There’s no shortage of tradition or targets as deer hunters in northwest Wisconsin look forward to the gun deer opener next Saturday.
Despite a long winter that got notably nasty late, it appears the deer herd survived well, leading to good fawn production last spring.
Across the region, most counties are in a “maintain” mode when it comes to deer population objectives, meaning there are good numbers of deer on the landscape. Four counties — Barron, Bayfield, Pepin and Buffalo — are trying to decrease deer numbers.
In Dunn and Pepin counties, deer populations are stable to increasing, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
“Spring and summer conditions have been great for deer habitat. We have received more reports this year on the number of deer being seen over previous years,” said DNR wildlife biologist Missy Sparrow.
In west-central Wisconsin counties, including Dunn, Chippewa and Eau Claire, record snow in February never developed a crust to impede deer feeding. Deer were further helped by a fast melt in March.
Farther north in Barron County, where deer habitat transitions from farmland to forest, deer numbers are high in the southern and western parts of the county, more so than in the northern and eastern reaches.
“Deer are not evenly distributed across the landscape, and some areas may have more deer than others,” said Kevin Morgan, DNR wildlife biologist for Barron and Polk counties.
To decrease the herd in Barron County, the County Deer Advisory Council voted to issue two free antlerless permits per license.
Keith Rassbach, whose family has hunted its land for generations in southwestern Barron County, said he is seeing plenty of does and fawns this fall, along with bucks during his archery outings.
“I had eight bucks around me one morning. We’ve been seeing the most bucks in quite awhile,” Rassbach said.
Farther east, Dan Penzkover of Rice Lake also enjoys the tradition of hunting in family land with family and friends.
“We’ve seen a lot of does, and the fawns look good and healthy,” Penzkover said.
However, from his bow hunting stand, Penzkover said he hasn’t seen the number of deer he’d like to, probably because of a late corn harvest.
“There’s been a lot of standing corn for cover and food, so I don’t think the deer were in the woods as much. But the corn is coming off now,” Penzkover said.
In the big woods of Sawyer County, Brandon Westphal of Rice Lake hunts with his young boys in the Chequamegon National Forest, where deer numbers are less than in the farm country but the chance of a trophy buck is greater.
“We’ve seen the same number of bucks compared to last year but fewer does and fawns. Maybe it’s because of the hard winter, or predators,” said Westphal, who added, “There’s no shortage of wolves in the area. We see their tracks, and two followed me on a half-hour walk out of my hunting stand one night.”
No new regulations
There are no new deer hunting regulations this year except for the reinstatement of the deer baiting/feeding ban in Barron, Burnett, Polk and Washburn counties. That ban went back on in September when an elk at a Burnett County farm testing positive for chronic wasting disease.
Deer baiting/feeding bans are also in place in Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin, Buffalo and Trempealeau counties in western Wisconsin.
CWD was recently detected in a mature buck killed in October in Eau Claire County. The buck is the fourth CWD-positive wild deer detected in Eau Claire County since the fall of 2017.
Hunters who harvest an adult deer in Buffalo, Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin and Trempealeau counties are strongly encouraged to submit a sample from the deer for CWD testing at sampling locations. CWD testing is free of charge to the hunter.
There have been numerous regulation changes in the past decade, including the elimination of deer tagging in 2017 and of back tags in 2016. In 2015, electronic registration replaced registration stations.
Rassbach said he liked the old registration process where hunters gathered at a station, but also likes the convenience of phone-in registration.
“I miss having to go to the registration station,” said Rassbach, with emphasis on the word ‘having.’ “I miss seeing what deer the neighbors were bringing in.”
What hasn’t changed is tradition. Rassbach hunts the family lands with his daughter and two sons, along with other family members. Penzkover has the same situation east of Rice Lake, and is joined by cousins from Texas, who each year provide Texas wild game for a feed.
“Our wild game luncheon is noon on Monday every season,” said Penzkover, whose son, Derek, now hunts the same woods as his great-grandfather, Carl.
OREGON — The morning before agriculture journalist Pete Hardin was to present on Wisconsin’s dairy industry, a historic announcement was made — Dean Foods, America’s largest milk producer, had filed for bankruptcy, the biggest bankruptcy ever in the history of the U.S. dairy industry. And while Hardin called the move “predictable,” it once again brought the dairy industry back into the spotlight.
