When Russell Giere of Altoona headed out to hunt in Dunn County during the 2019 gun and muzzleloader seasons, he didn’t have any luck: He only spotted a few deer, all of which were out of range.
Worried about what they say are slim pickings in western Wisconsin, Giere and other Chippewa Valley hunters are wary of a survey that’s mulling adding another 10 days onto the state’s gun-deer hunting season.
Hunters across Wisconsin will be asked this spring if they’re in favor of extending the state’s November gun season from nine days to 19, among other questions about the state’s regulations for hunting.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea at all,” Giere said, adding that he’d instead support the DNR eliminating all deer hunts except for the nine-day gun season, muzzleloader season and bow season. “There’s (already) few deer to start with.”
The survey questions will be posed to the public on April 13 at the annual spring meeting of the state Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.
Other local hunters are also skeptical. Most say they’re worried an extended season would hurt the size of the state’s deer herds — though the state’s post-hunt deer population is estimated to have risen from 2014 through 2018, according to DNR data.
However, the number of deer killed during the 2019 gun season dropped by 24% statewide, the DNR stated in December. The agency has pointed to a later Thanksgiving week and wintry weather as a reason for the decline.
The 2019 season also appeared to miss the high point of rut activity; a 2019 DNR post-season report stated that deer activity “dropped off significantly” around Nov. 12, and increased again “to more normal levels by mid-December.”
Breanne Korenuk of Chippewa Falls, whose family hunts during the gun and bow seasons, isn’t in favor of an extended gun season. The shorter season is vital for deer herds to repopulate, Korenuk believes.
For Andy Stanley of Eau Claire, a 19-day gun season would grab the attention of hunters for an extended period, putting pressure on businesses who need employees: “I have a business, and guys just go nuts when hunting season (starts), and you can’t get a thing done … Most people know, when you get (a) deer, it’s more popular than Christmas.”
Stanley, who traditionally gun hunts in Douglas County, also worried the deer herds would shrink if the season was extended.
However, Marshall Harden of Shell Lake is in favor of the gun season beginning earlier, possibly overlapping with bow season.
“If hunters had earlier, better weather they would be more interested … people like me that work 60-plus hours a week only get opening weekend and maybe Thanksgiving to hunt, and that’s if you want to ignore your family,” Harden said.
DNR records show total gun deer license sales dropped nearly 16% between 1994 and last year. Sales to Wisconsin residents have dropped nearly by nearly 20% over that span.
Dave Zielke, chair of the Eau Claire County Deer Advisory Council, said he doesn’t believe a longer gun season would attract more gun hunters.
“It might make a small increase, but I doubt it’s going to have a significant impact,” Zielke said.
If more days were tacked onto the gun season earlier in November, hunters would likely run into more rut activity, said Allan Brown, a member of the Chippewa County Deer Advisory Council, though he added he also doesn’t believe a longer season will net more gun hunters.
“Having it earlier on the front side would give better chances of perhaps harvesting bigger bucks for some people,” Brown said. “But as far as increasing numbers, I’ve been skeptical on that … people still like the nine-day hunt.”
The other questions from the Conservation Congress include eliminating the four-day December antlerless-only hunt; prohibiting hunting for two or five days leading up to the start of the November gun season; and limiting the crossbow season to the month of October and restarting it after the November gun season ends. The crossbow season currently runs from mid-September to early January, in concurrence with the archery season.
The final question asks if people would support invalidating crossbow and archery buck tags during the November gun season. Hunters could still legally use crossbows and bows instead of firearms but would need firearm tags for any kills.
Limiting the crossbow season could help re-energize the gun season, Department of Natural Resources board member Greg Kazmierski told The Associated Press. According to the DNR, 42% of all registered bucks were killed before the November gun season began. That indicates that crossbow hunters are leaving fewer bucks for gun season, and that could be prompting hunters to stay home, he said.
Shortening the crossbow season to make room for a longer gun season would “create more friction than it does good,” Zielke added, saying that he sees both younger and older hunters switching to crossbows for their accuracy and ease of use.
Also on the Conservation Congress’ April 13 agenda is a question measuring support on starting the November gun-deer season on the Saturday closest to Nov. 15, ensuring the hunt would take place during the rut. That change would require legislative approval.
Starting the gun season earlier “may result in more deer sightings and may increase harvest opportunities for bucks and does. The additional days would also increase hunting opportunity for the gun hunters,” according to DNR meeting materials.
But even if the gun season is extended or begins earlier in November, Giere said that likely won’t stop him: “I probably still will (hunt), but I’m not saying I’m agreeing with it all.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.