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Deer hunters prep for next weekend’s gun opener

November 8, 2007

Deer hunting has long been a tradition in Wisconsin, and for some it is almost a religion. This year’s gun deer season opens Nov. 17 and runs through Nov. 25, and the outlook is great according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Thousands of people will head out to the woods and fields of the state to pursue the whitetail deer, including many from the UW-River Falls community.

Everybody has their reasons for hunting deer. For some it is just a part of life, something that their family has done for years. For others it may be for the thrill of the hunt, harvesting venison, defending their crops from deer damage, managing a healthy deer herd or just to enjoy the outdoors.

UWRF senior Michael Krause will take part in this year’s gun deer season. Krause has been hunting since he was 12-years-old. Like everyone who hunts deer, Krause has his reasons.

“It is a stress reliever, not the killing part, but sitting out there,” Krause said. “I like just watching wildlife more than I do shooting ‘em.”

Michael Kaltenberg, a UWRF professor in the department of plant and earth science, will also be taking part in this year’s gun season. Kaltenberg has been hunting since he was 17-years-old. His father did not deer hunt, but his uncle did. Kaltenberg was interested so he asked if he could go along.

“I shot an eight point buck my first day out, so that was pretty sweet,” Kaltenberg said. “It got me hooked.”

Like Krause, Kaltenberg enjoys deer hunting because of his love for nature.

“What I like doing is just being outdoors, watching the woods come alive in the morning,” Kaltenberg said.

Krause also mentioned that he takes part in deer hunting for the management aspect of it.

An estimated 1.6 to 1.8 million deer occupy the state this year, according to the DNR. During the 2006 nine-day gun deer season 342,411 deer were harvested.

There are a number of reasons to hunt deer. The DNR clearly monitors the herd and harvest every year, gathering data in an effort to come up with acceptable goals based on the needs of deer and society.

“The [2007] overwinter goal is 700,000 deer,” Linda R. Olver, assistant deer and bear ecologist at the DNR’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, said.

Deer are considered the most popular animal among hunters and non-hunters in the state. Unfortunately, the coexistence of deer and humans brings rise to many problems.

“There are a number of consequences of having 1.6-1.8 million deer, including agricultural damage, car-vehicle collisions and ecosystem impacts,” Olver said.

Agricultural, forest and vehicle damages from deer costs millions of dollars to society every year in Wisconsin alone. In 2006 there were 36,900 deer killed by cars, according to a DNR report.

There are also threatening health impacts that can result from an uncontrolled deer herd.

“Deer can carry diseases that may infect people and domestic and captive livestock,” according to the DNR.

Dangers to humans include E. coli and Lyme disease. Livestock could potentially be infected with Salmonella, lung, stomach or brain worms, chronic wasting disease or even tuberculosis.

Management of the deer population is not only convenient for humans, but it also benefits the health of the herd itself. When there are too many deer, competition for resources can result in a malnourished and underdeveloped herd.

“Decreased physical condition in deer shows up as reduced body weight, antlers with fewer points and smaller beams, reduced fawn production, and lower rates of population increase,” according to the DNR.

Krause’s family owns 240 acres by the Rush River, southeast of River Falls. His father purchased the land in 1988. That is where he and his family will be hunting during this year’s gun season.

“I think it’s important to eliminate a lot of does,” Krause said.

He noted the connection of shooting does to population control and the quality of hunting. Between his family’s property and their neighbors, they collectively have about 600 acres. Krause said his family tries to work with the neighbors to cooperatively manage their tract of land, in an effort to better the quality of deer hunting.

Some say the whitetail deer occupies an area of one square mile, so management of an area such as that of Krause and his neighbor’s provides a prime opportunity to conduct deer management. Krause said that he believes there has been a noticeable change in the quality of deer on their property.

“Managers are most concerned about the harvest of does, because does bear the next generation of deer,” according to the DNR.

Over the last several years the DNR has enacted regulations in many parts of the state, such as the Earn a Buck program. Under this program, hunters must shoot an antlerless deer before they can take a buck. Arguably most deer hunters long for a “trophy buck,” one that has a prized set of antlers, so many will hold out for a good buck to fill their tag instead of shooting a doe. Programs such as Earn a Buck are designed so that hunters are forced to legally shoot a doe before shooting a buck, in an effort to manage the population of the herd.

It is no surprise that deer hunting has a significant impact on the economy in Wisconsin. Everything from magazines, to guns, to ammo, to camouflage, to scents, to optics, to licenses purchased by deer hunters has an effect on the state’s economy.  Deer hunting in the state generates about $1 billion, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation.

Saturday, Nov. 17, one-half hour before sunrise, gunshots will begin to ring through the air in Wisconsin as thousands of people in blaze orange continue a tradition and carry out a wildlife management mission. While they are dodging bullets for nine days, the deer may not realize that this mission is being carried out for their own good. But, after all, that is why we are at the top of the food chain.