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  • Patrick Durkin

Wisconsin Gun Season Endlessly Repeats 2009 Results

One gets a bit nostalgic when reflecting on Wisconsin’s just-completed nine-day gun-deer season and recalling the November 2009 hunt.


Wistful sigh.


By the time gun season ended 13 years ago, a longtime gadfly and three clowns at the Legislature’s circus were calling it Wisconsin’s “worst-ever” deer season. Why? Because the buck kill was 87,226, the first time since 1983 it was below 90,000. Further, with an antlerless kill of 114,768, gun season totaled “only” 201,994 deer, a drop of nearly 83,250 from 2008.


By comparison, the November 2022 deer hunt produced 204,881deer, with 99,042 bucks and 105,839 antlerless deer. That’s only 2,887 more deer than 2009’s “worst-ever” season. And this year’s buck kill marks the first time since 2018 that it exceeded the 2009 total.


And yet we’ve heard little caterwauling. That’s remarkable, given that the November 2009 season became a rallying cry in the 2010 governor’s race, which led to a deer czar in 2012 and a “new era” of deer hunting in 2014.


Let’s recall the bipartisan outrage from 2009’s aforementioned clowns:


-- “Wisconsin hunters are fuming over the 2009 deer hunt, and rightfully so. We need to find better solutions.” – State Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn.


-- “It is absolutely imperative the (Natural Resources) Board takes swift action to protect Wisconsin’s deer heard (sic) from further harm that may take generations to recover from.” – Rep. Scott Gunderson, R-Waterford.


-- “The DNR has mismanaged the deer herd and a new team needs to be brought in that can do the job.” – State Sen. Russ Decker, D-Weston.


-- “The (NRB’s) unwillingness to listen to hunters is creating deer-management anarchy.” – Greg Kazmierski, Pewaukee, Hunters’ Rights Coalition.


Decker and Kedzie are no longer in our Senate, and who knows the whereabouts of Gundy, father of the 2-gallon bait bucket. Unfortunately, Kazmierski has been blindly steering Wisconsin’s deer-management ship since his NRB appointment in 2011. Through fog, ice and wind-whipped waves, Captain Kaz trusts faith alone to set and navigate Wisconsin’s deer-management course. Who needs science-based stuff like radar, GPS satellites or even a Boy Scout compass with Kaz at the helm?


The nine-day gun season, of course, went statewide in 1986 and remains the foundation of Wisconsin’s deer-management program. So how has it performed since Kazmierski and his handpicked whitetail whisperer, James “Dr. Deer” Kroll of Texas, reshaped it eight years ago?


From 2014 through 2022, the gun-hunt has averaged 93,226 bucks and 104,810 antlerless deer, for 198,036 total.


Hmm. If 2009 was “deer-management anarchy” as Kazmierski claimed, why do the past nine Kaz-Kroll gun seasons look like anarchy’s hell-spawn? Recall, too, that earn-a-buck regulations intentionally suppressed the 2009 buck kill in CWD units, and that heavy fog obscured much of the state both mornings on opening weekend that year.


We haven’t seen fog that dense since, and yet our gun seasons remain mired in it. And we haven’t seen earn-a-buck since 2010, so why did the buck harvest not reach 2009’s level three of the past nine seasons, and why did the antlerless kill not once reach 110,000, nearly 5,000 shy of the 2009 total?


Further, not once the past nine gun seasons has the statewide doe kill exceeded the buck kill, a necessary benchmark for reducing or stabilizing deer herds. Yes, the “antlerless” kill has outpaced the “antlered” kill, but only with help from buck fawns, which comprise roughly 25% of the antlerless harvest. To get a true buck/doe harvest count, you must subtract buck fawns from the antlerless kill and add them to their gender, antlered deer.


With that correction, the doe kill outperformed the buck kill three of the four years preceding the 2009 season, but only once (2013) after the Legislature outlawed earn-a-buck in 2011.


