For roughly 57 years after its creation in 1967, the Department of Natural Resources took its orders from a seven-citizen governing board that boasted some of Wisconsin’s most impressive conservation minds.
No one watching the current DNR Board will confuse its leaders with their predecessors, such as Herb Behnke, John Lawton or Pete Helland. Chaos fairies now reign over the DNR, having replaced rational and scientific thought with illogical and absurd monkey-wrenching.
Or maybe these folks are goofy witch doctors who like poking, prodding and pricking at Wisconsin’s deer-management programs while asking, “What happens if we stick it here?”
Either way, Board Chair Frank Prehn and vice-chair Greg Kazmierski don’t know if they’re practicing voodoo or acupuncture, and they act like it’s splitting hairs to ask.
Too harsh? Call up Wisconsin Eye on the DNR’s website, and watch our befuddled Board in action on Jan. 21-22 as they discuss the 2019 deer season one day, and then their Six Silly Suggestions for “tweaking” future deer seasons the second day.
You’ll see a Board so baffled by its own proposals that Prehn finally directed the Wisconsin Conservation Congress to straighten it out, even though it wasn’t the Congress’s idea in the first place. And through it all, Prehn and Kazmierski kept insisting the DNR simplify deer hunting rules because they’re too complex for the common deer hunter.
In case you missed it, let’s review the Board’s Six Silly Suggestions for improving Wisconsin deer hunting. We get to vote on these godsends April 13 at the annual statewide fish and wildlife hearings.
1. Extend the current nine-day gun season to 19 days. That would eliminate the 10-day muzzleloading season, but Prehn said it would increase gun-hunting opportunities.
2. Eliminate the firearms antlerless-only holiday deer season. Board vice-chair Greg Kazmierski said killing this season would “simplify” our deer season framework and make hunting seasons more consistent each year.
3. Establish a two or five-day no hunting period before November’s gun-deer season, except for waterfowl hunting. Prehn said this “quiet time” would put some “buzz” back into the gun season’s opener, even if it came at the expense of small-game hunting and bowhunting.
4. Eliminate regional farmland and forest zones to “simplify and streamline” regulations, but continue to manage deer herds on a county-by-county basis, and maintain separate antlerless quotas for public and private lands.
5. Restrict the crossbow season to Oct. 1-31, and reopen it after the regular gun season.
6. Require anyone using crossbows, compound bows or other archery gear during November’s gun season to buy a firearms license.
Questions 5 and 6 spun the Board into such a vortex that it resembled the old Abbot and Costello “Who’s on first?” routine. Finally, an exasperated Board member, Bill Smith of Shell Lake, suggested the question include a box where people could answer “I’m confused.”
Even though Wisconsin citizens can vote to reject this chaos in April, it’s irritating that we’re even talking about it. The problem, of course, is that Prehn and Kazmierski think that allowing crossbows for archery hunting since 2014 triggered Wisconsin’s declines in gun licenses and gun-season’s buck kills.
Kaz said Wisconsin is following the same path as Michigan, and claimed its gun-deer license sales plunged by 300,000 since crossbows were legalized for archery season in 2009.
Sheesh. Once again Kaz is pulling numbers from his nose. Michigan’s resident gun-license sales fell from 623,158 in 2012 to roughly 550,000 in 2018. For total deer gun-license sales, Michigan dipped from 785,000 in 1998 to 621,000 in 2017.
No matter the number—300,000, 164,000 or 73,000—it’s nonsense to claim crossbows caused the recent declines. And it’s wishful nonsense to think restricting their use to October and December will rejuvenate gun deer hunting. License sales started sliding across the eastern two-thirds of the United States in the 1990s, long before crossbows took off a decade ago.
Those aren’t the only numbers confusing Kaz and Prehn. Kazmierski said repeatedly that “42% of the bucks are gone before gun season opens.”
(Insert obnoxious buzzer sound here.)
Wrong. What Kaz meant to say, and Prehn meant to repeat, is that 42% of the recent buck kill occurred before gun season. Far more than 58% of the buck herd is still skulking about our woods, marshes and fields when gun season opens.
If gun-hunters aren’t shooting their “fair share” of bucks, why don’t Kaz and Prehn suggest opening December’s four-day antlerless-only hunt to bucks, and open the holiday season to either-sex hunting? They could do that right now instead of trying to slash those hunting opportunities.
Perhaps sensing the pending blowback, Prehn said the Board’s questions for the spring hearings aren’t a kneejerk reaction to November’s relatively low gun kill. More buck pellets. The problem is that Kaz last year commissioned a sociological study of crossbow use in Wisconsin, and didn’t like its findings, which we reported in November: Crossbows didn’t hurt gun-season participation.
That’s why Kaz and Prehn crafted their Six Silly Questions, and they hope the spring hearings give them license to eliminate hunting opportunities they don’t like.
Predictably, the Board didn’t post its questions for its Jan. 21-22 agenda until one day before it cut off registration for publicly testimony at its meeting. Therefore, only one person showed up to testify Jan. 22: Mike Brust, Kaz’s chief toady.
Brust is also president of the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association. He predictably told the Board that crossbows make bowhunting too easy, and too much like gun-hunting. In other words, crossbows differ little from muzzleloaders.
If Brust and Kaz believe that, we have a solution: In the spirit of compromise, let’s restrict crossbows to October and December, and extend the gun-deer season to 19 days. In exchange, let’s open October and December to muzzleloaders to boost the firearms buck kill.
Problem solved, right?
As the Board’s baffling discussions concluded Jan. 22, Prehn told DNR Secretary Preston Cole that he wants the agency to craft a 5-year plan to increase deer hunting’s value to Wisconsin, saying:
“Be bold in your analytics and how you digest deer numbers. Tell us what needs fixing. We want the DNR to weigh in. You’re the experts. I charge you to simplify the license structure. The public is confused, we’re confused and you’re confused.”
Good for you, Mr. Prehn. You inadvertently poked an indisputable truth.
Now put your voodoo pins away.
Patrick Durkin, @patrickdurkinoutdoors, is a free-lance writer who covers outdoors recreation in Wisconsin. Write to him at 721 Wesley St., Waupaca, WI 54981; or by e-mail at patrickdurkin56@gmailcom.