Hunters voice frustration over 2009 deer hunt numbersWisconsin hunters packed a state Capitol hearing room Thursday to complain about the weak November deer hunt.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
Wisconsin hunters packed a state Capitol hearing room Thursday to complain about the weak November deer hunt.
Hunters killed about 196,000 deer according to preliminary figures, 29 percent fewer than during the 2008 hunt. Those upset by the harvest numbers claim the Department of Natural Resources’ herd reduction regulations have devastated the deer population, leaving them empty-handed.
Fred Strand, a DNR wildlife biologist in Superior, has been busy fielding calls from hunters in northern Wisconsin.
“I know there are individuals out there who had a very good season and are happy,” Strand said. Typically the contented hunters aren’t the ones who call, though.
Strand has received numerous calls from worried and angry hunters, but he said so far he has heard fewer complaints this season than last. He believes it is likely the result of lower hunter expectations following the poor 2008 hunt.
Thursday’s hearing in Madison was the first public summary of the 2009 deer gun hunt since the season ended. A planned presentation at the December Natural Resources Board meeting was called off because of a winter storm Dec. 8. The state Assembly and Senate outdoors committees then called a public hearing on the hunt.
Sen. Neal Kedzie began the proceedings by accusing DNR Secretary Matt Frank of ignoring hunters’ concerns. Hunters applauded.
Kedzie warned Frank the agency’s policies could ruin hunting, forcing the agency to ask the Legislature to raise taxes to make up lost license fees.
Frank says the agency does listen. He says the DNR chose to end Earn-a-Buck requirements and tabled a proposal to extend next year’s hunt to 16 days.
Results from public hearings held in the fall showed the majority of hunters did not favor an earlier season, and there was only slightly more support for a 16-day hunt beginning on the traditional start date. The suggested changes to the deer season were presented as an alternative to Earn-a-Buck restrictions, which were highly unpopular.
With the 16-day proposal now tabled for the 2010 hunt, DNR staff will focus on evaluating this year’s hunt numbers and creating a management plan.
Still, Strand doesn’t believe the deer season debate is finished.
“People have suggested a 16-day season for as long as I’ve been around or longer,” he said.
In his 35 years of working with the Wisconsin deer herd, Strand has heard hunters and DNR officials alike propose a longer hunt. Political and social disputes often derail the proposals, but Strand said it wouldn’t surprise him to see a 16-day hunt suggested again within the next few years.
Northern Wisconsin hunters, meanwhile are complaining about the rising wolf population and its impact on the deer herd.
“Yes, wolf numbers are increasing, and other predators are also clearly increasing, such as bear,” Strand said. “Wolves are a contributing factor, but they are not the only factor or the largest factor.”
Strand said early evidence shows this year’s herd was again hurt by a harsh winter in 2008-09.
A decrease in the deer harvest was predicted because fewer antlerless tags were issued in 2009, and Strand said lower buck numbers were about what the DNR had expected.
Douglas County was one of the few in Wisconsin that actually saw an increase in bucks taken, according to preliminary data. About 2 percent more bucks were taken in 2009 than 2008, while the Douglas County antlerless harvest dropped almost 40 percent due to new DNR population goals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.