Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

A buck in tall grass © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Check out tools such as a video and "Frequently Asked Questions" to help you study up on the deer hunting rule changes for 2014.
© U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

August 2014

What to know before you go

Be ready for the deer hunt with this helpful guide to regulation changes.

Kevin Wallenfang and Eric Verbeten

You spoke and the Department of Natural Resources listened. This fall, the deer hunting rules are changing. The good news is that folks can expect this season's deer hunting regulations booklet to feel a little lighter after a two–year review of the programs, techniques and rules that the Department of Natural Resources uses to manage the state's deer herd.

The goal was to get the public more involved in making local decisions, improve the hunter/landowner relation-ship with the department, and wherever possible, streamline deer seasons to help improve the experience for everyone who takes part in Wisconsin's great deer hunting tradition. Several new rule changes take effect this year and become fully implemented by the 2016 deer season.

These changes are a product of a huge effort to review the current program, gather public input, and then use that input to develop new programs and rules that the department hopes will enhance the overall deer management system on many fronts. Through a process known as the Deer Trustee Report, the department attempted to gather input from anyone in the state who has an interest in deer management and especially those who take part in the annual deer hunt.

At first glance, the new rules might seem overwhelming.

The changes will take some getting used to, but they are not complicated,” stresses Chief Conservation Warden Todd Schaller. “Our goal this first year is education. We are more concerned about making sure people understand how the changes affect them specifically. We recommend that hunters not be overly concerned about the broad picture, but rather how the changes impact their specific hunting area.”

The following are some of the changes hunters can expect to see this year. There are additional programs and rule changes not listed here. For a complete listing and description of all new rule changes, hunters are encouraged to visit the department website at dnr.wi.gov. Type keyword "deer" for materials that help explain the changes. The 2014 deer hunting rules and regulations booklet will also be available wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold.

Deer Management Units and Management Zones

As a way of providing consistent deer season structure from year to year, the state has been divided into four major deer management zones: Northern Forest, Central Forest, Central Farmland and Southern Farmland. These zones are based broadly on habitat types, which play a key role in many aspects of deer management. These include productivity, impacts of winter weather and other factors such as how quickly a herd can grow. These zone designations provide consistent deer season dates within each zone so hunters know exactly what to expect from year to year.

Hunters will also notice a change from the traditional Deer Management Units (DMUs) to a more simple county-based system. For decades, DMU boundaries were based on habitat types around the state and were designated by major highways, county roads, rivers and other natural landmarks. Beginning this year, nearly all of the former DMUs have been eliminated and converted to a county-based system. Deer Management Units will be reduced from the 134 individual DMUs to 72 county units and four tribal units (76 units total).

Land types: public and private land deer tags

For years, hunters have lamented the fact that much of our public lands see significantly more hunting pressure than private lands, resulting in low deer numbers on public lands. In response, the department is trying a permit allocation system that can designate the land type where a permit can be used. This was done in hopes of offering public land hunters a more satisfying experience through the increased sightings of deer.

This is a first attempt at differentiating permit use between land types. The department is going to see how it works, and is willing to make adjustments or try new methods if this attempt doesn't pan out.

Public land refers to all lands open for public hunting including state land such as wildlife areas, county forests, national forests and other open land in DNR programs like the Managed Forest Law, Forest Crop Law and Voluntary Public Access programs. Private land is any privately-owned land not open for public use as described above.

County Deer Advisory Councils

Deer crossing a road
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DNR FILE

Another goal of switching from traditional DMUs to a county-based system is to provide a format for people to get more involved and take ownership of deer issues at the local level.

Previous DMU boundaries would extend over county lines resulting in counties “sharing” Deer Management Units, which complicated the decision-making process to address both high and low deer numbers.

The county-based system can now accommodate new County Deer Advisory Councils (CDACs) that consist of dedicated hunters and stakeholders within each county. The councils will study a variety of measuring metrics that include deer impacts on forestry, agriculture and habitat, deer populations, hunter satisfaction, herd health and more.

“The CDACs are a step toward fostering collaboration with all the groups out there who are interested in the same goal, and that is to responsibly manage our deer,” says Rob Bohmann, chairman of the Conservation Congress.

With local DNR staff serving as technical advisors, and chaired by a local delegate of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, CDACs will formulate recommendations to the department and Natural Resources Board to set annual harvest quota and permit levels, as well as set three-year population objectives to either increase, decrease or stabilize their local deer population.

Electronic registration

Wisconsin is actually one of the few states in the Midwest that has not implemented electronic registration for deer, although the state does use it for a variety of other game species including geese, turkeys and furbearers. However, that will soon be changing to allow for significant cost savings to the department, greater convenience for hunters and almost instantaneous harvest evaluation for game managers.

For the 2014 deer season, all deer hunters are still required to register their deer in-person at any one of over 600 registration stations around the state. To test the new system, approximately 15,000 hunters will be selected and contacted by mail by early September to participate in an electronic registration pilot to report their deer either by phone or online.

By 2015, electronic registration will be fully implemented and all hunters will choose from a variety of registration methods including telephone, Internet and in-person registration stations.

There has been some concern that the fun of going to a check station will be gone, and that's a big part of the deer season tradition for some people. However, it is possible that there will be even more locations to check a deer in the future. Any business that is willing to allow the public access to a computer or phone to register their deer could call itself a registration station.

Hunters have also questioned the compliance rates and quality of data collected.

Department staff has talked with several other states to address these concerns. Some states feel their data and compliance are even better than before the use of electronic registration. After some initial heartburn, their hunters would not be happy to revert back to the old paper methods of registering deer.

The Deer Trustee Report — A Brief History

Beginning in 2012, Gov. Scott Walker initiated a full review of Wisconsin's deer management program and hired an outside team of experienced deer biologists to spearhead this effort. The task consisted of hundreds of hours of public hearings, comment periods, public advisory committees, online surveys and more to hear from the many passionate individuals who take part in the yearly deer hunt and other aspects of deer management.

“When they set out to review the deer program, all involved knew that an undertaking in a state so entrenched in the traditions of deer hunting would need to seek lots of public input for it to be a well-rounded and collaborative effort,” says Eric Lobner, Deer Trustee Report program coordinator. “Ultimately, the final rules that were adopted by the Natural Resources Board considered all the public feedback to develop recommendations on how to improve the management system, to streamline rules where possible, and to develop new programs that would create better relationships and open new communication avenues for everyone involved in deer management at all levels.”

Much of the early work began with the creation of public Action Teams that focused on various over-riding issues of the deer management program. Their goal was to address concerns through the development and implementation of recommendations on specific topics: herd health, regulations and season structures, science and programs designed to help individual landowners improve habitat conditions on their land. This final program is called the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP), which had dozens of landowners apply during its first enrollment period last spring. Their combined land tallied over 44,000 acres.

The department hopes the number of participants will increase since more than 630,000 hunters annually participate in the gun deer hunt. More than 2,000 people participated in one online survey and thousands more provided written and verbal comments on ways to improve the deer season.

“Moving forward, the new deer rules will allow for greater flexibility in the way we manage our deer herd from year to year,” says Lobner. “There is still a lot to do with implementing all of the new changes, and I'm sure we will continue to fine-tune the changes as we learn about the success of each recommendation.”

Kevin Wallenfang is DNR's big game ecologist.

Eric Verbeten is a communications specialist with the DNR's Office of Communications.