NRB lends support to December hunt

By Tim Eisele


Madison – The somewhat controversial December antlerless gun
deer season north of Hwy. 8 will continue in 2007, but Natural
Resources Board members made it clear to the DNR that they want to
review that season each year.

The NRB, at its Feb. 28 meeting, unanimously approved a
recommendation by the DNR to remove the one-year sunset provision
that could have eliminated the experiment after the 2006

However, NRB member Gerry O’Brien, of Stevens Point, told the
DNR that although the rule is sometimes referred to as a ‘permanent
rule,’ the NRB has review authority over the rules every year – and
can change the rules every year. The NRB’s motion to continue the
December season was approved after it was amended, requiring the
DNR to report back to the board each year.

DNR deer ecologist Keith Warnke said that the Joint Committee
for Review of Administrative Rules last year asked for the one-year
trial north of Hwy. 8 to see if deer hunting in the north could
exist alongside snowmobiling. Last year, snowmobile clubs opposed
the December season.

‘To assess that impact, we monitored deer harvest, snow
conditions, trail maintenance activity, and opening dates of
snowmobile trails,’ Warnke said. ‘There were more than 20,000
antlerless deer harvested statewide during those four days, with
about 4,000 of those deer from north of Hwy. 8. This kill is
important for herd control north of Hwy. 8, though the December
hunt was not intended to replace the October gun hunt.’

‘You say that we didn’t replace the October hunt with the
December hunt, but you’d have to be blind not to realize that we
did that,’ O’Brien said.

Warnke reported no major conflicts with snowmobiling because of
insufficient snow, with the exception being northern Iron

The DNR held public hearings on continuing the December hunt in
Rhinelander, Park Falls, and Fitchburg. Thirty-two people
registered or testified in favor of lifting the sunset; 17
testified or registered in opposition.

O’Brien asked for numbers of deer killed north of Hwy. 8, but
Warnke said that comparisons are hard to make because the December
hunt was open in all units, whereas the October hunt was not.

Warnke said that this year the harvest north of Hwy. 8 was about
4,000 deer, and said that in 2005 the harvest north of Hwy. 8 in
October (not all units) was 2,200, and in 2004 was 4,100.

Two people added comments during the public testimony. Bill
Pfaff, of New Lisbon, said he was an avid snowmobiler and an avid
deer hunter.

‘I would hope this board would extend the trial period for a
statewide December hunt for another year,’ Pfaff said. ‘December
2006 was a month when snowfall was not significant, and there
simply is no way to truly evaluate the full effect of this December
hunt after one year without sufficient snowfall.’

Ed Harvey Jr., chairman of the Conservation Congress, thanked
the board for allowing for the one-year trial. He said he knew of
two landowners in Iron County who asked for a trail to be closed
through their land during the December hunt, but he was not
successful in finding their names, so he could discuss the closure
with them. Harvey said he would have done so, because he’d promised
the Legislature cooperation from the Congress.

‘Regardless of the harvest, this December hunt has allowed
hunters with an opportunity for recreation and the Northwoods, with
tourism income in mid-December, at a time of year when snowmobiling
cannot typically occur there,’ Harvey said. ‘Given the continued
lack of snow and the success of the hunt, we urge you to make the
December four-day antlerless gun hunt north of Hwy. 8 permanent by
adopting the DNR rule.’

In answer to questions from the board, Warnke reiterated that
the October hunt was not involved in this rule change.

‘At the end of two years, if the antlerless-to-antlered deer
ratio benchmarks are not met, the October hunt will come back
without action by the board,’ Warnke said.

Board members participated in a lengthy discussion, examining
pros and cons of eliminating the sunset provision.

Welter said he was concerned it might be a premature termination
of an experiment.

‘If it is working, we can just let it work. If it is not
working, we can fix it,’ said NRB chair Christine Thomas, of
Stevens Point.

‘The proposal that you are considering is the exact same thing
that we brought to you last year when this whole process started,’
said Tom Hauge, DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management director. ‘We
understood the concern about the recreational conflict last year,
but we thought the two activities could occur together. Our
recommendation is to remove the sunset and install the December
season, which is what we recommended originally before all of the
bantering back and forth with the Legislature last year.’

DNR Secretary Scott Hassett offered a compromise: The DNR could
return to the NRB in three years with a report, but Welter said the
NRB was not treating the removal of a sunset as instituting a
permanent season.

‘If we lift this sunset we are effectively continuing the
December hunt unless we see conditions that warrant us to
re-evaluate it,’ Welter said. ‘To suggest that we do it three years
later, if that implies that we are not looking at it after each
season, that would be a misapprehension. We should look closely
after the 2007 and 2008 seasons.’

Welter said he looks at it as continuation of the December
season, but with constant review, and he made the motion for

Deer harvest

Keith Warnke said hunters needed to shoot ‘specific ratios’ of
antlerless deer to bucks during the 2006 seasons to avoid returning
to October antlerless deer seasons.

‘The statewide harvest ratio of 1.7 to 1 (does to bucks) for all
seasons in 2006 was high enough to continue the trial season in
2007,’ Warnke said. ‘The minimum benchmark was 1.4, and since we
exceeded that there will not be an October gun hunt this fall.’

Herd-control units are critical in determining whether there
will be an October gun season in those units in 2007 and in

Warnke said the next benchmark that hunters must make is that
over a two-year period the average ratio in herd-control units has
to be at least 2:1 (does to bucks) by region. If the ratio does not
reach 2:1, Warnke said there will be an October gun hunt in that
region in 2008.

The DNR has five regions. In the Northern Forest herd-control
units, hunters shot 1.7 antlerless deer for every buck. In the
Central Forest herd-control units the ratio was 2 to 1, and in
Western Farmland units the ratio was 1.8 to 1. In Eastern Farmland
units the ratio was 1.8 to 1, and in Southern Farmland units it was
1.5 to 1.

The 2006 seasons finished with a total harvest of 503,418 deer.
That included 175,958 bucks and 324,076 antlerless deer. The total
gun kill was 390,388 (136,146 bucks and 251,994 antlerless) and the
bow kill was 113,030 (39,812 bucks and 72,082 antlerless).

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