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Hunters' safety: Precautions urged during gun deer season

With blaze orange hanging outside the cabin, hunters gather with close friends and family to talk about the number of deer they saw that morning, the buck they couldn’t get a clear shot at, the 12-pointer the neighbor captured on the trail camera or the effort it took to drag their prize from the swamp.

Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer season brings with it, for some families, more than a century’s worth of tradition.

This year, however, like everything else, it has the global coronavirus pandemic to contend with.

The state’s nine-day gun deer hunt runs from Nov. 21 to 29, and while there aren’t any changes to the deer season as a result of the pandemic and the hunting season will proceed as normal, Eric Lobner, director of Wildlife Management with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division, said the DNR is recommending hunters consider some alternative ways to enjoy the season this year.

“We are recommending that people take extra precautions and consider trying something new and hunting more local rather than staying in a hunting cabin with non-household members,” Lobner said. “Hunters should choose hunting opportunities within their local communities to limit travel and avoid large gatherings.”

Lobner said hunters should remember to practice safe social distancing while hunting and after.

“(Leave) 6 feet between you and anyone you may encounter while in the field or while at CWD sampling kiosks and when taking your deer to be processed,” he said.

Wisconsin deer hunters are looking to rebound from what was a down year in 2019.

After the state held the earliest possible deer season in 2018, 2019 saw the latest possible season opener, and harvest numbers declined as a result.

According to the DNR, 160,769 deer were registered during the nine-day gun deer hunt in 2019, compared to 213,972 in 2018. Of the deer harvested in the 2019 nine-day season, 75,236 were antlered compared to 105,315 in 2018. The nine-day hunt also provided successful hunters with 85,533 antlerless deer, a decrease from 108,657 in 2018.

Opening weekend in 2019 brought mild temperatures throughout the state with some snow in the north, but hunting conditions deteriorated throughout the remainder of the season as heavy wind, snow and rain moved through the state. Blizzard-like conditions and significant snow accumulation hindered hunter access in the northern forest zone, where the largest declines in antlered harvest occurred.

The weather conditions that hindered harvest for farmers in 2019 also likely had a negative impact on hunters. At the conclusion of the nine-day gun deer hunt, there was still plenty of corn standing in fields with harvest just 66% complete, 22 days behind the 2018 harvest.

According to the Nov. 9 U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Wisconsin Crop Progress and Condition report, corn for grain harvest was 78% complete, more than four weeks ahead of last year and 13 days ahead of the five-year average.

As of Nov. 9, the DNR reported that archery license sales were up 12% from the same date last year. Gun license sales, including Patron, Sports and gun-deer licenses are up 9.5% combined compared to the same time last year.

Lobner said there could be a number of explanations for the increase in sales in the weeks prior to the start of the season.

“National trends have indicated that anytime the economy slows down, there is an increase in hunting licenses as people are interested in pursuing a less expansive food source,” he said.

“With the pandemic in full swing across the nation and in Wisconsin, there are also a number of people that have more time available and as a result are getting out and picking up one of their favorite pastimes or trying something new.”

Lobner said the sales increase could also be a continuation on trends from other outdoor recreational activities from this summer, like biking, camping, hiking and other activities.

“People are feeling a little cooped up and are looking for opportunities to get outside in a safe and economical manner, and hunting provides that opportunity as well,” he said. “Certainly the excitement is ramping up as the season approaches and temperatures have cooled.”

The DNR will continue to offer free chronic wasting disease testing to any hunters interested in having their deer tested. CWD sampling locations will follow COVID-19 safety precautions to help keep hunters and testing location staff safe.

CWD surveillance will occur throughout northeast Wisconsin in counties with low volume sampling in recent years, and in areas around wild and farm-raised deer positive detections as part of a multi-year statewide rotation conducting surveillance in west central, northern and northeast Wisconsin counties.

The DNR will also continue a second year of enhanced surveillance in northern Wisconsin in some counties where additional samples are needed and continue to provide CWD sampling within the Southern Farmland Zone and in other CWD-affected counties. The department will sample deer in the surveillance areas around wild deer CWD positive detections, as well as in the wild deer herd surrounding CWD positive farm-raised deer facilities. Hunter request testing will continue to be an option for adult deer and hunters/landowners are encouraged to report sick deer to the DNR.

Following the nine-day gun deer season, muzzleloader season will run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9 followed by the December four-day gun antlerless-only season from Dec. 10-13.

Deer registration will once again be completed electronically. Hunters can register deer harvests by phone, mobile device or computer with Internet access, or in person at participating registration stations.

Hunters are required to register harvested deer before 5 p.m. the day after recovery at gamereg.wi.gov or by calling 1-844-426-3734. For more information, visit dnr.wisconsin.gov.

A lighter side of politics

Amid the onslaught of recent political news, it’s possible that you’ve failed to keep current on the most consequential election in local third grade history.

