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Minnesota and Wisconsin often are rivals -- from their Favre and Favre-less pro football teams to the annual Gophers-Badgers battles.
But when it comes to deer and deer hunting, there's no contest: Wisconsin is No. 1. It has more deer, more trophy deer, more deer hunters and roughly twice the deer harvest as Minnesota. Cheese Land hunters have averaged nearly 500,000 deer in the past five years, while hunters in the Land of 10,000 Lakes have averaged 254,000.
This from a state that's about one-third smaller than Minnesota. What gives? There's no reason for Minnesotans to feel inferior: Wildlife officials in both states say key differences in geography and landscape habitat fuels Wisconsin's deer dominance.
"Their deer habitat far exceeds ours," said Lou Cornicelli, Minnesota DNR big game program leader. "The southern half of Wisconsin -- their core deer habitat -- is better than anything I've ever seen in my life."
Keith Warnke, Wisconsin DNR big game ecologist, agrees.
"You have agriculture interspersed with woodlands; the habitat is absolutely outstanding when it comes to food, water and cover," he said. "The deer populations there have tremendous productivity potential. It's probably some of the most productive deer habitat in the country."
Vast regions of Minnesota, by comparison, are flat and intensively farmed. "And the farthest northern point of Wisconsin is even with Duluth," said Dennis Simon, Minnesota DNR wildlife section chief. "We have one-third of the state farther north than that.''
The northern third of Minnesota produces deer, but productivity there is relatively low and its whitetails are susceptible to severe winter weather. "Wisconsin has higher reproductive rates and lower nonhunter mortality rates," Simon said.
Which means more deer per square mile.
"Their densities are far in excess of what we have," Cornicelli said. "I always say the top end of our deer densities is the low end of their deer densities."
Consider also that Wisconsin has more deer hunters: Last year, it had more than 642,000 firearms hunters, compared with 450,000 in Minnesota. Those hunters killed 352,601 deer in Wisconsin, compared with 193,000 in Minnesota. (Archers killed another 99,000 deer in Wisconsin, and archers and special hunts accounted for another 29,000 in Minnesota.)
And while Minnesota has recorded some monster trophy deer over the decades, Wisconsin is the No. 1 trophy whitetail state in the nation. In the Pope and Young Club record book, which tracks whitetails taken by bow and arrow, Wisconsin has 8,478 entrees. Minnesota has 2,295.
The Boone and Crockett Club, which scores trophy deer taken by all means and sets a higher trophy standard, has 1,055 deer registered from Wisconsin and 849 from Minnesota. (Minnesota does rank No. 3 and Wisconsin No. 4 for nontypical trophy deer registered with Boone and Crockett. Illinois is No. 1 and Iowa is No. 2.)
Why are there more trophy bucks in Wisconsin? Again, habitat is key.
"I always say three things impact antler growth: nutrition, nutrition and nutrition,'' Warnke said. Southern Wisconsin offers whitetails everything they need to grow impressive racks. Age also is a factor. And management practices that encourage hunters to shoot does allow some bucks to survive longer.
All of which can add up to big bucks.
But cheer up, Minnesotans. We still have Brett Favre.
Doug Smith • firstname.lastname@example.org
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