A huge decline in Wisconsin’s whitetail harvest coincided with bad weather and a late start to the firearms season, a state wildlife official said Tuesday.

“We are confident the deer are out there, but they just weren’t moving very well,’’ said Kevin Wallenfang, big game ecologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “And when the dust settles … I’m sure we are going to see that the overall effort was down.’’

Preliminary results from the nine-day gun season that ended Sunday indicate a whopping 25% drop in the state’s overall deer harvest compared to a year ago. Firearms hunters tagged 160,769 deer during the period versus 213,972 in 2018. Slightly more than 75,000 bucks were shot during the season, 28.6% fewer bucks than last year.

Field conditions were mostly good for the opening weekend of this year’s hunt, but the weather deteriorated from north to south as time wore on. Near-blizzard conditions were reported in some northern counties, with heavy snow and rain further south. Wallenfang said an unusually large amount of standing corn gave deer extra cover and was another deterrent to hunter success.

Data released Tuesday showed a 39.5% decline in the buck harvest in the northern forest region. In one location, Oconto County, 53% fewer bucks were shot this year compared to 2018.

In four western Wisconsin counties close to the Twin Cities — Pierce, Pepin, St. Croix and Buffalo — the buck harvest ranged 18% to 28% lower than a year ago.

Wallenfang said the stark difference in harvest results had a lot to do with timing. Last year’s gun-deer season in Wisconsin started at the earliest possible time — closer to the peak of breeding season when bucks and does are typically more active. This year, the hunt started Nov. 23, about as late as it can.

The result has triggered discussions among hunters about trying to move the Wisconsin firearms season to earlier in November, Wallenfang said. Traditionally, the firearms deer season in America’s Dairyland opens on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, weeks after the start of Minnesota’s gun deer season.

Wisconsin deer license sales declined again. Hunters this year have purchased 564,664 deer licenses of all kinds, down 2% from 2018, the Wisconsin DNR said.