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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Wisconsin Deer Hunting Outperforms 1962 Prediction

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

Among the many books, articles, research papers and agency reports I’ve filed the past 40 years, I’ve long treasured a frail, yellowed copy of a 1962 prophecy on Wisconsin hunting in the year 2000.

Arthur D. Doll, a staff assistant at the Wisconsin Conservation Department’s office in Black River Falls, wrote that article to assure hunters the future wasn’t bleak. A blurb atop the article reads:

“If you’re still toting a gun 40 years from now, you should have pretty good prospects of bagging forest game—but will face more competition and restrictions. Just how much game we can produce will depend on what we do to the habitat.”

I wish Mr. Doll were still here. I’d text-message him and invite myself over for a beer. Given COVID-19, of course, we’d meet in his driveway at roughly four paces, exchange muffled greetings from behind our masks and face shields, and hoist our beers from opposite corners of his detached garage.

Then I’d break the news: “I’m sorry Art, but you expected too much of us. You even assumed too much about the chieftains on our 2020 Natural Resources Board. What’s that? Oh, sorry. You’ve never heard of the NRB. You made your predictions five years before your agency became the Department of Natural Resources, and answered to a seven-citizen Board that sets agency policy.

“Sad to say, Art, but the NRB’s current chair and vice-chair struggle to distinguish a fir from fur. They also confuse aging Northwoods forests for quality deer range, so you lost them at ‘habitat.’ Next time, commission a cartoonist, load her illustrations into a PowerPoint presentation, and mix in lots of color photos and bullet points. You don’t want to bore the Board with text alone.”

Yes, Mr. Doll’s 1962 predictions appeared without drawings or photos on pages 19-20 of an old agency magazine. Near the article’s end, he wrote:

“There will probably always be a harvestable crop of deer, bear and ruffed grouse in Wisconsin, even if no direct effort is made to improve the habitat. Whether we have enough to satisfy whatever army of hunters we have in the year 2000 depends entirely on the people. There is no technical reason why we can’t harvest 75,000 or more deer each year. Whether we do or not depends on whether we want to, or are willing to substitute facts for personal opinion, and will make the effort necessary to achieve such a goal.”

He went on: “There will be more hunters than today, although the increase probably will not be so large as the population increase. This will mean more controls than now, since there are practical limits on the production of wildlife.”

Doll’s prophecy about the hunting population not keeping up with the general population hasn’t yet proven true. Even though Wisconsin’s deer hunting army is shrinking as baby boomers fade away and hunting participation by urban dwellers plummets, our overall hunting participation rate is greater than six decades ago. Census figures show Wisconsin had 4.05 million people in 1962, of which 331,035 (8.2%) were licensed gun-hunters. During the 2018 gun deer season, Wisconsin had 5.81 million people, of which 577,600 (10%) were licensed gun-hunters.

Doll’s predictions for 75,000 annual deer kills proved incredibly low, of course, but he can be forgiven. After all, the 1962 gun-deer kill was 45,835, a 14% success rate. The previous year, 1961, was even worse: 307,863 gun-hunters registered 38,772 deer, a 12.6% success rate.

Things got better soon after. The annual gun-kill hasn’t been below 82,000 since 1973. Even the archery kill has exceeded 75,000 every year since 1997, minus the hysteria-filled autumn of 2002, the year we found chronic wasting disease in Wisconsin.

Of course, it’s possible Doll assumed we’d mostly be shooting bucks in the year 2000, but even that prediction would be modest. Gun-hunters 20 years ago registered a record 528,494 deer, of which 171,753 were antlered bucks. The record gun-buck kill remains 171,891 in 1995.

Gun-hunters have killed over 75,000 bucks every year since 1976, and over 100,000 bucks in 32 (89%) of the past 36 gun-deer seasons. Last year’s gun-deer season was one of those sub-100,000 events. Gun-hunters in 2019 registered 83,497 bucks during the state’s various firearms seasons, and hunters dropped an additional 54,380 bucks with arrows during the 2019 archery/crossbow seasons. If you’re keeping score, that’s a combined 137,877 registered bucks in 2019, including a record buck kill with arrows.

Heading into the 2020 nine-day gun-deer season, arrow slingers had registered 47,970 bucks and 35,056 antlerless deer as of Nov. 13, or 83,548 total deer. That’s more bucks than we killed with arrows in all of 2014 (46,201) and 2018 (47,632).

Doll ended his 1962 article with a rosy thought: “Many changes in our way of living will occur in the next 40 years, but if a man still wishes to hunt deer, ruffed grouse and other animals of the forest, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why he can’t. It will require a conscious effort and cost money to produce abundant wildlife, but if we agree that they are worth having, this should not be an insurmountable obstacle.”

Doll can again be excused for not predicting threats posed by CWD to the herd and hunting. Neither could anyone of his era foresee the past 15 years of sustained nonsense and neglect by GOP legislators, who slashed funding for DNR programs, and scientific studies by the agency and University of Wisconsin researchers. Not since 2005 has Wisconsin raised its fees for hunting and fishing licenses.

Here’s an easy prediction: Unless we realize scientific wildlife management doesn’t happen by accident, and requires teamwork and intelligent leadership, hunters 60 years from now won’t enjoy the incredible opportunities we inherited from Doll’s generation.

A group of Wisconsin deer hunters hangs up a buck outside a hunting shack in Langlade County in the early 1960s. — Joseph T. Durkin photo

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