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Changes to deer tag rules creating confusion
deer for web
Mike Harden, right, shot this 14-point buck with a crossbow on property in Utica Township owned by his brother, Gary Harden.

Concerns over changes in this year’s deer hunt licensing and registration are increasing among some familiar with the situation as the nine-day gun season, scheduled to start on Saturday, Nov. 22, approaches.

A host of changes referred to as the Deer Trustee Report Implementation may do more to confuse deer hunters this season than cure any perceived problems that the longstanding traditional deer hunt was having. The purpose of the report, prepared by Dr. James Kroll at the request of Governor Scott Walker, was to put forward proposals to better manage the deer herd.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Warden Cody Adams acknowledged some of the changes may result in confusion, but he was convinced that DNR officials using some discretion in enforcement would be able to make things work.

At its most basic level, the system in place for the upcoming nine-day gun deer hunt is pretty straightforward. Hunters purchasing a gun deer license will have a valid license for one buck statewide.

Additionally, one free antlerless tag will be issued with each deer-hunting license for use in any Farmland Zone.

Now, this is where some of the changes start to come into play. Gone are the more than 70 unique deer management units carved across county borders, which blanketed the state. Now, mostly each county is its own complete deer management unit defined by its own boundaries.

This brings us to the four zones into which the counties have been placed. They are the Southern Farmland Zone, the Central Farmland Zone, the Central Forest Zone and the Northern Forest Zone. Crawford, Vernon, Grant, Richland, Sauk, Iowa, Lafayette and 13 other counties stretching from the Mississippi River all the way to Lake Michigan are in the Southern Farmland Zone. It is defined by a relatively straight line from Vernon County’s northern border on the west to the north border on Ozaukee County in the east. It’s essentially the southern quarter of the state. The middle third or so of the state is largely included in the Central Farmland Zone. Carved into the middle of the Central Farm Zone is  the Central Forest Zone. It violates the idea of the other three zones, which are strictly run along county borders to form the new DMUs (Deer Management Units). The Central Forest Zone is more like the traditional carving of the state into DMUs that run along highways. It includes parts of Monroe, Juneau, Adams, Wood, Jackson, Clark and Eau Claire counties.

The last newly created zone is the Northern Forest Zone that contains the 18 counties in the northern third or so of the state.

Getting back to that one free antlerless tag issued along with the buck tag for use only in Farmland Zones, that’s what will apply in Crawford County and all of the counties that adjoin it in the Southern Farmland. It will also be valid in the Central Farmland Zone. However, the antlerless deer tag that accompanies every gun deer license is not valid in the forest zones.

Confused yet? There’s more. Every deer management unit in the state, including those in the Forest Zones, have additional bonus antlerless tags available for purchase at $12 for resident and $20 for non-residents. These tags are unit (in our case county) and land-type specific. They are being sold on first-come first-serve basis until all are sold. They went on sale beginning on August 18, 2014.

This means hunters must decide what unit (in our case which county) they will want to use the additional bonus antlerless tags because they are unit-specific. However, this year it does not end there. Hunters must also decide on the land-type of which they want to use the additional bonus antlerless tags. Is it land open to public hunting or private hunting.

Even the decision about what is a public or private land-type can be a little more complicated than it would first appear, especially in places like Crawford County and other counties in the Southern Farmland Zone.

State-owned land, like parks or forests, that allow hunting is the most obvious public type. However, any land, even privately owned, that allows public hunting through provisions of the Managed Forest Law or hunting easements with the DNR is also considered a public land-type.

So, what is the situation for a landowner who has some land enrolled in MFL that allows public hunting? That landowner must purchase a public land-type additional bonus antlerless tag to use it on that land even though he owns it. What if the owner has some MFL land open to public hunting and other land, which is not part of the program. That landowner cannot legally use a public land-type additional bonus antlerless tag to hunt the private portion of his property or a private land-type additional antlerless bonus tag to hunt the public hunted portion of his property.

However, it is important to remember that this year the one free antlerless tag that comes with the purchase of the license valid in the Farmland Zones works on either public or private types of land.

As if the additional bonus antlerless tags weren’t confusing enough, bonus buck opportunities are being offered only in the Southern Farmland Zone this year.

Bonus buck authorization stickers can be affixed to bonus antlerless tags making them valid for bucks. However each unfilled bonus buck authorization sticker earned in 2013 can be used during the 2014 deer season, but only one bonus buck authorization sticker earned during the 2014 season may be used in 2014. Bonus buck authorization stickers are earned by tagging antlerless deer with bonus tags. The rule change information also states that buck authorization stickers earned in 2014 may not be valid in 2015.

So what happens in the checkerboard of private and public land-types that comprises Crawford County. Well, confusion might happen first. There are narrow DNR hunting easements following streams and rivers throughout the area. A deer could be in and out of such an easement in 10 bounds, according to DNR Wildlife Biologist Dave Matheys, who works out of Viroqua.

What if a hunter shoots a deer in a private hunting land-type and it moves into a public hunting area?

 Matheys said the rule of thumb is where was the first blood drawn? He emphasized that is not part of the law, but a guidance policy.

Despite some assurances from local DNR officials like Adams and Matheys that common sense and discretion will be employed in applying the newly changed deer licensing and registration policies, some of those familiar with the situation remain concerned.

Jay Greene, the owner of Greener’s Corners who has hunted deer for 38 years, thinks the confusing and complicated regulations might result in harming some “very innocent individuals.”

“It’s getting so that you need to carry a dictionary with you just to understand the rules and regulations,” the longtime hunter said.

Greene explained there is a bit of a tradition with a lot of deer hunters who buy their licenses in the week or even on the night before the hunt.

“They have no clue about these changes in the regulation,” Greene said. “I’m running a retail store. I don't have the time to sit down with them and make sure they become aware of the changes.

“I think with so many complicated rules, they’re doing way with too much of the tradition of the whole sport,” Greene said. “The biggest barrier (in these changes) will be having private and public land-type (understood). Around our area, there’s quite a bit of public land. I’m afraid some innocent people will be fined.”

Greene feels people should become aware of the situation and the changes and not wait until the last minute to get licenses and additional bonus antlerless deer tags.

Matheys advice to deer hunters is much the same as it is most years.

“Be safe and have fun,” the veteran DNR wildlife biologist said.

As for the hunters’ chances for success in bagging a deer this season in Crawford County, on a scale of 1 to 10, Matheys rated it an 8.