Wisconsin’s most treasured hunting tradition will begin Saturday: opening day of the nine-day gun deer season.
Regulated deer hunting began with the first closed season in 1851 (Feb. 1-June 30), though Native Americans could hunt year-round. The first bag limit was in 1897 – two deer per season – and a resident license cost $1. Estimated license sales totaled about 12,000. One hundred years ago, the harvest was estimated at just more than 25,000, or about 12 times smaller than recent 300,000-plus deer kills: a combined total of deer taken with bow, crossbow and firearms.
A lot of traditions have been lost during recent years – ones that many long-timers miss and lament. This is the fifth season without mandatory, in-person registration of deer at check stations, the fourth without backtags and the third without the need to tag your deer in the field. Still, the annual hunt is still a great opportunity for some quality down time with family and friends.
A 10-day muzzleloader deer hunt will follow the nine-day season; then there’s a four-day, antlerless-only firearm deer season. That’s 23 straight days of blaze orange – or pink – as required by law for all hunters during firearm deer seasons (except those after waterfowl).
Hunt Safely This Season
A lot of hunter-safety tips seem obvious, but it’s critical for anyone hunting with firearms to understand and implement the recommendations. A successful hunt can be measured not just by antler inches or venison in the frying pan, but, importantly, by returning safely to your family with memories to share.
DNR Warden Chris Kratcha said Door hunters have a pretty solid safety record, and he’d like to see it stay that way. Dedicated hunter-education instructors deserve a lot of credit, but after the class is done, Kratcha says it’s up to the hunters to police themselves and their own party.
The vast majority of shooting incidents – including accidental discharges that can result in injuries to humans or hitting a building with a stray bullet – are the result of one or more infractions of the basic rules of firearm safety:
• Treat every firearm as if it’s loaded.
• Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
• Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it.
• Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you’re ready to shoot.
In addition, Kratcha says hunters should be aware of their surroundings and obtain landowner permission before stepping foot onto private land, even to retrieve game shot on an adjacent property.
He’s also a fan of head-to-toe blaze orange, as well as positioning a patch of blaze-orange material on all sides of a hunting blind – even when it’s not required on private land.
More Sick Grouse
Three ruffed grouse from Itasca County, Minnesota, have tested positive for a mosquito-borne virus called eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), marking the first time the virus has been confirmed to cause illness in a Minnesota wild animal. Earlier this fall, the West Nile virus was confirmed in a number of grouse across the western Great Lakes, including Wisconsin.
The hunters who harvested the grouse took them to DNR staff in late October after they noticed abnormal behavior in the birds: They didn’t or couldn’t fly away. When field-dressing the birds, the hunters also noticed reduced muscle mass.
The EEE virus is typically found in the eastern United States and along the Gulf Coast, but it has also been found in other states, including Michigan and Wisconsin. Prior to this discovery, the DNR had confirmed that wolves and moose in northeastern Minnesota had been exposed to the virus but had never found animals of either species sick with the disease.
Stay Off the Ice
A very cold start to November brought a thin skin of ice to some sections of area bays, harbors, rivers and marinas, but much milder air should be enough of a warning for anglers to stay off. The long-term forecast has daily high temperatures well above freezing right into the first week of December.
Anglers and others who recreate on the ice should stay on shore until there’s at least three to four inches of new, clear ice. Once that happens, it’s up to each individual to make sure it’s thick enough. Don’t take someone else’s word about the ice conditions, and don’t assume it’s safe just because that’s what you read on social media.
Snowy Owl Sightings
After some banner late-fall snowy owl sightings in Wisconsin in recent years, 2019 is off to a slow start for November reports on ebird.org/wi.
Even with an unusually cold start to the month, the first report didn’t come in until last Thursday in Green Bay, followed by one near Ashland on Friday. This past Monday, Kristy Larson, Donna Benson and Melody Walsh reported spotting a snowy owl at a Michigan Road residence on Washington Island.
You can track sightings during the rest of the fall and all winter at dnr.wi.gov/topic/WildlifeHabitat/SnowyOwls.html.