Three natural frontiers of the North American landscape merge in Wisconsin: the boreal forest extends from the north, the great hardwood forest advances from the east, and dry grasslands sweep in from the west. This mix of forest, grassland, prairie, wetland, lake and barren, coulee and farmland provides varied habitat for abundant wildlife.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) leads the state's stewardship effort with modern management techniques and a commitment to environmental protection. Their efforts, partnered with those of Wisconsin sportsmen, have done much to develop and maintain quality populations of birds and animals for hunting, while enhancing the natural world in which we all live.
Wisconsin's signature big-game animal is the white-tailed deer. In the 2008-09 season, Wisconsin hunters bagged 453,500 white-tails, the tenth largest harvest in state history. With 642,500 gun hunters and 203,500 bow hunters in the field, that's a success ratio of 53.6%. There is no doubt that these magnificent animals provide a wonderful resource to watch or hunt. The Wisconsin DNR is committed to managing this big-game resource to maintain a healthy, ecologically balanced and sustainable deer herd.
Black bear populations are thriving and spreading across the Wisconsin landscape. Nearly 13,750 black bears roam the Wisconsin woodlands. Recent DNR surveys indicate that number is trending up. In the 2008 season 4,660 permits were issued statewide, and 2,955 black bears were harvested. The popularity of black bear hunting has never been higher. Adult black bears typically weigh 250 to 500 pounds for males (boars) and 200 to 450 pounds for females (sows).
Once native to Wisconsin, wild turkeys were hunted to extinction here in 1881. But today, they are again delighting wildlife enthusiasts all over the state. This remarkable restoration story began in 1974 when 334 birds were transplanted from Missouri to southwestern Wisconsin. The birds thrived in Wisconsin's "coulee country" – a sparsely populated area of steep ridgelines and deep valleys, woodlot and farmland. As the turkey population grew, DNR staff trapped and relocated turkeys to 49 of Wisconsin's 72 counties. The current statewide population is estimated at more than 320,000 birds. In the spring hunt of 2009, permits were issued to 218,000 hunters who matched wits with the gobblers. An impressive 24% were successful with 52,500 birds taken. In the fall hunt, 69,000 hunters took the field with a harvest of 8,000 birds and a success ratio of 12%.
The four most abundant ducks in Wisconsin's fall hunting harvest are mallards, wood ducks, green-winged teal and blue-winged teal. Most of the ducks harvested in Wisconsin come from birds that breed in Wisconsin, in contrast to other states in the flyway that rely more heavily on birds raised in the prairies or boreal forests of Canada. The 2009 total Wisconsin breeding duck population estimate of 502,416 birds is 15% above the state's long-term mean (36 years). In addition, the state's breeding population of Canada Geese is estimated at 150,000. Overall survey results indicate a healthy, relatively stable population of breeding ducks and geese in Wisconsin. This is a positive indication that hunting regulations and habitat management and protection are working.
Upland Game Birds
For centuries, Wisconsin has maintained huntable populations of upland game birds. A day afield with a favorite shotgun and a working dog is a joy in itself. Successful hunts are a tradition here with seasons for Ruffed and Sharp-tailed grouse, Bobwhite quail, pheasant, woodcock and Hungarian partridge. Seasons and bag limits vary with year-to-year population estimates, but generally limits are liberal (3-5 birds) and seasons are long (three weeks to four months). During the 2008-09 season, hunters harvested an estimated 323,000 pheasants and 438,000 grouse.
A variety of small mammals, native to Wisconsin, can be hunted. Gray and Fox squirrel, and Cottontail rabbit have fall through early winter seasons. The Jackrabbit season is shorter - one month in early autumn. Bobcat can be hunted by permit in late fall and early winter. Red and Gray fox and raccoon can be hunted with unlimited bag and possession restrictions in late fall and early winter, while Snowshoe hare and coyote have year-round seasons.