Deer season is upon us!

The deer kill in the nine-day gun deer season was up this year in Wisconsin and west-central Wisconsin, preliminary state Department of Natural Resources figures show.

Hunters in Wisconsin killed 6.9 percent more deer than last year and set a record for safety in the recently completed nine-day gun deer hunting season, according to preliminary data released Tuesday by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Deer registrations totaled 211,430 in the season ended Sunday, compared with 187,733 in 2017.

The total included 104,388 bucks, up 5.4 percent from last year, and 107,042 antlerless deer, up 8.4 percent.

“It’s one of the biggest outdoor events in our state, and it’s great to see so many people had success,” said DNR big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang.

This year’s total deer kill is the highest in Wisconsin since 2013, which Wallenfang attributed to 2013 being one of the harshest winters in state history in terms of bitter cold temperatures and snow depths. That nasty winter took a toll on the deer population, especially in northern Wisconsin, and led to a dramatic reduction in antlerless deer tags.

“Since then we’ve had a series of mild winters, and that has helped deer numbers rebound,” he said, adding that many hunters have told the agency they saw more deer this year than in quite some time.

In the 12-county area of west-central Wisconsin surrounding Eau Claire, DNR statistics show hunters killed 41,634 deer, up 2.8 percent from 40,511 in 2017.

Regional counties that exceeded the statewide increase were: Eau Claire County, up 20.7 percent to 2,288; Chippewa County, up 18.4 percent to 3,332; and Barron County, up 7.9 percent to 4,523.

Not only is the deer population up in Eau Claire and Chippewa counties, but both counties had an increase in the number of antlerless permits issued, said Bill Hogseth, a DNR wildlife biologist based in Eau Claire.

“The opportunities were there for hunters, and they took them,” he said.

The biggest regional decrease by far occurred in Rusk County, where hunters killed 3,010 deer, down 17.9 percent from 3,666 last year but still more than the previous three years.

Mild weather likely contributed to the higher number of deer registrations statewide by keeping hunters in the woods and fields longer.

“We had just about ideal hunting conditions through most of the season, and many hunters reported significant rutting activity,” DNR Secretary Dan Meyer said in a statement. “Considering those factors, it isn’t surprising that we are hearing good reports from hunters from all corners of the state.”

Still, Wallenfang emphasized that the gun deer season is only one piece of the puzzle and said the agency won’t reach any conclusions about the state’s deer population until analyzing data from all of Wisconsin’s hunting seasons.

With just three hunting-related accidents among the more than 500,000 people taking part in the hunt, it was the safest gun deer season on record in Wisconsin, Wallenfang said. The three nonfatal incidents occurred in Columbia, Dunn and Sauk counties. Seven of the past 10 nine-day gun deer hunts finished without a firearm hunting fatality.

DNR figures also indicate fewer hunters ventured out in the woods, as 576,277 hunters had purchased some form of gun deer license as of midnight Sunday, down 2.3 percent from 589,642 a year earlier.

Wallenfang said DNR officials were pleased with the number of hunters who contributed deer heads for the agency’s efforts to test for the prevalence of chronic wasting disease. CWD sampling opportunities also are available throughout the remaining deer hunting seasons. To find a sampling location, go to dnr.wi.gov and search keywords “CWD sampling.”