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Real Work Lies Ahead for Wisconsin Deer Hunting Makeover

by Patrick Durkin 19. April 2012 09:42
Patrick Durkin

Deer hunters who chronically crab about the Department of Natural Resources were cheering and toasting Dr. James Kroll – the “deer czar” – in early April for his harsh preliminary report on the DNR’s deer-management program.

Meanwhile, the agency’s defenders glared. They attacked the report and Kroll personally. They said this proves he just wants the $150,000 fee, and that he repeated every bad thing Gov. Scott Walker and his toadies dictated about the DNR’s deer program. Not only that, but Kroll’s an egotistical second-guesser who wants to build 8-foot fences around every 5-, 40- and 160-acre hunting property in Wisconsin.

Sigh. Welcome to Year 75 (or thereabouts) of Wisconsin’s mind-numbing deer scrum.

Much work remains before the three-man review team releases its recommendations for revamping Wisconsin's deer program in late June.

Seriously, folks: Stop strutting and pouting. In three months, no one will remember this report. By then we’ll have the final report to cheer or condemn. The sides could switch roles if June’s report turns all those grins and frowns upside down.

Or maybe DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp will email outraged press releases to support her wildlife staff, and condemn the Ph.D.s – Kroll and teammates Gary Alt and Dave Guynn – for being rude. After all, she ripped Democrats and Sen. Dale Schultz in March for allegedly disrespecting the DNR while dooming the proposed Gogebic taconite mine near Mellen.

Of course, few realized Stepp was merely defending her environmental-regs staff against doubts they could protect natural resources near the mine. She said so in a statement to skeptical DNR staff hours later.

In fact, to show Kroll’s team she has her biologists’ backs, Stepp could reuse part of her mining statement, and replace “Democrat state senators” with the trio’s names. Try this: “In the end, don't we trust regulating agencies to do their job? On my travels throughout the state, I have found that most … citizens … trust the DNR to do its job. Why don't Kroll, Alt and Guynn?”

Many Wisconsin hunters have long distrusted the Department of Natural Resources' deer-herd estimates.

OK. Never mind.

Trouble is, many hunters have never trusted state biologists to manage deer, and Stepp won’t challenge those doing so now. She even sat silently as the Legislature stripped the DNR of its most powerful deer-management tools this past year.

But maybe Stepp senses futility in fighting. After all, our hunting forefathers of the 1930s and ’40s even scorned Aldo Leopold, the University of Wisconsin’s first professor of wildlife management. A hunters’ rights newspaper, “Save Wisconsin Deer,” slammed the iconic professor for backing “the infamous and bloody 1943 deer slaughter.” The paper also claimed Leopold admitted his deer estimates “were PURE GUESSWORK.”

Imagine: Poor Aldo was ruining “our deer” before biologists even invented the DNR’s demonized Sex-Age-Kill formula for estimating herd sizes.

Hunters will be called on to help with more boots-on-the-ground research.

But make no mistake: Kroll’s team is correct in saying this entire issue centers on endless arguing over numerical goals and estimates impossible to explain to laymen. If hunters don’t see deer, they blame predators and deer estimates. And before wolves returned the past 15 years, some blamed the Chippewa.

That doesn’t mean the SAK is useless. It just means DNR biologists should leave SAK estimates atop their desks for historical, professional reference. Arguing its art, data and formulas outside the office is a fool’s errand. And yet they’d persist if given the chance.

Kroll’s team correctly emphasizes these needs: more in-depth habitat analysis, better forest management for deer, and hunter-researchers to document browse damage and other deer-related field work.

Dr. James C. Kroll, Stephen F. Austin University

In launching those efforts, perhaps we could intelligently express deer-management goals with criteria such as harvest levels, success rates, deer condition, crop-damage claims, deer-vehicle collisions, and forest health and diversity. People can see, touch and understand such things.

What Kroll’s team can’t ignore, however, is deer baiting. Their report lists the top 15 concerns hunters posted on Kroll’s Web site. Three (20 percent) involve baiting. Of the top five concerns, “Come to a decision on baiting” was No. 4. Yet the report ignores baiting while addressing the other top concerns: “too many predators,” “DNR doesn’t listen,” “inaccurate population estimates” and “eliminate earn-a-buck.”

Was this preliminary report unfair to the DNR? Maybe, but by bluntly listing the problems, Kroll has been able to hold his town meetings (April 16-21) and focus on solutions, not endless grievances.

