The first sentence in a recent email message to the Leader-Telegram read “Now I truly understand your newspaper spreads terrible lies.”
The “lies” were in a story I wrote on deer hunting that ran in Sunday’s paper.
In that story, I pointed out that hunters no longer had to leave a validated deer tag with a deer they shot if they leave the deer in the field.
Hunters no longer have to keep a tag as long as they have venison in the freezer.
The writer attached photocopies of pages from the 2017 Department of Natural Resources hunting regulations pamphlet to prove her point.
Unbeknownst to the writer, the rules regarding tagging deer changed in late September when Gov. Scott Walker signed the 2017-19 state budget.
The budget bill did away with the longstanding requirement that hunters fill out a tag when that includes the time and date the deer was shot, and immediately attach it to a deer they shoot.
This was really a policy issue and it didn’t belong in the budget.
But now we have it.
Hunters used to be required to attach durable plasticized paper tags to any deer they shot. The tags stood up to rain and snow.
Last year the state Department of Natural Resources decided to use paper tags as part of the agency’s new licensing system.
Doing so was more convenient. You could print of a tag on a printer at home.
However, the tags didn’t hold up well in the woods. Paper dissolves quickly when it gets wet.
The solution, according to state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, who is chairman of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage, was to do away with the tagging requirement altogether.
Another option might have been to go back to the old, more durable tags, but that wasn’t possible, Kleefisch said.
When the DNR went to paper tags, the vendors got rid of their equipment for printing the plastic-coated tags, he said.
Also, eliminating the deer tag requirement simplifies hunting, Kleefisch said. Most states don’t require carcass tags.
Kleefisch, who spoke Monday during a Wisconsin Public Radio show that included host Rich Kremer, outdoor writer Dave Carlson, yours truly and several other guests, said he heard complaints from hunters about the paper tags
Why the rush?
There was not much public discussion when the DNR went to paper tags, and there was even less discussion on doing away with tagging altogether.
Eliminating the carcass tagging requirement may be OK, but it could have waited another year.
That way the DNR could have had the information right in its hunting regulations pamphlets.
Hunters could have had some advanced notice on the change. As the “terrible lies” letter indicates, there is still some confusion out there.
Just a week before the gun deer hunting season, the state Legislature passed a bill allowing youths of any age to hunt in the mentored hunting program.
In Wisconsin a youth has to be 12 and has to have completed a hunter safety class before they can buy a license and hunt, hopefully with some supervision.
We also have had a “mentored hunt” program in which a person as young as 10 who has not completed hunter education can hunt with an adult who has had hunter safety and who remains within an arm’s length of the young hunter.
When the state adopted this program, many hunter educators objected, saying 10-year-olds weren’t physically or mentally ready to hunt with guns. It seems to have worked out OK.
But as of last week, we are down to a minimum age of zero for mentored hunts.
It is now up to the parent to decide when the youth is mature enough to hunt.
The fact that the timing of the mentored hunt bill was passed by legislators so close to the gun deer season may encourage some dads to take youngsters gun deer hunting when they aren’t ready.
It’s cold out there in the woods in November, and you often wait for hours before seeing a deer. Shivering in a tree stand may not be a 9-year old’s idea of having a good time.
Small game hunting is more fun. You get to wander around in the woods.
But I’m biased.
The first hunting I did, and the only hunting for many years, was hunting cottontail rabbits in farm woodlots.
We were “mentored” until we were 16, although we didn’t call it that at the time.
Once we were old enough to drive, our parents let us go out to hunt on our own. Apparently they decided we would get in less trouble out in the woods than if we hung out in the city, which was mostly true.
The state Legislature has made a number of changes in recent years to make deer hunting more user friendly — phone-in registrations, no backtag requirements, and now you don’t even need to tag a deer, or a turkey tag for that matter.
However, you still need to register any critter you shoot by phone or online by 5 p.m. the day after you shoot it.
Not requiring deer tags makes it easier for hunters to skirt some of the rules, if they are so inclined.
We’ll assume most hunters are well-intentioned.
Deer hunting is still deer hunting, and I’m looking forward to spending some time in the woods this weekend.
And if I’m in such a hurry to get out into those cold, dark woods Saturday morning that I forget to bring my deer tags along, well, that’s OK now.
Knight is a freelance writer from Eau Claire.