With 45 years of experience as a dairy journalist, publishing The Milkweed for the past 40 years, Hardin knows the struggles of the dairy industry. He recalled growing up in Sussex, New Jersey, where the county was home to 4,000 dairy farms. The now 70-year-old reflected on the changing landscape of his home county, where only a dozen dairy farms now remain.
He recognizes these struggles aren’t unique to just Sussex County, as the statistics tell us the number of dairy farms continue to decline across the U.S. In fact, Wisconsin is losing about two dairy farms every day.
“It’s time for a reset — a strategic look around and ahead to better assure the viability of our family farms,” he said.
But before looking to the future, one must look to the past, with Hardin crediting past innovators with the rise of Wisconsin’s dairy industry, which now adds $45.6 billion to the state’s economy each year.
According to Hardin, in the decades after the Civil War, deep thinkers in Wisconsin realized they had a problem: the cultivation of wheat had exhausted soil fertility and much of the timber in the state had been cut down. Many good things had come about because of the state’s wheat and timber industries, but it was time to brainstorm what could be done to add to the state’s economy once again.
And their answer was dairying.
“It was the greatest act of economic development in U.S history — an honest, economic development of wealth,” Hardin said. “And to this day, dairy remains the main cornerstone of Wisconsin agriculture.”
From these humble beginnings until the present, farm milk income has been the lifeblood of rural Wisconsin, Hardin argued, building many of the rural communities we see dotting Wisconsin’s landscape today.
With the emergence of Wisconsin’s dairy industry also came the emergence of expertise, particularly from UW-Madison, where professors like Steven Babcock contributed to dairy history, inventing the Babcock Test to determine the fat content of milk in the early 1900s. His invention really put Wisconsin on the map, Hardin said.
Other new technology was also emerging; silos provided storage of crops and allowed for better overwintering of livestock and deep rooted crops like alfalfa were beginning to be heavily promoted among farmers. Things were looking good — until the Great Depression, which began impacting farms years before the 1930s.
“The ‘30s were tough for agriculture, including dairy,” Hardin said.
Dairy farmers faced continued challenges into the 1980s, with some of those challenges still seen in the industry today. Mother Nature remains a huge challenge, although Hardin said some challenges now are almost as big as Mother Nature, like fluctuating trade policies and the emotional collapse of farm families in rural areas.
Niche markets have shown it is possible to make changes and be successful, with organic, grass-fed, GMO-free, lactose-free and higher fat enhanced dairy products making their way onto shelves as options for consumers. Butter has also made a rebound after decades of fraudulent research pointed a finger at animal fats in diets as a cause of heart attacks.
What intrigues Hardin as “an old journalist” now is the marrying of dairy, nutrition and wellness; from the discovery of milk fat membranes and how they can offer health benefits to infants through formula to A2 milk, he’s impressed with all the applications of research and science in dairy. However, in order for the industry to move forward, he believes the industry as a whole needs to support new attitudes and practices.
The outspoken journalist had a few ideas on how the dairy industry could boost its future viability, including the creation of a farmer and cheese plant mail order business, where Wisconsin cheese could be sold to neighbors in other states. He said there needs to be more incentives to get young people back to the farm too, and more local control needs to go back to the municipalities in the form of zoning authority as they receive plans for large dairy facilities.
Imitation dairy products continue to be of concern to Hardin, who feels there hasn’t been enough safety studies done on lab engineered proteins before those products have been brought to market. Perhaps some new research could be completed at UW-Madison’s Center for Dairy Research, although a large renovation project, which has gone over-budget, has yet to be completed.
Hardin also sees “manure as a frontier,” and is a believer in composting to reduce greenhouse gases and be better stewards of the environment and land.
Finally, in order to move forward, Hardin said we have to view dairy and agriculture in the state as opportunities to address three major issues in our society: soil erosion, greenhouse gases and flood control.
“I’ve spent my lifetime watching this industry and we have good people in this industry,” he said. “Wisconsin has an opportunity to look at it’s agriculture resources and have some cognitive plans to do better in the future and really set the stage.”
It’s safe to say Matiah Christensen will never forget her first successful buck hunt.
Well, make that bucks — plural.
