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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Wisconsin Crossbow Study Refutes False Assumptions

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources spent much of 2019 conducting what’s likely the nation’s most in-depth study of crossbow use in deer hunting, only to document that the chief assumption prompting the research was one man’s nonsense.

That study, “Wisconsin’s Evaluation of Crossbow Use and Season Structure,” should have had this subtitle: “There’s No Problem Here.” And its acknowledgments page should have read: “Thanks to the Natural Resources Board for making eight DNR employees — four sociologists, two biologists, a survey specialist and top-level analyst — spend eight months verifying what sociologists forecast 30 years ago.” (Link to the report:

You’ll recall the seven-citizen DNR Board, which sets agency policy, directed in February that DNR staff study how crossbows affected deer hunting after they were legalized for archery season in 2014. The Board’s main assumption was that letting crossbows into the 110-day-plus archery season causes gun-hunters to quit deer hunting or forsake their guns for crossbows.

To ensure the DNR understood its task, the Board crafted 21 questions for researchers to answer, including this gem: how best to structure a season that regulates a “fair allotment of bucks” between hunters, whether they use crossbows, regular bows, centerfire rifles or muzzleloading rifles.

DNR staff say the study was a “Board directive,” but that’s a smoke screen. It’s more accurate to say the Board OK’d the study to humor its vice chairman, Greg Kazmierski of Pewaukee. Kaz’s presence on the Board reminds us what would happen if governors could appoint armchair quarterbacks to coach and call plays for the Green Bay Packers.

Think of Kazmierski as former Gov. Scott Walker’s gag gift, his whoopy cushion, to Wisconsin deer hunters. Walker appointed Kaz to the Board in 2011, and again in 2017. He’s our burden until May 2023.

Only Kazmierski would think to define a fair buck allotment, let alone craft regulations to achieve it. And only Kaz would think crossbows triggered recent deer hunting declines. UW-Madison sociologist Tom Heberlein predicted the drop-off in 1991, and UW-Madison demographer Rochelle Winkler forecast the numbers in 2008.

Kaz thinks crossbows are “unfair” because — depending on the year — their users were 2% to 6% more successful on bucks than gun-hunters, and 5% to 8% more successful on bucks than those using regular bows.

Hmm. But what’s “unfair” if everyone chooses which license to buy, which weapon to carry, and which deer to shoot? The study found everyone hunts for varying reasons, which are poorly reflected in dead-deer totals. It also found the success rates aren’t harming the herd.

Wisconsin sold 957,653 deer licenses in 2018. Here’s how hunters fared on bucks:

-- Those licensed to gun-hunt registered 112,443 bucks, or 70.25% of the 160,075 bucks killed in all seasons. That’s a 19% success rate on bucks.

-- Those licensed to hunt with regular bows and compounds registered 21,676 bucks, or 13.5% of the buck total. That’s a 10.4% success rate on bucks.

-- Those licensed to use crossbows registered 25,956 bucks, or 16.2% of the buck total. That’s a 15.1% success rate on bucks. (In 2013, the last year crossbows were restricted to handicapped folks or those 65 and older, bowhunting success was 15.6% on bucks.)

Even so, Kaz claims gun-hunters think crossbows imperil our traditional nine-day November gun season by killing “their bucks” before they get to hunt. Kaz thinks those resentments sparked a nearly 25,000 drop in gun-license sales in 2014 (-4%), and a nearly 32,220 (-5.3%) slide since.

It’s possible crossbows contributed to those declines, but Wisconsin also launched Kaz’s new era of deer hunting in 2014, a program he usurped from Walker’s divisive deer-trustee process. That was also the first year CWD tests – primarily from Iowa, Sauk, Dane and Richland counties – showed infection rates exceeding 6%. Should the DNR Board demand studies of those possible impacts, too?

Unfortunately, large social forces such as increased urbanization, reduced land access, fading baby-boomers, and more recreational options also cut into hunting participation — all of which Heberlein, Winkler and others noted long before 2014. Gun-deer license sales peaked in 1990 at 699,275, but sunk to 622,542 (-11%) by 2010.

Rather than accept Kaz’s false assumptions about gun-hunters’ motivations, the DNR’s researchers asked former gun-hunters why they quit after 2016. They found only 2% had since bought a crossbow license. In fact, gun-hunters were 10 times more likely to add crossbows as an option than they were to stop gun-hunting and switch to crossbows.

They also weren’t very grumpy about crossbow hunters killing “their deer” before gun season. Of 56 factors gun-hunters cited for quitting, the top two were that they no longer enjoyed deer hunting, and they didn’t see enough deer. At No. 36 was “crossbows reduced my harvest chances,” and No. 45 was “compound bows reduced my harvest chances.”

Still, no one expects Kaz to accept the findings. Facts don’t faze him, even though he says “facts are facts” during Board meetings. An hour before the Board discussed the crossbow report at its Oct. 22 meeting, Kaz even said, “I’m not one for taking (recreation) away from people unless there’s some science to support it.”

Buck pellets. No anti-hunter rivals Kaz for cutting hunting opportunities this century, and science had nothing to do with his actions. Consider:

-- Kaz supported snowmobiling groups at public hearings in 2001, 2005 and 2006 to oppose December antlerless-only gun seasons;

-- Kaz led efforts in 2011 to end a 15-year run of antlerless-only gun seasons in mid-October;

-- Kaz eliminated the 2015 holiday hunt with no DNR input;

-- Kaz imposed antlerless-only restrictions on holiday hunts since 2016, even in CWD-infected counties where bucks should be targeted to reduce disease spread;

-- Kaz voted the past two years to cut three weeks from the state’s ruffed grouse season.

Kaz also misstates facts so routinely that the Board should fact-check everything he says or writes. For example, he claimed at its Oct. 22 meeting that archers take 40% of Michigan’s annual deer kill. Actually, it was 31% in 2018. And in his September CWD subcommittee report, Kaz claimed his home county, Waukesha, “has not had a (CWD) detection in years.” Actually, it’s had 12 since 2012, including three so far this fall.

It’s time Kaz’s fellow NRB members quit helping him pound his round pegs into science’s square holes.

Crossbows are increasingly popular for bowhunting in Wisconsin, but a DNR study finds they aren’t harming the herd, nor are they causing gun-hunters to quit. -- Patrick Durkin photo

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