“I went to Wal-Mart to get my hunting license and they told me I could not have a doe permit,” said the man from Jackson County. “Since when are we not supposed to shoot does?”
Hunters heading to the woods this week are promised a better hunt than last year.
“I am feeling pretty positive,” said Kris Belling, a regional wildlife manager, in an interview with the Eau Claire Leader Telegram. “Hunters are going to have a better year than last year.”
But my caller from rural Jackson County wasn’t so sure. “My kids are really counting on hunting this year. I really would like to shoot the does. We have all kinds of deer on our land.”
After several calls to the Department of Natural Resources, I discovered that Deer Management Unit (DMU) 55 - in eastern Jackson and southern Clark counties as well as areas in Dunn and Pierce Counties- had limited antlerless deer tags.
Most of our Senate District is blessed (or cursed if you are a farmer with deer eating your crops) to be designated a deer herd control unit. This means the area has deer populations that need to be thinned. If you are in DMU 61, 59D, & 72 (Buffalo, Trempealeau, Eastern Jackson, most of Pepin, La Crosse and Monroe counties) you can get unlimited antlerless tags.
But this is not so for the Central Forests including DMU 55; these are low population areas. Hunters will receive one buck tag but no antlerless tags.
The DNR is working to balance the number of bucks and does. Although the system is imperfect, hunters can help. Shooting does in herd control areas is part of the answer. Accurate modeling to predict population changes is also part of the mix.
Over the years the approach taken by the DNR to assess the deer population has come under fire. This was especially true last year when hunters saw 29% drop in the kill rate from 2008.
“We going to start to make progress this winter,” a member of the Conservation Congress Large Game Committee told me Friday. “Sportsmen said the population was way down and the DNR listened. Beginning this winter new studies will look at buck and fawn mortality. There will be a tagging study. The DNR will set out large box traps, catching and tagging deer, radio collaring some deer and putting a chip in the ear of other deer.
“Some pregnant does will have a radio chip in their uterus. When fawn drops, the radio chip drops. DNR staff will track the fawns and study fawn mortality. Between bears, bobcats, fishers and wolves, predators are eating the fawns.”
“The study on the Clam Lake Elk herd showed newborn calf mortality was almost 60% due to predation. Soon we will be able to know more about mortality rates for newborn fawns.”
I told him the story of my constituent in Jackson County and he said, “People are upset about areas not in ‘herd control’. The Northeast part of the state can shoot absolutely no does at all. Even in bow season.”
The new research on the deer population was funded with money from the federal government. A federal excise tax is collected on guns, ammo and hunting equipment. Those dollars, known as the federal Pittman-Robertson funds are given back to the state. Wisconsin received over $2 million of the research funds.
DNR Secretary Matt Frank, when announcing the new deer population initiative said, “While this is a significant sum, we believe that this is a worthwhile investment to improve the long-term management of a sustainable and healthy deer herd for generations to come.”
Deer hunting is a Wisconsin tradition. Working together we can ensure that future generations of hunters will have hunting tales to share around the Thanksgiving table. To all this year’s hunters - be safe out there.