Hunters killed 46,866 bucks in Wisconsin during opening weekend of the state’s nine-day gun deer season that began Saturday. That’s down from 67,636 in the same period last year.

A later Thanksgiving week contributed to a significant decrease in the regional and statewide deer kill on opening weekend of Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer season, state Department of Natural Resources officials said Tuesday.

Wisconsin hunters killed 90,286 deer Saturday and Sunday, down 27% from 123,090 in 2018, according to preliminary statistics released Tuesday by the DNR.

That pattern was followed in all 12 west-central Wisconsin counties, where the drop in the opening weekend kill total ranged from 32% in Eau Claire and Rusk counties to 13% in Dunn County. Buffalo County, with a 31% decrease, also exceeded the statewide slide.

“In 2018, we held the earliest possible deer season followed by the latest possible season in 2019,” DNR big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang said in a news release. “This occurred between the 2012-13 and 2007-08 seasons as well, and we saw similar declines in opening weekend registration totals.”

Kris Johansen, natural resources program manager for the DNR’s west-central district, agreed that the drop in registrations was not a surprise considering the later season.

“It’s not a huge shocker to me,” Johansen said. “As any good deer hunters know, deer activity can change a lot in that week. You wouldn’t think it would make that big of a difference, but those deer are really tuned into breeding during a certain time of the year.”

As a result, reports of rutting activity were far less common this year than on opening weekend in 2018, the agency indicated.

Many west-central Wisconsin hunters said they saw little or no deer activity until the last half hour of daylight, Johansen said, noting that he and his son saw only one deer in two days of hunting in a part of Buffalo County he knows has a high deer population. He speculated that many bucks were resting after chasing does earlier in the month.

The mild weekend weather, with high temperatures in the 40s, also likely was a factor in the lower kill numbers.

“Generally when we have cooler weather, people move around a little to stay warm and start bumping deer around a little more,” Johansen said. “But last weekend there were beautiful conditions for hunters to just sit in one spot.”

With mid-week snow in the forecast for much of the state, conditions could be ideal for more hunters to have success during the end of the gun season on Sunday, he said, cautioning that snowfall totals over nine inches could impede hunters’ ability to get to some areas populated by deer.

A total of 46,866 bucks were registered statewide on opening weekend, representing a 31% decline from 67,636 last year.

The number of deer hunters, meanwhile, remained near par with last year, with gun license sales totaling 555,227 as of midnight Sunday.

Johansen also reminded hunters that the DNR is still seeking tissue samples from deer to be tested for chronic wasting disease, particularly from the area surrounding the part of southern Eau Claire County where five CWD-positive wild deer have been found since 2017.

The agency received only 22 samples on opening weekend at four sites staffed by DNR personnel, a response Johansen called “underwhelming.” The DNR is seeking at least 300 samples this year from the surveillance area comprised of the towns of Rock Creek, Brunswick, Washington, Pleasant Valley, Albany and Drammen in Eau Claire, Dunn and Pepin counties.

“We’re trying to get a better handle on the distribution of the disease and on its prevalence,” he said. “The most efficient way to do that is to get samples from hunter-harvested deer.”