Turkey proposal sparks debate

Madison – Mike Rogers says it no longer matters whether it was
legislators or hunters who came up with a proposal to drastically
change the spring turkey season; now that the bill is out in the
open, he said it’s time for public debate to dictate its success or

Rogers, of Prairie du Sac, is a dedicated turkey hunter and
chairman of the Conservation Congress Turkey Committee. He said his
local National Wild Turkey Federation chapter is among many NWTF
chapters that are dead against SB 481, despite the fact that the
NWTF Wisconsin state chapter helped legislators write the bill.

SB 481 would allow hunters to buy a turkey tag over the counter
and hunt anywhere at any time in the spring. It would eliminate the
preference system, the six time periods, and the seven zones.

“Any proposal should have been brought to the Conservation
Congress. They should have laid out all of the facts,” Rogers said.
“Hunter interference in a wide-open, 42-day season would get ugly,
especially on public land.”

The bill has bipartisan support from eight senators and 13
Assembly members. Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, is the lead author.
He chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee, the committee to
which the bill was assigned in late January.

Liz Novak, an aide to Holperin, said the bill hasn’t had a
hearing scheduled and may not until late March or April. As of late
last week, the bill’s momentum appeared to fade. Sen. Glenn
Grothman, R-West Bend, told WON contributing editor Dan Small that
mounting opposition made it unlikely that Holperin would call a

When word of the plan leaked out, online message boards lit up
with opinions. Some hunters said they’d welcome the changes; some
shot the proposal down. Many said they were concerned about losing
access to private land, competition for spots, and safety. Some
wondered why the state NWTF chapter didn’t poll its members.

Dean Hamilton, NWTF state chapter president, said that board
voted 7-3 to endorse the proposal, with one member abstaining.

Hamilton said the proposal came about in a meeting last April
with legislators and representatives from the Wisconsin Bear
Hunters Association, Safari Club International’s Wisconsin chapter,
and the state NWTF chapter. Those groups are members of the Hunters
Rights Coalition, which is represented by former senator and now
lobbyist Bob Welch.

“Deer issues were No. 1,” Hamilton said. “Some bear issues were
talked about, and then it turned to turkeys. A number of
legislators said they had heard of a lot of unhappiness and wanted
our support on writing a bill to have a wide-open season.”

Hamilton said he asked for time to go to the NWTF board and NWTF
biologist Dave Neu.

“We’re hunters, but we also have a responsibility to the
resource, and I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the
resource,” Hamilton said.

The NWTF board asked Neu to have DNR biologists weigh in. Neu
went to the DNR in April; the agency didn’t have any biological
concerns about the proposal.

But DNR Turkey Ecologist Scott Hull said since there was no
official bill to react to – only an idea – he said the DNR didn’t
weigh in, but instead said it would be happy to consider changes
and preferred that these types of questions go through the normal

“We’ve added counter sales, extended the fall season, and are
trying fall turkey hunting with dogs,” Hull said. “That all points
to us being willing to listen and change. But now that the bill is
out there, there are a number of things we’re concerned about.
Hunter interference is one of those.”

Hunter satisfaction

Hull said the DNR surveyed 10,000 spring and 10,000 fall turkey
hunters last year, and 85 percent were satisfied or very satisfied
with their hunting experience.

Said Rogers, “Eighty-five percent of the hunters are satisfied,
and they want to change it? I don’t mind legislators having a say,
but let it go through the normal channels first. You think they got
elected to change the turkey season? They have better things to do,
like work on the budget deficit, or job creation. That’s what I’m
hearing the most from people.”

Hamilton said since turkey hunting is managed for hunter
satisfaction, he’d like to see even more opportunity, with everyone
getting a tag and online or telephone bird registration. Also,
under the proposed bill, nonresident college students would be able
to buy a tag at a resident rate.

“We knew this bill was going to get written regardless,”
Hamilton said. “The Legislature came to us. We felt it best to give
input rather than just say no.”

Missouri has a similar number of hunters and harvest, Hamilton
said, and allows two birds in a 21-day season.

Hamilton said there were a number of errors in the bill’s first
draft, which NWTF found and helped change.

“We want to continue to give the DNR power to continue to manage
the fall season biologically,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said he kept the DNR in the loop via e-mail. “I’m sick
and tired of everyone saying we hate the DNR and hate the
(Conservation) Congress,” Hamilton said. “And I get really
disappointed when I hear people say we don’t work with the DNR. We
donate thousands of dollars to Archery in Schools, hunter education
and Learn-to-Hunt programs. Biologists sign off on every dollar we
spend, and we have a great relationship with DNR wardens.”

Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association president Kendel Durham said
his group voted to support the bill. Why would a bear group comment
on turkeys?

“It’s called the Hunters’ Rights Coalition,” Durham said. “We
band together and help support each other on worthwhile

Durham said he believes a wide-open format is one of the best
ideas he’s seen to improve the turkey hunt in Wisconsin.

“Instead of five days, you have the ability to wait for good
weather,” Durham said. “I think you’re going to be surprised how
it’s going to spread out the people. You’re not limited to five
days and done for the year.”

Rogers disagrees.

“You wouldn’t have the quality hunts you have now,” he said.
“Breaking it up by period spreads the pressure out. And now, I can
get 10 tags if I want. If we can only get one tag, how is that more

Hull said it’s not clear how extra tags could be awarded. “We’re
not going to know in advance where people will be hunting,” he
said. “How would we decide how to issue those extra tags?”

Hull said one landowner called to say he had better things to do
than try to schedule hunters without separate time periods.

Read the bill and track any future moves online at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/SB481hst.html.

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