Madison (WKOW) — The Department of Natural Resources is considering changing the crossbow deer season, but is struggling to balance all of the competing interests.
At a meeting Wednesday of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, the board heard a presentation on changing the crossbow deer season.
Currently, the crossbow season runs the same dates as the archery season, which is typically mid-September through the beginning of the year. This has been the case since the crossbow season was established in 2014. Prior to that, crossbows had been limited to hunters with disabilities and those over 65.
Director of Wildlife Management Eric Lobner told the board that crossbow hunters are taking a larger share of bucks. The solution would be to “reduce your crossbow harvest by 5,000 to 6,000 animals.”
Lobner presented seven options for a crossbow season that he said would do just that. In every form, the length of the crossbow season would be shorter than the current archery season.
The options ranged from ending the crossbow season earlier than bows, to starting the season late, to banning the use of crossbows on weekends.
Lobner used the season structure of the 2018-19 archery deer season to come up with his options.
Board members were critical that the options were presented as the only ways forward and lacked public input. “I think we need some out-of-the-box thinking here,” said board member William Bruins.
Lobner repeatedly emphasized the goal of the proposed season change was to reduce the number of bucks killed with a crossbow and allow those kills to go to hunters who used other weapons.
The board largely agreed.
“I know anecdotally a lot of gun hunters are getting frustrated,” said Dr. Fredrick Prehn, the board’s vice-chair. “They think the bigger bucks are getting killed during the rut, which I believe is true.”
At the center of this debate is the advanced power of crossbows. The weapons have improved range and accuracy over traditional bows, combined with the long season accounts for the higher kill rate.
“I think that when you have a weapon that can be accurate at 100 yards … and I have seen it and witnessed it,” said Prehn. “That weapon is becoming quite lethal.”
Proponents of changing the crossbow season say the weapon is too deadly to continue to run concurrently with the entire four-month archery season.
“We have a very lethal weapon out there that is allowed all the way through the season,” said Prehn.
Notably absent from the presentation were crossbow hunters. While written comments were allowed, citizen testimony is reserved for the next step in the process: a scope statement. There is also a period in each meeting for citizen participation, but it does not allow comments during particular agenda items.
This didn’t stop the public from reaching out. Board member Julie Anderson said, “I’ve been on the board nearly four years, and on this particular agenda item I have received more calls than I have in all four years combined on just about any other item we’ve ever discussed.”
Complicating the entire discussion is a concern for adding more red tape and confusion.
A widely held view that hunting’s many rules are driving people away is backed up by DNR data.
Lobner said that DNR surveys have shown that complicated hunting regulations have led to a reduction in the number of hunters.
“Rule simplification is generally the name of the game,” said Lobner. “I think you have all heard the [phrase], ‘you need to have a lawyer with you when you are out hunting.’”
The next Wisconsin Natural Resources Board meeting is Feb. 26 – 27, 2019.