In the immortal words of Gomer Pyle in the old No Time for Sergeants TV show:
“Sooprize! Sooprize! Sooprize!”
Guess what? The deer harvest during Wisconsin’s nine-day gun season is the lowest since 2002. That’s the year the Department of Natural Resources scared the pants off deer hunters by going berserk over the finding of CWD in the state’s deer herd.
You may recall that CWD was known to have been around since 1967 in other states but nobody has ever gotten so hysterical over it like our DNR. They tried to eliminate the entire deer herd in southern Wisconsin. Unfortunately, they were mostly successful only in northern Wisconsin.
Actually, the harvest totals are even about a thousand lower than registered in 2002. I get a kick out of the DNR’s meek response to the lower kill:
“One reason for the drop this year is that pre-season estimates of 1.5 million to 1.7 million deer statewide were probably not accurate (emphasis mine).”
Duh! Hunters in Wisconsin’s northern tier have been trying to tell the department that for the past 4-5 years! But of course the DNR doesn’t listen to anyone who doesn’t have a wildlife biology degree etched behind his name. That applies even more significantly to anyone who resides north of Highway 23.
Another excuse the department has registered for the lower deer numbers is “this year’s cold, wet spring across much of the state is believed to have hurt reproduction.” In checking our records, I don’t notice the spring being dramatically different that most other springs in northern Wisconsin.
Keith Warnke, big-game biologist with the DNR says, “From our observations this summer, our fawn-doe ratio was the lowest we’ve seen since 1996.”
Then why was the pre-season herd estimate so high? And tell me, Don, why are you just getting around to noticing the low doe-fawn ratio? I’ve only seen one doe with two fawns in the last four years! It’s the bears, not the cold, wet springs!
What has hurt reproduction significantly around here is the large number of bears killing fawns in the spring – twice as many bears as the DNR estimated according to a study conducted by a UW-Madison wildlife biologist. Even DNR’s own wildlife biologists have been telling them for years that their estimates are low.
Then there are the number of wolves in northern Wisconsin. While there are no wolves in the immediate area of my hunting land, other hunters point out significant damage to the deer herd in their areas. If we had the same UW wildlife biologist do a study of deer and wolf numbers in the state, we’d probably get more accurate numbers that what we get from DNR on all species.
What I believe has created an even more significant impact on the declining deer herd, however, has been the DNR’s use of T-zones, herd management hunts, earn-a-buck, and antlerless-only hunts – whatever they want to call them. The DNR has encouraged hunters to slaughter anything that moves and it’s worked. There’s nothing left to shoot!
Amazingly, I’ve finally learned what the department’s goal for the state deer herd is: 709,000! To put that number in perspective, it amounts to an average of just two deer for every 40 acres in the state. Now tell me, if you had just two deer on the 40 acres you hunt, would you shoot either of them? I’d say that will just about end deer hunting in Wisconsin.
That’s reminiscent of the days when seeing a deer was cause for a public commotion. People would stop their cars on the highways to gawk and take pictures at the mere sight of a deer. That’s what the department would have us return to.
If you think the economy in northern Wisconsin is bad now, just imagine the impact if the DNR is successful in achieving that goal. There are a lot of businesses in this neck of the woods that survive the winter because of what deer hunters provide to our local economy. If hunters stop coming because there are no deer, there are also a lot of small businesses that will disappear as well. That’s a thought that’s scarier than facing down a wolf or a bear at your deer kill.
Another excuse the DNR has come up with for the lower kill is that the season was later than last year. The rut was mainly over, so the bucks were moving less, giving hunters fewer opportunities.
I have another thought. There just aren’t the deer! Period! I hunted 18 times during the archery season, much of it during the rut, and I never saw a buck then either! In fact I only saw three deer!
Next they blame the economy for the lower number of hunters. Wrong! If the economy goes south, that’s when people will rely more on venison to get them through the winter. The fact is, the number of hunters has been declining for several years. There were 100,000 fewer hunters in the woods this year than there were a dozen years ago. It’s hard to get any enthusiasm up when you hunt time after time and don’t see a deer of any kind.
I’ve considered giving it up a number of times. The only reason I bother during the gun season is because my son and his friends come home. The time together at the cabin is special. But it took a week bow hunting in Kansas to really regenerate my interest in deer hunting. I’m already looking at going out of state to hunt deer again next year. What’s the DNR going to do for revenue when they lose another 100,000 licenses, and another, and another? That’s particularly possible as hunters I’ve heard have discussed boycotting the deer season for a couple of years. I’d support that, too, if it wouldn’t damage our local economy so much.