Some Wisconsin deer hunters dismayed, but say they'll hunt

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A waste of life

Deer hunters in the kill zone are dismayed and disgusted, but say they'll help out

By Bill Novak, Capital Times (Madison)

May 6, 2002

MOUNT HOREB - Spring is the season of rebirth, of growth, of the sun warming the fields. The spring of 2002 is also the season of death, at least for the 15,000 white-tailed deer living in the beautiful hills and valleys of western Dane County.

There is an uneasiness about all this, an uncertainty. Hunters will be taking shotgun or rifle to the killing fields starting this week, in an effort to wipe out the deadly chronic wasting disease, discovered in 14 deer in the Mount Horeb area.

To wipe out CWD, the Department of Natural Resources has decided to annihilate the entire deer herd in a 285-square-mile area, from Cross Plains to Spring Green, from Mazomanie to Primrose.

Landowners in this zone are getting permits this week to kill every deer they come across. The permit holders can assign the killing rights to someone else if they choose. But it was hard to find any hunter this weekend who really wanted to go out to destroy the animal that is the foundation for one of the most honored of Wisconsin's fall outdoor activities: the annual gun deer season.

While hunters might agree with the DNR's assessment of the situation, it doesn't make it any easier to accept.

Bob Sauer has hunted for 35 of his 50 years. The Cross Plains resident leases 100 acres of land on Bell Road in the town of Vermont, close to the epicenter of the kill zone. He talked about the hunt at the Main Street Lanes tavern in Cross Plains.

"I've come to understand that we have to do something," Sauer said. "If the DNR thinks it will eliminate the problem, as much as I don't want to do it, I guess we'll have to."

Sauer takes pride in good deer management practices, and is saddened by the fact that all the work done to maintain a high-quality deer herd with good-sized bucks is going to go down the drain.

"In my hunting lifetime, I'll probably never see any more quality bucks, if we take them all during this kill," Sauer said. "We worked so hard to get some of those big deer out there, and we did all that work for nothing."

Matt Baars, 22, doesn't know if the DNR's plan will get rid of all the deer in the region, but he thinks the actions will be justified if it keeps chronic wasting disease from encroaching into a far greater resource: the state's dairy cows. (Scientists haven't found the disease can jump to another species but it is a close relative of so-called mad cow disease.)

Baars discussed the deer kill at the Walking Iron Depot bar on Hudson Street in Mazomanie. The bar is a deer registration station, with a large sign permanently affixed to the front door.

"At first, I thought the idea was pretty bad, and I was worried about how it will affect the fall deer hunt," Baars said. "But you can't get rid of the disease until you get rid of all the deer."

Getting all the deer seems to be the key to why some hunters think the killing will work in stopping the spread of the disease.

"If we do this kill, it has to be 100 percent," Baars said. "If just a small percentage of the deer are left, you'll have the problem all over again."

The young hunter, a 10-year veteran of the tradition, doesn't look upon this extraordinary hunt as sport.

"If I go out, I'll do it not as a sport, but as a way to try to protect the other animals, such as the dairy herd," Baars said.

But he does have a few lingering questions about killing all 15,000 deer in the disease-tainted zone.

"When it's all said and done, what if 150 deer are left?" he asked. "How do you know when it's over?"

A couple of doors from the Walking Iron Depot, across the street from the old Schmitz Hall, where the Ringling Brothers staged their first circus in 1882, a white-tailed buck stood straight and tall, looking out at passersby on the street. Shot years ago, it now graces a storefront.

Amy Austin, 25, a waitress at the Grumpy Troll Brew Pub on South Second Street in Mount Horeb, has hunted since she was 12. "I usually get my deer," she said.

Austin doesn't know if she wants to take part in the killing. "A few people in town that I know of are taking part in the hunt, but they are doing it with mixed emotions," she said.

Quinn McKillup, 23, also of Mount Horeb, said he might join the hunt if the opportunity presents itself, but he's not pursuing the spring kill as a "thing to do."

"The thing that sucks is a lot of deer will be killed and will end up just laying there, and people won't be using them or anything. I wouldn't go out and slaughter five or six deer and just leave them lay."

McKillup said he's most concerned about what affect the spring kill will have on the fall gun deer season.

"The deer will be afraid this fall," he said. "If you have people going out now and staying out hunting all year, the deer won't be coming out of the woods in the fall. During the deer season, they turn nocturnal, and the same thing will happen here."

McKillup goes hunting with a group of guys every year. He said this spring kill isn't the same as the traditional hunt.

"Friends of mine are hunters, and no one I know of is going out and doing it," he said.

Sauer said the hunting starting this week might be easy at first but will get progressively more difficult as the deer herd retreats into the woods.

"In the first few days we'll get a fair amount," Sauer said. "But after a few days, we won't be able to get to them, because they will have burrowed themselves way into the forests. They know when they are being stalked and hunted.

"The deer will turn nocturnal," he said, echoing McKillup. "And if the DNR wants to do any shooting at night, it will be extremely dangerous."

Sauer said the DNR might be surprised when the permits are issued to landowners this week.

"Look at how many permits will be given out compared to how many permits are actually used," he said.

When the killing starts, it won't be easy for deer hunters such as Sauer, who worked for years to build up and maintain a good, healthy deer herd on the land he leases.

"We don't want all of our deer herd killed off," he said. "This is just going to be a big slaughterhouse."
 
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