MADISON, Wis. -- Thousands more deer hunters bagged a buck during this year's traditional gun season than last's, according to preliminary data state wildlife officials released Thursday that suggest the season was a resounding success.
According to early numbers from the Department of Natural Resources, hunters registered 243,739 deer through the nine-day season that ended Sunday. That's up 7.7 percent from 2011's preliminary count of 226,260. The final 2012 kill totals will likely be higher; the 2011 numbers were later revised upward by about 31,000 animals.
As for the all-important buck numbers, hunters killed 114,822, up 12 percent from last year. They took more in each of the state's four regions -- northern, northeastern, southern and west-central -- than last year.
The kill numbers likely were bolstered by thousands more hunters in the woods. The DNR's data show the agency sold a six-year high of 633,460 licenses, up from 621,375 last year. Nearly 29,000 were first-time buyers.
Seven people were shot during the hunt, including a 27-year-old man who was killed in Douglas County when his partner shot him in the head while taking aim at what he thought was a deer, according to a DNR report. The seven incidents were still below the 10-year annual average of nine, however.
"Those numbers show it was a successful hunt," said George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, which represents hunters, trappers and anglers. "The (deer) population has obviously rebuilt and is increasing."
The hunt took on a decidedly more relaxed tone this year after hunters spent most of the last decade complaining about how the DNR managed the herd. The agency has been working to appease hunters, dumping its much-maligned earn-a-buck program, which required hunters to kill an antlerless deer before taking a buck, downplaying herd population estimates and launching a social media campaign focusing on the hunt's traditions.
"It was just a different tone," Meyer said. "It led to different attitudes from hunters. That's something that's very positive."
The agency hit on those themes again in the news release detailing the kill data, playing up how so many more hunters now have stories to share.
"Hunting is about family, friends, fun and tradition," current DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said in the release. "More than 600,000 people were out connecting with the land."