Wisconsin hunters against changes to gun deer season
Traditions die hard.
Many of the Wisconsin residents who turned out for a public hearing Wednesday night in Ashland said they don't want to see an end to the state's traditional nine-day gun deer season that begins the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is proposing a 16-day gun deer season beginning two Saturdays before Thanksgiving.
"Leave it as it is," said Wright Allen of Omro, Wis., president of the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association.
But some of the 67 who attended the meeting supported the 16-day season, and others said they could support it if it began the Saturday before Thanksgiving as the current season does.
The alternative deer-season proposal grew out of hunters' objections to the Earn-A-Buck system, which requires hunters to shoot an antlerless deer before shooting a buck. A committee of citizens appointed by the state's Natural Resources Board came up with the current proposal, and the DNR is holding hearings on it around the state.
While some hunters don't like the idea of starting the proposed 16-day season a week earlier than the current nine-day season, committee members felt that an earlier opener would offer a better opportunity for hunters to see and shoot deer.
An earlier opener would coincide more closely with the peak of the rut, or mating season.
But bowhunters don't want to see gun hunters in the woods a week earlier, Allen said.
"We're definitely opposed to it," Allen said. "For one, it's going to cut into the bowhunters' rut."
Bowhunters don't want rifle hunters in the woods at a time when bucks are moving and less wary.
Wisconsin has about 650,000 gun deer hunters and about 250,000 deer bowhunters.
The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, the Wisconsin Muzzleloaders Association and several other hunting groups support the 16-day season statewide but only if it starts on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, said Connie Pribnow of Port Wing, a member of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
Those groups think too many bucks and not enough antlerless deer will be harvested if the season opens a week earlier when the rut is in progress.
Others simply value tradition.
"We run a deer camp in our family the traditional week of Thanksgiving. I've been going since I was 12," said Al Bochler of Ashland. "To give that tradition up for something I don't consider necessary is more than I can support."
But Mike Hamm of Ashland supports the proposal for the 16-day season starting two Saturdays before Thanksgiving. Having it extend beyond the week of Thanksgiving would hurt tourism and snowmobiling, he said.
"We aren't the only ones in the woods," Hamm said.
Forester Jerry Van Cleve of Ashland is concerned about the impact deer have on forests.
"We're all in favor of taking these measures to control the herd," he said.
Jerry Merryfield of Drummond offered a compromise solution.
"My suggestion is a 16-day season starting the Saturday before Thanksgiving, but only nine days north of [Wisconsin] Highway 64 and an additional seven south of 64," Merryfield said.
The deer committee of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, a statewide citizens' group, also favors dividing the gun hunt statewide at Highway 64, then having a nine-day season in the north and a 16-day season in the south. But the committee would like to see both seasons open on the traditional Saturday before Thanksgiving.
Several hunters noted that last year's deer harvest was less than expected and that a longer season isn't needed to control the deer population.
The proposals, if approved by the Natural Resources board in December, would not take effect until the 2010 hunting season. They would be in effect for a two-year trial period.
Several more hearings will be held around the state. The only other hearing in Northwestern Wisconsin will be at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Spooner High School in Spooner.