Hunters calmer but concerns persistLow deer harvest numbers and predator issues dominate discussion at Douglas County meetings
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
In 2012, a frustrated group of about 70 hunters gathered in Brule for the Douglas County deer forum. They derided the Department of Natural Resources for its management of the deer herd and demanded action to contain the growing number of predators in northern Wisconsin, particularly wolves.
A more jovial atmosphere prevailed Monday night at the Superior Public Library. About 25 people attended this year’s meeting and frequently joked with DNR wildlife biologist Greg Kessler as he ran through the deer season data and answered questions.
“This is more normal in a year where hunting wasn’t too bad,” Kessler said. “It got better, and I think a lot of the folks were happy to see the wolf season, which was one of their big complaints the last few years. I think they’re happy that we’re paying attention to some of their concerns and issues.”
Deer herd numbers are still down from their peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but hunters saw a small uptick in the buck harvest for 2012. In Unit 1, this year’s buck harvest was the best in the past five years.
“By historical average, this was no poor season,” Kessler said.
For the 2013 hunt, Kessler said Units 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9 would all likely fall under similar limits as in 2012. All five units had a regular season structure with a limited antlerless quota.
Unit 1M, which contains the urban and suburban regions of Superior, will likely be a herd control unit again. Kessler said he expects Unit 1M to be herd control in perpetuity.
“The goal is 10 deer per square mile (for the unit), and we’re probably never going to get to that,” Kessler said.
Kessler also heard from hunters at a gamekeeper’s meeting in Dairyland on Saturday. A similar meeting last year drew about 40 people, but the turnout was much higher Saturday at the Cozy Corner Inn.
“We put out 100 chairs, and people were standing all over the place,” said Kevin Hogie, one of the event organizers. He has owned land in the Dairyland area since the 1990s and said landowners are frustrated with the burgeoning predator population.
Zone 1, which includes Douglas County and the far northwestern Wisconsin, accounted for 32 of the 117 wolves harvested during this year’s inaugural hunt. Of those 32 wolves, 12 were taken in Douglas County.
Hogie said the crowd count for Saturday was 124 people. When Kessler asked audience members to raise their hands if they felt there were too many wolves in the region, about 90 percent of the hands went up, Hogie said.
“Plain and simple, people are just unhappy,” Hogie said. “There are too few deer and too many predators.”
Kessler reviewed data from deer management units 4 and 8. In Unit 4, hunters saw a decrease in the buck harvest from 2011 to 2012. The unit also ranked among the worst for buck harvest density numbers with 1.6 per square mile.
Unit 8 had slightly better numbers, with a buck harvest density of 2.3 per square mile and a small increase in the buck harvest.
Hunters at the meeting painted a bleaker picture. One said he owns 100 acres in Unit 8 but has not been able to get a deer in two years.
“It’s hard to get kids to go out hunting when they sit for nine days and don’t see a single deer,” Hogie said.
Comments from the deer forum meetings will be used to set quotas and season structures for the 2013 hunt.
Kessler encouraged those who couldn’t attend the forum to fill out the DMU survey online (http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/hunt/forum.html).
The DNR is also gathering information on long-term deer management in Wisconsin through a second survey called the Deer Trustee Implementation Survey. To fill out that survey, visit the DNR website (dnr.wi.gov) and do a key word search for “Deer Trustee Implementation Survey.”
Kessler said he expects changes suggested in the trustee report to be implemented by 2014.
“By this time next year we will have a fair idea what that change might be,” Kessler said. “The average hunter may not see a big difference, but I can’t even venture a guess.”