Hunters have mixed feelings about buck-only deer season

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CABLE, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin deer hunting is returning to an old tradition that stretches back to 1915: a buck-only season. The DNR says 19 northern and central forest zones will see the change this fall so the deer population can recover.

Counties that are buck-only include Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Florence, Forest, Iron, Jackson (central forest zone), Langlade, Lincoln, Oconto (northern forest zone), Oneida, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, Vilas, Washburn and Wood (central forest zone).

Reservations that are buck-only include Bad River Reservation, Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, Lac du Flambeau Reservation and Red Cliff Reservation.

DNR Wildlife Biologist Bill Hogseth said the buck-only regulation is only scheduled for the 2014 deer season. It's a recommendation that was approved by the Natural Resources Board.

"We heard significant concerns from hunters and people in the public that the severe winter that we experienced this year had an adverse affect on the population. They wanted to give the population an opportunity to recover so having a buck only harvest would allow the population to recover," said Hogseth.

The decision is also based on research. Hogseth said there's multi-year project in northern Wisconsin with radio-collared deer. The DNR observed approximately 30 percent of the radio-collared fawns died this winter, likely by starvation.

John Van Toll, owner of the Bores Nest Guns n Ammo in Eau Claire said DNR regulations and deer hunting can be a sensitive topic for hunters.

"It seems like some people are for it and some people are against it, the traditional deer hunt - anytime you mess with any of that its going to rile some feathers," said Toll.

But he said whether it's a good or bad hunting season, Wisconsin's outdoorsmen and women will be out in full force.

"A bad season or two or even in my case 12 or 15 is not going to scare people off from hunting in Wisconsin. It's going to take a lot more than that," said Toll.

Ben Steiger said he's been hunting for around 15 years. He said hunting is not like it used to be.

"We've had free bonus tags, CWD zones, go out and kill everything. You can buy bonus tags for cheap and people can fill the freezer," said Steiger. "Well we've been doing that for 10 years, we're seeing the affects."

George Miller hunts on private land in Ladysmith every year where they manage they personally manage the population by letting does and smaller bucks go. But he said not everyone has the patience to do that.

"People are going to shoot the first spike that comes or first fork horn that comes. Everybody wonders why they don't see big deer. Well you've got to let them go 3 1/2 or 4 1/2 years so they can get big. So this is going to just wipe a out a lot of tiny bucks and its going to take away, three to four years down the line, having the bigger bucks around," said Miller.

The DNR said it's a common misconception that many deer hunters shoot more than one deer each year. Data from 2013 shows 90 percent of Wisconsin licensed archery and gun deer hunters actually shot zero or one deer last year.


Some northern Wisconsin business owners are concerned about how new restrictions on deer hunting will impact their bottom line.

For many resorts, bars and sporting goods stores in northern Wisconsin, the nine-day gun deer season is one of the busiest times of the year.

In an effort to increase a deer herd that has been reduced by two harsh winters, the Natural Resources Board has adopted a new rule allowing hunters to take only bucks in 19 northern and central counties.

Ken Thoreson co-owns Solon Springs Mercantile in Solon Springs. He tells Wisconsin Public Radio the change in hunting regulations shouldn't deter local hunters, but it could keep out-of-towners from driving up.

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