Deer and Madison
January 2, 2010 10:39 AM
My communications director, Rachel Strauch-Nelson, tells me I should focus all my blogs on city business. But she's somewhere in Florida and I'm here thinking about deer hunting, so that's what I'm going to write about today. To make her happy when she gets back and reads this let me note that Madison has hundreds of acres of conservation parks where deer do serious damage to native plants, so there's your connection.
I'm thinking about deer hunting these days for three reasons. First, there's a big controversy raging right now among grumpy Wisconsin hunters who didn't see as many deer as they usually do. Second, I'm heading out to the woods again on Saturday for the "holiday hunt" hoping to bag the antlerless deer I didn't get during the regular season. And third, these days I'm eager to think about anything that doesn't involve Tiger Woods or snow storms.
To my brothers (they are mostly brothers, but I'll be hunting on Saturday with my friend the County Executive who is actually a sister) in the Wisconsin deer hunting brethren I say lighten the heck up. We like to go around saying that we hunt for all kinds of noble reasons: thin the herd to lower the number of car v. deer crashes, lessen damage to farmers' crops and natural biodiversity, and fight the spread of chronic wasting disease. We also like to prattle on about how deer hunting is not only about killing deer but about tradition, camaraderie, reconnecting with nature and the need to provide for our families and other deep, deep stuff.
So, if you're serious about all that, then stop whining about not seeing many deer this year. I'm not whining. In a typical two and a half days in the woods I see around 40 deer. This year I saw exactly seven and I had as good a season as ever. My friend and landowner Jordy shot one of the biggest bucks ever dispatched on his farm, my morel sauce was better than ever with our steaks, my friends and their families were in good health and as happy as anybody is these days, and nobody mauered playing Sheepshead probably because we didn't get around to playing this year. And best of all I got two and a half days in the woods alone with my thoughts. My only complaint was about the weather, which was too warm, which is part of the reason I want to go out this Saturday so I can get my fill of shivering in the deep cold.
And if you really want a tough season, think back to 1971 when only 71,000 deer were harvested by 510,000 hunters, a less than one in seven success rate. This year's harvest looks to be just shy of 200,000 by a little over 600,000 hunters for a success rate of not quite one in three.
There's also evidence that the poor, beleaguered Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' plan to reduce the deer herd is working to good effect. Vehicle crashes with deer are down about 25% from their peek and crop damage is down by about half. In 2000, Wisconsin deer chomped down about 339,000 bushels of corn while they ate only about 172,000 bushels in 2008. Damage to our forest floor and to the timber industry is also reduced.
Finally, if you really want to see a threat to Wisconsin deer hunting, look no further than CWD. While we don't know exactly how CWD spreads, it's a good bet that densities of deer are at the center of it. The DNR told us from the start that reducing deer populations in hot CWD areas, including where I hunt in Richland County, was at the heart of their strategy to head off the disease. And, sure enough, the spread of CWD has been relatively slow.
So, if you really hunt for all those other values beyond just shooting at a deer, relax and stop complaining. And please note to Rachel Strauch-Nelson that a smaller deer herd is good for the City of Madison's conservation parks as well.