Earlier this month, a group of Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would prohibit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from allowing any doe hunts in the state’s “Northern Forest Zone,” an area encompassing all or part of 20 counties in the northern part of the Badger State. If passed, Senate Bill 965 would ban whitetail doe hunting in the Northwoods for the next four years.
The bill is a response to a disappointing hunting season in deer camps throughout northern Wisconsin last fall. According to the DNR, hunters tagged just over 28,000 whitetails in the Northern Forest Zone during the 2023 guns season. 10,305 of those were does—down a whopping 27.2 percent from the previous five seasons. The buck total also dropped, by nearly 15 percent, with hunters tagging 17,715 antlered deer.
In a Jan. 17 statement announcing the bill, co-sponsor Rep. Chaz Green, had this to say: “Deer hunting has been a tradition for generations in Northern Wisconsin. But those traditions have been thrown by the wayside because the population of deer has been decreasing for years. We want future generations to enjoy the tradition of hunting in Northern Wisconsin, and this bill is a good start to making that happen.”
Sen. Romaine Quinn, the bill primary co-sponsor, echoed Rep. Green’s thoughts. “This past month, we have heard from hundreds of constituents at multiple listening sessions about the poor deer season this year,” he said. “Although there are many issues we will continue to debate within the hunting community, there is a clear consensus that we must act now to save and improve our deer herd, and this bill is a critical first step.”
Lindsay Thomas Jr. is the Chief Communications Officer for the National Deer Association (NDA). He tells Field & Stream that it’s too early for NDA to take an official stance on the pending legislation.
“We have not had a chance to really dig into the biology side of the question or the nature of the problem in northern Wisconsin, but, in general, we prefer to see issues like this—deer management and deer biology—being handled by professional biologists at state wildlife agencies,” says Thomas. “If you ban doe hunting across an entire region, that removes any flexibility from a management standpoint whatsoever. What we want to know is: What does the [Wisconsin DNR] have to say about this. How would they manage it?”
DNR did not immediately respond to F&S’s request for comment, but a spokesperson told Wisconsin Public Radio that the agency does not comment on pending legislation. In a recent press release, DNR said that deer average harvest was down nearly 18 percent across the entire state during the 2023 gun season.
Yesterday was the deadline for adding co-sponsors to Senate Bill 965. At last count, a total of 11 politicians had signed onto the legislation. From here, it’ll go before the the Senate’s Committee on Financial Institutions and Sporting Heritage for potential revisions and addendums. Field & Stream will continue to follow the bill’s trajectory as the story develops.