Wisconsin gun-deer season spurs economy


Mar 11, 2001
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Posted Nov. 16, 2001

Gun-deer season spurs economy

Businesses extend hours to sell ‘stuff they forgot’ .

By Richard Ryman

TOWNSEND — Businesses are in the middle of the insanity that marks the opening day of the gun-deer season.

The shooting doesn’t begin until Saturday, but hunters have arrived, and they are eating and drinking and piling into hotel rooms and rushing out to buy the things they left sitting on the garage floor at home.

Richard Pintsch will keep his hardware store and sports shop in the northern Oconto County town of Townsend open longer today and Saturday, and will open for a half-day on Thanksgiving to accommodate hunters.

“A lot of what we sell is stuff they forget,” Pintsch said.

Or stuff they didn’t plan for. In past years, rain ponchos, hand warmers and small flashlights have been big sellers. And hunting licenses, though Pintsch doesn’t profit from that.

As of Tuesday, the state had issued 358,898 licenses across Wisconsin, compared with 483,419 last year.

Last year, 107,500 were sold the last three days before the season, said Mike Corpus, customer service center supervisor for the state Department of Natural Resources in Peshtigo.

Oconto County is particularly popular with hunters because it is the gateway to more than 180,000 acres of national, state and county forest land.

More than 400 miles of well-tended snowmobile trails provide access deep into the woods, said Bruce Mommaerts, executive director of the Oconto County Economic Development Corp.

“We view the hunting season the same way we would the Fourth of July or Labor Day,” Mommaerts said.

“It’s 10 days of lodging, meals, ammunition sales and fines to the DNR.”

Some communities in the county will even double in size this weekend.

“The DNR says there is a deer behind every tree,” said Wayne Bennett, a Lakewood accountant.

“Behind every deer is a hunter.”

Jill Davis, an employee at The Old Town Hall restaurant in Townsend, which opens at 5:30 a.m., said today is the busiest of the year.

“It’s the last hurrah until we get the snow,” she said.

Tom Wurzer, who owns the Waubee Lodge motel and supper club in Lakewood, counts on deer season and Thanksgiving to tide him over from summer to snowmobile season.

“It’s very important that we have that in there. Every weekend now gets less and less people up here,” he said.

Mike Janesch, owner of Mike’s Supermarket in Townsend, processes deer, but it’s not the biggest benefit of the week.

“We do a lot more in groceries than cleaning deer,” he said. “Opening weekend especially. There are a lot of guys who come up here.”

Not all the hunters come from outside the county. Bennett said some businesses have trouble finding enough help because their employees like to hunt as well.

“Everybody wants to go hunting. I’m out of here on Friday,” Bennett said.

Hunters’ routines are changing, business owners said.

“The old-timers would come up here. They’d hunt hard, they’d play hard,” Wurzer said. “The young hunters are not as enthusiastic about gun-hunting as their dads.”

Pederson said she has no problems with hunters.

“I remember when I was growing up. You heard talk of the wild weekends. It’s not like that anymore,” she said.

Wurzer said supper club business is good on Thursday, but by Friday night the business shifts to other locations.

“If I was out deer hunting, I wouldn’t want to sit in a supper club. I’d want to shoot pool, talk smart and drink beer,” Wurzer said.

Hunters are less likely to stay the whole week, as well. Wurzer said more of them go home for Thanksgiving, then return for the final weekend, and more women come along.

Packers games also play a part. Home Packers games on the opening weekend result in television shots of Lambeau Field stands bathed in orange.

This year, for the first time in a while, the Packers play on Thanksgiving as well.

Important as it is, hunting season ranks behind snowmobiling, if the snow is adequate, and summer vacations in economic impact.

“The snow season has become as big, if not bigger,” Wurzer said.

He said the tourist industry is becoming more year-round.

“It’s much more spread out, which is really good,” he said.

But the big bounce provided by deer week isn’t taken for granted.

“We love to see the nice big weekends,” said Jack Mahnke, owner of North Star Motel in Lakewood. “It helps to pay the bills.”

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