Madison Will this year’s gun deer hunt be 23 days, or will it be
nine days of regular season, plus eight days of Zone T antlerless
That’s a question Natural Resources Board members will ponder
during March and April.
The two proposals were presented by the Department of Natural
Resources (DNR) to the board at its Feb. 26 meeting.
Tom Hauge, DNR director of wildlife management, set the stage
for the deer season options by telling the board the DNR was
presenting two choices. The first was to continue with the current
framework, consisting of a nine-day gun season, Zone Ts and
CWD-control seasons. That requires no special action by the
“But, my recommendation to you is to try an experimental 23-day
season,” Hauge said. “Hunting should be fun; let’s give people more
days to hunt. With an earlier opening we would be more likely to
catch the rut activity and it would avoid potential conflicts with
other outdoors people.”
The season Hauge suggested would open on Saturday, Nov. 15 and
close on Dec. 7. It would benefit tourism, and would not include
the October or December T Zone T hunts, he said. That would avoid
any potential conflict with small game and bow hunters, hikers, and
The proposal by Hauge would also avoid the use of the
controversial “earn-a-buck” (EAB) requirement. With the current
nine-day season, the DNR has 31 units, primarily in west-central,
east-central, and northern Wisconsin that could see the EAB
requirement for the 2004 season.
If the regular nine-day format is used this year, the opening
will be Nov. 22, which will be a second straight opener in late
If the NRB wants to make the change, it would be necessary to
enact an “emergency order” that would have to be passed by April in
order to get it into the hunting regulations pamphlet.
April also is the month the DNR will bring its recommendations
for chronic wasting disease rules to the board for approval.
The board made no formal comment on the proposal, but Trig
Solberg, board chairman, said that he’ll consider the proposal and
gauge public reaction.
“It is different and contains some good ideas,” he said. “On the
positive side, it includes more hunting opportunities, but on the
negative side, it’s a change to our traditional season.”
Jim Tiefenthaler, board member from Waukesha, asked Hauge what
to expect should the 23-day season occur.
Hauge said using past four-day Zone T seasons as a guide, a
23-day season could add 10 to 20 percent in the antlerless harvest
whether it would add an additional 10 percent to the buck harvest
Some concerns were raised whether the longer season could lead
to an overharvest. But Herb Behnke, board member from Shawano, said
a healthy herd will always bounce back.
Steve Oestreicher, chairman of the Conservation Congress, said
he expects to see substantial opposition to the plan.
“Labor unions, loggers and school officials will go ballistic
when they hear this proposal,” he said.
Oestreicher also presented information on deer harvests in
northern Wisconsin, showing a declining trend in total deer
harvested and buck harvested per square mile of deer range.
In Unit 31, for example, the buck harvest was 4.2 per square
mile in 2000, 3.3 in 2001 and 2.5 in 2002.
“In 1991, we urged the DNR to use caution with the excessive
issuance of antlerless tags because the buck kill was going to
crash, which it did,” Oestreicher said. “We’re on a collision
course here again. The sex-age-kill data tells us the numbers are
declining, yet the DNR wants to be overly aggressive on
Oestreicher emphasized that hunters and landowners are right
when they tell the DNR that there aren’t as many deer in the woods
as the DNR estimates.
“The experienced woodsmen came in out of the woods this year and
said, Something’s not right,’ ” Oestreicher said. “There aren’t
nearly as many animals as the DNR says, and according to the
harvest figures, the hunters are right.”
Oestreicher added that the congress took questions to the public
last year about a 16-day season and they were “blown out of the
water. This new proposal will make people furious,” he added.
The 23-day season proposal was offered by the DNR in response to
the NRB’s January request for options on longer deer season
In January, Solberg said the DNR and board should be prepared to
consider a longer season for 2003 if deer herd estimates came in
above 1.6 million. No official projection is available yet for the
fall of 2003, but several DNR biologists believe that number will
come in below the 1.5 million mark.