Deer hunters in five area Deer Management Units will again see ultra-liberal harvest rules this season because the herd is as much as 40 percent over population goals, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday night in Clintonville.
But about half of the 90 hunters in attendance at the deer forum indicated by a show of hands that they do not feel the DNR is correctly managing the herd and do not believe the biologists’ numbers are correct.
Statewide harvest numbers, though, tend to side with the DNR: the buck kill was up 1 percent and the antlerless kill was up 4 percent.
Biologists admitted the deer harvest is down in many northern Deer Management Units, but in the Eastern farmland habitat of units 47, 51B, 62B, 63A, 63B, 65B, too many deer means Herd Control rules will be in effect again. This means there will be virtually unlimited antlerless deer tags available for $2 each.
DNR biologist Dick Nikolai of Appleton noted that Earn-a-Buck – the unpopular method of herd control that required a hunter to shoot a doe or other antlerless deer before shooting a buck – is gone, leaving biologists few options.
“The legislature certainly took away some of those tools for managing the herd,” he said.
But hunters like Don Ebelt of Appleton believe that shooting too many does is the main reason hunters are having difficulty seeing deer when afield.
“When I don’t see any deer, it bothers me,” he explained, noting that last season, he hunted near Manawa, Crivitz, Navarino Wildlife Area and Mountain. During four days of hunting near Crivitz at the beginning of gun season, he and three friends saw no deer and heard just 20 shots.
“When you take away the women of any species, it will hurt the population,” Ebelt said. “Us men can’t have babies.”
He believes the liberal Herd Control rules are a bad idea and thinks biologist goals of 25 or 30 deer per square mile are not large enough.
The population goal in Unit 47 and 63B are 25 per square mile, with the other units in portions of Waupaca, Shawano, Outagamie and Oconto counties that make up the Eastern farmland habitat having a goal of 30 deer per square mile.
Several hunters stressed how private landowners who post their land and otherwise restrict deer hunting can also restrict deer movement during the seasons.
Many hunters continue to report seeing few or no deer while hunting, but the biologists suggested that a combination of deer baiting (which allows deer to move only at night and still find food) and changing hunting methods (most hunters now sit in stands and wait for deer to come, rather than using the old method of driving deer by having some hunters walk the woods and others lie in wait) are a few reasons for this.
Another problem biologists addressed is Founder’s Disease, which is caused when deer eat a high carbohydrate diet, such as corn. The disease causes deer to have elongated toes. One deer with Founder’s Disease was shot by the DNR in the city of Appleton at the end of February, while a second deer with it was shot in Unit 64M, Nikolai said. Again, feeding with corn by landowners was blamed for the problem.
Nikolai reminded hunters that while many of them want deer herds managed for maximum numbers and therefore more hunting opportunities, farmers and landowners trying to grow trees or crops may want few or no deer on their land.
One farmer in Unit 63A incurred $50,000 annual damage from deer depredation and was forced to put up ever-taller fences until he was reaching bankruptcy, while at the same time, a neighbor was feeding deer to ensure more were on his land, Nikolai noted. DNR biologist Jacob Fries of Waupaca said he has several foresters working in his office who can’t generate new oak growth anywhere in the area without deer fences.
One hunter said he has had success planting oaks on his acreage near Shawano, noting he planted them in 2000. Biologist Kay Brockman-Mederas of Shawano said that was a year of a large deer harvest, and once the oaks reach a certain height, they can survive deer.
Mike Preisler, coordinator of deer trapping efforts for two ongoing research projects on buck survival and fawn depredation, said the trapping and tagging efforts so far this year have captured 90 deer without the use of helicopters. Last year, 135 deer were caught, including 60 with use of helicopters, but an unacceptable deer mortality rate of about 15 percent meant an end to the use of helicopters.
Initial results of the study show about 70 percent of fawns are surviving their first year in this region, while 70 percent die in the north, Preisler said. Excluding cars, bears are the number one predator in the north, while coyotes are the top predator in this area.
Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.