Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Successful hunters in 1969 near Black River Falls tying a buck on the hood of a car. © Dean Tvedt

Successful hunters in 1969 near Black River Falls tying a buck on the hood of a car.
© Dean Tvedt

October 2014

Back in the day

Kathryn A. Kahler

Party permits, red wool plaid and deer–draped Chevies were icons of Wisconsin deer hunting in the 1960s.

While the nation struggled through tumultuous events, Wisconsin deer hunters saw the 1960s as a decade of increased opportunity. The deer herd continued to grow in numbers and range in southern Wisconsin, making treks to the Northwood's unnecessary, and laws were passed enabling hunters to harvest more deer of either sex.

Unit–specific deer population goals were first established and a new herd monitoring system was initiated. It was the birth of modern deer management in Wisconsin and it became a model for North America. Deer license sales exceeded 400,000 for the first time in 1965, only to be topped by 500,000 in 1968. Harvests in 1966, 1967 and 1968 topped 100,000 each year.

The party permit was first enacted in 1957 as a way to regulate antlerless harvest by regions (e.g., 16 days north and nine days south of U.S. Highway 8). A "party" consisted of a group of four hunters who went as a group to purchase the permit. For the $5 the group paid, they got a paper permit with the four hunters' names on it, an armband and the tag. The tag could be used on either a buck or doe of any age, but only the hunter wearing the armband could shoot it. Once taken, the deer was usually used for the purpose the law intended, as camp meat during the hunting season.

Unit–specific quotas for antlerless harvest were authorized by law in the early 1960s. The four–man party permit continued through 1979 and was replaced with the hunter's choice permit in 1980. That same season, hunters hung up their red wool plaid jackets and took to the field in newly–required blaze orange. While some hunters at the time grumbled about the change, modern statistics show it to be the most important factor — next to mandatory hunter education — in preventing deaths and injuries from accidental shootings.

Another tradition that went the way of red plaid was the practice of strapping deer to car hoods. In the 1960s hunters were required to keep their deer exposed while transporting them to registration stations to prevent manipulation of the locked tag. Once registered, deer could be concealed in trunks or beds of pickups, but it was common for hunters to carry them on car hoods and tops, perhaps to boastfully show off their prize to passing motorists.

Gradually hunters have become more aware of how others perceive them and their sport and now, more often than not, tuck their trophies in the trunk or under a tarp. Car styling has also changed such that front fenders are not easily used to support a deer carcass. Since 2002, hunters are no longer even required to expose their deer before registration.

"The Gamekeepers"

Hunting history buffs will enjoy a new book by retired Wisconsin wildlife manager David L. Gjestson. "The Gamekeepers: Wisconsin Wildlife Conservation from WCD to CWD," takes a thorough and insightful look at the origin of the wildlife management profession in Wisconsin and how it evolved from 1945, when the Wisconsin Conservation Department hired its first official game manager, to the game–changing discovery of chronic wasting disease in February 2002.

The book is not just a timeline of changing rules and regulations, but a behind–the–scenes look at the people who developed them. Gjestson summed up the purpose of the book in a note to fellow wildlife biologists in the preface: "Historical recollection is not simply nostalgic reminiscing but rather a vital process of learning about the whole. History creates a continuum for the human experience and a true sense of belonging. It weaves the lives of early participants with your own, connecting you with Aldo Leopold, Wallace Grange and Bill Grimmer. Knowing your professional roots will give you purpose, pride and passion for what you do."

The book is available free as a downloadable PDF, or for $25 hard copy. Visit the DNR website dnr.wi.gov and search "Gamekeepers" for ordering information.

Kathryn A. Kahler is an editorial writer for Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.