Barneveld – Wisconsin officials on Sunday continued to implore reluctant hunters to have their deer tested for chronic wasting disease.
On the second day of the nine-day gun season, Department of Natural Resources officials said that hunters in many parts of Wisconsin were not donating the heads of deer to be tested for the fatal deer disease.
The situation was particularly severe in southeastern Wisconsin, where on Sunday evening the DNR estimated it had received only 10% to 25% of the specimens needed to reach its testing goals.
“What we need is for hunters to be cooperative,” said Jim McNelly, wildlife program supervisor for the DNR’s southeastern region. “If we don’t get enough deer, then our 99 percent confidence will diminish.”
Parts of western and northwestern Wisconsin also were not meeting their goals.
“We are not going to come even close to what we had hoped for,” said Kris Belling, a wildlife biologist in St. Croix County.
In Hudson, only 29 heads were collected Saturday, a DNR biologist told Michael Skwarok, a DNR spokesman. The station needed to collect 70 to be on pace to meet its goal, he said.
The goals are part of the state’s strategy for fighting chronic wasting disease, which was first identified in February in a deer shot during the 2001 gun season. The state wants to kill and test the entire deer herd inside a 411-square-mile region west of Madison that is the epicenter of the outbreak, and kill about half of the deer in the surrounding 10 counties. It also wants to test about 500 deer in most other counties.
The plan is designed to give officials what they said was “99 percent confidence” that they could tell whether the disease was in other parts of Wisconsin.
While there are significantly fewer hunters in the woods this season, the numbers do not appear to be down as much as had been feared.
Sales of hunting licenses were down 10%, to 618,945, compared with last year, DNR officials said. Earlier this fall, sales had been running about 30% behind last year’s pace.
To what extent the drop-off will affect the overall kill remains unknown. However, in southeastern Wisconsin the numbers already appeared to be ominous: down 40% compared with last year.
Still, in some places – such as Barneveld in Iowa County, which is located in the eradication zone – deer were coming in record numbers, according to Meg Ziegler, a DNR employee who was running the Barneveld station.
DNR spokeswoman Laurel Steffes called on deer hunters across the state to bring their deer in for testing.
Steffes said officials would decide early this week how long they planned to keep open some of the 200 collection stations across the state where heads are being removed for testing. The DNR’s McNelly said stations would remain open in southeastern Wisconsin through Tuesday night.
Why are some hunters not donating heads?
Many who hunt far from the eradication zone don’t believe that chronic wasting disease is in the deer. “I am not too worried – I have been eating deer from this county for years,” said Ed Gelhar of Fond du Lac, who shot an eight-point buck and a doe near Trego in Washburn County.
Hunters who shoot prized bucks want to keep the head. Among them was Brett Hacker of Shawano, who decided against donating the head of a nine-point buck with an 18-inch inside antler spread that he shot Saturday.
“I’m going to mount it,” Hacker said.
Except when there were long lines, DNR staff members were sawing off skull plates for those hunters who wanted to donate deer heads but keep the antlers.
Hunters often need to register their deer at one spot, then take it to another location to have the head removed. “The problem is that you have been in the woods since 4 in the morning,” Steffes said. “You are cold and tired, and you don’t want to wait in another line.”
Nevertheless, some hunters are donating heads, viewing it as one way they can help fight chronic wasting disease.
George Jillek of Racine hunts near Rice Lake. His pickup truck was loaded with six deer at Gabby’s Gas and Deli in Cumberland, and he planned to turn over the heads of most of them to the DNR.
“There will be no more hunting if we don’t get this under control,” he said.