Remembering the good ol' days of deer hunting

Larry Bergman, now 79, no longer hunts deer near his home in northwest Wisconsin.
“I remember being in school in Drummond,” he said. “Back then it was an excused absence if someone wanted to go deer hunting instead of attend school during the deer season. “
As strange as that may seem, Bergman also remembers the young hunters, mostly boys then, bringing their guns to school to show them off to students and teachers.  
“We always had a shotgun in the car trunk for small game hunting, too,” he said.
Larry’s father came to northern Wisconsin from Sweden and homesteaded in Wisconsin in what was then a dairy farm.  Today the 12 cows they had may not be called a farm at all. The crop seasons were so short, corn never matured into ears, so it was all made into silage and fermented for cattle feed. Flax and barley were common crops, too.
“Back then there were two holidays that were special,” Bergman said. “Christmas and deer season. Everybody looked forward to the deer season. They planned. They were as excited as though it was Christmas.”
Instead of today’s sit-and-wait hunting from a tree stand, ground blind or just a bucket to sit on, it was drive hunting. No, not road hunting from a car, but putting on drives to move the deer to standers waiting for a shot, usually at a running deer.
“The first instructions to new hunters, even before they were old enough to carry a gun, was safety,” Larry explained. “That first year or so, we just tagged along on a drive and didn’t get to carry a gun.”
Two or three years ago Larry hung up his Model 94, 30-30 rifle.
“Today the areas are too big to put on drives,” he said. “Back then we all hunted wherever. There was no need to post land.”
Larry’s son, Jim, used to have a bait shop near Barnes and registered deer, but with electronic registration, there’s less need for that kind of a business.
“Everything is electronic. I think you can even buy a license on- line,” he said. “And you can buy the license during the season, too.”
Today, Larry drives around some just to see what’s going on, stops at a few hunting camps, spends some time playing cards, drinking coffee and playing cribbage with some of the old-timers who still come up to say they hunted one more time.
“It seems to be a fading thing in some areas, that and big Thanksgiving meals in the deer camps. Some restaurants even had a free Thanksgiving meal. The food and lunches were as much of a tradition as the actual hunt,” he said.
The deer used to hang the entire season and they didn’t taste that good. Now people cut them up right away and they’re much better eating. They’re a tasty piece of meat, this former hunter says of modern day venison.
Some of what was Larry’s hunting time is now spent working on a Board at a museum in the Town of Barnes (Town, not township, is the name for rural municipalities in Wisconsin).
A portion of the museum is devoted to the Gordon MacQuarrie exhibit, a famous hunting and fishing writer from the area, who culminated his career in Milwaukee. MacQuarrie, born in Superior in 1900, died in Milwaukee in 1956.
The museum board continues to add deer hunting items to their museum, too, Bergman said.
Jerry Davis writes DeerTags 11 times during the nine-day, gun-deer season. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 608-924-1112

