The week of Thanksgiving is a special time in Wisconsin. For nine days, men, women and children take part in one of the state’s biggest traditions- deer hunting.
Students and faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point discussed their hunting background and their plans to participate in this year’s hunt, which will run from Nov. 21 through Nov. 29.
Scott Hygnstrom, Douglas R. Stephens chair in wildlife and director of the Wisconsin Institute for Wildlife, said the state’s deer hunt is a ‘cultural experience,’ with major family connections at the heart of the pastime.
A Wisconsin native, Hygnstrom hasn’t missed a Wisconsin deer season in 43 years, even while living in Nebraska for over 20. He said he learned to hunt at a young age and was mentored by his parents. The experience, coupled with Thanksgiving, was a beloved time to be spent with his family, he said.
“This just kind of culturally became engrained in my family,” Hygnstrom said. “It’s about as deep seeded as any tradition can become.”
Wisconsin’s deer hunters are fortunate to live in a state where deer densities are maintained at a relatively high level and economic support runs deep, he said. Such support is not established everywhere.
While living in Nebraska, he experienced the state’s pheasant hunting tradition, which he compared to Wisconsin’s deer season. Nebraska’s deer population is about one-third that of Wisconsin’s and much less dense.
“People come out of the woodwork to go pheasant hunting,” he said. “They just didn’t have that culture around deer hunting.”
Gaven Brault, senior environmental law enforcement major, said his hunting tradition is mostly between him and his father on their land near Crivitz. They own a small, simple cabin on property which they manage under the ‘quality deer management’ philosophy for the purpose of hiking, hunting and bonding.
Brault said his father got him started practicing for a hunt when he began to walk. He shot his first deer at age 12.
Brault has learned to bow hunt over the years and said he prefers to hunt that way, but he still participates in the annual gun season.
“I’ll never forget my first deer,” Brault said. “It was a doe, probably 50 yards away. I was so nervous. I actually asked my dad if I was allowed to shoot it.”
He admits part of the reason he hunts is because of his upbringing and the values instilled in him by his family.
“I think there’s less kids doing it now,” he said, “My dad’s dad used to do it. It’s not something you’d do if your family wasn’t into it.”
Like many sportsmen, Brault’s hunting experiences are about more than bringing home venison. He said he loves the time outdoors and the stories of memorable hunts gone by.
“It’s honestly not even about shooting a deer,” he said. “It’s about spending time with my dad and my family.”
Like Brault, fisheries freshman Zach Mohr shot his first deer with a gun at age 12 but now prefers bow hunting. He bow hunts regularly near Stevens Point and said he is planning to hunt six of nine days during the gun season on his uncle’s property in Sand Creek.
Rule changes requiring electronic registration of killed deer, enforced by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, have him concerned for the upcoming season.
The new rules may detract from the tradition of hunters registering their deer in-person at places like gas stations, he said, even though the DNR is encouraging business to maintain their role by offering internet and phone resources for registrants.
“It’s easier for the hunter, but it takes the camaraderie out of it,” he said.
Mohr hunts a variety of wildlife species throughout the year but said deer hunting is an ultimate thrill, sometimes making his hands and body shake.
“When you sit for two hours and then your heart rate goes so high, that’s what I like,” Mohr said. “It’s exhilarating.”
He recalled a memorable hunt when he predicted a buck to come through his area after some fellow hunters traversed an adjacent field on the closing weekend of the season. He only had to wait mere minutes before the ten-point crossed his sights.
“Everyone else was staying in that weekend,” he said. “People thought the big bucks were dead. It was pretty awesome.”
Andrew Ziel, sophomore urban forestry major, said his hunting tradition varies from year to year. He and his father normally hunt in the northern part of Iron County with his father’s friend. Recently, his dad and the friend purchased another parcel in Trempealeau County, where they have hunted the past few seasons.
He said they still enjoy going to the Iron County camp because of the interesting experiences they have while visiting other deer camps of friends in the hunting party. He recalled the atmosphere at some northern camps he visited.
“Those guys would be partying and drinking and having a good time,” he said. “One of them had a tap in the wall and the biggest wall of crazy deer mounts I’ve ever seen.
To get a little more time afield this season, Ziel said he plans to excuse himself from class a day early. He said he has noticed classmates do the same thing during other years, especially within the College of Natural Resources.
Ziel has some concerns about the new e-registration rules as well, but understands it makes the process more simple. He said he enjoys seeing people bring their deer into town after a hunt.
“People love showing off their big deer. They meet at bars sometimes just for that,” he said. “It threatens that but at the same time, it can sometimes be a pain.”
Despite his concerns, Ziel is excited for the season because its a chance to spend time with friends and family, obtain a meat supply and sit quietly in the woods.
“The meditation factor is pretty big for me,” he said.