Those meetings and the recommendations that follow will truly determine if Kroll’s team earns the money Wisconsin’s hunters are paying them.





Wisconsin Right to Add Wolf Hunting Season

by Patrick Durkin 19. April 2012 09:21
Patrick Durkin

Wisconsin lawmakers did the right thing in March by adding the gray wolf to Wisconsin’s list of wildlife that can be hunted and trapped.

With wolf numbers beyond 800 and still climbing – and with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ proven record of scientifically regulating furbearer seasons for foxes, coyotes and bobcats – it’s sensible and consistent to allow wolf hunting and trapping.

The new law also lets the DNR’s bureau of endangered resources off the financial hook when wolves kill pets, cattle, calves, horses, hunting dogs, domestic deer and other livestock. Future wolf-depredation payments will come solely from fees paid by hunters and trappers wishing to hunt wolves.

Predator hunting tends to require serious specialists. Generalists tend to quit when a hunt proves difficult.

Those fees will consist of $10 applications to enter drawings for wolf permits, and $50 (residents) and $250 (nonresidents) licenses for those drawing permits. Those fees will fund depredation payments as long as gray wolves stay off state and federal endangered species lists.

In other words, wolves remain with deer, bears, wild turkeys and Canada geese as Wisconsin’s only animals inspiring government-run entitlement programs. What if a raccoon drowns your Dalmatian or a coyote kills your cat? Sorry. Not the state’s problems.

For more than 20 years, farmers losing crops to browsing deer have been eligible for depredation payments bankrolled by hunting-license fees. Likewise, since 1985, farmers and other folks could receive state-paid death benefits when wolves ate their pet, livestock or other “property.”

License fees paid by hunters will be used to compensate people who lose pets to wolves.

Houndsmen can still seek compensation if wolves kill their dogs while they hunt bears, bobcats or raccoons. But if they’re hunting wolves with hounds when their dog dies in action, the state won’t compensate.

Most noteworthy is that the DNR’s endangered-resources program will no longer pay for misbehaving wolves. That’s also consistent and sensible. The bureau has never had much money, and yet it kept making wolf-depredation payments even after Wisconsin delisted wolves in 2004 and the feds first delisted them in 2007.

Why did the endangered-resources bureau pay nearly $887,500 for wolf-killed pets and livestock the past seven years when wolves were no longer endangered or threatened? Because state law required it.

You might recall that former state Sen. Kevin Shibilski, D-Stevens Point, is a bear-hunting houndsman. Shibilski – there’s no “I” in team but there’s three in Shibilski – wrote the provision that states: “For the purpose of payment of damage claims, the gray wolf shall be considered an endangered or threatened species regardless of whether the wolf is listed as such.”

Wolf licenses will cost $50 for residents and $250 for nonresidents.

The new law repeals that sneaky raid of the endangered-resources program, which has compensated increasingly more wolf damage recently. Although annual payouts averaged $127,000 the past seven years, they nearly tripled from $106,000 in 2009 to $300,000 in 2011, and are expected to hit $320,000 this year.

Meanwhile, the endangered-resources program suffered steady declines the past decade in its two primary funding sources: tax check-offs and specialty license plates. Perhaps it’s coincidence, but taxpayers now have nine additional check-off options for charitable donations, and motorists now have nearly 30 novelty license-plate options.

Going forward, lawmakers are gambling there will be enough interest in wolf hunting and trapping to fund and reduce depredation costs. Who knows how many Wisconsin hunters will want wolf permits? Trapping and predator hunting tend to attract serious specialists. Even if initial interest in wolves is high, dabblers and generalists will likely fade away when permit allocations are minuscule and wolf hunting proves difficult.

Still, here’s one estimate: A DNR study of the wolf bill’s fiscal impacts notes that Idaho issued 26,428 licenses for its first wolf hunt in 2009. Idaho closed the season when reaching its quota. But if interest in wolves parallels bears among Wisconsin hunters, about 100,000 might apply for a permit.

With scenarios ranging from 25,000 to 100,000 applicants, wolf hunting would generate $250,000 to $1 million in application fees. But if the DNR is conservative and issues, say 200 licenses, that’s only $10,000 more.

Those numbers suggest we’ll see tremendous shortfalls in wolf-depredation payments. If so, the new law makes no provision for the unfunded balance. Compensation payments will be made on a prorated, i.e., discounted, basis.

