Wis. lawmakers consider bill banning earn-a-buck
By: By Todd Richmond, Associated Press, Superior Telegram
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin hunters could bag a buck without worrying about taking a doe first under a Republican bill that would dramatically scale back the state's contentious earn-a-buck requirements.
The measure would eliminate requirements that hunters must kill an antlerless deer before they can take their first buck. It also would push the state back toward a more simplified deer season structure by generally prohibiting early season gun hunts before the traditional nine-day November hunt.
The Assembly Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to take up the bill at a public hearing on Wednesday.
If the proposal becomes law, it would mark a tremendous victory for the state's hunters. They've complained for years about earn-a-buck and a complex web of early season hunts.
The state Department of Natural Resources has insisted earn-a-buck and the extra hunts are key to keeping the state's deer herd under control. But hunters say earn-a-buck forces them to pass up trophy bucks and that the layers of hunts are too complicated and put too much stress on deer.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker said on the campaign trail last year the state should end earn-a-buck and herd control hunts. Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, one of the bill's key sponsors, said the key to herd control is hunter participation but earn-a-buck and the extra hunts are draining enthusiasm.
"In order to get your biological results, you've got to address the social aspect of hunting," Moulton said. "If you don't get hunters to buy into the system, you're not going to get the deer. This is something I think the hunters have been asking for."
The DNR has been grappling with what it says is a burgeoning deer herd across the state for most of the last decade.
The agency has been conducting four-day antlerless hunts in management zones where the herd is above the agency's goal. The hunts usually take place in mid-October. In zones that remain above goal, the DNR can impose earn-a-buck regulations, which require hunters to kill an antlerless deer before they can legally take a buck.
Frustration over the requirements has simmered for years. Anger over earn-a-buck especially boiled over in 2009 after two years of anemic November hunts. Hunters charged the DNR has grossly overestimated the deer population for years, leading to draconian polices like earn-a-buck that have devastated the herd and put the future of their sport in jeopardy.
"I've had a couple young hunters in here that have ... had an opportunity to shoot a buck — that's a big deal when you're a young hunter — and they can't do it," said Joe Murphy, a 41-year-old deer hunter from Baraboo who runs a taxidermy business. "They got to watch them walk by. I don't think that's fair."
Bow hunters, whose season overlaps the October gun hunts, believe the hunts stress deer so much the animals will move only at night, hurting their prospects. Other hunters complain that by November the deer have grown so skittish they're harder to kill and they can't track the different seasons and their rules.
Under the bill, anyone could kill a first buck without having to kill an antlerless deer. However, the DNR could require a hunter to kill an antlerless deer before taking a second buck.
The agency generally would not be allowed to establish gun seasons ahead of the November hunt. The bill carves out a number of exceptions, however, including for youth, mentored and disabled hunts and in chronic wasting disease zones.
The DNR's board on Wednesday is scheduled to consider a plan to suspend the October hunts this fall and restrict earn-a-buck to disease zones. But the bill's authors say they need to do more. The board in the past has made only temporary changes, they say.
DNR board chairman Jonathan Ela didn't immediately return a message Friday seeking comment.
George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, called the bill "a serious mistake." The measure would strip the DNR of its most effective herd control tools, leading to more deer consuming crops and forest plant life, he said.
The Conservation Congress, a group of influential sportsmen that advises the DNR, has been calling for the elimination of earn-a-buck and other antlerless hunts for years. Chairman Ed Harvey said he doesn't have any problem with antlerless hunts eliminated through statute, but codifying an earn-a-buck ban in state law may be too permanent a solution.
"In just a couple of years, I expect we'll have deer numbers that will be of concern to people and we'll be undoing what we did," he said.
Tom Hauge, the DNR's wildlife management director, said the bill would force the agency to look for other ways to control herd growth, such as extending the November hunt. But that idea, he said, has proven as controversial as earn-a-buck.