The state Department of Natural Resources’ policy to rid all of the deer from areas with chronic wasting disease earned a B grade or better with the majority of hunters who hunted there, a new study shows. The study by University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point researchers showed that hunters in the eradication zone spent more time in the woods than hunters outside the zone.

Funded by the DNR and the university, the work was conducted to help the agency battle the deer disease in Wisconsin by learning more about the attitudes of those who hunt there.

While the DNR earned good marks for its policies, not everyone was happy. A total of 20.1% of the hunters rated the DNR’s efforts at C- or lower. A total of 14.1% of the hunters outside the zone graded the DNR at C- or lower.

“Basically, what I think there is, is an acceptance of taking bad medicine,” said Robert Holsman, the lead researcher and an assistant professor of wildlife at UW-Stevens Point.

“I don’t think that anyone is happy with what they are doing, but most of them figure it’s got to be done.”

After the disease was discovered in February 2002, the DNR embarked on a plan to rid the disease from the deer population in areas where it was known to exist. The zone was initially near Mount Horeb in western Dane County and eastern Iowa County.

Since then, the zone has spread to other portions of Dane and Iowa, as well as parts of Sauk, Green, Columbia, Richland, Rock and Walworth counties.

This has meant a longer season and regulations aimed at encouraging hunters to kill more deer.

The results come from the 2003 deer hunting season, which ended in January 2004. Holsman and his group mailed 1,000 packets to hunters in the zone and those who hunt out of the zone. Depending on where they hunted, the response rate was 50% to 60%.

Some of the findings:

  • Those who traditionally hunt in the zone are very likely (94.4%) to continue hunting there.

  • Those who hunt outside of the zone are also very likely (83.2%) to keep hunting there.

  • Hunters in the zone spent an average of four more days in the field than hunters outside of the zone and killed an average of 1.71 deer.

  • Hunters across the state said they were more concerned about the spread of the disease than they were about the safety of eating venison. Yet, the safety of eating venison remains an issue for about half of the hunters.

Tom Hauge, director of the DNR’s Bureau of Wildlife, was pleased with the results of the study.

“I felt good that the hunters felt we were on the right track, even though it was a track we would all rather not go down,” he said.