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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Record Numbers Weigh in to Rout Deer Hunt Proposals

A record-smashing 64,943 conservation voters weighed in online April 13-16 during the statewide spring fish and wildlife hearings, and roundly rejected several proposed changes to Wisconsin’s deer hunting seasons.

This was the second straight year participants could vote online at the annual hearings, but COVID-19 fears canceled in-person meetings for the first time in the event’s 85-year history. The hearings are held jointly by the Department of Natural Resources and Wisconsin Conservation Congress, the 360-delegate advisers to the DNR and seven-citizen Natural Resources Board, which sets agency policy.

The hearings’ previous participation peaks were 30,685 in 2000, 13,350 in 1975, and 13,126 in 2005. In-person participation hit a record low 3,402 in 2019 when the hearings for the first time offered online voting, which drew 7,310 responses. April’s online participation was nearly nine times higher than in 2019. In-person attendance at the statewide hearings since 1970 is 6,904.

This year’s participants focused on the ballot’s 16 deer hunting proposals, judging by those checking the “No Opinion” box on the ballot’s 55-plus questions. Questions drawing the most scrutiny were written by the NRB’s top two officers, Chair Frederick Prehn and vice chair Greg Kazmierski.

Voters rejected their suggestion to add 10 days to the nine-day firearms deer season by a 71-25 majority, with only 4% expressing no opinion.

Participants also rejected their so-called “rest” periods before the gun-deer season, with 53% favoring no change to the existing schedule of no rest days. The proposed two-day rest drew 19% support, the five-day rest received 22% support, and 6% had no opinion.

Voters also nixed a proposed statewide deer feeding/baiting ban, 49.5% to 44%, with 6% having no opinion. The participants, however, heavily favored a WCC proposal to raise the cost of nonresident deer licenses, 80-13, with 6% expressing no opinion.

Prehn and Kazmierski’s attempts to curtail crossbow hunting failed to generate similar passion. Voters rejected their proposal to restrict crossbow deer hunting to October and December, 47-44, with 9% expressing no opinion. They also rejected a proposal to close crossbow hunting in November until gun-deer season opens, 54-35, with 10% having no opinion. A proposal to invalidate buck tags for archers and crossbow hunters during gun-deer season also failed, 60-31, with 9% expressing no opinion.

Voters supported two of Prehn and Kazmierski’s nine deer hunting questions. One question suggested eliminating the DNR’s four regional forest and farmland deer-management zones. Voters supported the idea, 59-24, and 16% had no opinion.

They also supported eliminating the holiday antlerless-only season in farmland regions, 56-35, with 10% having no opinion. Prehn and Kazmierski, however, prefaced that question with this caveat: Would you favor eliminating the holiday hunt if 10 days were added to November’s gun-deer season.

The NRB’s proposal to establish a spring bear hunting season fared better, winning 56-30, with 15% expressing no opinion.

In other voting, participants:

— Rejected reauthorizing the DNR to use earn-a-buck rules to manage overpopulated deer herds, 57-36, with 7% expressing no opinion.

— Rejected authorizing County Deer Advisory Committees to use earn-a-buck rules to manage their county’s deer herds, 52-35, with 13% expressing no opinion.

— Rejected giving the DNR authority to determine baiting and feeding regulations, 47-44, with 9% expressing no opinion.

— Rejected allowing CDACs to recommend baiting and feeding regulations for their counties, 43.8-43.6, with 12.5% expressing no opinion.

— Approved requiring nontoxic shotgun pellets on all state-owned or managed properties except shooting ranges, 46-42, with 12% expressing no opinion.

— Rejected a proposal to outlaw artificial water tanks for attracting deer and elk in CWD-affected counties, 52-37, with 10% expressing no opinion.

— Rejected a proposal to open a 16-day gun deer season on the Saturday nearest Nov. 15, 67-27, with 6% expressing no opinion.

— Approved a proposal to open the spring turkey season earlier in April, 49-32, with 19% expressing no opinion.

— Approved an experimental badger trapping season, 44-37, with 19% expressing no opinion.

— Approved allowing carp to be speared during the February sturgeon season, 71-9, with 20% expressing no opinion.

— Opposed the proposed Back Forty metallic sulfide mine on the Menominee River between Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, 63-12, with 24% expressing no opinion.

— Approved opening the muskie fishing season in the state’s Northern zone on the first Saturday in May, while restricting May to catch-and-release fishing, 44-16, with 40% expressing no opinion.

For the full list of results for the April 13-16 hearings, visit and type “spring hearings” in the search window.

Voters rejected seven of nine proposals by the Natural Resources Board to change Wisconsin’s deer hunting regulations. Patrick Durkin photo

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