2020 a memorable year for 13-year-old deer hunter Julia Sill

La Crosse’s Julia Sill will remember the 2020 Wisconsin gun deer season for a long, long time.
Three days before the Saturday, Nov. 21 opener, Julia and her father, Shawn, attended a Whitetails Unlimited banquet in Stoddard. Julia won a .243 caliber rifle. The next day, the 13-year-old obtained her second degree black belt. She capped it off with her first buck, a 190-pound field-dressed nine-pointer with an 18-inch spread on opening day.
Julia, an eighth grader at St. Matthew’s Lutheran School in Stoddard, had already harvested two does in her brief hunting career, but her first buck was even more exciting.
“Oh, yeah, my heart was pounding and I was shaking a little bit,” said Julia, who garnered the nickname “Snake Eyes”, for her keen eyesight.
“I think the nickname is funny, just weird to me,” she said laughing.
While Julia’s first buck kill was exciting for her, it was equally exciting for her dad.
“We were actually sitting on point rock where we see everything, the whole valley,” Shawn said. “We were facing the deer trail when I heard Julia whisper, ‘Dad, buck, buck.’”
It was indeed a large buck. A couple minutes later, Shawn and Julia watched it inch closer.
“It was eyeing us up and looking in our direction,” Shawn said. “It stopped dead in its tracks 40 yards away.”
Julia fired one shot from her .243 Savage rifle. The buck jogged off.
Shawn said they did a Whoo-Hooo cheer, then waited about 15-20 minutes. The father-daughter duo walked to where area Julia shot the buck, but couldn’t find any blood. They searched 20 minutes, knowing Julia hit it perfectly. The search continued until they saw the buck within about 100 yards.
“It looked like a cow laying in a field, but in a wooded area when I put the binoculars on it,” Shawn said.
When they approached within about 25 yards, the buck stood up before Julia put another shot into it.
“It went about 10-15 yards and that was it,” Shawn said. “Then there was more excitement. We knew we had it.”
Julia said she began hunting when she was 10, but started tracking deer when she was 6.
“When I was 10, I didn’t get a deer, but this is the third year in a row I got one,” said Julia, also a nature lover.
“It’s just fun to be outside and be with wildlife,” said Julia, who also hunts turkeys, pheasants, squirrels, and, hopefully, coyotes in the future.
“We have a lot of coyotes on my uncle’s farm where we hunt,” she said.
Shawn shot a trophy 14-point buck with his crossbow four years ago, but says it was nothing like sitting with his daughter when she shot her buck.
“It was a thrill watching Julia get her deer. I owe an awful lot to my brother for teaching her, too,” Shawn said.
Julia has also learned a lot from her dad and uncle.
“I’ve learned how to be quiet for sure, “ she said. “We get out deer hunting by 5:30 in the morning, come in about 10:30 or 11:30, and then head back out by 3 and hunt until closing.”
Who was more excited after Julia shot her buck?
“For sure, my dad was pretty excited, too,” she said, laughing.


Explore hunting Minnesota small game this winter

Hunting pheasants, ruffed grouse, squirrels or rabbits offers opportunities to enjoy the Minnesota outdoors as temperatures fall and snow blankets the landscape.
“Small game hunting remains a great way to stay active or even start a new hunting tradition as weather changes and winter sets in,” said James Burnham, hunter and angler recruitment coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Anyone looking to learn more about how or where to hunt can find more information and how-to guides on the DNR’s learn to hunt pages.

Snowy fields and pheasants
From grasslands to frozen wetlands, pheasant hunters can find good numbers of birds during late-season hunts. Pheasants that had found cover in standing crops now congregate in tall grass or cattail marshes.
As it gets colder and cattail sloughs and wetlands begin to freeze, hunters should be able to reach areas they couldn’t before. Hunters should always put safety first and stay off thin ice.
“Pheasant hunting involves a good amount of walking so it’s easier to stay warm, and it’s a fun way to get into the fresh air and sunshine when days are shorter and we tend to spend more time indoors,” Burnham said.
On Dec. 1, the daily bag limit increases to three roosters, with a possession limit of nine roosters. The season is open through Sunday, Jan. 3. Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset. More information is available on the DNR pheasant hunting page.

Winter woods and ruffed grouse
Hunters more at home in the cover of forest can enjoy the effort of trekking through snow and the challenge of hunting ruffed grouse during a season that lasts through Jan. 3.
Wintertime grouse hunters may find success during the golden hour, that last hour before sunset when ruffed grouse move out of their snow roosts to feed.
Grouse season has a daily bag limit of five grouse and a possession limit of 10. Shooting hours are a half hour before sunrise to sunset. More information is available on the DNR grouse hunting page.