While this new law might prove good for wolves and Wisconsin, don’t expect widespread joy and satisfaction from those losing pets and livestock to wolves..




Coyotes Prey Heavily on Southeast’s Deer Fawns

by Patrick Durkin 19. April 2012 08:46
Patrick Durkin

SANDESTIN, Fla. – If you’re a Great Lakes States bowhunter who blames every apparent deer shortage on predators, be thankful you don’t hunt parts of the Southeastern United States. Coyotes in some Southeastern regions prey so heavily on newborn whitetails that less than one in five fawns lives four months.

And if you’re a Great Lakes wildlife biologist discussing predators with your colleagues, ask yourself the last time one of them told you to “Get with it!” or “Get your head out of (long pause) the sand” in public.

Well, many wildlife managers talked that way a few weeks ago at the 35th annual Southeast Deer Study Group meeting, which attracted about 325 deer biologists and researchers from universities, wildlife agencies, and timber companies across the South and northward. I’ve been attending this annual gathering since 1991 because it’s a great source for the latest research on white-tailed deer.

In some parts of the whitetail's Southeastern range, many fawns don’t live to see their third month.

At a forum I attended one night, a speaker asked the audience if coyotes were having significant impacts in their areas. About half the wildlife pros raised their hands. Minutes later, John Kilgo, a wildlife researcher with the USDA Forest Service in South Carolina said:

“My guess is that the skeptics haven’t yet seen places that once had deer but don’t anymore. The data we collected at the Savannah River Site (South Carolina) showed it took a 75 percent harvest reduction by hunters to level the population decline. Also, preliminary research doesn’t show much promise for mitigating coyote impacts on deer by improving and expanding fawning cover, or increasing buffer foods.”

Ten years ago, most Southeastern biologists never thought they’d be worrying about coyotes, which aren’t native to the region. But as coyotes moved in the past 30 years, they adapted, reproduced, and learned newborn fawns were easy prey.

Coyotes can kill deer in winter, but do most of their predation when fawns are less than a week old.

“Coyotes are increasing at rates that remind me of what our deer herds did in the 1980s and ’90s,” said Dr. Charles Ruth, deer project supervisor for South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources. “When I talked to folks 10 years ago, I often said if I could get my foot on our deer herd, I would pull out my knife. Well, I’m kind of having to chill out on that approach.”

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of predator-deer impacts is their wide variability within regions and states. When Kilgo reviewed pre-2005 predation studies across the United States, he found coyote-inflicted mortality on deer averaged 16 percent in Northern states and 44 percent in Southern states.

Black bears killed more fawns than coyotes did in a Wisconsin study.

“The North’s highest mortality rate was 38 percent,” he said. “That doesn’t even reach the South’s average,” he said.

But it’s not consistent across the South, either. A 2008-2011 study on northern Virginia’s Quantico Marine Corps base found 60 percent of fawns lived past three months, and more died of natural causes, 53 percent, than predation, 18 percent.

But in 2011, in the first year of a study at the Fort Bragg Military Institution in North Carolina, researchers reported only five of 27 fawns (18.5 percent) survived their first four months, with 15 of the 22 dead fawns (68 percent) killed by coyotes or bobcats.

How do those studies compare to similar research by the Wisconsin DNR? To refresh, one study site is a 3,500-square mile Northern-forest setting in Sawyer, Price and Rusk counties. The other is a 2,300-square mile east-central farmland setting in Shawano, Waupaca and Outagamie counties.

A Michigan study is finding coyotes to be the whitetail's No. 1 predation risk.

During the first year (2011) of Wisconsin’s Northern study, 27 percent of ID-tagged fawns (eight of 30) survived seven months, with 17 of 30 (57 percent) killed by predators. Five others died of starvation or other causes. The top predator was black bears, with five fawn kills. Unknown predators killed four; hunters, three; bobcats, two; unknown canid, two; and coyote, one.

For perspective, a 1973-1983 study in Minnesota’s northeastern forests found annual fawn survival was 31 percent, not significantly better.

But in the first year of Wisconsin’s east-central farmland study, 62.5 percent of ID-tagged fawns (30 of 48) survived seven months, with eight of the 18 deaths (44 percent) caused by predators. The others died of starvation, six (33 percent); vehicle collisions, three (16.5 percent); and unknown causes, one. The top predator was coyotes, with four fawn kills. Hunters killed two; black bears, one; and unknown, one.

