New provisions issued by the Department of Natural Resources are expected to significantly change the Wisconsin deer hunting experience.
Changes in the new rule book include rezoned hunting areas, altered dates for the hunting season as well as a controversial shift in the way hunters register their kills, from traditional registration stations located across the state to an online registration method.
DNR representative, Eric Lobner, said the department has increasingly received requests for reform due to the limited accessibility of registration stations. After a final report was compiled by a team of local and national researchers, it was concluded that the best route forward was a paperless one, Lobner said.
Instead of driving long distances to registration stations, hunters will be able to register information about their hunt that day online at a designated website, he said.
Despite the expedited registration process, the new regulations will trigger the closing of more than 600 registration stations which has caused frustration among hunters across the state as they worry about the social and financial implications of the switch.
Traditionally, hunters take in their deer to local taverns or registration stations where they meet other hunters, have a beer and relax after a long day in the woods. Taverns and restaurants that serve as registration stations could see a major drop in their revenues during deer season with the closing of the stations, Joe Travis, a hunter from Elroy, Wis., said.
“Deer season generates revenue at these local registration stations. People hang out there and buy food or drinks at these taverns and gas stations, kick back and hang out and listen to some deer stories,” Travis said. Travis said he was worried that removing registration stations, “will take all the fun out of [deer hunting].”
According to Lobner, however, there are several ways that businesses and hunters could adapt to maintain their longstanding local hunting traditions. Lobner pointed to Illinois as a good example of how states could adapt to this change.
After Illinois switched to online and call-in deer registration, local business offered new ways to encourage camaraderie, such as deer competitions and novelty deer photo shoots, Lobner said. In areas with limited internet access, he said providing a computer at taverns or restaurants could bring in hunters eager to report their deer while showing off their kill to fellow hunters.
Additionally, the number of DNR management units throughout the state will be consolidated from 134 to 72, and registration duties will be shifted to a state Deer Management Advisory Committee as opposed to current county-level management, Lobner said.
These committees are required to have at least three individuals with recently obtained deer licenses and will allow participation from hunters, local municipalities and all interested citizens to discuss the deer community and its regulations, he said.
“People will come to the table and be part of the future of deer hunting,” Lobner said.
Another major change Wisconsin deer hunters should note is the altered archery hunting season dates. While gun season and youth hunt season will stay the same, the areas in which hunters will be allowed to shoot will see some changes, according to the Deer Trustee Report Rule Package.