The August issue of Deer & Deer Hunting will include an in-depth piece on what of the most effective — but also controversial — deer management techniques in North America: Earn-a-buck regulations. These regulations have been used extensively in my home state of Wisconsin since 1996. However, the program will soon be dropped, because frustrated hunters lobbied lawmakers to do intervene.
In case you are not familiar with EAB, these are aggressive deer management techniques that essentially force hunters to shoot and register an antlerless deer before "earning" the right to use their buck tag. Wisconsin is one of the few states that still has mandatory deer-check stations.
The August article, by John Ozoga, cites several recently concluded scientific studies. The authors of those studies found the most effective way to increase the harvest of antlerless deer while controlling the confounding factors was to use earn-a-buck regulations in conjunction with supplemental antlerless-only seasons. This approach resulted in a harvest increase of 5.3 antlerless deer per square mile in the Wisconsin test areas.
Conversely, earn-a-buck regulations resulted in a 1.6 deer per square mile decrease in the buck harvest. This reduction in buck harvest apparently resulted from the inability of some hunters to harvest an antlerless deer, meaning they didn’t “earn” the privilege of hunting for a buck.
Hence, the researchers suggest that the earn-a-buck program “likely represents a cost to management in terms of hunter frustration and reduced support for management.”
After following this issue for nearly 15 years, I see both sides of the fence. EAB allows deer managers to do their job — manage herds to density goals. On the other hand, deer never distribute themselves equally across the landscape. What happens then is that deer sightings for hunters become a case of the haves and have-nots. If you have great land with great food sources, you will see a lot of deer. If you have marginal land, or have to hunt public land, you are often plumb out of luck.