Who, the political pundits wonder, will be the next class president?

My son, a candidate himself, recently informed me that he faced a crowded field: Seven of his 10 classmates are running against him.

“So ... you have eight candidates and two voters?” I asked.

“Technically 10 voters,” he clarified, “but only two undecideds ...”

I nodded; that math checked out. “So how do you plan to win them over? Promises of candy in the cafeteria? Soda flowing freely from the water fountains?”

“Of course not,” he said. “With promises that big I’d never get reelected!”

How quaint, I thought. A politician committed to keeping promises ...

For hours on November 6 — while much of the country remained glued to their preferred news network for the latest vote count in Pennsylvania — my son agonized over his campaign speech. In the background, TV commentators speculated on and on about margins, and turnout, and my wife and I took the bait: adding to the speculation with our own analyses.

We didn’t realize just how closely our son was listening until he shared his speech with us.

A speech which, with his permission, I have reprinted below “in full” and without correction:

“Hello,” it began. “I am running for President and if you alect me everyone in the community will be important not just the popular kids. All of us. and I will make sure no one in the class is picked on or bullyd.”

It continued: “you don’t have to support me but every vote counts. I will also make sure people will wear their masks. Thank you.”

We listened, dumbfounded. In 50 or so words (most of them spelled correctly), he’d managed a level of maturity and inclusion that has been hard to come by in recent years. I’m not pointing fingers at any one politician. The erosion of our national politics, like the erosion of anything, requires sustained friction and pressure over time.

“Well?” our son asked, awaiting feedback. “What did ya think?”

“I fear you may have a future in politics,” I sighed.

He beamed.

My son’s interest in public service began the previous June. One afternoon, as pandemic cases rose and summer plans shrank, he penned a letter to then-former-Vice President Joe Biden. In it, my son asked how he could help change the world. (He also offered to provide some “hot tips” on how to win the elementary school vote, but only if Joe called before his 8:30 bedtime.)

Four months later, just weeks before the election, he received his reply.

“Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with me,” Joe Biden’s letter began. “I love hearing from bright young people like you with an interest in politics and a desire to solve some of the issues we face. Your clear passion motivates me to work even harder to overcome the challenges before us.”

The letter urged my son to “never surrender your energy, creativity, or fearlessness.”

It closed by thanking him for his kind words and wishing him a bright future.

Standing in the living room, my son turned toward me, a confused look on his face.

“Wait ... so he wrote back?”

“It appears so,” I said.

We were both a little baffled.

That a presidential candidate — in the homestretch of an election, no less — would take a few minutes to respond to an 8-year-old’s letter seemed — how shall I put this? — like a pretty poor use of his time.

Weren’t there undecided voters to sway?

Fundraising deadlines to meet?

My son — not yet of voting age, and with a half-filled piggy bank at best — hardly demanded such personal attention. Yet he received it: four paragraphs, a couple hundred words, and a blue inked personal signature.

Is it possible it was a form letter? Probably. Yet the letter writer (whomever they were) had taken a moment to include my son’s name no fewer than three times. It felt personal, even if it wasn’t — especially to an 8-year-old.

Read my lips: I do not use my writing platform to make political endorsements. Which is why I chose to withhold this story until all the votes had been cast. In a perfect world, rather than tell you about my beliefs, I’d dedicate more time listening to yours. And if we differed, well, perhaps we’d be one chat closer to common ground.

I don’t have the polling to prove it, but I like to think America’s best days still lie ahead of us. Especially if the local third grade election is to be believed. If my son’s “political adversaries” are half as thoughtful and generous as he is, he’s in for a tough race. And I know these kids, and they are.

Mornings, when I drop my own children off at school, every last student on the schoolyard is masked and mindful of distance. No one complains. They are happy to do it, they tell me, if it means keeping their teachers safe.

In 1984, a hope-filled President Ronald Reagan famously declared, “It’s morning again in America.” It certainly was for some. But today, thanks to the next generation, perhaps it might be morning again for us all.

Though the Constitution is clear that presidential candidates must be 35 years old, I’m not sure we can wait that long. Our future leaders are ready to assume the oath of office today.

Right after their spelling tests.

Switch to grazing proves profitable

A few years ago, Rock Springs farmer Roman Miller said goodbye to his combine, corn planter and the rest of his row cropping equipment.

Instead of continuing to row crop, which “wasn’t that much fun” anymore as expenses went up, margins went down and erosion ate away at the land, Miller said, he turned his attention fully grazing on his 230-acre grass-fed beef operation. Getting rid of his equipment was his way of making sure that he would follow through.

“I kind of wanted to knock out all of the crutches just in case you wanted ... to go back,” Miller said Nov. 10 during a fall and winter grazing techniques webinar.

