Last-minute changes may confuse deer hunters

Most gun-deer season openers are pretty straightforward when it comes to rules and regulations, but the 2017 opener today is probably going down in history as one of the most confusing.

A week ago today in a Waupaca church, I was helping teach 115 hunter safety students who wanted to get their certificates so they could get their deer licenses in time for the firearms season. Most of them passed.

While two instructors told students about deer tagging requirements, I politely told the same group that no, tagging deer (as well as turkeys and geese) was no longer legally required. Who could blame my fellow instructors? The regulations had just changed a few weeks ago by legislative action and not everyone had heard the news. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website was updated but all printed regulations booklets were wrong.

We had told the parents and young hunters that kids must be at least 10 years old to mentor hunt. On the same day, Gov. Scott Walker signed a law that eliminated the minimum age for mentor hunting.

We had told the group that the mentor and young hunter needed to share a firearm, bow or crossbow, but the new law allowed each to have their own weapon.

Such is the consequence of law changes so close to season: namely confusion. Todd Schaller, chief conservation warden for the DNR, is taking these law changes in stride. He admits there will be plenty of confusion among hunters, but since both the tagging and mentor hunting laws are now more permissive, enforcement should not be an issue.

“If people do what they’ve done before, they are not in violation,” he said.

Had the law changes been more restrictive, Schaller said things would have been much worse for his 142 field wardens and additional 38 upper management staff assigned to help with gun deer season.

The wardens received emails on the law changes and also listened to a 90-minute webinar on the topic, Schaller noted.

With the mentoring law change, Wisconsin joins 33 other states that do not have a minimum hunting age, he said. He encouraged hunters to use the DNR website or call center (1-888- 936-7463, answered 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week) to clarify any game laws.

He explained current law this way:

• For a young hunter to hunt alone, they must be at least age 14 and have completed a state hunter safety class.

• A hunter age 12-13 with a hunter safety certificate must be within voice or visual contact of an adult hunter at all times (voice contact does not include a cell phone).

• A young hunter can’t obtain a temporary license from a hunter safety class until they are at least 12, although they can attend a class at a younger age (vocabulary on the written test and ability to physically handle a firearm make it tougher on younger students, however).

• To be a mentor, you must be at least 18 years old and be a hunter safety graduate (or were grandfathered in because you were born prior to Jan. 1, 1973)

• The mentor can only have one mentee for a one-on-one hunt.

• The mentor must remain within arm’s length of the mentee at all times.

• Both the mentor and mentee may have their own firearms or other weapons. The rule about sharing one weapon has been removed.

• The mentee must have a mentored hunting license and obey all game laws.

Schaller noted that one intention of the new law is to allow hunters of all ages to hunt without being a hunter safety graduate. An adult who has not been able to attend a hunter safety class can now enjoy the sport and learn in the field with an experienced hunter.

As previously reported, deer do not need to be tagged at any time, even if you leave the deer alone in the field or at deer camp. You still must report all deer harvests by 5 p.m. the day after the harvest by calling 844-426-3734 or registering online at gamereg.wi.gov.

Be sure to have the number on your deer tag handy to provide that number. You will receive a 10-digit confirmation number at the end. You also will be asked to enter the county code (Shawano County is 742 and Waupaca County is 928), which is available during the call or online.

The firearms-deer season runs from Saturday through Nov. 26. The muzzleloader deer season is Nov. 27 through Dec. 6. The statewide antlerless deer season is Dec. 7-10 and Waupaca, Oconto, Brown and Waushara counties (in our area) will have an antlerless-only holiday hunt Dec. 24-Jan. 1.

See the deer regulations booklet or online version for complete rules. Have a safe hunt!

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at Ross@wolfriverccw.com.