Oconto County sportsmen oppose shortened crossbow season

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County reflects state opposition to shortened season

Ross Bielema, Times Herald Correspondent

Sportsmen in Oconto County and around the state soundly rejected a plan to shorten the crossbow season for deer, but Oconto County Conservation Congress alternate chairman Ralph Fritsch thinks the plan’s author will continue to pursue it at the state level.

“I think Greg (Kasmierski) will follow through with it and push for it and the board (Natural Resources Board) will support him,” Fritsch said after the April 9 Conservation Congress and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources spring hearings, which included non-binding votes on a variety of proposed hunting, fishing and trapping rules changes.

Kasmierski, owner of an archery shop in Pewaukee, believes crossbows give hunters an unfair advantage and are altering “Wisconsin’s deer hunting traditions,” according to the wording of the question. He contends that the crossbow is the main reason fewer people are hunting deer with firearms, and that could affect the restaurants, motels and other businesses that depend on gun-deer hunting revenue.

“We’re killing the same amount of deer but using different methods,” Fritsch said. “We’re fighting to keep hunter hunting and now we’re going to do this?”

A total of 41 people attended Oconto County’s hearing at Suring High School, and one of the main conversation topics was the proposed shortened crossbow season. Fritsch said he was “totally opposed” to a shortened season. Sportsmen there voted 22-15 against the idea. Of the state’s 72 counties, 54 voted against the idea and the overall count was 3,164-2,660 against.

Fritsch said this year’s joint Conservation Congress and DNR hearing had a “different air” than many in past years because “people came with real issues they wanted to address.”

Fritsch said many hunters, particularly older ones who may have trouble drawing a compound bow, have switched to the crossbow. Last year for the first time, the number of deer shot with a crossbow in Wisconsin surpassed those shot with a compound or other “vertical” bow, such as a recurve bow.

“They’re happy. They’re back in,” he said of the older hunters. “They have a capable weapon and are enjoying the type of hunt they like.” He looked into the numbers on deer licenses and found that age 51 is where many hunters begin to abandon hunting.

Fritsch and Oconto County Conservation Congress chairman Bob Ellingson also shared the proposed numbers from the county’s Deer Advisory Council that they both serve on.

Oconto County is very unique in that a portion of the county is in the Forest Zone and the remainder is in the Farmland Zone. The council recommended issuing three free antlerless licenses per buck license (the same recommendation as Shawano and Waupaca counties).

The council also recommended a Dec.24-Jan. 1 Holiday Hunt for antlerless deer, which last year represented 9 percent of the antlerless kill in the county’s Farmland Zone. There was a recommendation to allow bow and crossbow hunters to take a buck during the Holiday Hunt, as would be allowed normally if the Holiday Hunt was not in effect.

The council also recommended a bonus antlerless quota of 325 in the Forest Zone and 7,000 in theFarmland Zone, with 325 public-land and 750 private-land bonus tags in the Forest Zone and 450 public-land and 1,825 private-land tags in the Farmland Zone (bonus licenses are $12 each).

The council did not recommend extending the bow/crossbow season to Jan. 31.

To read all the public comments submitted online after the county Deer Advisory Council preliminary meetings, go here: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/hunt/documents/DMU-report.pdf

In other topics discussed at the April 9 public hearing:

• Ellingson said the Oconto County Conservation Congress made a resolution aimed at allowing those who construct and label duck blinds to retain use of them. There was a discussion about two incidents involving hunters who showed up at midnight to claim a duck blind built on public land by another hunter, and another conflict between hunters over another blind that ended with one group smashing the blind.

• Ellington noted two county Conservation Congress resolutions on Chronic Wasting Disease.

“Everybody was pretty much livid about it the past few years,” he said, noting the Apple Creek Whitetails hunting game farm near Gillett had a CWD-infected deer in September 2016.

That result prompted deer baiting and feeding bans in Oconto and Menominee counties. A statewide question to restrict transportation of deer harvested in a CWD-affected county to within that county or an adjacent CWD-affected county was supported by Oconto County meeting attendees, 26-11. Statewide, the proposal was supported by 50 counties, and the overall vote was 3,102-2617 in favor.

• Fritsch noted there was a discussion on the statewide suggestion to establish a statewide 12-inch size limit and three-fish daily bag limit on largemouth bass.

“We are seeing so many bass here in our lakes that don’t get past 12-13 inches,” Fritsch said.

Kelly Lake near Suring will have no size limit this season on largemouth bass because the fish are stunted in size, he said. The discussion was about 50-50 for and against the measure. The Oconto County meeting vote was 17-16 opposed, while the statewide vote was favored by 43 counties and 2,615-2,189 in favor.

• In other meeting votes, Oconto County attendees opposed eliminating group “party hunting” of deer during the firearms season, 25-14 (statewide, the suggestion failed in 64 counties).

Attendees also voted 19-14 in favor of a plan to reduce the walleye bag limit on the Lake Winnebago system, including the Wolf River, from five fish to three, and supported a plan, 20-17, that would help fund the management of public hunting and fishing lands with a $5 user fee.

To see all the results of the spring hearings votes, go here: https://dnr.wi.gov/About/WCC/Documents/spring_hearing/2018/2018Statewide...