Deer hunters are, as always, urged to keep safety in mind at all times. There are also some new and recent rule changes to keep in mind when heading to that favorite deer haunt this gun season.
Hunting in Wisconsin continues to get safer. The DNR reports that firearm hunting incidents in 2011 followed the downward trend, coming in below the 10-year average of 32 incidents.
Wisconsin’s hunter education certification program is mandatory for all hunters born on or after Jan. 1, 1973. Individuals applying for a hunting license this year would have to be at least 39 years old to be exempt from this requirement.
Hunters should always follow these four basic rules of firearm safety, or TABK:
• Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
• Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
• Be certain of your target and what is beyond it.
• Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.
Those hunting parties that engage in deer drives are urged to carefully plan them out beforehand. Drivers and standers need to know where others are positioned.
Always be 100 percent certain of any target and what’s beyond. A bullet fired from a modern rifle can travel well over a mile.
Conservation Warden Jon King, who heads the DNR Hunter Education Program offers these tips for drives:
• Review the four firearm safety principles.
• Reconfirm you have positively identified your target.
• Reconfirm you have a safe backstop for your bullet.
• Review and stick to your hunting plan. Make sure all in the hunting party follow it.
Tree stands also pose safety risks for hunters. King has these tips for tree stand safety:
• Always use a full-body harness and tether yourself to the tree.
• Always unload your firearm while climbing into or out of the stand.
• Use a rope or line to raise and lower your unloaded firearm.
• During the ascent or descent: maintain three points of contact – two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand.
The firearm rule changes
As of last year, firearms no longer need to be cased while in a vehicle, but long guns must be unloaded. Handguns can be transported uncased and loaded.
So far there’s no evidence that the change has resulted in additional safety issues.
“We didn’t really see any safety things – as far as accidents or injuries – related to firearms in vehicles. At least in that first year,” Tom Van Haren of the DNR bureau of law enforcement said.
He added that one year is a small sample. He also said it’s too soon to tell whether the new rule will result in more hunting and shooting violations.
“With just one year of the law in effect, we don’t really know the result of the change in the number of violations we’ll have from people,” Van Haren said.
Last year, there were some additional violations in the wake of the rule change.
“People shooting from vehicles or from roadways did go up some, according to the deer season report that was presented to the Natural Resources Board last December,” Van Haren said.
He reiterated that it will take more time to see the overall effect of the new rules.
“That’s just one year’s numbers and that could have a lot to do with if the weather was ... bad – that typically puts more people in their vehicles. Sometimes you get people driving around because of the bad weather ... they get tempted to shoot at something they see while they’re driving down the road.
“It’s going to take a couple of years to see if there’s actually a trend of hunting from vehicles now that you can drive around with uncased firearms and loaded and uncased handguns in vehicles.”
Van Haren said one gun-related violation actually saw a decrease in numbers over the period since the new rules went into effect. Loaded guns in vehicles.
“There was a reduction in the number of loaded firearms found in vehicles, which, anybody can speculate, ‘Well, why was that?’ Of course, if your gun is out of the case, it’s easier to unload it if you see somebody coming up to your vehicle,” Van Haren said.
“Over time, we’ll be able to see if there’s a trend of these instances.”
It is still illegal to shoot a firearm or bow and arrow from a vehicle, with exceptions for disabled hunters complying with conditions of a disabled hunting permit.
New rule changes
Crossbows legal: Hunters can now use crossbows during any gun deer season, including the regular gun season and the muzzleloader season, under the authority of their gun deer license and gun deer carcass tags. Crossbows cannot be used for “group hunting,” which allows a hunter during the regular gun deer season to shoot a deer for another hunter as long as they are within voice contact without aid of devices such as radios or phones.
Note: Archery licenses still allow hunting only with a bow and arrow, with certain exceptions. Hunters 65 or older and qualified disabled hunters may use a crossbow to fill their archery deer carcass tags.
Coyotes: Coyotes are legal game statewide during the deer gun season. Note that coyote hunting hours during the deer gun season are the same as those for deer. A license that authorizes hunting small game is required unless you are hunting land you own or reside on.
Since wolves occupy much of the same range as coyotes, the DNR cautions hunters to be sure of their target. A good reference to help tell the difference is located on the DNR website wolf hunting and trapping page. Go to dnr.wi.gov and search “wolf.”
Buck-only DMUs: In most cases, hunters cannot hunt antlerless deer in six deer management units. Antlerless deer carcass tags are not valid in units 7, 29B, 34, 35, 36, and 39 in northern Wisconsin.
There are some exceptions in these DMUs for Armed Forces members, youth ages 10-17 and certain disabled-hunting permit holders.
No baiting in four new counties: The discovery of chronic wasting disease in Washburn County means baiting and feeding deer are illegal in Burnett, Barron, Washburn and Polk counties in northwestern Wisconsin.
Trail cameras: Trail-cams can be left overnight on DNR-owned public hunting lands but the owner must have their DNR customer ID on the camera’s exterior. The DNR warns that cameras are left at the owner’s risk.
Note: As always, tree stands and ground blinds, except blinds used for waterfowl hunting, must be removed from DNR lands at the close of hunting hours each day.
Archers can hunt: A 2011 rule change allows archers to hunt with bow and arrow during the gun deer season. Bow hunters must comply with blaze orange clothing requirements during gun seasons.
The 2012 hunting regulations pamphlet is available at any DNR office or license vendor and online at dnr.wi.gov. Type “deer” into the Search and Keywords field and scroll down for the regulations link.
Legal shooting hours for the gun deer season are 30 minutes before sunrise to 20 minutes after sunset.
The following shooting hours for the 2012 season apply to all of Oneida County and all but the most eastern portion of Vilas County:
• Saturday, Nov. 17: 6:31 a.m.-4:45 p.m.
• Sunday, Nov. 18: 6:33 a.m.-4:44 p.m.
• Monday, Nov. 19: 6:34 a.m.-4:43 p.m.
• Tuesday, Nov. 20: 6:35 a.m.-4:42 p.m.
• Wednesday, Nov. 21: 6:37 a.m.-4:41 p.m.
• Thursday, Nov. 22: 6:38 a.m.-4:41 p.m.
• Friday, Nov. 23: 6:39 a.m.-4:40 p.m.
• Saturday, Nov. 24: 6:40 a.m.-4:39 p.m.
• Sunday, Nov. 25: 6:42 a.m.-4:39 p.m.
Hunters hunting another area should consult the 2012 hunting regulations pamphlet to make the proper adjustments to the times.
The DNR also offers an app for Android phones that will tell you the legal shooting hours for your area. It’s called the “Sunrise-Sunset” app.
Once loaded all you need to do it tap on the app to learn immediately the legal times of the day to shoot at your location.
Using a GPS system, the app tells you to the second the opening and closing time for various hunting seasons for your current location. The app is 99 cents.
If you have a QR code reader on your phone, you can read the code at this link:
The app can also be loaded at the Android Market. Search for “Sunrise-Sunset by the WI DNR.”
All deer harvested during the nine-day gun season must be registered by no later than 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 26, the day after the season closes. Deer must be registered in the DMU in which they were harvested or in an adjoining DMU.
Hunters may divide a deer into as many as five pieces prior to registration, as long as the head remains attached to one of the parts of the carcass. Only one deer that has been quartered can legally be stored or transported at a time, but quartered deer can be transported with other intact deer.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com.