WISCONSIN - While the pandemic may have slowed down or shut off many activities, it seemed to have stimulated Wisconsin hunters to get involved through some online survey opportunities concerning deer hunting questions and options.
Through two major surveys, hunters have let their thoughts be known.
As previously reported in the Independent-Scout, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress Spring Hearings drew a massive statewide online response. The hearings were always an in-person type of thing held in all 72 counties on the same night.
Last year, there were some provisions made for online input. However, this year the online response exploded, when the in-person hearings were cancelled because of concerns for the coronavirus pandemic and the related’ Safer at Home’ order.
Statewide, the response was overwhelming as 63.536 people responded. Locally, the online response mirrored the larger statewide response. In Crawford County, 300 county residents responded online. Last year, there weren’t 30 people at the county meeting held in Prairie du Chien.
There were plenty of online participants in surrounding counties as well. Vernon had 549. Grant had 745 and Richland had 271
Crawford County DNR Conservation Warden Cody Adams was flabbergasted, when he learned of the response. Adams was working in the field, when the online results of the hearings were announced.
The warden, who is charged with running the county hearing, couldn’t believe it.
“We’re lucky if we get 25 people at the hearing,” Adams said.
Because the hearing was held as an online survey, it also drew an enormous non-county resident response. More than 2,255 people who are not county residents, but indicated they recreated in the county, voted in the Crawford County Spring Hearing. In nearby counties, it was much the same. Vernon had 3,015 non-residents, who said they recreated in the county. It was 2,594 non-residents voting in Grant and 2,457 in Richland.
Did they vote in other county hearings where they reside or recreate as well? The answer to that question is pretty much a no, according to Bob Ziel a Crawford County representative on the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. Online mechanisms were in-place to only allow a voter to vote in one county survey.
Local DNR Wildlife Biologist Dan Goltz believes like many others, that people staying at home in the pandemic–some of them not working, led to the massive response to the online spring hearings this year. People had time on their hands and that probably increased the response.
Another factor were some of the proposals being made in the hearings. Questions about extending the nine-day gun deer season to 19 days or 16 days stimulated a strong, largely negative response. The 16-day proposal would have moved the start of the hunt up on the calendar with more chances of including part of the deer rut in the season. The 19-day proposal would have added days to the end of the current nine-day season.
Spring hearing voters were having none of it.
Statewide the 16-day hunt lost 37,502 to 15,231, while in Crawford it lost 180 to 63 among residents. The 19-day hunt lost 41,531 to 14,380 statewide and 204 to 61 among Crawford County residents.
“The nine-day season is a tradition,” Goltz noted. “Deer hunting in Wisconsin is like a religion. They just don’t want to change the tradition.”
Bob Ziel said another proposal for a five-day or even a two-day rest prior to the opening of gun season would not fly with bowhunters. The archers are actively pursuing deer. sometimes in the rut, just prior to opening day of the gun season.
Another hot-button proposal in the spring hearings centered on crossbow hunting. Broadly allowing the use of the weapon for deer hunting in the bowhunting season is a rather recent development. Prior to that the use of a crossbow for hunting was reserved for the elderly or physically handicapped bowhunters.
With the widespread use of the highly effective crossbow, the number of deer harvested in the bow season has increased. Of concern to some gun deer hunters is the number of trophy bucks harvested in the bow season since crossbow hunting was allowed.
There were several questions designed to restrict or limit crossbow use. One question would ban the use of the crossbow from November 1 through the last day of the gun deer season. Another banned this use of compound bows as well as crossbows during the gun season.
The November 1 through the gun deer season proposal lost 31,113 to 20,387 statewide and 159 to 83 in Crawford County.
Changing the rules to use of the crossbow to be different than other archery equipment was rejected.
In fact, when it came to deer hunting, both statewide and locally voters in the spring hearing were not interested in making changes.
One of the few exceptions was a proposal to grant DNR Conservation Wardens the power to issue trespassing tickets. Without this power, landowners must call the sheriff’s department and summon a deputy to deal with trespassing issues.
Allowing wardens to issue trespassing citations passed locally (178 to 50) and statewide (39,911 to 9,323).
While the participation and online results of the 2020 Wisconsin Conservation Congress Spring Hearings may have surprised people, it wasn’t the only surprise. The online input to the CDAC Survey was also much heavier than usual. Bob Ziel in addition to being the county representative to the Conservation Congress also serves as the Chairperson of the Crawford CDAC. Ziel feels the stay-at-home residents also had time on their hands to fill out the CDAC Survey and that response was much heavier than usual.
The CDAC held two meetings–the first in April and the second in May on their way to making recommendations for the 2020 deer seasons in Crawford County.
After some discussion, the CDAC recommendation for the county was to reduce antlerless tags to three per license from four last year.
The CDAC largely followed recommendations of DNR Wildlife Biologist Dan Goltz. The group established the quota of 3,300 antlerless deer as the number needed to keep the herd from substantially increasing or substantially decreasing. Last year, the county fell short of harvesting 3,000 antlerless deer with about 2,800 through the nine-day gun season, the Holiday Hunt (gun season), the muzzleloader season, and of course, the bow hunt season.
The CDAC has a target population for a post-hunt deer herd of 16,000. Last year, due to a variety of factors, the harvest was 13-percent lower than the previous year.
However, Ziel, Goltz and other member of the CDAC said there is every reason to believe the harvest number of antlerless deer could go up this year.
Crawford County Conservationist Dave Troester is the agriculture member of the CDAC.
“I think we’re in a pretty good position,” Troester said. “As the ag representative, I get feedback from farmers and a lot of full-time farmers also hunt. The majority of farmers feel population is high.
“There was definitely a trend last year that hunters were not willing to shoot does,” the conservationist observed. Troester explained controlling the population is like walking a tight rope and shooting more does is an option to control the herd size.
Andy Novak, a rural Ferryville resident, is the transportation representative on the CDAC.
Novak, an avid deer hunter, explained that the DNR used a deer modeling formula called SAK. The model tries to anticipate deer population density, based on a number of factors.
Novak questions if the online registration system is capturing as much accurate information as the old in-person registration did.
“If the reporting is inaccurate then that’s taking knowledge away from the DNR.,” Novak explained. “If the DNR can’t get a handle on the density, it makes it harder to make decisions.”
Novak urged hunters to take responsibility for improving the deer hunt.“Everybody needs to step up and do something,” the CDAC member said. “They need to properly dispose of carcasses by throwing them in designated dumpsters (to stop the spread of CWD). They need to get testing done for the presence of CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease). And, they need to register their deer correctly at the time of harvest.”