In-person registration stations still popular with some

This year, there are 315 in-person registration stations of one sort or another for deer hunters to get help registering their deer, somewhat like all hunters used to do.
For many stations there is another primary purpose, too, which is almost as important as the required registration. Some stations take gland samples, which are later taken to a laboratory and tested for the presence of chronic wasting disease prions. Without required in-person registration, there has been a drop in hunters getting their deer tested. 
Deer aging is offered at some sites, too.
To be clear, these volunteer stations simply help the hunters, if needed, plug the information into a computer or offer a phone where they can call in the information, helping hunters with required registration. This means those registrations get counted immediately without any additional human handling. They are in the electronic registration system just as those coming in from the field, home or while sitting inside a vehicle.
Other activities that may be offered at these stations include deer donations, meat processing, taxidermists’ advice, and sale of convenience items including food and gasoline. Those one-stop shops are very handy for hunters who do not home process their venison. It saves stopping at two or three locations to get everything done.
On the other hand, a hunter who home-processes, can drive home, register the deer there, skin and begin boning it out and never have to leave home unless there isn’t a location to dispose of the carcass for birds and coyotes, foxes and skunks, and an occasional opossum.
One of the first hunters to bring a deer to the Department of Natural Resources station in Barneveld opening morning got out of his truck and began walking toward a makeshift office in a trailer. His hunting buddy said he just likes to do it the old-fashioned way rather than phoning it in himself. 
Most hunters have a plethora of questions that otherwise could go unanswered, unless they call the DNR call center at 888.936.7463 (888.WDNR INFo).
What are those deer with white collars?  Do I really not need to attach a carcass tag? Where’s the closest sample site? Have there been any sick-looking deer come through the line this morning?
For many hunters, maybe most, the phone system is the way to go until they run out of gas in their truck on the way home. 
The volunteer station near Dodgeville, Kate’s Bait and Sporting Goods near Gov. Dodge State Park along Hwy. 23, sampled 80 deer opening weekend. About 25 of those hunters also registered their deer at her location.
In addition to Kate’s and the DNR station in Iowa County, hunters in that immediate area also have Uncle Jimmy’s Deer Processing just over the county line in Dane County. Up the road a piece, in Sauk County, McFarlanes’ in Sauk City helps out, too. Those, along with 311 others are willing and waiting. If help is not needed, the business can go about their own work to talk with the retired hunter who stopped just to see how the hunters were doing.

Jerry Davis writes DeerTags 11 times during the nine-day, gun-deer season. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 608-924-1112


Northern deer hunts may include Thanksgiving dinner

Hunting in northern Wisconsin can change a hunter’s life, even his residence, and still provide a Thanksgiving dinner with most of the trimmings.
John Amend, now living in the Town of Barnes, began heading north to Bayfield County to hunt deer in 1958 with his father-in-law.  He and up to 14 hunters stayed in rooming cabins and a barn, received three meals, and a place to sleep.
“Breakfast was at 5:30 with bacon, eggs, fried potatoes and the trimmings,” John Amend said. “We all got a sack lunch, which consisted of a cheese sandwich and an apple. We’d roast the sandwich on a fire we built on a town road. Then for dinner we had a beef, pork, venison or sometimes a bear roast with potatoes and gravy. That and the room was $5 a day when we started.”
In the late 1960s, the price increased to $7.
Eventually, John purchased some land, 3 parcels, built a cabin and then a house and moved north 10 years ago after retiring from a Beloit company (originally Beloit Iron Works then Beloit Corporation), which sold paper making machinery worldwide.
Four years ago, at 76, John quit hunting deer, but still has a half dozen men come north to hunt and stay in his cabin.
“I really don’t miss the hunting part because I still visit the men who come up and all the original guys are gone now,” he said. “I can still see deer, rabbits, turkeys and other wildlife any time I want out by the cabin. Now I get as much of a kick out of watching the deer come into the back yard as I did in the woods.”
John’s taste for venison has not disappeared. He gets venison burger, meat sticks and jerky from the guys who still hunt and stay with him and his wife, Ariel.
“We used to have awesome euchre card games. Sometimes guys would get so mad they’d throw the card deck in the wood stove.  We never played for money, but they hated to lose a game just the same,” John said.
Another game of chance was the annual buck pole. Every hunter would toss in a dollar and the man who got the largest buck, by antlers, won the pool.
“We had a large steak dinner on Saturday night, opening day, and big sit down dinners the following Sunday and Monday.  Sometimes we had cook-outs in the woods at noon,” he said.         
Back in the good, old days, the guys would see 20-30 deer in a day or they called it a poor day. Most guys stayed until the second weekend, which meant they missed Thanksgiving at home, but that wasn’t a problem then or even now.
“Many of the bars, taverns and restaurants put on a Thanksgiving meal back then and some still do now,” John said. “There’s usually a place to find a good turkey dinner up here on Thursday. It’s not just a turkey sandwich, but a full dinner, and some dinners are by donations only. Nobody goes home hungry, not even the deer hunters.”

