This year the Natural Resource Board (NRB) is proposing six questions to the state's stakeholders regarding the deer hunting season framework. The questions were the main topic of discussion on the subject of big game during the Jan. 21-22 NRB meeting.
These questions will find their way to the spring hearings questionnaire. Previously, the questions have always come from advisory committees to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and from the Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC). The board, however, had some questions they wanted to post to stakeholders and drafted several questions of their own. All have to do with possible changes to the deer hunting season. They are not being proposed to move straight into law, but are simply going out to the public for input.
Mike Brust, who has served the Wisconsin outdoors community in a number of different capacities, offered his thoughts on any changes that may be proposed to the deer season framework.
"As long as I can remember, we have tried to fix deer hunting season with limited success," he told the board. "In my opinion, we're looking in the wrong place. Until we understand why hunters go out in the first place, we will continue to lose this battle."
He spoke about the challenge of deer hunting, the time and effort it takes to be successful in the woods. He said he felt this, more than any other factor, was most compelling to hunters. The drive to "make it easier," for hunters, he said, was counterintuitive to that.
Still, the drive to get more hunters involved in the sport is strong. The NRB, as well as the DNR itself, looks to find more ways to get new hunters, especially women and children, into the sport of deer hunting. With that in mind, they proposed six questions regarding the season. They also stated the effort to make hunting easier was not a knee-jerk reaction to a bad season, but had been in the works for quite a while.
Gun season length
The first question had to do with the length of the gun season itself:
"Do you favor improving the firearm deer hunting opportunities by extending the season to run for 19 consecutive days beginning on the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving?"
Chairman Dr. Fred Prehn said, at some point, the state may need hunters - the "army of orange," as he called them - to help manage the deer population more effectively and felt the extended hunt would offer more opportunity to do that. Also, it was mentioned, an extended season may benefit those who may plan a trip to see family for the holidays and attempt to take part in a holiday hunt, if, in fact, that hunt would take place in any given year.
While the WCC posed a similar question, the WCC question would require legislation in order to pass, Larry Bonde noted.
That could mean, even if the public decided in favor of the WCC question, it may never come to fruition, where the board's question would be simply a rule change, and the response could be more easily made to mirror the public's wishes.
The second question pertained to the holiday hunt:
"Do you support eliminating the antlerless-only holiday firearm deer season if an addition 10 days of firearm deer hunting will occur after the traditional nine-day season?"
Again, board member Greg Kazmierski mentioned hunters may plan a trip to visit family for the holidays as well as to take part in the hunt, but the hunt was not guaranteed to happen every year. The feeling was, if the gun deer hunt was extended to 19 days, the holiday hunt could be eliminated with little impact.
The board's third question asked if there was interest in bringing back a "quiet period" before the gun hunt:
"Do you favor restoring a rest period for two days prior to the nine-day firearm season to reduce hunting pressure in order to increase excitement and anticipation for the premier hunting opportunity of the year?"
The exception would be for waterfowl, according to background information supplied by the NRB.
Archery season would be affected, as would other seasons. Up until 2002, archery season was closed on the Sunday prior to the firearm season, with all seasons except waterfowl closed on the Friday before firearm season. Some believed this would allow the deer to "settle down," according to the background information, and to generate more excitement for hunters who were itching to get back in the woods. Today, there is no quiet period, but several board members have heard from people that they would like to see this period return.
There was some discussion regarding the length of the quiet period. In the end it was decided to ask the public whether they would favor a two-day quiet period, a five-day quiet period, or to stay with no quiet period before the gun deer season.
Applying for a tag
The fourth question was:
"Do you support simplifying the regulations by eliminating the four deer management zones and continuing to manage deer harvest with county units ad public and private land tags only?"
With some counties being partially in a forest zone and partially in a farmland zone, it causes confusion for hunters when applying for tags. By simplifying the boundaries to simply county boundaries, a hunter would only have to in the county in which they were going to hunt, and whether they would hunt public or private land. The board believes this would improve the process for hunters but is looking for more input.
Crossbow and archery
With the increased success of crossbow hunters, but also understanding the importance of this group of hunters, the board asked this question:
"Do you support allowing hunting with crossbows for everyone prior to the gun season from October 1 through October 31, while maintaining the current season for those holding a disabled permit and over 60? The goal is to continue excellent crossbow hunting opportunities and to distribute buck harvest more similarly to what had historically been the expectation for the traditional firearm season."
The crossbow season, then, would run through the month of November, and reopen after the gun season. The "lesser weapon" law would still allow hunters to use a crossbow during the gun hunt, but they would have to purchase a gun license in order to fill that tag during that hunt.
"Hunters are quitting for two reasons," Kazmierski said. "They are not seeing any deer, and they are not having fun."
Statistics show 42% of deer shot with a crossbow are shot before gun season, leading many to believe this dampened the desire for the gun hunt, which many felt the state has taken for granted for a long time. The best time for success with a crossbow, the information proposed, would be during the rut. This question, too, will go out to the public for reaction.
The last question piggy-backed on question five:
"Do you support restoring emphasis on Wisconsin's premier firearm deer hunting opportunity by not having crossbow and archery buck tags valid during the firearms season?"
This would still allow hunters to fill a gun tag with a crossbow, bow or muzzleloader under the "lesser weapons" law, but they would still be required to purchase a gun license tag.
All of these questions were voted on by the board to be sent to the public as part of the 2020 spring hearings. Spring hearings are held in each county on the first Monday in April.
This year, however, there will once again be the option to complete the questionnaire online rather than attend the meeting.
The conversation then turned to the number of free tags that are given out throughout the state and how those affected the hunt.
Hunters do not take full advantage of the number of free tags given out in some areas of the state, it was noted.
Chairman Prehn asked the department to take a look at the number of free tags and to see if the rationale behind those tags was appropriate.
DNR wildlife regulation policy specialist Scott Karel said he would take it under advisement.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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