Unfortunately, the incompetence of the Kaz-Kroll clown show doesn’t stop with willful neglect of science and deer-management duties. Chronic wasting disease has boomed far beyond the 2% cap Kroll infamously predicted in 2007. CWD, which is always fatal to deer, has been documented in wild deer in 38 (53%) of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.


And even though 70% of hunters have never had their deer tested for CWD, the Department of Natural Resources has documented 10,376 CWD cases since its discovery in Wisconsin 21 years ago, including a record 1,327 cases in 2021. Of the 7,661 deer tested last year in the state’s southern-farmland zone, 1,275 (17%) had CWD. And of the 4,364 deer tested this year in that zone, 852 (19.5%) have tested positive, with nearly 2,000 tests still pending.


Leading that sad race is Iowa County, which has so far documented 4,308 (41.5%) of the state’s CWD cases. In fact, it’s possible CWD is now causing deer herd declines in some sections of the county. Neighboring CWD counties like Dane, Green, Grant, Lafayette, Sauk and Richland have seen larger or stable buck kills the past two years, while Iowa County’s buck kill fell by double digits.


Some history: After the Legislature outlawed earn-a-buck with Kazmierski’s urging in 2011, Iowa County’s buck kill jumped 41% to 2,624 in autumn 2011, and 8% more to 2,850 in 2012. It then hovered from about 2,200 to 2,500 from 2013 to 2020, before tumbling to 1,780 in 2021 and 1,697 as of Dec. 6 for 2022. Maybe hunting pressure has fallen or more hunters are holding out for trophy bucks. Or maybe it’s all about “predators,” I guess. If so, what made the neighboring counties immune?


Meanwhile, besides blaming the crossbow’s popularity for lagging gun-deer license sales, Captain Kaz and his three amigos on the NRB – Fred Prehn, Terry Hilgenberg and Bill Bruins – have done nothing to replace the losses of hunters and effective herd-control policies like earn-a-buck. Gun license sales this autumn fell to nearly 555,000, down 1.6% from 2021, and nearly 21% lower than a record 699,275 in 1990.


Hunters also continue to “age-out” of Wisconsin’s deer hunting army faster than they’re replaced. Jeff Pritzl, the DNR’s deer-program specialist, said the largest age group among 2010’s deer hunters was 48. Those folks remain deer hunting's largest age group, but now they’re 60. DNR data also show that when hunters reach age 65, they no longer “carry their weight” in shooting proportionate numbers of deer.


Kazmierski’s ineptitude, and the Legislature’s complicity, have inflicted mayhem on Wisconsin’s deer program in its time of crisis. His term on the NRB ends May 1, 2023, as does Bruins’ and Hilgenberg’s. Prehn’s term ended 19 months ago, but he refuses to leave.


If they’re lucky, they’ll flee town May 1 before Wisconsinites run them out of the state on a rail.


Wisconsin 9-Day Gun Season Harvests, 2005-2022

Year Antlered Antlerless Total Year Antlered Antlerless Total

2022 99,042 105,839 204,881 2013 96,986 132,904 229,890

2021 86,567 96,466 183,033 2012 113,330 132,711 246,041

2020 86,819 109,372 196,191 2011 101,486 127,143 228,629

2019 76,849 91,747 168,596 2010 101,424 120,110 221,534

2018 106,038 113,677 219,715 2009 87,226 114,768 201,994

2017 99,671 103,189 202,860 2008 98,915 186,328 285,243

2016 98,553 103,785 202,338 2007 125,440 228,944 354,384

2015 94,269 110,856 205,125 2006 140,105 185,525 325,630

2014 91,223 108,360 199,583 2005 127,608 214,803 342,411

* Unknowns (gender) evenly divided between antlered and antlerless totals.

Wisconsin’s “new age” of deer hunting, 2014 through today, has failed to address declines in hunter numbers and the herd’s health. — Patrick Durkin photo

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