Hunters brave weather for a buck
Winter hunting regulations in the chronic wasting disease zone are:
-- Holiday firearm season: Dec. 24 to Jan. 9, earn-a-buck.
-- Landowner season: Jan. 10 to March 31, either sex.
Cory Mielke is among the rare hunters who prefer bitterly cold temperatures and snow while deer hunting.
He once shot an 18-point buck in late December when it was 15-below zero.
"If it's below 10 degrees, I'm usually quitting work early to go. I've adapted to it, so it does not really bother me," the Evansville resident said. "I know the deer are going to be there, so I'm not really worried about being cold."
Mielke and other late-season hunters harvested nearly 11 percent of the total deer in Rock County in 2009, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. They harvested 14 percent of the deer in Walworth County.
This year, hunters have a late firearm season from Dec. 24 to Jan. 9 in southern Wisconsin's chronic wasting disease zone.
Winter hunts help reduce the herd in the disease zone, said Mike Foy, DNR wildlife biologist for Rock County.
DNR officials would like to reduce the herd in the zone by another 40 percent to control the spread of the disease in all or part of 19 southern counties.
Winter hunts are popular for people who can't be out during the traditional nine-day gun season, Foy said. Others like more opportunities to tag a deer.
Many hunters out in late seasons have to work or have other obligations during the nine-day hunt, he said. Others prefer hunting with snow and smaller crowds.
"It's a different kind of hunting," Foy said. "People who do it really enjoy it."
Mielke has a passion for winter hunts. He said good boots, disposable hand warmers and a facemask are a must.
"It's tough some days, but you just know that you're going to get that opportunity sooner or later," he said.
The biggest challenge is trying to get the deer that survived the traditional season, Mielke said.
"It's just the instinct to harvest that deer that's been smarter than you that whole year," he said. "It's competitive."
He said snow helps because it becomes easier to see deer against the white background. He said hunters also find deer tracks in snow.
When the temperature is below zero, hardly any hunters are out, Mielke said.
"I still know very few people that hunt when it's that cold," he said. "You're one-on-one with the deer. You don't have to worry about someone else spooking them."
Winter hunting is better in the evening, he said. Hunters don't have to rise early in the morning like they do during fall hunts.
"It's kind of nice to relax," Mielke said.
Deer stay near food in the winter because it's cold, he said. They often can be seen in groups.
When Mielke shot his 18-point buck, he was west of Janesville, sitting in a cornfield that had been picked in early December. He said he had seen about 30 deer feeding in that cornfield.
He shot the buck when it was 95 yards away.
"I didn't know it was that big," Mielke said. "It was pretty surreal."