Local residents pack deer hunting forum

Hunters of northwestern Wisconsin had a clear message for the Department of Natural Resources Wednesday night in Maple: Deer herd numbers are down. Nearly 70 hunters and concerned residents showed up for the local deer hunting forum held at the M...

Hunters of northwestern Wisconsin had a clear message for the Department of Natural Resources Wednesday night in Maple: Deer herd numbers are down.

Nearly 70 hunters and concerned residents showed up for the local deer hunting forum held at the Maple Community Center on Wednesday. Frustration with the DNR's deer population projections was prevalent, as were concerns about the growing wolf and black bear populations.

"To be honest, we haven't had this good of a crowd since we first proposed the T Zone," said wildlife biologist Greg Kessler, who ran Wednesday's deer hunting forum.

From the first minutes of the meeting, hunters demanded answers from the DNR. Many criticized the DNR's Sex-Age-Kill model, which is used to project the deer population. Longtime hunters in attendance insisted that -- despite the DNR's claims to the contrary -- deer numbers are down sharply. Some blamed the DNR and its management policies, while others said predators are the main cause.

"The driving factor is what they see in the woods," Kessler said. "They're hoping for a reason, a rationale why they are seeing fewer deer, and the predators seem to be the obvious one to them."


Kessler said there is no questions that black bear, gray wolf and bobcat numbers have increased in northern Wisconsin, but he believes the DNR is taking that change into account.

"We feel that, largely predation is accounted for in lots of the surveys because we survey fawn-doe ratios after the main predation period, and we have an automatic accounting in the model of 15 percent unrecovered losses to other critters," Kessler said. "But there were lots of good comments and questions. The model isn't perfect, and it does need to be looked at."

For the 2012 hunt, Units 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9 will all likely be under a regular season structure with a limited antlerless quota. For Unit 2, the largest in Douglas County at 627 square miles, hunters can expect a potential antlerless quota between 2,500 and 3,500. Unit 8, which saw a significant downturn in buck harvest numbers last season, can expect an antlerless quota between 1,000-2,100.

"Had the winter not been what it was, the quotas you would see us proposing would have been much more conservative," Kessler said.

Al Horvath of Superior suggested that, for just one year, the DNR take a more pessimistic view of deer herd numbers and set the antlerless quota at zero for the northern units.

"What's the worst that could happen?" Horvath asked.

Horvath said he's concerned for Wisconsin's hunting tradition. When young hunters spend three days without seeing a deer, he said, they'll not likely be back in the woods for the next year's hunt.

"Maybe you should track the decline in hunters over the next 10 years, because that's what you're going to see," Horvath said. "You're not going to have kids in the outdoors enjoying this."


Kessler, an avid hunter himself, said he could sympathize. It is not within his power, however, to suggest a zero quota when the data does not support it.

"I have certain parameters I have to stay within, and if I don't, someone is going to trump me down the line," Kessler said.

Hal Halverson simply wants to reconcile the numbers provided by the DNR with what he's seen in the field.

Halverson has hunted in Unit 8 since 1969. Wisconsin faced a string of severe winters at that time, Halverson said, and the deer herd numbers were miserable.

Now, Halverson fears the herd in northwestern Wisconsin is heading back in that direction.

"The deer numbers now are down to the point where you can go day after day after day and not see a deer," Halverson said.

Halverson has spent hours poring over the DNR's figures. He's draw up his own graphs to chart the data back several decades and has stacks of paperwork tracking deer harvest and population patterns.

Since 1999, Halverson said, Unit 8 has seen a steady decline in deer numbers. He wants the DNR to explain why and to look into possible factors, including the impact of baiting on deer distribution.


Kessler encouraged hunters to share their feedback with the DNR through the online deer hunting forum survey ( ). The survey will be available online until April 3.

Kessler also suggested concerned hunters attend one of the six town hall meetings with Dr. James Kroll planned from April 16-21. The purpose of the meetings is to gather ideas and solutions from citizens, sportsmen and sportswomen to help improve Wisconsin's deer management practices.

Kroll is Wisconsin's white-tailed deer trustee who has been contracted by the state to conduct an independent, objective and scientifically-based review of Wisconsin's deer management practices.

The nearest town hall style meeting will be held April 18 at the Hayward Intermediate School gymnasium (15930 W. 5th St., Hayward, WI ) from 7-10 p.m.

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