Meanwhile, researchers in Michigan’s south-central Upper Peninsula estimated fawn survival at 37 percent in January 2011after two years of study in Menominee County. With three years of data now in, researchers report 47 of their ID-tagged fawns were killed by four-legged predators.

 Coyotes killed 22 fawns (47 percent of kills), followed by bobcats, 12 (25.5 percent), unknown predators, five (11 percent), black bears, four (8.5 percent) and wolves, four (8.5 percent).

 What to make of all this? Few hunters or biologists will find much comfort or scientific certainty in such varying, ever-changing numbers.

Big Buck Killed by Coyotes, Check Out These Photos!

by Todd Graf 13. December 2011 05:52
Todd Graf

These photos show us the gruesome truth that sometimes goes forgotten in the wild.  Many of us spend lots of time and money managing our property for deer by planting food plots, creating bedding areas, etc., but how many of us spend time managing the predators on our grounds?  Research shows that coyote populations can only be marginally controlled for short periods of time, as litter sizes and the number of females that enter heat increase as the population declines.  What are your thoughts on predators and predator control?

We are unsure as to the origin of these photos, but what we see is fairly clear.  At least two coyotes attack and kill this big buck.  Granted, we don't know if he was sick or injured (he appears healthy in the photos) but one thing is for sure, he lost his life to coyotes!  If you need a little help managing your predator population, check out the predator calls in the store by clicking HERE!!!


Bowhunting Predators: A Different "March Madness"

by Dustin DeCroo 14. March 2011 18:40
Dustin DeCroo

Many bowhunters amid their off-season are filling out their NCAA basketball brackets, but the month of March brings me a whole new “March Madness.”

The March Madness I’m referring to is bowhunting predators.  The coyote breeding season is the probably the most difficult time of year to call, fortunately, it is nearing completion for the majority of the continental United States and in some places has most likely been over for a couple of weeks.  No different than a whitetail buck post-rut, coyotes main objective has switched from mating to eating and it’s an excellent time for bowhunters to test their skills at fooling a Wiley into thinking they’re an easy meal.  

A mating pair of Coyotes in Southeastern Wyoming

I’ve always said that if I couldn’t bow hunt big game animals, I wouldn’t be “settling” to call predators because I love it.  Calling predators whom have better sight, hearing and sense of smell than a whitetail is a challenge with any weapon, let alone archery tackle.  The deck is stacked against any bowhunter when it comes to calling predators, but that very fact can provide one of the most rewarding hunts imaginable.

It’s possible that predator hunting is one of my favorite activities due to the general ease of finding places to hunt.  In my personal experiences, there are more ranchers and farmers that grant permission to call predators than any other type of hunting.  Most of us are deer hunters at heart, so let’s be honest, what better way is there to get your foot in the door with a landowner?  In the past few months I’ve met several ranchers that have offered me the privilege to hunt coyotes on their property and I feel fairly certain that there may be opportunities to hunt deer and antelope on their property this coming Fall, that is, if I do my job and show them that I am a responsible and respectful guest on their property.

The Keys to Success:

Be patient, be still, and call into the wind.  Calling into the wind (in my opinion) is by far the most important when we’re talking about bowhunting.  The ultimate goal is to get the animal into 40 yards, not 400. A coyote that is 300 yards from you, down wind, is killable with a rifle and probably won’t smell you before the bullet gets there, but inside of a 100 yards you most likely won’t see them or if you do it will be for a split second.  Next on the importance list, being still. We have to keep in mind that the predators we’re calling are looking for the source of the sound, and by finding that source is how they survive.  This is where a hands free or remote controlled caller like the FoxPro series can come in extremely handy by diverting the animal’s attention away from the shooter/caller.  Things that eliminate movement like having an arrow nocked and your bow already sitting vertical can be the difference between bow kills and busts. Finally, be patient.  Just like deer, coyotes and (especially) bobcats can be extremely cautious when their coming to find a free meal.  I’m not sure who it was, but someone has familiarized them with the phrase, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”  Be patient, on average I’ll spend 20 minutes at each stand location, and generally I’ll call for 30-45 seconds and then wait for a minute or two before calling again.  Hunters that call in late January and February spend more time because they’re howling instead of using an “animal in distress" call. 

