All Things Outdoors: Deer Season Opener
Driving down a snow-covered town road through forestland in Oneida County, Wisconsin DNR Conservation Warden Tim Otto makes his way to where he knows someone has been laying out a bait pile.
Baiting deer is illegal in most Wisconsin counties, including Oneida, in an effort to limit the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.
“Having deer congregate in a small area is a great way to spread diseases,” said Otto.
Otto say the DNR has multiple ways to find the piles including searches from the air, the DNR tipline, and other DNR staff finding piles while working outdoors.
But before we can get to the first one on his list, he spots a driver slowly moving down the road.
Otto caught on right away to what he was trying to.
“I mean we’re creeping at 7 miles per hour on a town road on the opening day of gun deer season,” said Otto.
Wisconsin law requires hunters to be 50 feet from the center of the roadway to shoot a deer.
The driver pulls over and talks to Otto before he spots or shoots a deer.
The hunter has a disabled hunting permit. That does mean he’s allowed to shoot from the car, but, as Otto explains to him, that doesn’t give him free range to road hunt.
You still have to be pulled over and parked.
“He’d have to be legally parked. So he’d have to be off the traveled portion of the roadway,” Otto explained back in the car. “He’s basically viewing it as a license to road hunt and that’s not the intent of the law and I don’t think the average disabled hunter would want that perception out there. It’s for people that have challenges, whatever that may be, the idea is that they can drive out into a field and sit in the field and hunt from there or something. It’s not that they can drive around and shoot off the roadway.”
After educating him on the permit, the two part ways and Otto gets back to his list of bait piles he’s searching for.
The coordinates are all pinpointed to a map on his phone.
He pulls his truck up to the nearby deer stand and asks the hunter to unload his gun and come down.
Otto doesn’t waste much time and is direct with why he’s there.
“Well I guess, bottom line, the reason I’m here is about your bait that you got down,” said Otto.
The hunter admits to putting down the bait ahead of the opener.
Otto and I go check the bait pile. He snaps a few photos. Then goes back to the hunter to explain what happens next.
He’ll get a ticket in the mail, which he has the right to fight in court. The minimum fine for baiting deer is $343.50 but could run you up to $1,000 depending on how much bait you put down.
You also can’t hunt by that pile or off any of the lanes deer use to get to that pile for 10 days after the bait has been removed.
Otto leaves it at that, and the hunter guides him to turn his truck around, the two even cracking a few jokes.
This was one of two hunters Otto cited for illegal bait piles in the two hours I was out with him on opening morning.
And the interactions were very similar, both hunters admitted to the piles, didn’t put up an argument, got cited, and Otto left with assurances the bait would be cleared and no one would be hunting from the piles.
Both hunters recognized Otto had a job to do, but from him it goes beyond that.
“In my opinion, if you do any kind of scouting pre-season, you find the travel corridors, find their feeding locations, a hunter can go out and do all that stuff, get a great perfect plan and then if somebody puts down a hundred pounds of corn 200 yards away from where they were planning on hunting, totally alters the deer patterns and the movements. Now that guy that’s done all that work, it went for naught, because the other was lazy and decided to put out bait. So there’s that cultural and sporting aspect of it,” said Otto.
The other interaction I witnessed Otto have with hunters was a father and son who happened to be walking out of the woods as we drove past.
It was a quick chat, with Otto just checking permits and asking them how the hunt was going.
“With this, a young kid, sometimes it’s kind of nice to have a positive contact. There’s wasn’t much that those folks could have been doing wrong,” said Otto. “I also have to admit I have a super soft spot for a 12-year-old kid out hunting.”
Overall, the interactions I saw between Otto and the hunters were fairly pleasant.
As we were driving back to the DNR office, I made a comment to Otto how I was surprised people weren’t angrier with him, given he essentially ruined their deer hunt this year, even if he was just doing his job.
“You know in all honesty, the idea that we didn’t get into a shouting match is not a surprise. Most people, including people that I cite are pleasant to deal with,” said Otto. “You can form your own opinion as to how I deal with people, but I think if I can get this guy to laugh and joke after I told him he’s getting a $340 ticket on the opening day of gun deer season, I must be doing something right.”