‘Just shut up and hunt’

Dean Bortz

Wisconsin Editor

Whew! If your head isn’t spinning yet, you haven’t been paying
attention – at least when it comes to talking about Wisconsin
deer-management issues. Too busy buying one leftover turkey tag per
day while chalking box calls and winding new line onto fishing
reels? I don’t blame you. I’m trying to get that done, too.

Somewhere between unit meetings, individual input from hunters,
online surveys, the Conservation Congress Big Game Committee
meeting, and a landowner meeting in three Lake Michigan counties,
the DNR decided to back off of its opinion that 24 deer units
outside of the CWD zone should have earn-a-buck seasons this fall.
DNR Secretary Matt Frank announced April 9 that he could see the
agency foregoing earn-a-buck this year as the DNR tries to sift
through the ashes of the 2008 deer season to see where, and how,
things might have gone wrong.

Is this the right thing to do? From a biological perspective, we
won’t know for sure for at least one more deer season, and it might
even take two or three seasons to sort out just why the pre-hunt
projection was overly optimistic in many central and northern
units. As the DNR is sorting that out, biologists also will be
double-checking data to hopefully figure out just where the
population really stands in each unit.

From a sociological perspective, it is the right thing to do.
Many hunters did not see the deer they expected to see, and many
others did not shoot as many deer as they had hoped – or any, for
that matter.

I know we shot more than 450,000 deer in total last year, and
that’s a pile of deer, but even that number did not meet the
expectations of many hunters. What that probably tells us is that
productive areas of the state kept the overall statewide kill at a
reasonable level while other areas fell off the table.

I know what the DNR was worried about leading up to Frank’s
April 9 announcement: If we back off the throttle too much in areas
that are down near goal or in the 15 to 25 percent range over goal,
we could end up with a population problem quickly. In fact, Big
Game Committee co-chairman Mark Noll, of Alma, made that point
during the committee’s March 28 meeting at the Mead Wildlife Area.
He said he heard a similar amount of complaining – under similar
circumstances – about deer numbers in the early 1990s.

“We overcorrected at that time and the herd exploded,” Noll
said. “The same thing could happen now.”

That’s where deer hunters are going to have to make decisions
this fall. If the Natural Resources Board goes along with Frank’s
recommendation for no EAB units outside of the CWD zone this fall,
those 24 units that were “on the bubble,” are going to fall into
herd-control status. There are going to be other units in herd
control, too. Hunters in those units are going to have to “take the
temperature” of the deer herd in their areas and, if they’re seeing
antlerless deer, they should shoot a few of them.

Hunters in the “buck-plus-quota” units aren’t going to have to
worry about shooting many antlerless deer – there will not be much
opportunity for that this year. Those units will be in a rebuilding
mode for at least this year.

While many hunters are still fired up about the past deer season
and the DNR’s initial suggestion for 24 EAB units, we should slow
down and take one thing into account: For as cumbersome as our
system can be for handling natural resources issues, it works.

Yes, it did take a lot of grunting and groaning for your desires
to first be heard and then implemented. But the DNR did eventually
listen. What that tells me is that advice, suggestions and opinions
from different directions played a big role in getting this issue
off dead center – from the Big Game Committee and hunters showing
up at unit reviews all of the way down to hunters participating in
the online poll and organizing their own local meetings.

Frank’s decision is proof that our system of setting natural
resource policy works. It is open, above board, and allows for
plenty of opportunity for public involvement by individuals and
groups.

Did something go wrong last year? Apparently so. But now we know
that and we can work with our biologists to figure out what wrong
while we rebuild the herd in the units that are below over-winter
goal. Hunters got a commitment from Frank last week to do just
that.

“We will continue to look at our numbers,” Frank said. “Overall,
we believe we have a sound system, but we also know there are
concerns about what happened this past year and I think it’s
important we look at things.

“I know there has been concern about wolf and bear impact on the
population. We have some evidence and science on that, but we are
willing to dig into that some more. Deer science is an ongoing
thing. We can’t accomplish deer-management goals without hunter
support and participation.”

At the Wisconsin Deer and Turkey Expo in Madison, a reader
stopped by the booth to say he’s heard more than he wants to hear
about deer-hunting issues. He’s tired of it.

“Why can’t we all just go out and hunt? Just shut up and hunt,”
he said in frustration, arms waving in the air as he walked
off.

Sounds like a good idea. Let’s just shut up and hunt.

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