The 2017 transition to all grass saw not just the departure of row cropping equipment, of course. Seven miles of fencing and 5 miles of water lines were added in the effort to convert 175 acres from corn and soybeans to grass, Miller said.

Miller, who said that the farm has about 200 head of cattle in total, said that they’re still working on some things a little bit here and there, but so far, the change has been good.

“The concept is a great concept,” Miller said. “It’s quite profitable.”

The key to being profitable is to limit the amount of winter feed needed, said Serge Koenig, Sauk County Land Resources and Environment conservation technician.

Every day that can be knocked off of winter feeding is more money in the bank account, Koenig said.

Miller agreed that working to shave off winter feeding days is good for profits.

“That’s where a lot of your profit goes, is feeding those hay bales,” Miller said.

Rotational grazing has helped Miller cut down on hay feeding days on his farm.

“Before you’d run out of grass in August maybe, September sometimes, but the last three years now, I’ve been grazing ‘til the middle of December. This year, it’s probably going to be the first week of December when I run out of grass just because I’ve got a few more animals around,” Miller said, calling the difference in hay days “huge.”

During the winter, Miller has tried both bale grazing and bale unrolling methods to keep his herd fed and spread nutrients from the bales.

“I guess I’m little bit on the fence on which way to go, bale grazing or bale unrolling,” Miller said. “They’re both a good system.”

Miller said that he bale grazed in a grid that leaves 30 feet between bales in each direction.

Bale grazing provides the option to just set out all the bales in November and have that taken care of for the whole winter, Miller said.

The cattle are kept away from the next row of bales, but they aren’t back-fenced to allow them to continue to reach their water source, an energy-free system that just requires the ice to be broken in the morning in cold temperatures, Miller said.

“They seem to be really happy out there,” he said.

Miller used bale rings when bale grazing, but when asked if he would consider going without them, as some other Sauk County farmers have done, according to Koenig, Miller said it was something he would “definitely” think about doing to see if it made a difference in the amount of waste and ease of the process.

Compared to unrolling, Miller also thought that it is possible to get more nutrients out of a bale by bale grazing.

When Miller has made the decision to go away from bale grazing and to bale unrolling, he said he has done so because he wants to try to get nutrients spread out across his whole farm faster, citing that there’s $50 to $60 worth of fertilizer in a ton of hay.

“I thought I could maybe speed up my grazing process by unrolling the hay out in the field,” Miller said.

It does work well that way, but Miller said he could foresee a problem being what would happen if a bale was rolled out on the same spot the next year, something Miller said he doesn’t have a way to prevent from happening.

There’s a “huge response” where the bales were unrolled, Miller said, but when the next year rolls around, factors like a foot of snow could prevent him from seeing where the bales had been unrolled before.

Another perk of bale unrolling, though, is that it doesn’t see any of the weeds come through, Miller said, something those who are bothered by weeds may want to consider.

“I’ll probably keep doing both (bale grazing and bale unrolling) at this point,” Miller said. “I do see a nice response on both of them obviously.”

Another bright spot that Miller said he has found in grazing as opposed to row cropping is that the weather doesn’t affect his operation as much any more, citing the storm that brought several inches of snow to southern Wisconsin around Halloween last year.

His cattle were able to keep on grazing and just didn’t have to drink quite as much water, Miller said

When it comes to incorporating cover crops into his operation, the results have been more mixed, Miller said.

In 2018, after bale grazing on a field, Miller no-tilled a cover crop on the field, Koenig said.

“That year, I’d grazed it pretty hard. They were there for a long time. It was no grass left. They had it all down to dirt,” Miller said. “So it was a good spot to plant my cover crops. That year, it worked really, really good.”

But since then, Miller said he has tried to avoid grazing so severely.

“So then it doesn’t quite take as good a hold as it did when you had bare soil,” he said.

Miller said he wants to avoid terminating the grass or working it up, which can present a challenge for cover cropping.

In June of this year, Miller said that he put a sorghum sudangrass mix in a pasture that had been “wrecked” by grazing when it was too wet.

He planted the cover crops along with his perennials. It came up well, and the cattle did well on it, Miller said, but he wasn’t sure if he would try that again because the cover crops never really “exploded.”

“Just the cost of it, I don’t know if I’d really go that way because I don’t know, is it enough benefit to the root structures going in there or not to make it worth it?” Miller said, noting that he’d probably just plant his perennials there.

Koenig added that another farmer who had no-tilled a sorghum sudangrass cover crop in existing pasture that had been grazed very short came to the determination that doing so wasn’t worth it for the extra forage, considering the cost it took to do it.

“The return on investment wasn’t there,” Koenig said.

While not everything that has been tried — or may be tried in the future — on Miller’s farm has proven to be entirely successful, that’s point of trying new things and examining the results, Koenig said.

“It’s not all good. Some of it is not great, and it looks ugly,” Koenig said. “But that’s part of the learning.”