My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Sorry for being a bit late posting it. I was, predictably, hunting. Here you go:
It is the end of November and we all know what that means — Thanksgiving and the kickoff of the Christmas season. In Wisconsin, it also means that it is the annual nine-day gun deer season. Our state and local governments have been tinkering with the regulations in recent years — mostly for the better — but the gun deer season continues to be an integral part of Wisconsin’s heritage.
At the most mundane level, Wisconsin’s deer hunters provide a vital service to the state by controlling the population. Deer are responsible for millions of dollars of crop damage every year and thousands of vehicle accidents. According to statistics compiled by State Farm last year, Wisconsin is sixth worst in the nation when it comes to accidents involving deer, elk, and moose with the odds of hitting a deer in the state 1 to 77. The national average for automobile damage after a collision with a deer was $3,995 last year. From this perspective, keeping Wisconsin’s one-million-strong deer population in check is a necessary function.
But Wisconsin’s deer hunt tradition is so much more than just a utilitarian community service. It is a tradition that binds families, friends and fellow Wisconsinites. Throughout Wisconsin, hunters spread out into the woods to commune with nature and each other. Then they return to their homes, their buddy’s shed, their local tavern or elsewhere to swap stories, tell lies and engage in endless speculation about where to find the elusive Turdy Point Buck.
Every family and group has their own unique traditions and communities. For some, the deer hunting tradition unites generations where grandparents teach their grandkids and kids soak up time with their parents. For this reason, perhaps, the legislature decided to waive the minimum hunting age in Wisconsin. Up until a week ago, children had to be at least 10 years old to participate in a mentored hunt where the mentor and child must stay within arm’s length of each other and share a gun. The new law allows children of any age to participate in a mentored hunt and to carry his or her own gun.
The new law allows kids to get into the field and learn the craft of hunting with their mentors (usually their kin) earlierif their parents choose. Thirtyfour other states already do not have a minimum hunting age. While seemingly minor, this change to Wisconsin’s law is another step in the ongoing trend in Wisconsin to push more decisions and control back to the people and out of the hands of government. After all, who is in a better position to decide the maturity and skill of a child — their parents or the government? And who has more of a vested interest in the safety of that child — their parents or the government?
While Wisconsin has been encouraging and nurturing the state’s deer hunting culture, West Bend has acknowledged the practical need to allow hunters to thin the deer herd within the city limits. Up until last week, the city forbade hunting within the city limits. The problem is that without any natural predators, the deer continue to breed and the herd grows. This has resulted in an increase in people crashing into deer with their cars causing property damage and injuries.
In order to help thin the West Bend herd, the Common Council passed a resolution to allow very limited hunting in two of West Bend’s parks. Under the new ordinance, the city will issue 20 nuisance permits for bow hunters to hunt deer in Lac Lawrann Conservancy and Ridge Run Park for four days in January. Anyone wanting to participate will have to pass a proficiency test. Then the city will hold a lottery to award the 20 permits to anyone who applied and passed the test. A committee will decide some of the finer details of the actual hunt, but it will be highly regulated with the focus being the safety of the hunter and any citizens who may venture into the two parks.
Such onerous restrictions seem a bit overwrought given Wisconsin hunters’ tremendous safety record — especially bow hunters — but they are reasonable measures meant to assuage the fears of some of the city’s citizens. Over time, the regulations will undoubtedly be adjusted to balance the need for safety with the need to manage West Bend’s deer herd.
There is an expression from my alma mater that is apropos to Wisconsin’s rich deer hunting heritage: From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.