Bill would prohibit hunters from shooting antlerless deer in northern Wisconsin

A group of Republican lawmakers introduced a bill aimed at increasing the deer herd in northern Wisconsin. The measure would prohibit hunters from shooting antlerless deer over the next four years.

Paul A. Smith
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Three antlerless deer pause while foraging near Winter, Wisconsin.

Hunters would be prohibited for the next four years from shooting antlerless white-tailed deer in northern Wisconsin under a bill introduced last week by Republican state legislators.

The measure, LRB-5343-1, is aimed at increasing the white-tailed deer herd in the northern forest region.

"We want to pump the brakes and stop killing does until we get a proper plan put together," said Rep. Chanz Green (R- Grand View). "We've heard from hunters that we need to do something in the north."

Green is one of the authors of the proposal, along with fellow Representatives Calvin Callahan (R-Tomahawk), Angie Sapik (R-Lake Nebagamon) and Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) and Sen. Romaine Quinn (R-Cameron).

To protect female deer in the northern part of the state, LRB-5343-1 would both prohibit the Department of Natural Resources from holding antlerless-only deer hunting seasons and prohibit the DNR from issuing antlerless deer harvest authorizations.

The northern forest deer management region covers all or part of 20 counties.

A map of Wisconsin deer management units and zones.

When reached Friday, DNR officials declined to comment on the proposal.

"We are unable to comment on draft legislation outside of the formal legislative testimony process," the DNR said in a statement.

Hunter discontent increased following the 2023 gun deer hunting season in November. Hunters statewide registered 173,942 deer during the nine-day gun season, a decrease of 18% from the previous year and 11% below the five-year average, according to a DNR preliminary report.

The year-over-year deer registrations were reduced in all four management regions, but the northern forest kill of 28,020 was down the most at 30%. The 2023 northern forest deer data showed showed hunters registered 14% fewer bucks and 27% fewer antlerless deer compared to the five-year averages.

The DNR attributed the higher drop in the north to a harsh winter in 2022-23 that reduced deer survival and recruitment.

Green said the north is different from the rest of the state not only because of more severe winters but also more predators such as black bears and gray wolves.

"We'd like to take the time over the next four years to look at everything from predator management to the CDAC process to forestry to deer management unit boundaries," Green said. "But that will take time and we'd also like to give the deer herd time to bounce back."

An antlerless deer walks through snow in northern Wisconsin.

Larry Bonde of Kiel is chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress' Deer and Elk Committee. He said the WCC has no position on the bill at this time, but did note a system is already in place to address antlerless permit levels.

Since 2014 the state has used a county-based system to recommend antlerless kill quotas and permit levels. The County Deer Advisory Councils (CDAC) emerged from the Deer Trustee Review initiated by former Gov. Scott Walker.

The CDACs are led by WCC delegates and include local citizens who each year advance recommendations to the DNR and Natural Resources Board.

Last year, for example, the Iron County CDAC recommended a zero antlerless quota for its county. The recommendation was supported by the DNR and NRB and no antlerless permits were issued there last year.

Jeff Pritzl, DNR deer specialist, said given the results from the 2023 deer hunting season he anticipated more CDACs in the north would also opt for zero or low antlerless quotas in 2024.

As written the proposed bill would allow hunters to continue to kill two bucks a year in the north, one with a bow license and one with a gun.

In recent years the DNR has held a statewide antlerless-only deer hunting season over four days in December. However, it is dependent on the availability of antlerless permits in each county. In 2023, for example, Iron County effectively had no antlerless-only season.

Green said he thought the proposal would attract good support among legislators. It has a Monday deadline for co-sponsors to sign on; it then could be issued a bill number in the Assembly and Senate and assigned to a committee in each house.

"Over the next four years, the purpose of this legislation is to work with the DNR, CDAC committees and hunters to have a proper deer management plan in place for northern Wisconsin," the legislators wrote in a memo asking for co-sponsors. "We want future generations to enjoy the tradition of hunting in northern Wisconsin, and this bill is a good start to making that happen."

The restrictions in the bill would sunset after four years.