Hunting on Oct. 25 in rural Door County, Matiah pulled off an amazing feat, harvesting two bucks with one shot from her father’s crossbow after the bolt (like an arrow) passed through an eight-point buck’s body — in the process deflecting off its ribs and angling back diagonally, striking a three-point buck standing several yards behind and well outside the original target line.
“I was kind of shocked — I’m still kind of shocked — because I didn’t think something like that could ever happen — getting two bucks with one shot,” said Matiah (pronounced Ma-TEE-ah), whose family lives in Green Bay.
Matiah was hunting with her uncle, Collin Jeanquart, and cousin, Sydney Jeanquart, on property about 10 miles northeast of Sturgeon Bay owned by another uncle, Chris Jeanquart.
Collin Jeanquart, positioned right next to Matiah in the hunting stand, described it as “a once-in-a-lifetime shot. If I hadn’t been there to see it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
This was Matiah’s second year hunting with a crossbow. Last year, she used a crossbow to harvest a doe on the same property. Two years ago, Matiah hunted with a gun but didn’t end up pulling the trigger. For a couple of years prior to that she went hunting with family and relatives but only as an observer.
This year, the hunting trio ventured to the stand shortly after 4 p.m. on Oct. 25. After a short time, Matiah spotted the three-point buck but passed on the opportunity to take a shot.
“I told her, ‘You’ve never gotten a buck before, are you sure you don’t want to try for him?’” Collin said. “And she said ‘No, he’s too small, we’ll let him get bigger.’”
Not long thereafter, with about 15 minutes remaining in the hunting day, the three-pointer re-emerged, this time with two does and an eight-pointer.
With all three members of the hunting party in the stand about 12 feet above the ground, they patiently waited as the deer slowly moved so only the eight-pointer was in Matiah’s target line.
“I wanted to make sure I had a clear shot at just the eight-pointer,” said Matiah, who lined up her shot from about 40 yards away. “After I shot, all four of them ran in different directions.”
Collin climbed down from the stand as his nieces waited. He located the bolt and saw blood on it, so he called for a few friends and relatives to assist in tracking the deer. By the time they arrived it was dark out.
After tracking the blood trail with flashlights for more than half of a mile, they located the three-pointer in a wooded area.
“I was kind of upset because that’s not the deer I wanted,” Matiah said. “I was shooting at the eight-pointer, so I didn’t know why we found the three-pointer. I thought I hit the eight-pointer, because that’s what I was aiming at.”
Upon returning to the area where the shot was originally taken, the tracking party came across another blood trail. They followed it, and within five minutes discovered the eight-pointer.
“When I saw the eight-pointer I was happy and relieved, because I knew I had hit what I was shooting at,” Matiah said.
Added Collin: “She was very relieved she shot the deer that she thought she shot. It was a good, clean shot, and the deer didn’t go far from where it was shot.”
Upon examining the location of the entry and exit wounds on the eight-pointer, and after seeing the deer’s insides as well, it was determined that the bolt deflected off the buck’s ribs and continued veering diagonally several yards back where it then hit the three-pointer’s neck.
Collin said he was positioned directly next to Matiah when the shot was taken and it was clear the second deer (the three-pointer) wasn’t at all in line with the shot on the primary deer.
“I told Matiah I would have taken that same shot, because it was a good, safe shot,” Collin said. “It’s just one of those things where I don’t think you could have done that again no matter how many times you tried. It was very clear she had taken a good shot.”
Since two deer were killed and they only had one tag, Collin said they contacted Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources personnel, who ended up verifying what transpired. The DNR donated the three-pointer to a family in need in the area; in turn, that family told Matiah she could keep the deer’s antlers as a connection to her hunting experience that day.
“(The DNR personnel) said that I was able to help feed a family for the winter with that three-pointer, so I was glad to hear that,” Matiah said.
Matiah, daughter of John and Melanie Christensen, said her father and uncles taught her how to shoot a crossbow and use good hunter safety principles. She added that much of her interest in hunting comes from her mother’s side of the family.
Matiah said she’s the only female student she’s aware of in her class at St. Bernard Catholic School who hunts.
“I just like being able to sit out in nature and watch quietly,” she said.
When she isn’t hunting or excelling in academics, Matiah enjoys fishing, playing basketball and volleyball, and competing in triathlons.
And, of course, answering questions now about her hunting feat.
“A lot of people have been asking me about it, but I don’t mind telling them because it’s a fun story,” she said. “It was a pretty cool moment.”