Jerry Davis writes DeerTags 11 times during the nine-day, gun-deer season. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 608-924-1112

Gather other vittles to go along with venison

In spite of the year-long anticipation of the opening of gun-deer season, some avid deer hunters take a day or two away from big game hunting, if not during the opener, then sometime during the Thanksgiving holiday or second weekend.
Jake Sikora is a 17-year-old junior at De Soto High School in Vernon County along the Mississippi River south of La Crosse.
The weekend before the gun-deer season opened, he shot a large buck with his bow. He collected a number of trail camera images of other fine bucks, too, and just thought it would be neat to go duck hunting with some of his friends opening weekend instead of gun hunting for another deer his family of four really didn’t need right now. Plus his father, Gregg, is a deer hunter, too.
“Maybe later in the week, we’re off school Wednesday through Friday, I’ll go out again, Jake said. "We could use a doe deer for meat because my mom says old buck venison is a bit gamy, but unless I saw a very large deer, I probably wouldn’t shoot another buck.”
Jake hunted ducks both Saturday and Sunday of the opening weekend of gun-deer season, but was surprised that so many hunters decided to do the same thing he did - decoy ducks instead of deer.
“I’ll hunt ducks again Wednesday, but probably be back in a deer stand the rest of the week, starting on Thursday,” Jake said.
Waterfowl hunting is notoriously good in late November because migration of birds is better than earlier in the season.  
There are several other outdoors opportunities during gun-deer season, too, regardless of whether there is ice on the pond or not.
Trophy walleye fishing is a late October and November prize, too, so there’s another opportunity if deer hunting is getting a little tiresome. Many an angler, if they have a walleye on the wall, is displaying something caught during gun-deer season.
Pheasants are still released just prior to gun-deer season, so there may be some neglected birds who can be flushed while most hunters are sitting quietly in a deer blind or tree stand. More birds will be released after the gun-deer season ends, too.  
Give “necks” a try. Bird cover is waning. Most corn and soybeans have been picked, and the weather is usually not as warm for hunting dogs.
Turkey season sticks out with Thanksgiving being the holiday to feast on this fowl. In most parts of Wisconsin, the season remains open, some tags are still available, and there is less standing corn for the toms and hens to hide in.
Many a deer hunter saw turkeys from their tree stand or blind during the early part of the gun-deer season. Some of them probably were displaying in a dominant stance and could be enticed by a challenging gobbler call.
During some years, squirrels, rabbits and ice fishing are options, too.
But like Jake, if the urge to try something else is there, pick a day early enough that there’s time to slip back and close out the deer season, too.
Jerry Davis writes DeerTags 11 times during the nine-day, gun deer season.   Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 608-924-1112

Wisconsin deer harvest declines by 14,000

MADISON, WI - By the time the sun set on opening weekend of Wisconsin's 166th gun deer season, more than 582,800 hunters had purchased their license and headed into the outdoors of the annual nine-day, gun-deer hunt in Wisconsin.
Although 587,440 licenses were sold last year, the total number of hunters that took to the field is very close to the number that purchased a license last year, and the state saw approximately 6,200 additional non-residents choose to travel to Wisconsin to pursue one of their favorite activities.

Preliminary Registration Totals and Future Outlook
In total, 102,903 deer were registered through opening weekend of the gun deer hunt in 2017 compared to 116,615 in 2016 with 59,142 bucks registered, compared to 64,828 in 2016, according to figures compiled by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Preliminary harvest numbers seem to correlate with weather reports that have been shared on the Wisconsin DNR's Facebook page as well as the reports hunters provided during the registration process with the northern part of the state experiencing much better hunting conditions corresponding with kill numbers generally consistent with last year.
By comparison, the southern part of the state experienced localized rain and higher winds and overall, the kill numbers are lower than last year. With the weather reports for the remainder of the gun-deer hunt looking positive throughout most of Wisconsin, hunters can expect improved opportunities and are encouraged to head out to enjoy the remainder of the nine-day season hunting with family and friends.
These preliminary registration numbers provide a good indication that the local decision-making efforts of the County Deer Advisory Councils (CDAC) are paying off and having a positive impact on deer hunting opportunities.
For specific county and regional registration data, visit and search keywords "weekly totals."

