Editors Blog

Dan Schmidt: Wisconsin Whiffs on New Deer Management Plan

Under Wisconsin's new deer hunting rules, hunters will "earn" an extra buck tag if they shoot an antlerless deer first. This change would allow hunters to shoot a total of three bucks each year. (Dan Schmidt photo)

Under Wisconsin’s new deer hunting rules, hunters will “earn” an extra buck tag if they shoot an antlerless deer first. This change would allow hunters to shoot a total of three bucks each year. (Dan Schmidt photo)

On March 28, 2012, I blasted Wisconsin’s new deer management liaisons for a report they compiled for Gov. Scott Walker. After a bunch of hoopla and political spin, they turned in a lengthy document that allegedly spelled out how they’d fix deer hunting in the Badger state. My underlying tone was, “is that all you get for your money?”

It’s been almost two years, and I’m still standing behind those comments.

Why? Because that sad day in the history of modern whitetail management has not become any brighter in the near-two years the state has had to implement a plan to “save deer hunting” for our future generations.

Today comes the news of the 12 new Wisconsin deer registration rules that will be implemented from this $125,000-plus exercise in futility. It was boiled down nicely by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Paul Smith, one of the finest outdoor journalists from Wisconsin.

Here are the changes, along with my take-aways. Consume at your own discretion, and be careful not to trip on my sarcasm.

New Rule: Create a system of 72 deer management units along county lines.
Analysis: Pointless. Does nothing to put more deer in the woods.

New Rule: Create a panel in each county to advise the DNR on deer management.
Analysis: Rife with political problems. The only ones who will sign up are ones with self interests. If you didn’t trust the Department of Natural Resources to manage the deer herd in the best interests of the animal, good luck trusting the three or four people they find to fill these positions in your county.

New Rule: Do away with quantitative deer population goals, and instead express the local deer management objectives as “increase, decrease or stabilize.”
Analysis: Perhaps my favorite among all of the recommendations. In fact, we all should use the same approach when visiting the doctor for our annual physicals. “Hey, Doc, I want less cancer this year. Don’t bore me with the details.”

New Rule: Institute a bonus buck system in which a hunter would get one extra buck tag after killing an antlerless deer. The bonus buck rule would apply in all southern farmland units and any other units in the state with goals of “decrease” or “stabilize.” Hunters would be capped at a maximum of three bucks a year if hunting with both gun and bow.
Analysis: Woo-hoo! No more passing up yearling bucks during early bow season. A wonderful mulligan for tens of thousands of hunters.

New Rule:  Allow phone or online registration of deer kills.
Analysis: Anyone want to take stab at how many of those deer will be butchered in garages, heads lopped off and tags recycled? Even if 90 percent of us honest folks do the right thing, that means upwards of 40,000 deer that will be killed annually and unaccounted for during the annual review process.

New Rule:  Create a system of public and private antlerless deer tags.
Analysis: Actually a decent idea. Not kidding. However, my guess is that is would be next to impossible to draw a doe tag for any public property north of Hwy. 8, but so be it. As for private lands, this would get a little complicated. Good luck to the chump who has to figure that out.

New Rule:  Create a deer management assistance program.
Analysis: Very unnecessary. In other states, DMAP usually specifies how many does a particular property should harvest each year. If you own a bunch of land, you’re good to go. If you own a small tract, you’re not going to like the advice you’re going to get.

New Rule:   Prohibit the harvest of white deer in the CWD management zone.
Analysis: Can someone say “the pretty deer rule?”  This flies directly in the face of science. Sure, Wisconsin already had an ill-advised law on the books that prohibits the shooting of albinos, and piebalds were legal game. However, both are the result of genetically inferior stock, and both should be fair game if we are all about managing deer in their overall best interests.

New Rule:  Divide the state into four management regions: southern farmland, central farmland, central forest and northern forest.
Analysis. This serves no purpose for making management easier or more precise.

As far as seasons go, the structure pretty much will stay the same for bow, gun and youth seasons. Bowhunters should note, however, that one caveat will eliminate the regular archery tag as an “either or” tag as it has been for decades. Moving forward, the archery tag will be good for one antlered buck only.

Admittedly, it is difficult for me to write about Wisconsin deer hunting without being sarcastic. The reasons are many, but they boil down to the fact that I find it maddening our elected officials have taken a natural resource and made it political football. What’s more, they’re heralding these changes as necessary because so many hunters are disgruntled over the number of deer they see in the woods. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but nothing short of several consecutive mild winters, near extermination of all predators and the widespread clear-cutting of state, county and federal forests will ever fix that. At least not to their satisfaction.

Two years ago, Gov. Walker whined on TV about how he was “sick of going deer hunting and not seeing anything.” For the record, he had one (1) deer season under his belt when he made those remarks. He’s made a lot of progress in his real job, but he whiffed big-time on this one. But that’s probably by design, because if he truly wanted to improve the state’s deer hunting fortunes, he would have empowered the brilliant Wisconsin-educated wildlife biologists that were already under his employment.

In conclusion, what do these 12 new rule changes do to improve the number of deer you’ll see this fall?

Absolutely nothing.