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This Amish buggy with a child's wagon bearing deer was photographed by DNR Public Affairs Manager Greg Matthews Saturday in the unincorporated Grant County village of Arthur, near Livingston. Matthews works from the DNR's offices at Fitchburg.

Deer numbers up markedly in western Wisconsin; five shooting accidents so far

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Preliminary tallies released by the Wisconsin DNR Monday indicate that more hunters shot bucks in western Wisconsin than last year.

The opening weekend buck harvest is up about 13 percent over 2009 totals, according to Ed Culhane, public affairs manager for the DNR's 19-county West Central Region that includes Pierce, St. Croix, Dunn, Polk and Pepin counties.

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Early totals show the antlerless harvest is down 5 percent. Wildlife managers aren't surprised as fewer antlerless tags were issued.

Total deer harvest for opening weekend in the west central region is up 3 percent, compared to opening weekend in 2009.

Statewide, hunters registered 106,404 deer during opening weekend.

In Pierce County, the Speedway convenience store in Ellsworth registered 329 deer in the first two days, followed by Dean's Bar in Plum City that recorded 309. A total of 1,604 deer were registered through Sunday evening countywide, including 708 bucks.

In St. Croix County, the Holiday station south of Deer Park registered 319 deer through Sunday evening with SuperAmerica in New Richmond logging the second highest number with 175. Countywide, 1147 deer were registered.

Weather conditions varied across the state with clear skies in the south and overcast, windy conditions in the north. Northern hunters had an advantage with snow, however, improving visibility.

The 2010 preliminary count was up about 6.3 percent from the opening weekend count of 100,330 from 2009. Preliminary buck harvest statewide in 2010 was 54,263 and preliminary antlerless harvest was 52,141.

"The hunters I talked to opening day were upbeat with most saying they were seeing deer," said Tom Hauge, director of the DNR wildlife management program. "Conditions were especially good in the northwest where they had some snow on the ground improving both tracking and visibility."

Five shooting incidents reported

There were no fatal shooting incidents recorded during the first two days of the hunt but there were five non-fatal firearms-related incidents, reports DNR Hunter Education Administrator Tim Lawhern.

On Sunday, a Douglas County hunter was wounded in the high right shoulder. Both the victim and the shooter were participating in a deer drive.

The Superior Telegram reported that a 32-year-old Madison man shot in the town of Wascott on Sunday morning remained in critical condition Monday.

Nicholas Bitz, 32, of Madison was apparently out of sight of the shooter when the shot was fired. The shooting occurred at 11 a.m. Sunday on private land, according to Jim Bishop, public affairs manager with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The incident remains under investigation by the DNR. According to Bishop, Bitz was the only hunter shot in the 18-county northern region of the state during the opening weekend of the 2010 deer gun season.

Four shooting incidents occurred on Saturday.

In Wood County, a hunter was struck in the chest by a bullet fired at a running deer from more than 600 yards away.

In Marquette County, a hunter suffered a grazing surface wound to the head as the victim and the shooter both fired at a moving deer.

In Marathon County, a hunter was wounded below the left shoulder. The victim was a stander in a deer drive and the shooter was a member of the drive.

In Door County, a hunter was shot through the right thigh. Both victim and shooter were participating in a deer drive.

Hunter Safety Administrator Tim Lawhern noted that historically about half of Wisconsin's shooting incidents happen during deer drives, usually because someone wasn't where they were supposed to be or someone shot at a deer when they did not have a safe backstop or in a direction they should not have been shooting.

"Always be sure of your target and anything behid it, and if you aren't sure, don't shoot." Know where your bullet will impact if you miss.

Statistically, about half the hunting incidents happen during opening weekend.

"I am hoping we buck that statistic and can avoid further incidents this year," Lawhern said. "Compared to the 'good ole' days,' hunting is safe and getting safer. In 1915, of the state's 155,000 hunters then, 24 were killed and 26 were injured. That meant 1 in about 3,100 hunters could expect to be killed or injured. Today it's 1 in 100,000 or better. Still any shooting incident is one too many. Hunters need to remember the shooting TAB-K safety rules and be careful with deer drives later this week," he said.

License sales down a bit

The department's license sales office reported 607,926 gun deer licenses sold by the start of shooting hours on Nov. 20. This number was down 3 percent from the comparable day in 2009 but in at least one important category, 10 and 11 year old hunters, sales were up 15 percent from 2009.

The Fleet/Farm store at Hudson earned the distinction of the 10th largest license outlet in Wisconsin with 6,438 licenses sold -- about 75 more than last year. The DNR's own web site sold the most with more than 21,000 people purchasing that way.

In Pierce County, 4,968 licenses were sold and more than 13,000 were sold in St. Croix County.

Deer license and tag sales will continue through the hunting seasons.

The long custom of buying a license on the way to deer camp is also intact. DNR licensing managers reported selling 89,593 licenses on Friday, Nov. 19. At one point in late afternoon Friday, computers showed license sales coming in at a rate of 333 per minute. Hunters purchased 235,547 licenses in the five days preceding the season opener.

Of the hunters hitting the woods on Saturday:

•564,825 were residents and 32,056 were nonresidents;

•More than 86,000 youth hunters under 18 years old participated in this year's hunt.

•Females represent 8.6 percent of the total hunters, and 20 percent of new 10- and 11-year-old hunters;

•Hunters throughout the U.S. and 22 foreign countries purchased a Wisconsin gun deer license. The highest number of nonresident hunters came from Minnesota (16,017), Illinois (7,968), Michigan (1,012), and Florida (838);

•The greatest number of foreign hunters came from Canada (32), Germany (19) and U.K. (9).

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