With nearly 500,000 deer killed, the 2006 deer-hunting season recorded the third highest harvest in Wisconsin history, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Of Wisconsin's five deer management regions, the Northern Forest region recorded the largest harvest, though DNR spokesperson Keith Warnke said the region is also the largest and has the highest total number of deer.

Warnke added that Buffalo County, in west-central Wisconsin, recorded a harvest of 20,000 deer, an average of 20 deer per square mile.

"It's pretty hard to grumble about numbers like that," Warnke said.

The record harvest came amid a two-year trial moratorium on gun hunting in October, imposed in response to overlapping seasons between bow and gun hunters.

Registered gun hunters in Wisconsin in 2006 totaled nearly 650,000 people, compared to 643,000 in 2005, Warnke said. Registered bow hunters also increased slightly from 247,000 in 2005 to more than 250,000 in 2006.

The October gun season moratorium was enacted subject to change based on the ratio of antlerless to antlered deer recorded each year. If less than a 1.4-1 ratio were recorded, the gun season would reopen in 2007. If any ratio less than 2-to-1 were recorded after the 2007 season, the gun season would be reinstated in 2008.

Warnke said he was "pretty sure" the October gun season would return in 2008 in light of the 1.7-1 ratio recorded in 2006. The numbers, he said, were just too low.

University of Wisconsin professor of wildlife ecology Scott Craven said this year's numbers were sufficient to keep the moratorium in place for 2007 and added speculation about the 2008 season was "way ahead of the gun."

"I never heard of anybody talking about deer seasons out more than a year," Craven said. "[People] have no idea what will happen next year."

According to Craven, the number of deer harvested in a year can fluctuate based on a variety of factors, including the total number of deer in the wild, the abundance of tags and the weather.

"Good snow conditions [and] reasonable temperatures" lead to a better harvest, Craven said, while rain is "awful for everyone involved."

Tags are most abundant in southern Wisconsin, Warnke said, due to the DNR's efforts to eradicate Chronic Wasting Disease.

In areas identified as CWD units, the DNR provides unlimited tags for both bucks and does, encouraging "the removal of as many deer as hunters want to take," Warnke said.

CWD is a progressive and fatal neurological disease found in elk and deer herds in a number of states, though its existence in Wisconsin has been largely limited to the southern region.

According to Warnke, the World Health Organization recommends not consuming meat from deer that test positive for the disease.

Warnke said the DNR conducts tests on all deer in CWD zones and sweep testing throughout the state over a five-year period.

"At this point, we are confident that [CWD] does not exist in wild deer outside the CWD zone," Warnke said.

Despite the presence of the disease in southern Wisconsin, even deer in "the hottest hotspots" only test positive 15 to 20 percent of the time, Warnke said.