Six buck-only units OK’d by Natural Resource Board for ’12

Madison — The 2012 deer season will include an October four-day antlerless-only deer hunt in the CWD zone, 50 units with a “regular” season (or buck plus quota), 44 units in herd-control regulations, and six units with a buck-only season.

The Natural Resources Board approved the DNR’s proposed antlerless quotas and an emergency rule for the four-day October season at its April 25 meeting. The emergency rule can be reviewed by the governor and Legislature.

Last year, the season included 28 regular units, 64 herd-control units, and eight buck-only units. The DNR had proposed four buck-only units for 2012, but that number increased by two when NRB member Terry Hilgenberg realized that the two units in which he hunts were listed as regular units. He offered an amendment to add units 35 and 36 to the buck-only list. The amendment passed.

Kevin Wallenfang, DNR big-game ecologist, said the 2012 season framework was recommended with “extra work to reach out and include the public in everything that we are doing.”

“We have some conservative quotas, trying to accommodate some of the wishes of people, especially in the Northern Forest (Region) where we can use some herd growth,” he said.

Over-winter deer numbers appear to be close or just below where they should be in many northern units. There are plenty of deer in many southern units, Wallenfang said. Biologists anticipate with the mild winter that there will be good fawn survival across the state.

Wallenfang also emphasized that the DNR has tweaked things to try to put realistic numbers out for quota permits.

“We took a look at every single unit and set permit numbers based on what we know we can historically issue,” he said. This will allow everyone who wants a permit to get one, without having a large number that is unreachable and upsets people.

He also knows that hunters want a regular deer season back, and he believes the department is turning the ship in that direction.

The “regular” units include 50 units with buck-plus-quota, a regular bow season, a nine-day gun hunt, 10-day muzzleloader hunt, four-day December antlerless gun hunt, and a limited number of antlerless deer tags at $12 each.

Of the six buck-only units, four (units 7, 29B, 34, and 39) were 20 percent or more below over-winter goals. Two units (35 and 36) were added as buck-only by Hilgenberg when he said that hunters he talked with see few deer there.

Hilgenberg said his party of six people hunting in Unit 35 last year saw one deer in four days of hunting. The previous year, eight hunters only saw one deer.

“I cannot vote in favor of this plan unless it is buck-only in units 35 and 36, because we don’t see deer,” Hilgenberg said. “We’ve had boots on the ground looking for deer, and years ago we used to see plenty of deer but now only one per season.”

“We don’t like to see buck-only units because it creates ‘islands,’ it complicates the regulations, and means that archery hunters also cannot shoot an antlerless deer,” Wallenfang said.

Herd-control seasons (where the herd is more than 20 percent above goal) will be offered in 44 units and eight state parks. They include: 1M, 22A, 33, 46, 47, 51A, 51B, 54A, 54B, 54C, 57, 57B, 57C, 59B, 59C, 59D, 59M, 60A, 60B, 60M, 61, 61A, 62A, 62B, 63A, 63B, 64, 64A, 64M, 65B, 66, 67A, 67B, 68A, 68B, 69, 69C, 72, 72A, 73A, 73B, 73D, 74A, 74B, 77C, 77D, 77E, 77M, 80B, 80A, 80C, and 81.

Hunters in these units will get a free antlerless tag with bow and gun licenses. They also may buy antlerless tags for $2 each.

The CWD zone will have “limited earn-a-buck” in all 22 units: 54B, 70, 70A, 70B, 70C, 70D, 70E, 70F, 70G, 71, 73B, 73E, 75A, 75B, 75C, 75D, 76, 76A, 76M, 77A, 77B, and 77C.

Hunters in CWD units may shoot either a doe or buck for their first deer, but hunters must then shoot an antlerless deer to earn another buck tag.

A separate emergency rule continues the four-day October antlerless-only gun season that has been held in the CWD zone since 2002. The season will open Thursday, Oct. 11 and conclude Sunday, Oct. 14.

NRB member Greg Kazmierski said quota numbers create a dilemma because he believes those estimates are impossible to defend. He also said he sees little difference in the harvest in the CWD units before and during the CWD program.

Kazmierski quoted a comment from the deer trustee meetings: “The bottom line is that we won’t accomplish anything until we mend fences between hunters and the DNR.”

NRB member Christine Thomas reminded board members of their charge to “be mindful of the resource,” but she asked if there aren’t other things they haven’t thought of that the DNR can do that will slow the spread and incidence of CWD without including season structures people don’t like.

Wallenfang said that when the DNR considered the October hunt, it decided to err on the side of the resource itself.

“It doesn’t result in the harvest of a lot of deer, but there is a board-approved plan in place that calls for us to use every tool in the book, and frankly, this is one of the last ones we’ve got,” Wallenfang said.

“I don’t want the impression out there that we don’t care what hunters think, because we very much do,” he said. “This is one of the last Band-aids that we’ve got. It’s our obligation to advance it.”

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said, “We are balancing the science with the social side.”

Rob Bohman, chair of the Conservation Congress, said this is the first year the Congress was taking no position on the deer season framework. The Congress Big-Game Committee requested buck-plus-quota for any unit that needs an antlerless harvest, and requested there be no “islands.”

Bohman said many people want to go back to the traditional season. He said it would be nice if the board could hold off one month on adopting antlerless quotas to get more input.

Ralph Fritsch, of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, supported the proposal, but expressed concern that the bonus buck program may not achieve the goals of the CWD plan. He complimented the DNR for listening to sportsmen and scaling back antlerless quotas in northeastern Wisconsin.

When Hilgenberg proposed an amendment to add units 35 and 36 to the buck-only list, it passed with only NRB member Jane Wiley dissenting. Wiley later explained her vote by publicly expressing her concern with board members using their position to influence specific seasons that could benefit themselves.

Kazmierski made a motion to delete the October antlerless hunt from the emergency rule. That motion lost, with only Kazmierski voting for it.

Wallenfang said public input was obtained on this year’s season framework from 36 deer forums around the state, an on-line deer forum in which more than 5,000 hunters filled out questionnaires, and surveys and research obtaining observations and assistance from the public.

The on-line deer forum showed that the hot topics include predators, antlerless permits, public vs. private land, baiting, agricultural tags, DNR communication, and antler restrictions.

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