Editors Blog

Earn-a-Buck Out in Wisconsin

 A hunter drags out a mature doe. Photo by Dan SchmidtOne of North America’s most effective deer management techniques was kicked to the curb yesterday when Wisconsin lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to prohibit state deer managers to use earn-a-buck regulations for future deer seasons. The state had used the regulations on and off for most of the past decade. The regulation forced hunters to bag and register an antlerless deer before "earning" the right to use their antlered buck tags. In Wisconsin, hunters are allowed to shoot one buck with a bow and one with a firearm.

Many hunters are calling the end of EAB a victory, as it was a loud contingent that leaned on lawmakers to repeal the regulation. Having lived in Wisconsin my entire life, I’ve seen how this regulation has divided the hunting community. 

As a deer hunter, I will admit that EAB was a tough pill to swallow. In fact, I likely have a bigger sob story than anyone else can provide. I can’t recall the exact year, I believe it was 2001, but my wife Tracy and I were bowhunting on a tract of private land in October. It was an EAB season, and Tracy had yet to bag her doe. Tracy was seated beside a large boulder, on the ground, in a makeshift blind she had built earlier that afternoon. I was perched in a tree stand about 200 yards away. I couldn’t see her, but I could see the boulder.

At about 5 p.m., an absolutely huge buck appeared in the meadow near Tracy’s hideout. I grabbed my binoculars and sat in stunned silence. This buck was incredible. I watched him for at least 10 minutes and wondered if Tracy did, in fact, see him. If I were to guess, I’d say he was easily 150 inches.

The buck eventually walked off, and darkness settled upon the landscape. I climbed from my stand and walked to Tracy’s blind. When I arrived, she was standing beside the boulder, clutching on to it as if she was having a hard time standing. She was visibly shaken.

"Did you see that buck?" I gasped.

"You mean the giant 9-pointer that was standing right THERE for 10 minutes?" she blurted out while pointing to a spot just 10 yards in front of the boulder. "The same buck that I came to full draw on twice — put my sight pin on his chest — and let down just so I could tell you that I COULD have shot him? Yes, I saw him. I feel like I’m going to puke."

That was 10 seasons ago, yet it remains as the one and only antlered buck that Tracy could have shot with her bow.

Bitter pill, indeed. However, that story illustrates my desires as a hunter. As someone who understands the delicate balance between deer densities and habitat regeneration, I understand that EAB has been the only tool Wisconsin managers have used to successfully reduce deer populations enough to make a difference. They started in the 1980s by offering liberal antlerless deer tags. It didn’t work. When given the choice, hunters, as a whole, shot more bucks. Then, concurrently with EAB, managers tried other options like unlimited doe tags and special doe-only hunts in October and December.  Hunters revolted against the October hunts because they viewed them as cumbersome to the upcoming rut. By December, most guys had enough venison in the freezer, and the thought of shooting deer just to donate them to food pantries wasn’t enough to keep them motivated as a group.

In the end, nothing has worked on a statewide level as effectively as EAB. And now it’s gone with the stroke of a political pen. And therein lies the rub. Whether you liked EAB or loathed it, what has now happened is that a key tool to Wisconsin’s deer management program has been taken out of the scientific community and placed into the hands of politicians and special-interest groups. Not a good move, in my opinion. You don’t have to think too long or hard to envision where this could lead us in the future.

That’s how I see it. What are your thoughts?

9 thoughts on “Earn-a-Buck Out in Wisconsin

  1. let er buck

    As a venison lover I wouldn’t pass the chance to tag a doe @ the same time bucks are so nocturnal and far between I think that a hunter should not have to pass up that once in a lifetime buck because they havnt taged a doe. Let’s rember Hunting is a Passion and at the same time a lot of dedication and work I think geting out there doing what we do has earned the 1st buck tag

  2. Whack and stack em

    Wow, no kidding buck hunter? Not everyone has a golden spot to hunt. Extended seasons give those who maybe aren’t as fortunate, passionate or have the time to get out and try again to get some venison for their family. I love my bowhunting but would gladly give up the first two weeks of December for crossbows, muzzleloaders and other firearms if needed to get herds down in some areas. Bowhunters in December take such a small portion of deer. I also liked earn a buck but they just had it too much. There are lots of guys who won’t shoot a doe otherwise even if they have 10 of em around. The liberals couldn’t tolerate that a hunter deserved more than one deer? Doesn’t make sense. They give out tags unlimited in some areas. Please explain.

  3. buck hunter

    I don’t support the EAB rules, and also don’t like to see the politicians enter and dictate the rules. But the liberal DNR biologists have been messing with our deer hunting for 30+ years, pushing their anti-hunting leaning to the max. The old days of party permits and doe permits in addition to the regular buck tag were better hunting tools. But the liberals couldn’t tolerate that a hunter deserved more than one deer. Same warped thinking went into the extended seasons to kill more deer. Who did they extend the season for? The non-hunters that couldn’t fill their tag the first opening day. No way were they the ones that would trudge out to kill a deer. So the invite was out for the politicians to make the rules. Too many DNR money spenders is what we have.

  4. Jim C

    We have the same "doe first" rule on our farm in Michigan. And we don’t shoot small bucks — must be at least 4 on a side. We still have tons of deer, and I have 2 does in the freezer before the rut starts. Now I can concentrate on head bones, and there are always some nice ones. The rule works.

  5. Frank G

    With the over abundance of does (3 a day in my county) I would vote for a "doe" first reg here in Tennessee.

  6. Larry Holland

    The EAB program was great in the fact the over population of does was not like Central Texas. Yes, I from a state with a large population of does & feral hogs. You could have added kill
    a hog to make sausage too on land over populated. Let the Game managers make the decisions.

  7. Buckin' Rut

    Great points gentleman. Your posts are both right on the money. A number of politicians used hunters to get elected last year and now it’s payback time.

  8. Erik Hansen

    I am really torn on this one…as much as I hated EAB, it was an effective tool at reducing the herd…perhaps too effective. I firmly believe that if WDNR had used this tool more liberally (and responsibly), it would have been easier to swallow.

    You simply cannot have open season year after year for six to seven years straight and not expect consequences. In many areas, the delicate balance of doe-family groups are just starting to rebound. The problem is, deer are prolific and we will most likely be in an overpopulation situation in 2-3 years. If WDNR had used EAB once every 3-4 years, they would still have this tool.

    Hunters have spoken and punch drunk politicians have eagerly jumped on the bandwagon…it is up to us now to mangage the herd in a responsible way. I urge all of us to think deeply about this and do our part. Most of us know our land and when it is time to take a few antlerless deer…let’s do our part and not let politicians ever have a reason to become involved in the future.

    Peace and Happy Hunting

  9. Robert Thompson

    We all lose when politicians make decisions instead of deer managers. I am not sure what you are referring to when you say "you don’t have to think too long or hard to envision where this could lead us in the future," but if I am reading you right, I agree…if we let politicians make the decisions based off of a few squeaky wheels then that means any wheel squeaky enough will get the grease. I hope the anti’s aren’t listening.

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