Sunny days for squirrels and rabbits
Quick-moving squirrels and rabbits provide additional challenge in the woods, in a season that continues into the depths of winter after other hunting seasons have ended. Through Sunday, Feb. 28, hunters can shoot gray and fox squirrel, cottontail rabbit, jack-rabbit and snowshoe hare.
“Challenge, plenty of action and a chance at excellent table fare await hunters who get out in the winter for squirrels and rabbits,” Burnham said. “A walk through the woods on a nice sunny day can keep you sharp and it’s a lot of fun.”
Seeking out squirrels can be an inexpensive way to introduce youth to hunting. Squirrels can be particularly active in the winter because they are in their breeding season. Rabbits are fast-moving and tend to be found in thick cover, such as brush piles, thorn tangles and briars.
The daily limit is seven for squirrels and 10 for cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare (combined), and the possession limits are twice the daily limits. Jackrabbit has a daily limit of 1 and a possession limit of 3. More information is available on the DNR small game hunting page.

Public hunting land
Minnesotans have a wide variety of public land available for hunting.
Walk-In Access lands are popular among pheasant hunters. There are 28,000 acres of Walk-In Access land spread over 250 areas in western and south central Minnesota. Hunters of all ages must possess a $3 Walk-In Access validation to use these lands. The 2020 Walk-In Access atlas is posted on the DNR website.
Ruffed grouse management areas have good potential for producing grouse and are managed to promote suitable habitat conditions for these species. They range in size from 400 to 4,800 acres, and an interactive map showing their locations is available on the DNR website.
Minnesota has 1,440 wildlife management areas with 1.29 million acres of habitat across the state. Hunters can locate wildlife management areas using the WMA finder.
These and additional types of public land can also be found on the DNR Recreation Compass.

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR


DEER TRAILS 12: Deer study data to answer hunters’ questions

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jerry Davis, a former UW-La Crosse professor, is a longtime free-lance writer who produces “Deer Trails,” during Wisconsin’s traditional nine-day gun deer hunting season)

Five years ago, Dan Storm, Department of Natural Resources deer and elk scientist, took field command of the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study to investigate the relationship among deer, predators and diseases.
This project, measuring in the millions of dollars, was fully funded by the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration, not from general tax revenue or license fees.
Mounds of data are now being studied and written for reviewed scientific journals, reports to various state agencies, and yes, for hunters, landowners and deer watchers needing something with a practical slant.
From time to time, hunters have questions about what deer do when weather changes, snow mounds up, in hunting pressure scenarios, plus many more. Could some of those answers be extracted from the data amassed in the last five years?
One data collecting system was from GPS collars on hundreds of deer and letting the computers follow the deer via signals from the units. When a deer moved, the system mapped it. When a deer bedded down during really cold weather or abnormally warm November days, the system mapped those changes.
Sometimes everything comes together on an opening weekend, such as 2018, when weather, the end of the rut, and sighting snow fell.
In 2019, all bolts broke loose. The season was later, the rut was over, there was no snow and the buck kill dropped by about 10 percent from the previous year. Fingers were pointed in all directions, mostly in the wrong directions.
“We were fortunate that both these years were in the five-year span,” Storm said. “We can go back and get some answers and show what the deer were or were not doing and whether it was the does or the bucks or both.”
This year, for nearly a week, November temperatures were 20-30 degrees above normal. The deer “disappeared” during hunting times. What changed? The computer program can show some of what the deer did.
These were not main goals of the study, but if some portions are written from a hunter’s, landowner’s or even a truck driver’s point, and in language for common folks, it should make for good reading, enough so to keep someone awake part of the night (which might be what the bucks were doing during the warm spell, too.)
“Everything we do has enough scientific rigor and interest to appear in scientific journals,” Storm said. “We also owe it to the public to package and deliver the data in a more digestibly form for everybody. Reports can be dry. They are meant to be to present the data to science, but there is also a place for more interactivity, with maps and not for a scientific journal.”
The study, mostly on private property, gave a new understanding and camaraderie among landowners, hunters, science researchers and the DNR.
“We realized how much we needed the support of landowners on whose land we captured deer, coyotes and bobcats,” Storm said. “Many of the 766 deer were netted on private land. Without that connection, the study would not have happened.”

