Earn-a-buck zones could arrive in ’04

Editor

Madison The rumblings of earn-a-buck seasons outside of the
chronic wasting disease zones are growing louder as the October
Zone T season approaches.

DNR wildlife managers and Conservation Congress chairman Steve
Oestreicher want to make sure deer hunters know that 31 units that
are in Zone T this year could end up with earn-a-buck status in
2004 if enough antlerless deer are not shot out of those units this
year.

Those 31 units that are potential 2004 earn-a-buck units are: 3,
4, 5, 6, 13, 14, 19, 20, 29A, 35, 36, 47, 49B, 51A, 51B, 54C, 59D,
61, 62B, 63A, 63B, 65B, 66, 67A, 67B, 68A, 72, 78, 80A, 80B, and
81.

“The number of antlerless deer that need to be removed from each
unit to avoid earn-a-buck varies quite a bit,” said Michele
Windsor, acting DNR big game ecologist. “Some units need a pretty
substantial harvest. We have to get units within 20 percent of
their over-winter goal, or it must look like they’ll be able to get
to within 20 percent of over-winter goals with another Zone T year.
If that’s not the case after this season, they will have to go into
earn-a-buck (in 2004).

“Earn-a-buck worked in 1996. It’s not popular, but it does
work,” she said. “We will know by late winter or early spring which
units will, or will not, be in earn-a-buck for next year.”

Windsor said she’d like the list of earn-a-buck units to be
known by late February or early March. The DNR makes ag damage tags
available as early as Jan. 15 each year, so in units that end up in
earn-a-buck, deer hunters can shoot an antlerless deer on an ag tag
as early as February or March to meet the requirement.

The Conservation Congress has another idea for allowing hunters
to meet their earn-a-buck requirement allowing hunters to use
December-killed does and fawns to serve as their earn-a-buck deer
for the following year. The Conservation Congress Big Game
Committee supported that idea during its meeting on Oct. 10, but
Oestreicher said it’s unlikely that plan will get put into play
this fall.

“We’re looking at a prior year earn-a-buck credit’ as an
incentive to get hunters to qualify for their buck tags earlier,”
he said. “It would allow the use of the previous year’s antlerless
deer from a late Zone T season or the late archery season to
fulfill the requirement for earn-a-buck the following year. As an
example, you would harvest an antlerless deer in December of 2003
to qualify for earn-a-buck in 2004.

“The only problem would be for the units north of Hwy. 8,” he
added. “Northern hunters lost the December Zone T and would only
have the late archery season, if this were approved.”

Oestreicher said the congress had not discussed allowing
antlerless deer from the muzzleloader season to be included, but
said the DNR could add that provision if the agency endorses the
idea.

“The DNR likes part of the idea, but it also has concerns,”
Oestreicher said. “They say it’s not fair to hunters north of Hwy.
8; they’re worried about hunters holding antlerless deer from
November, and that hunters might save their antlerless harvest
until December when we really need those deer shot at every
opportunity in every season.

“Another slight problem is that we don’t know until after the
season whether a unit is going to be in its second year of Zone T
or earn-a-buck. Also, we would have to have everyone on the same
page at registration stations, or the same doe is going to come
back through several times.”

If the DNR endorses this plan, it still would have to garner
Natural Resources Board approval. Because of those steps,
Oestreicher said this earn-a-buck incentive probably wouldn’t
materialize until the 2004 season, for credit in 2005.

“There probably is not enough time to get it in for this year,”
he said. “That means hunters have to know that in these 31 units
you have to harvest antlerless deer, or next year you’ll be in
earn-a-buck, and no one is going to like that.”

Oestreicher said that if this plan is ever adopted, the DNR will
have to look at reinstating the December Zone T season north of
Hwy. 8.

Many of the 31 units on the “watch list” are in the Northern
Region and Northeast Region.

Tom Bahti, Northeast Region wildlife supervisor from Green Bay,
said hunters can make use of antlerless deer tags this year to kill
deer in the watch units.

“We’ve provided all the opportunity in the world for hunters and
landowners to lower deer densities in these primarily private land
units over the last five years,” Bahti said. “Some of these units
have had Zone T seasons, including free antlerless tags and
extended antlerless seasons in October and December, for five
consecutive years. However, landowners and hunters seem unable, or
unwilling, to kill enough antlerless deer to significantly reduce
the population.”

Bahti said ag damage claims continue to increase, car-killed
deer numbers have reached record highs, and damage to habitat is
approaching alarming levels.

Units can qualify for earn-a-buck seasons if, after two
consecutive years of Zone T, it’s unlikely that less intensive
seasons will reduce the deer population to within 20 percent of
management goals.

“Based on discussions with wildlife staff from around the
Northeast Region, it is likely that a dozen or more units in our
region will be considered for earn-a-buck seasons in 2004,” Bahti
said.

However, Bahti and Windsor said significant antlerless harvest,
by bow and gun hunters, could reduce the number of units that will
move into consideration for earn-a-buck next fall.

The Zone T seasons run statewide Oct. 30-Nov. 2, and south of
Hwy. 8, Dec. 11-14. Free Zone T tags can be filled by bow or gun
hunters (with the appropriate license) in any Zone T unit, and
unlimited bonus tags are available. Zone T tags also may be used
during the Nov. 22-30 gun season and the Dec. 1-10 muzzleloader
hunt.

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