Mandatory deer registration was not only a way for hunters to socialize, it is historically the best tool for obtaining irrefutable proof of harvest. (photo by Dan Schmidt)
“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.
It’s probably one of the greatest quotes ever, but it wasn’t penned for deer management. It should have been.
As my home state of Wisconsin puts the close to its annual 9-day firearms season, I’m both saddened and discouraged over our future. This was the first year in more than a half century that we didn’t have mandatory harvest registration. Up until now, hunters were required to take their deer to check stations — typically gas stations, sport shops and taverns — to have them checked and registered. It was a tradition, a social event, and kind of a pain in the butt during warm-weather seasons. However, above all, it was one of the most valuable management tools ever developed.
Dumping in-person deer registration came about through the state’s ill-fated recommendations by the Governor-appointed deer trustee a few years ago. Back then, Gov. Scott Walker paid James Kroll, a private-land deer consultant from South Texas, upwards of $125,000 to recommend changes to Wisconsin deer season structure. The result was a lot of pomp and circumstance and little substantive changes to actually improving deer populations in the Badger state.
I’ll say it here and now: Dumping in-person check stations will go down as one of the worst deer management decisions ever made. Well, that and the dumping of deer management units. DMUs were specific topographical zones based on deer population distribution. The invaluable histories of DMUs allowed state wildlife biologists to make precise harvest recommendations for, again, more than a half century.
Here are three more reasons why dumping in-person registration was a bad idea:
1. In-person deer registration provided virtually incontrovertible proof of harvest with antlered bucks. This provided a very strong index to track herd trends. Even in the face of that fact, hunters still questioned harvest reports. How much more will they question the veracity of Telecheck numbers? Dead deer don’t lie. Telecheck registrants do.
2. Random samples of deer ages will be difficult to obtain. Spot checks at butcher plants in 2014 were not encouraging. Age data tells us how fast deer are being added to the herd, how fast bucks are dying, and herd sex ratios. Precise sex-ratio data is the basis for reconstructing population estimates, and Wisconsin was #1 in this exercise (head and shoulders above any other state) for decades. No more.
3. Obtaining tissue samples for monitoring disease presence and prevalence will be confounded.
I hate to come off as the pessimist, but there’s really no going back on these damaging deer management decisions. The current Administration’s gutting of the Department of Natural Resources is complete (500+ jobs eliminated from the Department, including nearly all wildlife research scientists). From here on out, my beloved state of Wisconsin’s deer management program — once the epitome of sound, science-based decisions — will now be managed in much the same way other states have done it for years.
With a flip of the coin.