Hunters take aim at DNR
The deer population in south-central Wisconsin has dropped 17 percent since 2002, according to the state Department of Natural Resources, and some hunters say that’s small enough.
But to control the spread of chronic wasting disease, the DNR goal is to cut the deer herd by another 40 percent in all or part of 19 southern counties.
It’s a tension between hunters and the DNR that’s been rising since CWD was discovered west of Madison in 2002.
The DNR says earn-a-buck and other special seasons are needed to shrink the deer herd and slow the spread of CWD.
Some hunters say the herd already is too small, and they’re frustrated that they see few if any deer during the traditional nine-day gun season, which this year opens Saturday, Nov. 20.
“The deer count is so far down that we just cannot see shooting any more does,” said Dennis Hoffman, state president of the nonprofit Wisconsin Deer Hunters. “You keep shooting does and your shooting yourself in the foot.”
DNR officials point out that the prevalence of CWD has increased to 12 percent of adult male deer and 6 percent of adult females in the CWD zone. The only way to slow the spread of the disease is to have fewer deer, they say, and the only reliable way to cut the herd is to force hunters to shoot a doe before they can shoot a buck.
“(Earn-a-buck) is the only season structure that has really shown to be effective at reducing the deer herd,” said Davin Lopez, the DNR’s CWD coordinator. “Continuing to have that pressure on the antlerless—basically the females—is the only effective way.”
The DNR tried an either-sex season in the CWD zone in 2006 and 2007. The antlerless harvest was nowhere near what was needed to meet the zone’s population goal, the DNR reported.
Hoffman said hunters don’t want CWD to spread, but they don’t like earn-a-buck.
After deer hunting season last year, hunters complained that they saw too few deer.
Hunters in Rock and Walworth counties killed about one-third fewer deer during the November 2009 nine-day gun season compared to 2008.
They blamed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for mismanaging the deer herd and overestimating its population.
DNR officials said the decrease was due to weather conditions, deer hiding in standing corn and a smaller herd from fighting chronic wasting disease.
A hunter’s perception of the deer population often depends on whether the hunter tagged a trophy buck.
But the questions remain: How many deer are in the area? And how accurate are population estimates?
Lopez said officials last winter counted deer by flying fixed-wing planes across the entire CWD management zone, which ranges from Rock County to the south, Juneau County to the north, Grant County to the west and Racine County to the east. He said they also flew helicopters across portions of the zone, including Rock and Walworth counties.
The extra flyovers were intended to give the DNR a more accurate population estimate to manage CWD, Lopez said.
During flyovers, officials believe they see about 80 percent of deer.
“I think we really have the most accurate estimates in North America, at least in the CWD management zone,” Lopez said. “We really do have a good handle at how many deer are out there.”
Nearly 185,000 deer live in the CWD management zone, the DNR reported, but the goal is to reduce the population more than 40 percent.
Hoffman said hunters don’t trust the DNR’s population estimates. He said hunters aren’t seeing nearly the number of deer the DNR claims are out there.
“Hunters just do not trust the DNR right now,” Hoffman said. “They just don’t trust the DNR with our deer counts.”
Jim Wiltinger, field director for the local Whitetails Unlimited chapter, said the DNR’s population estimates are as accurate as ever.
He said he went bow hunting seven times last year without seeing a deer. He said he might have complained about the herd, too, until he saw three bucks in one day and shot a 20-pointer.
Hunting stories like that are common across Wisconsin, Wiltinger said. Hunters base their opinions on the deer population on where they hunt and whether they get a buck.
“The DNR has a tough job to do, and they’re doing the best they can. Its’ not perfect,” Wiltinger said. “I believe there are a lot more big deer than ever before, even though there might not be as many deer.”
Hunting regulations in the chronic wasting disease zone:
-- Traditional nine-day firearm season: Nov. 20-28, earn-a-buck.
-- Ten-day muzzleloader-only season: Nov. 29-Dec. 8, earn-a-buck.
-- Late firearm season: Dec. 9-12, antlerless only.
-- Holiday firearm season: Dec. 24-Jan. 9, earn-a-buck.
-- Landowner season: Jan. 10-March 31, either sex.
Hunters can register deer at the following locations, some of which include CWD testing:
- Chad’s Taxidermy, 11102 S. Larson Road, Clinton, registration and CWD testing.
-- Milton Bait and Tackle, 24 S. Clear Lake Ave., Milton, registration and CWD testing.
-- Footville Meat Market, 280 N. Gilbert St., Footville, registration and CWD testing.
-- Goodspeed Gas & Go, 350 N. Union St., Evansville, registration only.
-- Kauffman’s Country Store, 9550 W. Highway 81, Beloit, registration only.
-- J & R Express/BP gas station, 650 Midland Road, Janesville, registration and CWD testing.
-- Haven’s Bar & Grill, 1282 N. Lakeshore Drive, Pell Lake, registration only.
-- Bob Black’s Meat Processing, 130 N. Harrison St., Delavan, registration and CWD testing.
-- East Troy BP, 1880 Main St., East Troy, registration only.
-- Pete’s Tire Service, W8285 Sunrise Lane, Whitewater, registration and CWD testing.