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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

CWD’s Impact: Killing Tomorrow’s Trophies Today

Not many years ago, Doug Duren often handed out ballcaps with “N.B.N.Y.” embroidered up front.

The initials stood for Nice Buck Next Year, a phrase Duren attributed to his late little brother, Matt. As legend goes, Matt Duren was admiring a young buck that made the mistake of running past the Duren boys during deer season. As they praised the buck’s size, Matt something like, “That’s a good buck, but it would have been a real nice buck next year.”

Doug Duren liked that idea of sacrificing today for bigger benefits tomorrow. Soon after, he made N.B.N.Y. the official policy on his family’s 400-acre farm south of Cazenovia. Duren strongly encouraged his friends and family to pass up buck fawns and 1.5-year-old basket-racks. He told them to focus instead on female deer of all ages, and shoot only bucks worthy of a wall mount.

Things have changed since. When folks hunt Duren’s farm these days, they no longer fear friendly humiliation from the sombrero hanging inside on the farmhouse’s wall. The big hat was once a visible reminder of N.B.N.Y. policy: Anyone who shot a buck fawn had to wear the sombrero when next enjoying a coffee and conversation.

Duren killed the N.B.N.Y. program in 2017 soon after chronic wasting disease arrived on the farm in two 2.5-year-old bucks. Duren’s hunters killed 120 deer from 2017 through 2020, and submitted each to the Department of Natural Resources for testing. Five (4.2%) tested positive: the two 2.5-year-old bucks, a yearling buck, a yearling doe, and a 3-year-old doe.

Duren is more pessimistic in 2021. As of Dec. 11, his hunters have shot 27 whitetails on the family farm and a smaller adjoining property, and they’ve received CWD results so far on 15. Five (33%) have tested positive: One 3-year-old doe, and four bucks ages 1.5, 2.5, 3.5 and 5.5.

Duren has replaced N.B.N.Y. with a policy that encourages hunters to shoot bucks of every ilk, be they fawns, yearlings or old brutes. In fact, when someone shoots a nubby buck or forkhorn, Duren claps them on the shoulder and says with a sorrowful chuckle, “Killing Tomorrow’s Trophies Today.”

Then again, “K-Triple-T” is today’s reality in southwestern Wisconsin, the proving grounds for the state’s “passive approach” to confronting CWD. K-Triple-T is inevitable once CWD establishes itself in fertile woodlands like those in the Driftless Area. As CWD cases multiply in endemic areas, few bucks reach 4.5 years and older, the age when whitetail males typically produce their biggest bodies and largest antlers.

Yes, antlers on bucks up to age 3.5 years are “nice” or “good,” but talk of next year’s greatness is more wish than potential.

I’ve long hunted my cousins’ farm about 10 miles southeast of Duren’s spread, and now shoot any deer that lets me hold a riflescope’s crosshairs on its chest. As of dusk Dec. 11, I’ve shot two adult does, two buck fawns and one yearling buck since Wisconsin’s firearms seasons opened Nov. 20.

I buy Duren’s program. For the herd’s sake, it’s better that copper bullets kill these deer now than let CWD do it later. By shooting buck fawns and even yearling bucks, I’m preventing these deer from spreading CWD farther across the landscape when they would have naturally dispersed. Bucks are more likely than female deer to carry CWD, and they travel farther after their mothers boot them from their home range.

Given a choice, I still shoot an adult doe first if a group of deer appears, with a yearling buck trailing. Assuming I have the proper tags, I’d then take the basket-rack buck. Based on CWD test data, an adult doe where I hunt is at least as likely as a yearling buck to be infected. Besides, hunters have mostly done a poor job controlling Richland County’s deer herd the past 30 years, especially since abandoning earn-a-buck over a decade ago. I don’t want to be part of that dark legacy.

Yes, if everyone followed Duren’s example we’d see far fewer deer on the landscape. But we’d also see fewer cases of CWD and fewer CWD-causing prions in the soils. We’d be doing what we can — however idealistic it appears — to reduce CWD to levels where it blinks out or falls to levels where it can’t readily spread. Maybe then we’d see CWD prevalence rates plateau at 2%, the level that Wisconsin’s former deer czar, Dr. James Kroll, predicted in 2007 and stood by since while criticizing DNR sampling data that proved him wrong.

The fact is, hunters don’t need oversized, increasingly sick, habitat-stressing, crop-pounding deer herds to have fun deer hunting. On Dec. 4, for example, I was hunting my cousins’ farm with an inline muzzleloading rifle. After spotting a yearling buck uphill in the neighbors’ woods, I pulled out a grunt call and got its attention.

The basket-rack meandered down to the fence-line and looked around, but soon faded back into the brush. As dusk neared, the buck reappeared on my cousins’ hillside below, cautiously testing the wind as it resumed its search for the mysterious doe it heard earlier. I fired the .50-caliber sabot/slug when the buck stepped into an opening 50 yards away, toppling it where it had stood.

A week later, I filled my fourth antlerless “authorization” after watching a doe lead its two fawns toward my cousins’ recently harvested cornfield. Once the group started feeding, however, the doe noticed human activity several hundred yards away in the barnyard. Rather than retrace its steps to the neighbors’ brushy walnut grove, the doe hopped a barbwire fence below my stand and stopped 80 yards away on Durkin property. A copper slug from my .308 rifle ensured my friend Tedd Mitchell will eat venison this winter.

That’s assuming the doe tests negative for CWD, of course. Either way, unless more hunters adopt Duren’s “K-Triple-T” program soon, CWD’s plague will only worsen in the years ahead.

Patrick Durkin shot this Richland County doe with his Savage 99E lever-action rifle on Dec. 11 during Wisconsin’s four-day antlerless-only season.

— Patrick Durkin photos

Three antlerless deer hang from Doug Duren’s meatpole on his family’s farm in Richland County.

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Robin Marohn
Robin Marohn

Good read and great points. As is often the case, we could've had this problem under control had CWD and the deer herd not been politicized with "Dr. Deer." It'll be interesting to see the comments.

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