wisconsin is made-up of traditional Midwestern row crop farming consisting mostly of corn, soybeans and alfalfa and northern forests with a mix of oaks, maples and conifers. Rugged terrain falls into open crop ground and lots of field edges – a preferred habitat for the Midwestern whitetail. The river systems of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers create most of the western border and are a part of the “Driftless” region—ground that was left untouched by the glaciers that formed most of the flat land of the upper Midwest. This makes for rough terrain that is not easily accessed and perfect for big old gnarly Midwest whitetails.
With a mix of private and public land, everyone can find a place to hunt in Wisconsin. If you’re looking to hunt the farmland units, private land exists but may not be exactly easy to find. Outfitters do a nice job of leasing large tracts of land and as the consolidation in agriculture continues, this may actually be getting easier. In the northern forests, millions of acres of county, state and national public ground exists. Get off the beaten path and you can hunt for days without seeing anyone.
Opportunity and seasons
Over the counter tags for every weapon type and season exist without the need for preference points. Archery, Crossbow and Rifle tags can be purchased for $160 for 2020. For non-residents, tags and licenses can be purchased at pretty much every hardware store in the state. In many of the more rural communities, the local gas station or grocery store also offers this opportunity. 1 antlerless tag is included with your license and additional tags can be purchased for about $20. Wisconsin is also a great state to bring the kids, with youth tags available at very minimal expense. Wisconsin kicks off its deer season with the archery season. Both bow and crossbow open the middle of September and run through the middle of December. The 9-day gun season traditionally starts the Saturday before Thanksgiving and runs through the following Sunday. Muzzleloader starts the Monday after gun season closes and runs for 10 days. While almost everyone in the state is in the woods during the gun season, there are very few hunters during the muzzleloader season and this opens up opportunities on otherwise spoken for ground. If you want an easy opportunity to hunt whitetail in the Midwest, Wisconsin is your state.
Where to hunt Wisconsin Whitetail!
There are really two distinctly different options for hunting in Wisconsin, farmland or forest.
If you are looking for a more traditional tree-stand whitetail hunt, head for the farmland units of southern Wisconsin. Counties that border the Mississippi river in the western part of the state hold some of the biggest bucks. Buffalo county in west central Wisconsin ranks right up there with Pike County, Illinois or Monroe County, Iowa. The counties to the south of Buffalo – namely Trempealeau, Vernon, Crawford and Grant are all prime-time big buck counties, but definitely not the only place to look. Great whitetail habitat abounds across the entire state. Expect to see lots of 140” deer but with a good chance of finding a 180+”.
If you’re looking for a more western style, spot and stalk or portable tree stand hunt, head to the North woods. Millions of acres of public ground exist and can be accessed via truck and then a quad or hike. Get off the beaten path and hunt solo for a few days. Deer in the north country are not typically as big as their southern Wisconsin counterparts but also aren’t pressured as much.