Thursday, November 02, 2006

WISCONSIN OPINION: Studies and Audits Will Not Affect Hunters' Opinion

Rooney's note: Pat Durkin slam-dunked this one. For most people, the validity of the science is based on whether or not it is congruent with their pre-existing beliefs or biases. These expensive studies will have zero effect on the hunting public's opinion of the DNR's deer management program or the quality of deer density estimates.

Sometime before or soon after the state's traditional nine-day gun season opens on Nov. 18, we'll be treated to the findings of two high-profile studies involving Wisconsin's ever-popular white-tailed deer.

One study is by the Legislative Audit Bureau, which analyzed Wisconsin's costly efforts to control chronic wasting disease.

The other is by a panel of noted national deer biologists, who analyzed the Department of Natural Resources' deer census methods.

We're all eager to read the reports, but here's a certainty: A year from now, about 40 percent of deer hunters will be unhappy. Many will claim there are no deer where they hunt. Just as many will say "the DNR is killing way too many deer" where they hunt.

Another certainty? Neither survey addresses the obvious: How do we kill too many deer if they aren't there, year after year?

The fact is, about 40 percent of deer hunters have cried wolf since 1930.

This is mere recreational griping. Yet politicians and the Natural Resources Board forever spend money on redundant studies, foolishly assuming malcontents hunger for knowledge.

A more useful study might ask: Why do political leaders respond to nonsense? Is it the malcontents' persistence? Their repetition? Their passion?

Is there a psychiatrist in the house?

If our leaders studied the past 75 years of Wisconsin deer hunting, they might concede it's too crazy to comprehend or change. They might then tell the DNR: "Hey, sorry for the misunderstanding. Here's the keys to a rubber room. I have schools to fund, businesses to rescue and air and water to cleanse. Do what you must."

Too harsh? Maybe, but just because some deer hunters have mastered the tantrum doesn't mean we must honor it.

Wisconsin has so many whitetails that in 2005, we shot more bucks on opening day of gun season, 74,880, than the combined buck-antlerless kills during the entire nine-day seasons in 1970, 72,844; 1971, 70,835; and 1972, 74,827.

Further, on opening day, the combined 2005 buck-antlerless kill was 138,608 deer. That one-day kill is more than any single year's regular-season total from 1930 through 1979, when we registered 125,570 deer. The 1980 nine-day kill was 139,624.

Now let's look at Wisconsin's 2005 opening weekend, in which the buck-antlerless kill was 195,735. Just so we're clear, that's almost 200,000 dead deer in two days. We killed a similar total, 197,600, during the nine-day season in 1983, which was a record harvest.

For fun, let's ignore the opening-weekend harvest from last year and just compare the season's final seven-day kill, which was 111,193. Only three times from 1930 through 1974 did Wisconsin deer hunters shoot more deer during the nine-day gun season. Since 1975, when we registered 117,378 deer, we've stayed far above 110,000.

In case you didn't notice, we haven't even discussed the other deer seasons. During 2005, we also killed 78,450 deer during archery season, 53,127 during the October and December gun seasons and 8,553 during muzzleloading season.

Those totals came during a year when the traditional gun season ranked only seventh all-time. For further perspective, 2005 also was one of 14 seasons during the past 17 in which gun hunters registered more than 300,000 deer.

Think about that: All those hunting opportunities and all those millions of bloody carcass tags, and yet a 2005 DNR survey found 44 percent of deer hunters think agency biologists overestimate the herd.

The 2005 survey also found 36 percent of deer hunters rated their hunt's quality as "fairly low" or "very low," and 42 percent rated their satisfaction 6 or lower on a 10-point scale.

And rational people question the supremacy of self-pity and mudslinging?

One would think politicians understand the power of negativity and would not allow the 40-percenters to frustrate the other 60 percent of deer hunters.

Then again, maybe our leaders view the 40-percenters as kindred spirits.

Patrick Durkin is a free-lance writer who covers outdoors for the Press-Gazette. E-mail him at