A beautiful Texas Tom killed in 2007

The Calls:

When we think of “predator calls” most of us automatically think of a high-pitched screaming rabbit and whi le this is definitely the most popular sound, it’s far from the only one that will produce results.  The way I figure out which call I’m going to start with is to figure out what would be the primary food source in the area.  In areas with lots of hardwoods, a Woodpecker or Blue Jay in distress call can produce great results.  Where I hunt, there are no Blue Jays and a Jack Rabbit or a Cottontail are what I reach for first.  The one call that I feel every predator hunter should have on them at all times is a mouse squeaker, like that out of a dogs chew toy (or simply be able to lip squeak at any given time).

There are literally hundreds of predator calls on the market and fortunately most of them will probably work.  There are three basic styles of calls: open reed mouth call, closed reed mouth call and electronic calls.  The open reed calls are my personal favorite because they produce (to my ears) a very pure sound, they’re also very versatile in the pitches that you can create with the exposed and moveable reed. Closed reed calls are extremely simple to use... just blow. They don’t have the versatility of an open reed call.   Electronic calls have come a long way since Johnny Stewart came out with their electronic caller some 25 years ago, you don’t have to carry a cassette tape, a speaker, a tape player and a battery pack any longer.  There are several electronic calls on the market, but in my opinion the FoxPro Series is light years ahead of the others.  They can be operated manually or by long range remote control and they also have decoys that can be controlled by the same remote to give your quarry something to look at other than you.  It’s important to have multiple calls in your arsenal for different weather types, wind conditions, etc.

Crit R Calls are my favorite open reed predator calls



A Circe closed reed predator call is adjustable to create Cottontail, Jack Rabbit and mouse squeak sounds

The FoxPro Series of electronic calls give you the versatility to have hundreds of sounds at your finger tips

The Setup:

Calling coyotes is different in every terrain type but they’re all coyotes looking for the same thing and if you follow the three “rules” previously discussed, you’re well on your way to being more successful.  My recent move from Oklahoma to Wyoming has changed the way I hunt, 180 degrees.  In places like central Oklahoma with thick cover, my favorite method is to back off of the thicket as far as possible while still keeping the “edge” within shooting distance.  Coyotes and bobcats alike, prefer the security of the thick cover and are often times more likely to come investigate my distress sound.  In Wyoming, that strategy is useless... the sage brush flats provide no such cover.  Now I look for hard edges, a rocky out-cropping, a sharp ditch bank or an edge of sage brush that opens into a grass flat.  These coyotes are used to being in the open and seeing, well... everything, so hiding myself is the main goal.  It is no different than hunting deer, you have to learn your individual properties.

Whether you’re a seasoned predator caller or looking for a new “March Madness,” calling predators is something every bowhunter should try. 



Are Coyotes Killing YOUR Deer?

by Mike Willand 4. February 2011 04:53
Mike Willand

Deer season over? Maybe it’s time you grab a weapon and take a closer look at coyote hunting. They may be more harmful than you think.

Recent data collected by various organizations has come to the astounding conclusion that coyotes are much more responsible for the predation of deer than once believed. In fact, much more! Beating out not just the bobcat but the wolf even!

A female coyote makes a mockery of my mock scrape in late November.

Beginning in 2009, Mississippi State University researchers have been conducting a radio transmitted experiment over 350 square miles of the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in Menominee County.

During this study female deer, their fawns, and various predators including bear, wolf, coyote, bobcat, fox, fisher, and even badger were trapped and fitted with a variety of radio transmitters for tracking purposes. To date, 57 adult deer and 44 fawns have been fitted with these devices.

In a recently released study which dated from January 1, 2009 through August 31, 2010 this study showed that coyotes were responsible for 13 fawn deaths. Compare that to only 2 fawn deaths by wolves, 3 by bear, and an astonishing 9 by bobcats. Man was not entirely left out of this study either as 2 of the fawns died from vehicle collisions.

During this same time period among adult and yearling female deer, coyotes were responsible for another 6 deaths. Compare this to 3 by the wolf, and 2 by bear.

And this is not the first study of this kind. Several other states and organizations have begun or continue similar investigations into the role coyotes play in our ecosystem and in particular to that of the whitetail deer population. Similar results have transpired although all data is not complete.

Bowhunting.Com wants to hear your take on coyote populations near you. Do you feel they are a threat to your own deer herd? Is it time you took up arms against them?

As always, please leave your comments below. Thank you!

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