Registration of Deer Required using GameReg
Hunters have embraced the change to the GameReg registration system with more than 62 percent of the registrations occurring via the internet with the remaining hunters utilizing the call-in phone option which also worked well for most hunters.
Kevin Wallenfang, DNR big game ecologist, reminds

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

Minnesota deer harvest climbs 16 percent

Minnesota firearms hunters registered 161,057 deer through the third weekend of deer season, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
Preliminary results through the third weekend show that the number of deer registered was up 16 percent from 2016. Of the deer harvested, 53 percent were bucks, compared to 63 percent during the same period in 2016.
In Zone 1, in northeastern Minnesota, total firearms harvest was up 36 percent. In Zone 2, which covers the majority of the state and runs from Canada to Iowa, harvest was up 10 percent and Zone 3, in southeastern Minnesota, was down 5 percent.
“The conditions were generally good for hunters participating in the last week of the Zone 1 season and for the start of the 3B season in the southeast, which provided a boost to the statewide firearms harvest,”
said Erik Thorson, acting big game program leader.
Based upon the number of antlerless permits available and the number of permit areas that allow multiple deer to be taken, the DNR is projecting the 2017 total deer harvest to be around 200,000. The 2016 total harvest was 173,213 and to date firearms and archery hunters have harvested about 180,000 deer this year.
In much of Minnesota, the firearms deer season ended Nov. 12, and the northern rifle zone season ended Nov. 19. The late southeast firearms deer season is open through Sunday, Nov. 26. The muzzleloader season begins Saturday, Nov. 25, and continues through Sunday, Dec. 10. More information on deer management can be found at   

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR

Hunters asked to ignore deer collars

Dan Storm, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources researcher, hopes deer hunters do not treat collared deer in Dane, Grant or Iowa counties differently than deer without collars.
These animals, 138 adult deer and 91 fawns, have been fitted with GPS collars beginning a five-year study of deer predators. What kills them is one of several factors Storm and his team hope to find out?
The answer would be misleading if one group of deer or another were selected against or favored.
“We want hunters to shoot a collared deer if that’s what they would do if it didn’t have a collar,” Storm said. “If it’s a deer they wouldn’t shoot, then don’t take it.”
This is research and treating deer this way helps to remove some of the bias.  
Some of the adult deer and fawns have already died from all the causes one might expect, including hunting, vehicles, predators and disease. A first-year report will be available to the public early next year.
If hunters do take a collared deer, the DNR would like the collar returned to save money. The collar and two ear tags have phone numbers for the hunter to use to contact Storm’s team. Once the researchers receive a call from a hunter, they will go to the hunter, retrieve the collar and collect some general information from the hunter and measurements from the deer.  
“We make it as convenient as possible for the hunters,” Storm said.  “We generally make an appointment to meet someplace convenient for the hunter."
Whatever the hunters do, they should not cut off the collar. It can be re-used on another deer during one of the next four trapping seasons.
Generally speaking, there have been some surprise movements, particularly by the bucks, according to Storm. That information will be summarized later, too. This movement has led to the team slightly changing the format. Rather than a fixed schedule of data returned every four hours, Storm hopes to get the deer’s whereabouts every hour during the rut.
Storm says day and night movements and changes during the rut are of greater interest than when they first started the study, so data collection points will be stepped up. Collars on adult deer transmit information directly to the research team’s radio and computer systems. The fawn collars do not.
So far, cooperation by the public and hunters have been excellent and Storm expects that will continue.  
Deer of all ages and genders will be trapped this winter, fitted with collars and add to those trapped during 2017 and are still alive.  Trapping will then continue each winter through 2021 in the three counties, all of which are in the chronic wasting disease region.
Landowners in these regions have been assisting trapping and observing deer, bobcats and coyotes, as well as permitting  research to continue on private land.
While collars on bucks, does and fawns vary slightly, those on does are most easily observed.
Jerry Davis writes DeerTags 11 times during the nine-day, gun deer season. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 608-924-1112