If you want a bunch of hunters to actually show up and make an appearance at public meetings, just tell them they can’t shoot a buck next deer season. This was the case in Waupaca County, Wisconsin, as droves of pick-up trucks filled the Waupaca High School parking lot. It was standing room only in the performing arts center as hunters waited to weigh in.
The reason: A proposed recommendation by the County Deer Advisory Council (CDAC) to have an antlerless-only deer season in 2016. That’s right, if a buck would walk by, you can’t shoot it.
That’s some tough news for hunters in one of the top Boone and Crockett counties in America. Unlike the first public meeting, where only 9 people were present, well over 800 deer hunters and landowners filled the auditorium to give their input on the final deer herd recommendation for the upcoming season. It was no secret, the vast majority clearly opposed the antlerless-only season.
Let’s rewind to March 22nd, 2016, when the CDAC first met to discuss deer management quotas and recommendations for the upcoming season. In a small room sat 9 committee members and a few hunters tasked with making preliminary recommendations for the 2016 deer season. Based upon current trends and harvest numbers they decided upon an antlerless-only season as the only feasible option to get hunters to control the rapidly growing deer herd. Point blank, hunters aren’t shooting enough does to maintain the current population and forests aren’t regenerating.
Now, fast forward three weeks to today and that decision has yielded quite the turn out for a public deer meeting. I was one of the 800 or so attendees, however, I didn’t have much at stake in the decision since I don’t hunt Waupaca County. I was there as a deer hunting enthusiast, and so I could write this piece and even enjoy a little free entertainment.
Before diving into my thoughts and concerns for the county, the CDAC ultimately voted the antlerless-only season down with a 4 to 1 vote.
For the final recommendation numbers click here.
Here were my thoughts as I sat in the back row listening to the council and concerned deer hunters of Waupaca County:
First off, I can’t say I was surprised by the turnout. Waupaca is a large county with a lot of deer hunters and quality hunting land. Historically, it’s been one of the top 10 Boone and Crockett counties in America. It was great to see a turnout of this size at a public meeting, but at the same time it’s a shame only an unpopular ruling can draw them in.
I’ll be honest, I’m a member of the Ozaukee County Deer Advisory Council and we’re lucky to have two or three non-committee members attend the public meetings, as was the case for the first Waupaca CDAC meeting. Sure, the DNR might have to find out a better way to announce these meeting times and dates, but that information is out there. Bottom line, it would be nice to see more than just committee members at these public meetings on a regular basis.
Secondly, you might be wondering what my position is on the recommendation. I’m somewhere in between. I don’t agree with a doe only season, but I also agree that more hunters need to shoot does. I’m a firm believer in quality deer management and a balanced and healthy deer herd is the number one goal. The problem is not the recommendation to harvest more does, it’s the tools provided to get it done. Prior harvest numbers show hunters are unwilling to kill anywhere near the proposed quota number on their own. So how are we, as a county of hunters, supposed to fix our deer herd if we (collectively) are a broken tool? Some mentioned incentives, we’ll see.
As a side note, we are facing the same thing in Ozaukee County – hunters shooting less and less does.
Breaking off the last point, some hunters mentioned that Earn-A-Buck (EAB) would be a good compromise – an incentive to shoot a doe. Governor Walker banned EAB in 2011 due to hunter backlash. While it sounds good on the surface, it’s only because Waupaca is faced with the one thing worse, no bucks at all. Let’s be honest, had the committee been able to recommend earn-a-buck as recommendation, there would have been the exact same backlash and turnout at Waupaca High on Tuesday night. After all, nobody that spoke had a property with a single deer on it and a number of those same people saw hundreds of deer per sit just 5 years ago. . . If you didn’t catch it, that would be some of the “free entertainment” from the meeting.
One indisputable argument several Waupaca hunters fronted was the possibility of robbing a youth or first-time hunter of the chance to harvest a buck if it were to walk by. Like I said, this is indisputable in my eyes. Another important factor is the impact it would have on local businesses. Hunters surely would go elsewhere to harvest a buck and that’s not good for local small businesses, especially taxidermists. One taxidermist spoke and he’s right, it would be devastating. You take away the one thing hunters shoot and bring to a taxidermist and you essentially eliminate the majority of their relied upon income.
Some other popular subjects that didn’t really have anything to do with the recommendation of an antlerless-only season were the issues of baiting and antler point restrictions (APRs). I’ll keep it short, I’m not in favor of hunting over bait and I’m not sure why the APR issue came up. Perhaps it speaks to the growing volume of quality deer managers in the state who are sick of their neighbors continually shooting small bucks. Hmmm… if only they would shoot does instead!
In the end, I left with more concerning thoughts about the state of deer hunters. Several hunters made comments with regards to intentionally breaking the law if this antlerless only season was to pass. These weren’t private mumblings, these were expressed in front of the large crowd on a microphone for all to hear and they sounded something like this, “With this new electronic registration, what’s stopping me or anyone in here from shooting a buck in Waupaca, and registering it in a different county?” Hmmm, I don’t know, maybe someone’s law abiding conscience? But I get it, big bucks make people do stupid things. They always have and they always will.
Now that it didn’t pass, I’d be more worried about hunters falsely registering does they never shot in order to drive up harvest numbers so this decision won’t come back in the future. As far as I’m concerned, the only way the DNR can stop this from happening is to go back to a standard in-person registration for any doe harvested this next season. Otherwise the numbers used in the current Sex-Age-Kill (SAK) population model will be off even further, and if you were at the meeting, you know many hunters already question the DNR’s numbers. If that’s what it has come to, it’s pretty sad.
In conclusion, as I sat back against the wall after two hours of public commenting, the advisory council voted against an antlerless only season 4 to 1. The hunters were heard and the hunters were happy. I agree with the decision for the simple fact that you can’t take away the driving force of hunters and expect positive results. As deer hunters, we want a buck. Yes, obtaining venison is important also, but we’d at least like a chance at a big buck should the situation arise.