Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For November 13th, 2009 Edition.
I found the recent column in the Times by Dick Ellis, in which he gave his opinions and findings concerning the nearly non-existent deer herd in Northern Wisconsin, to be "right on the money!" Also, I might add, the recent public hearings sponsored by the Wisconsin DNR concerning their proposed "16 day deer season", which was soundly rejected by those who attended the meetings, strongly suggests most Northwood's deer hunters also agree with Mr. Ellis.
I've asked myself countless times, "How did the game managers miss seeing the clear evidence that the north's deer herd was in serious trouble beginning a decade ago?" I mean, these guys and gals are supposed to be the "x-purts!" Maybe those game biologists need to spend more time in the woods and less time in their office!
After reading Dick's thought provoking article Belle and I began our own local investigations to see if our conclusions would mirror those of Mr. Ellis. The two of us spent several long afternoons walking familiar ancient deer trails that crisscross the state land that surrounds our home looking for evidence of deer numbers. I knew prior to our search what we'd find - or perhaps I should say, "What we wouldn't find."
The landscape through which we passed was almost as familiar as the hallways of our home. This was a piece of the planet that I have treaded upon frequently for the past six decades during the fall and early winter seasons. The forest floor was very moist from the abundance of rain and recent wet snow making for excellent conditions to interpret evidence of the presence or absence of wildlife movement.
Since my youth little has changed in the vast area through which we walked. Yes, the red and white pines were now fully mature trees but the bushy balsam thickets in the valleys and the tangled thickets of hazel nut brush seemed unchanged. But what was very different was an almost total lack of evidence that deer still live in this pristine setting!
Our wanderings discovered but two fresh deposits of "deer dung", one scrape and one rub. The layers of wet leaves upon the numerous runways were flat and uniform, devoid of any fresh deer tracks. Now unless deer have outfitted their feet with moccasins that fact would lead me to believe there are very few deer in an area that fairly recently literally swarmed with whitetails!
Our deer are gone! As Dick Ellis pointed out, the past two November deer seasons have been terrible! Our camp in St. Germain can claim similar results as Dick described from his gang's camp near Boulder Junction. No bucks taken or sighted during the past two deer seasons! I personally spent over 90 hours in the woods during the nine-day gun season, the antlerless hunt and the muzzleloader season in 2008. I saw a total of five deer - all does and fawns. But finally in desperation to put some venison in the freezer I bagged a doe on the 4th day of the muzzleloader season!
As I asked earlier, how did our game managers not see this shortage of deer coming? Veteran sportsmen began loudly complaining about seeing less and less deer beginning a decade ago. But still the propaganda machine in Madison continued to tell us there were too many deer for the land to support. We were warned our forests might disappear as the starving herds devoured trees faster than they could grow. Ya, right! Doe tags were sold by the thousands in some management units that year after year contained fewer and fewer deer. Once might ask themselves, "Is the DNR's present deer management policy protecting the resource or designed to provide more cash for an out of control DNR?"
Locally, here in the St.Germain area, the deer herd peaked in the late 1980s. Up until the early 90s Peggy and I could often view 30 or more deer peacefully feeding during the winter months on the goodies we put out for our forest dwelling neighbors. Then, year by year the numbers dropped. Last winter we had but seven "regulars" and presently that number has dropped to five.
There is little doubt that part of the problem concerning less and less deer in the forest also lies with the ballooning population of meat eating predators, wolves, bears and the ever present packs of coyotes, to mention more and more frequent sightings of cougars! I personally suspect that predation of newborn fawns is much higher than we suspect.
I feel Northern Wisconsin deer hunters have reached the same level of frustration as those who presently support the political tea-party rallies. Like the political protesters deer hunters are demanding policy change. Some hunters are so upset they are threatening to not buy a deer license. I predict the Northwood's will be a much quieter and gentler place during the upcoming November deer hunt!
For those who haven't spent as many decades on the planet as I have may not realize all this has happened previously. The mighty deer herd that developed in the north during the late 1930s and early 40s was tremendous! The first doe season took place in 1943 and few hunters failed to fill their tags. Our camp, which housed 15 hunters during that season, all filled their tags opening weekend.
Then, from 1944-48 the season returned to "bucks only" and during those five seasons our camp's numbers averaged 11 hunters with a success rate of just over 50%, which is a very acceptable success rate. Then the greed for more license money began!
Once again all deer were legal game during the seasons of 1949, 50 and 51. Our camp averaged 18 hunters per season with a success rate of 100%. By 1952 deer were so scarce Dad and I boycotted the season by refusing to buy a hunting license. Nine diehards returned to camp and killed one buck!
From 1953 through 1955 our camp's population averaged 10.5 hunters per season and a total of seven bucks were harvested during those three seasons. In 1956 our camp's numbers plummeted to but three hunters, as the old rank and file began to look for other areas in which to hunt or retired the old .30-30. Yes Virginia, history does repeat itself! And if we fail to learn from our past mistakes we are doomed to repeat them, which we have done again with our state's deer management policy!
My solution for the current crisis would be to stop allowing does and fawns to be taken until the herd rebuilds itself, regardless of how long it takes- period! That should go for bow hunters as well as gun hunters.
As for the present, deer hunters may have to be satisfied with enjoying the peace and quiet of the November Northwood's.
As for the future, the ball is now in the DNR's court. All we can wish for is "hope and change."
On the other hand, maybe that's not something to wish for either!
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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