October Zone T may be nixed for ’06, ’07

By Tim Eisele Correspondent

Portage, Wis. — Natural Resources Board (NRB) members will
decide Aug. 17 whether to grant public hearings that could lead to
a two-year moratorium on October Zone T antlerless deer seasons in
2006 and 2007.

The DNR reached an agreement, of sorts, with the Conservation
Congress and other hunting groups during a meeting June 29. The DNR
agreed that it would forego October Zone T seasons in 2006 and 2007
(except in CWD units) if the congress and hunters would accept
future Zone T and earn-a-buck hunts should it be proved that free
antlerless deer tags and a December antlerless deer hunt cannot
match the Zone T harvests.

The DNR did not give in without setting some ground rules. DNR
deer ecologist Keith Warnke told committee members the October gun
hunt is a popular and effective herd-control tool. Warnke said DNR
biologists do not believe that replacing the October Zone T with a
four-day December antlerless gun hunt and free antlerless tags will
result in an adequate harvest to control deer populations.

“However, we understand that many of you believe otherwise, and
in order to get beyond our disagreements on the issue we are open
to a ‘test’ of these tools, provided the results are documented,”
Warnke said.

Warnke said the DNR would carefully monitor the kill in 2006 and
2007, and the changes to the deer population, and report to the
NRB. The board would then have the authority to implement an
October Zone T season in 2007 if NRB members concluded the trial
season was not working.

“If antlerless deer harvest in herd-control units fails to meet
that of previous October hunts, the department expects we will need
to recommend widespread use of the earn-a-buck (EAB) season
structure,” Warnke said. “The rule will sunset and return to a
statewide October antlerless gun hunt immediately at the end of
this term unless there is evidence that unequivocally demonstrates
that the new season structure is at least as effective for
population controls as the current Zone T structure.”

The trial depends on all parts of the new season structure going
into effect. It may be that county forest administrators and
snowmobilers may resist the statewide December antlerless season.
Also, if after the first year the population in any unit has risen,
or the antlerless to antlered harvest ratio in herd-control units
statewide is below 1.4 antlerless deer per antlered buck, the trial
immediately ends and the DNR will ask the NRB to establish a
statewide October antlerless deer season in 2007.

Joe Caputo, of the Conservation Congress, said he thought the
alternative was fair.

Dan Brockman, of the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, asked the
DNR to continue looking for a solution. He said the DNR “holds all
the cards,” and if it wanted (the trial season) to fail, it would
fail.

“Let’s find a way without an October deer hunt,” Brockman said.
“You have tunnel vision; let’s keep our minds open and find
options.”

Mark Houslet, of the bowhunters association, agreed that the
ratio may be doomed to failure, but said to get access to where
deer are.

“The problem is access to deer on private land,” he said.
“Earn-a-buck is a mistake because some get to tag bucks but many
can’t get access where population control is needed.”

Warnke said the DNR is looking at where deer are killed (on
public versus private land) and agreed that access is an issue.

“We do not want this to fail,” Warnke said. “We have to apply
the same science and biology and then go to the Natural Resources
Board to document the season structures. We are terrified of what’s
going to happen after this year without earn-a-buck.”

Warnke reiterated that the goal is to get deer numbers to goals,
not whether or not an October season is held. If something works as
well as the October season and deer populations are reduced to goal
levels, he said he’d be happy.

Conservation Congress chairman Steve Oestreicher said the buck
kill is going up while the antlerless kill will “fall off the
chart, because they are not there to kill.” He added that baiting
and feeding of white-tailed deer must stop.

Other changes considered by the committee that are a part of the
test season include:

  • A youth two-day either-sex gun hunt in September beginning the
    Saturday after the archery opener. The current youth hunt is a
    one-day antlerless hunt in October, and only first-time hunter
    education graduates may hunt.

This would provide a hunting opportunity earlier in the fall
when temperatures are more mild, would have less conflict with
bowhunters during the rut, and would encourage hunter recruitment
and the potential to harvest more antlerless deer. The biggest
disadvantage is that while deer seasons are in progress other
hunters, other than waterfowlers, are required to wear blaze orange
clothing.

  • Extending the late archery season to the Sunday nearest Jan. 6.
    The season now closes Jan. 3, but this would provide bowhunting
    opportunities through the New Year’s holiday weekend.
  • Opening a four-day antlerless hunt the second Thursday
    following the Thanksgiving holiday on a statewide basis, including
    units north of Hwy. 8. This season would be open in all units to
    anyone with a valid antlerless deer permit.

Although this proposal is expected to receive concern from
snowmobilers, it would provide consistency and simplification to
the rules by replacing Zone T seasons that are open in some areas
and not in others.

  • In herd-control units, the first antlerless deer tag would be
    issued free with each deer license. Extra tags will be issued for a
    minimal handling fee. Although this may reduce funding to the
    agricultural damage program, it makes antlerless carcass tags in
    herd-control units almost free compared to a current bonus tag cost
    of $12.

Greg Kazmierski, of the Wisconsin Deer Hunters Coalition,
expressed concern that hunters won’t kill deer unless they have a
pocketful of antlerless tags, and the tags need to be free in order
to do that. However, Warnke and Caputo said law enforcement
officers had concerns about an uncontrolled number of free tags
being available, and state statutes require that each dead deer has
a carcass tag on it.

  • The Mississippi River Block units would have the same season as
    the rest of the state.
  • Archery licenses would be issued with two tags valid statewide
    — one that is buck-only and the other that is only valid for
    antlerless deer. Archery tags are currently either-sex, and this
    change promotes the harvest of antlerless deer and simplifies
    tagging options.
  • Replace the hunter’s choice program with the sale of antlerless
    deer tags over the counter. Antlerless permits will be sold on a
    first-come, first-served basis beginning Aug. 1 (in units with a
    quota), with the sale of one per hunter until the archery season
    opener and then one per hunter per day. Hunters would not have to
    rush to meet an application deadline, but tags would be sold for
    $12, with funds going into the agricultural damage fund.

If approved by the NRB on Aug. 17, details of the experiment
would be presented at public hearings in October. The new season
format would begin with the 2006 season and run through the 2007
season. The NRB could halt the trial after the 2006 season if
hunters don’t shoot enough antlerless deer.

“After each season, results will be evaluated in relation to
population goals,” Warnke said. “Deer population changes statewide
and at regional and unit levels will be monitored to determine
whether to extend the two-year test for a longer period of time.
Public opinion toward these changes will also be monitored.”

During the trial, the DNR would continue to consider and
recommend EAB seasons if units require that level of herd control.
If EAB was implemented in 2006 and 2007 it would be done under the
experimental season framework, meaning no October season.

“While we hope the new framework will be successful, we need to
point out that if deer herd control falters, the impacts could be
large,” said Tom Hauge, DNR wildlife director. “Under that scenario
we would likely have to recommend widespread earn-a-buck seasons at
the end of the trial.”

The experimental season framework would not apply to the CWD
management zones in southern Wisconsin. Those zones would continue
to have special regulations in place.

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