WILD THINGS: Fear the Deer? COVID-19 Hype Mars Gun Hunt Opener

Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get more bizarre this hunting season, the state’s Department of Health Services (DHS) issued a press release Monday that went viral. 

Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there’s no evidence that wildlife are a source of COVID-19 illness for people – or that people can get the virus from preparing and eating wild game – DHS doubled down on its advice to hunters gutting a deer or processing venison this season: “Wear a mask.”

Wait, wasn’t April Fools’ Day more than seven months ago?

Internet message boards quickly lit up with comments. Many of them included words that, if printed here, would get this column flagged for removal. But can you really blame hunters who are frustrated with a constant stream of negative news from state agencies?

They’ve been inundated with stories on chronic wasting disease for months, bombarded with tales of how baiting and feeding wildlife is illegal in some areas and discouraged in others, and reminded not to shoot elk, moose, wolves, cougars, jackalopes (OK, maybe not jackalopes) or each other when afield this season. 

Is it any wonder the number of gun deer hunters in Wisconsin continues to fall?

Why aren’t there more stories about our amazing, 170-plus-year tradition of licensed deer hunts? Or how our state is among the national leaders in numbers of deer harvested and a perennial North American power in producing record-book bucks? Maybe some favorite venison recipes to share? 

The view from here is that the magic of opening day has been watered down by all the negative news. The nonstop inclusion of crossbows into the archery season doesn’t help either.

Gone are the five days of no deer hunting prior to opening day, and a “quiet day” the day prior – no guns allowed to be shot, except on licensed ranges or by those hunting ducks and geese. They’ve been replaced by allowing anyone to hunt deer with a crossbow or bow not only right up to the evening prior to the gun opener, but in fact, straight through all the gun deer hunts. 

Since the rule change, thousands of antlered bucks have been registered annually during firearm deer seasons on bow and crossbow licenses. Many are legit, no doubt. But without in-person registration, gone is the chance for others to spot something “fishy” at a station and report it. 

Back to this week’s COVID-19 news. Researchers in Iowa and Ohio suggested deer likely got the virus from humans, then transmitted it deer to deer. Were the deer within six feet of the humans? Who knows? But in these days of a seemingly bottomless pot of federal funding available to those who are able to find a niche for COVID-19 research, count me in as a skeptic.

Fear the Deer? That one’s best reserved for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Last-Minute Prep

Hunter optimism may be nearly as high as the full moon that’ll be illuminating northeastern Wisconsin Friday night.

By the time the last round is fired, more than 200,000 whitetails will likely have been registered across the state. That’s in addition to more than 100,000 expected to be taken by archery and crossbow deer hunters.

If history repeats itself, close to 100,000 procrastinating hunters will purchase their license the day prior to the opener. Licenses can also be purchased in-season.

Crystal Caputo, a Go Wild business analyst with the Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) customer and outreach services, provided data through early November showing that sales of archery and gun deer licenses were down significantly from 2020, but crossbow deer license sales were up. 

This year’s nine-day gun hunt is again immediately followed by a 10-day muzzleloader deer hunt and a four-day antlerless-only hunt.

Blaze clothing is required for all hunters during any firearm deer season, except those pursuing waterfowl or in legal night-hunting situations (such as for raccoon).

If you have any questions, call the DNR’s customer-service staff daily, 7 am – 10 pm, at 888.WDNRINFO (888.936.7463). There’s also a chat feature available Monday – Friday, 8 am – 5 pm, at Spot a suspected violation? Call or text confidential tips to 800.TIP.WDNR.

Finally, you can register your deer, check daily shooting hours and find much more on the DNR’s Hunt Wild app: a free download for both Apple and Android devices. 

Wolf Clarification

Wisconsin’s 350-wolf population-management goal is not a ceiling, but rather, the minimum number of wolves that can be living outside of tribal lands before depredation control and hunting may occur. The exact wording in the state’s 1999 Wolf Management Plan is, “A management goal of 350 is recommended.”

You can see the plan – and the 2006-07 addendum, which includes the results of a public survey – at

Lakes Going Down

Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron are continuing their seasonal drops, down five inches during the past month. Michigan-Huron are down 17 inches during the past 12 months, and Superior is down 13 inches. Lake Superior is down three inches from its 100-year average; all the others are still above their 100-year averages (+12 inches for Lake Ontario, +15 for Michigan-Huron and +26 for Erie).