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home : opinions : opinions June 27, 2017

1/3/2017 7:29:00 AM
Hunters questioning 30 percent increase in Northern Region buck kill
Dean Bortz
Of the outdoor news

This thing about registering deer electronically should be fairly straightforward, right?

A phone call or a punch of the "enter" key should equal one deer. I get it. I think most hunters do, too.

But, remember, we're talking deer here - and maybe to a lesser degree timber wolves - so you know what that means.

There is no easy button.

It's gone.

And here's why we're talking about this. While this gun season buck kill in all other regions of the state is down when compared to 2015, the buck kill in the Northern Region is up 30 percent from last year.

The phone and email in-box started heating up in early December as northern Wisconsin deer hunters started getting that news. Their first reaction?


As in, how can that be?

Imagine being a DNR deer biologist and trying to answer that one. You can start out by saying, "Well, that's based on the number of deer that hunters registered from the gun season." And, there really isn't anywhere to go after that.

You could point out that it doesn't take much to tally a 30 percent increase - or decrease - when you are dealing with small numbers.

Meanwhile, the hunters look around at the circumstances they saw from different corners of northern Wisconsin during their deer season. They know bad weather conditions on opening weekend make or break the deer season. That's what happened in 2015 and that's where the blame fell when last year's deer kill came in lower than expected. OK, so if that's the case last year, how could steady 25 mph winds with gusts to 40 mph - with snow blowing along on those wind gusts - make hunting better this opener?

I can understand the cynicism, but wait, hunters have even more reason to cast a hairy eyeball at the Northern Region buck kill.

Hunters know license sales are down from last year. They know at least some of their northern brethren who did buy tags went south to hunt. Many of them heard less shooting this year than last; they saw fewer hunters this year than last.

They looked at the buck pools in their hunting areas. Not only was participation down from previous years in terms of the number of entrants, but those who did enter registered far fewer bucks than they might have in seasons past.

They talked to meat processing plants. Many operators didn't take in any more bucks than last year. There was an exception in Phillips, but that operator said his increase in bucks from last year came more from crossbow hunters than it did from gun hunters.

So, when hunters add all of this up, it's easy to see where the questions come from.

That's why one northern Wisconsin deer hunter is taking the buck by the horns, so to speak, in an attempt to get to the bottom of this whole situation. Gregg Walker is the publisher of The Lakeland Times, a bi-weekly newspaper out of Minocqua in Oneida County (as well as the Northwoods River News). Walker isn't taking the news of the 30 percent increase in the Northern Region buck kill at face value. He has filed a Freedom of Information Request with the DNR to get all of the hunter registration information for the Northern Region. Once he gets that info, Walker and newspaper staff members are going to being making phone calls to deer hunters. Walker is doing this because he heard rumors that, if true, could have skewed the buck tally in the north.

Those rumors?

That deer hunters who are tired of buck-only constraints shot does, but called them in as bucks so they would have a confirmation number on a carcass tag if a game warden ever peeked in their freezer.

How could this be, you might ask. After all, who is going to carry a doe around on a tailgate in a buck-only county, or drop off a doe at a meat processor in that same county?

As the story goes, this action would be limited to hunters who hunt on their own land and butcher their own deer.

There is another story out of Mercer about a group of Illinois hunters, none of whom shot a buck, but told the locals they each called in and registered a fake buck to mess with the DNR. Two local business owners in Mercer told me they had heard the story, but not first-hand. When I called the establishment from whence the story sprang, the lady who answered the phone said she had not heard of such a thing.

Then there is this one - that wolf protectionists bought gun deer licenses and called in or logged in fake bucks in hopes of boosting the northern Wisconsin buck kill.

Pish posh, right?

Why would someone who doesn't hunt spend money for a license just so they could write down a confirmation number on a carcass tag they'll never use?

Well, maybe this is why.

Ahead of the deer season, word started spreading that there is a good chance that a federal legislative move to finally delist timber wolves once and for all in the Great Lakes states and Wyoming might soon pass with Donald Trump as president.

So what?

If that happens, then Wisconsin is going to need an updated wolf management plan. Perhaps the biggest wrestling match in that plan will be the setting of a wolf population goal. Wolf protectionists know this. They also know they want to see a goal between 750 and 1,000 wolves. They also know if there isn't a perceived increase in the northern buck kill - at least on paper - then hunters are going to dig in their heels and fight like hell to keep the state's wolf goal at 350.

So, could there really be wolf protectionists out there buying deer tags and registering fake bucks? Or hunters registering does for bucks? Or hunters registering fake bucks just to mess with the DNR's new system? Who knows.

If all or part of this is happening, there is really no way for the DNR to address it.

With a lot of work on Walker's part, he might be able to ferret out some information, but in order to do that, he's most likely going to have to grant anonymity to the people he talks to. Then the DNR can counter by saying the agency can't use Walker's information as proof that the northern Wisconsin buck tally was tainted.

Yep, this gets crazy in a hurry, but I can see where northern Wisconsin deer hunters would be suspicious of the final numbers. I hunt in northern Wisconsin, too, so I'm seeing much the same thing as the rest of you.

What would help this situation? Bringing back in-person deer registration in the north. You draw the line. Name a highway. Walker already is tugging on the ear of Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, to get that legislative ball rolling.

Former Conservation Congress chairman Steve Oestreicher, of Harshaw in Oneida County, said the same thing, not knowing Walker is already working on that angle. Right behind Oestreicher is Wayne Riebe, owner of the Gateway Lodge on the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage west of Mercer.

"There is no way we could have shot more deer locally," said Riebe. "There was no one here. It was almost like a ghost town in Mercer on opening weekend."

Hold onto your blaze orange, folks. This is going to be quite a ride.

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, January 6, 2017
Article comment by: Allan Prosser

For too many years the DNR has managed the deer hunter rather than the deer herd. I agree with Elmer. In the DNR's desire for money, there will be an attempt to convince hunters on the need to increase the antlerless kill by selling more permits.

Posted: Thursday, January 5, 2017
Article comment by: Elmer Leitl

You can bet there will be plenty of antlerless permits in the north this year because the buck kill was up 30% weather it is true or not.That is how the WDNR has operated for a long time.

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