MILWAUKEE – Starting Saturday November 18th, thousands of Wisconsinites will don blaze orange for nine days of hunting. State deer program specialist Jeff Pritzl is the expert for all things deer at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – he gave WTMJ a scouting report for this year.
“There will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 550,000 people out participating in the deer hunt,” Pritzl said. “It’s quite an event!”
Pritzl said we’re looking at a similar number of deer but there have been some long-lasting effects of a bitterly cold winter up north. There’s also a distinct lack of snow in the forecast, something that could impact visibility for hunters.
“That does seem to be suppressing harvest opportunites [there] somewhat,” he said. “I would not be surprised if our harvest totals come in a little lower than they did last year.
Still, this year the Department of Natural Resources expects to sell over half a million firearm deer licenses and is projecting a harvest of 200,000 deer. But while the stage is set for a productive harvest, the full picture of gun deer hunting in Wisconsin is that of a slow, steady decline
“Everybody my age and younger has grown up with a dying tradition,” said Brian Reisinger.
Reisinger is a rural columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and a lifelong hunter. He told WTMJ that it’s a shame that hunting numbers have dwindled.
“Hunting is something that my dad and I connected on all throughout my life and it’s something he learned from his dad, and it’s something that goes on back to our heritage,” he said. “It’s really tied into who we are – we’re farmers, we’re a working family, we’re proud natives of Wisconsin.”
Participation in gun deer season has been in steady decline for the last two decades since a peak in 1999. Reisinger said that hunting remains a major part of rural life, and can be an important way for kids to build their self-esteem. But he’s got a bone to pick with the stigma that hunters face for participating in their sport
“Do you know how many kids who grew up playing basketball and soccer who are on a daily basis told what they do is cruel and unneccesary?” he said. “People who hunt are some of the most responsible people around gun issues I’ve ever seen. People who hunt are some of the most caring stewards of our environement I’ve ever seen.”
Environmental issues could be facing Wisconsin’s deer population as a direct result of the decline in hunters, with Pritzl citing disease and an increase in car crashes as two things that could result from the overpopulation he said they’re already starting to see the beginnings of.
State officials do meet roughly every decade to decide how to set policy managing Wisconsin’s deer. Pritzl said it’s about time to take a look at where to go from here.
“[It’s time] to sit down and engage with the public and talk about the future of what deer hunting and deer management will look like in Wisconsin,” Pritzl said.
Hunting’s future may be uncertain .. but hunting’s present is still much the same as it has been in Wisconsin. Over half a million people are expected, not just from Wisconsin but other states and other countries, to try their hand at bagging a buck in 2023.
For Resininger, it’s a beloved family activity, a tradition passed down through generations,and something he’s excited to gear up for and go this weekend.
“Out where I’m from we’ve been seeing a ton of deer, we’ve been seeing some nice buck,” he said. “That’s the thing about deer hunting – you never know what is going to happen.”
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