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State’s incentives for CWD zone hunting not popular, research shows

Thursday, Oct. 28, is opening day of the two most hated yet well-attended deer hunting seasons we’ve ever cooked up for Wisconsin and, quite possibly, all of North America. I’m talking, of course, about the Zone T and Chronic Wasting Disease zone gun seasons.

Just so we’re clear, neither hunt gives me heartburn, but I realize many deer hunters require a tub of Tums when contemplating these special herd-reduction hunts. That’s especially true when they include earn-a-buck regulations.

Even so, one thing can’t be argued: These two seasons inspire people to hunt more often and shoot more deer than they normally would. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the hunts are answering all the questions directed at them, such as:

Can hunters consistently shoot enough deer to reduce herds to population goals and cap further growth? Will hunters accept the state’s tough-love approach to deer management as a long-term solution?

Given that we can’t answer either question with confidence, I doubt anyone – even the most stubborn DNR biologist – will bet his reputation that hunters will one day reduce the herd to 5 or 10 deer per square mile of range in CWD zones.

Something tells me we’ll require further attitude and regulatory changes just to reach densities of 15 to 20 in farm-country woodlots, inside or outside CWD zones. Time will tell, I guess. Ongoing UW-Stevens Point research into hunter attitudes in the CWD zone seems to confirm, however, that season length alone won’t take us far. The research began last year and is being conducted by graduate student Ryan Meinerz and Professor Robert H. Holsman. Their findings show that despite a nearly 10-week gun season in the Disease Eradication Zone, deer hunters in 2003 averaged only four more days afield than hunters elsewhere in the state.

The zone hunters shot more deer than their counterparts -- 1.71 to .96, on average -- but actually saw fewer deer per hunt, .68 vs. .73.

Meinerz and Holsman also found that those most motivated to shoot multiple deer came from two groups: self-described trophy-buck hunters, and hunters wanting more than two deer for their personal use.

Unfortunately, neither group is large. In the DEZ area, the trophy-buck clan makes up 15.4 percent of hunters, and those wanting two deer in every pot encompass about 22 percent. Most of the rest, 74 percent, are content to shoot one antlerless deer and then, presumably, go home.

Furthermore, the state’s bounty system – which pays $20 to those winning a lottery drawing after registering each deer, and $200 to those shooting a deer that tests positive for CWD – does next to nothing to inspire more hunting effort.

Meinerz and Holsman found only 20 percent of DEZ hunters considered bounties “very” or “somewhat” important motivation.

It seems certain we’ll need further revisions to lessen the sting. Such as? Well, I’d move the first Zone T season from late October to early or mid-September. I’d also reinstate a “traditional” early bow season in CWD zones, and end it the Thursday before the regular November gun season.

My “hammer,” though, would require two antlerless deer to earn a buck tag, but allow the credits to carry into the next year. I’m sure many folks hate such ideas, but let’s face it: The old nine-day gun season is dead. If nothing else, the special hunts starting Oct. 28 will provide clues on how to replace it.

Patrick Durkin writes a weekly column for The Northwestern. He may be reached at 721 Wesley St., Waupaca, WI 54981; or by e-mail at

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