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 608-924-1112 


DEER TRAILS 11: 2019 ethical hunter award winner continues to spread principles

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jerry Davis, a former UW-La Crosse professor, is a longtime free-lance writer who produces “Deer Trails,” during Wisconsin’s traditional nine-day gun deer hunting season)

Hank Xiong (pictured) recalls exactly how he felt when someone stole archery equipment out of a parked truck in the Oshkosh area.
Rather than being negative toward the person and the idea of losing a bow, he worked hard to buy, Xiong held tight to the thought of how someone else might feel if they lost something special in their quest to hunt.
Xiong hopes to do more hunting with gun and bow because his parents depend on Hank to get some venison into their freezer, too.
“The doe I shot on the first day is gone and people want more,” he said.
The 2019 ethical hunter award Xiong won is sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, with Vortex Optics, Inc., of Barneveld, Wis., as the corporate sponsor.
The public nominates ethical hunters who were engaged in some form of Wisconsin hunting. Deer hunting, with its camaraderie, is clearly the area where many nominations arise, but not all. Any season or hunting related activity may provide a possible nomination.
Hank’s ethical deed resulted from his finding archery equipment, including a bow, in a public parking lot. At that moment of recalling his own loss in quite a different way, he knew he must try to get the equipment back to the rightful owner, which he did with considerable effort and time spent.
“The least I could do was try to get the bow back to its owner,” Xiong said. “A lot of my co-workers commented, ‘you’re a better man than I may have been. But that’s a cool thing you did.’”
Xiong believes that in winning the award last year that he can spread the word and hope it rubs off on other hunters.
That was the idea when the award was started in 1997, hunters helping others for the benefit of others. We always read about the very few bad guys. Here’s a chance to learn about one of many good guys.
Once nominations have been sent to April Dombrowski, a DNR employee in Madison, a committee of four individuals makes a determination and announces the winner.
The corporate sponsor hosts a presentation where the winner is gifted an item from their product line of scopes, range finders and binoculars.
For more information, contact Dombrowski or any Wisconsin conservation warden. Nominations for the 2020 award should be sent by Jan. 31, 2021.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 608-924-1112


DEER TRAILS 10: Wisconsin field wardens continue to do their job

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jerry Davis, a former UW-La Crosse professor, is a longtime free-lance writer who produces “Deer Trails,” during Wisconsin’s traditional nine-day gun deer hunting season)

Mary Bisch, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources field warden in Sauk and Dane counties said law enforcement “still accomplished the same things and provided the same service as in the past in spite of Wisconsin dealing with a pandemic, the likes of which have not been seen in more than a century!
The 2020 gun deer season was the 164th gun deer season, which has run continuously from 1851 except for 1927, 1929, 1931, 1933 and 1935, when no open season was held in any of the 72 counties.
“There were a tremendous number of people out hunting, more than last year, and the numbers were most obvious on public land,” Bisch said.
The hunters Bisch talked to saw a couple deer.
Preliminary license sales reached 559,591, up 3.2 percent from 2019. Hunters registered 95,257 deer opening weekend compared to 93,155 in 2019.
Most years, field wardens often team up with an administrative warden as a ride-along, but not this time. 
“The administrative wardens were out, but they drove their squads instead, as we did,” Bisch said. “We were able to talk back and forth and met up if one of us needed assistance.”
Bisch said she made a lot of great contacts with people, but was not able to greet the hunters with a hand shake or high five if they had a deer. However, she was able to share the excitement with them and they with her.
“We just didn’t touch common items, which was made possible by my looking up license information on my phone," she said. "Since actual tagging of deer is no longer done, I keep some notes on who has taken a deer and can go back and make sure they registered the deer by the deadline.
Gun deer season is usually about social gatherings, but many of those did not happen. Some groups, who in the past traveled north, for example, found other places to hunt, maybe in southern Wisconsin or still went north, but did so alone or in very limited numbers.
“Overall, hunters seemed to be taking the COVID-19 disease seriously and still having a fun season that most seemed to be enjoying just as always,” Bisch said.
Bisch missed getting closer to hunters, but rather kept her distance. COVID was always on her mind, as it seemed to be for hunters, too.
"It was different, but we still found ways to do the job and write tickets if necessary. We do this job because we love it, she said.
One of Bisch’s highlights was meeting a group of hunters, including a 94-year-old man from Milwaukee who had hunted in Sauk County for years and came back for the 2020 season to be where it all started.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 608-924-1112


DEER TRAILS 9: Virtual schooling flexes schedule to hunt

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jerry Davis, a former UW-La Crosse professor, is a longtime free-lance writer who produces “Deer Trails,” during Wisconsin’s traditional nine-day gun deer hunting season)

Luke Herricks, 16, (pictured) is no stranger to deer hunting, both with bows and guns.
He was tagging along with his father at five, killed his first archery deer at 10, and is thinking about having outdoors activities  in his career when he matures.
“I’m thinking about a life as a DNR warden or a nature biologist,” Luke said after his 2020 gun deer season got underway.
A junior in the Barneveld School District, Luke has been studying from home off and on since the fall semester began. Now, the high school is completely virtual, with one day when students can converse with teachers with problems they’re having. Otherwise, as long as he gets his work done, meets teachers’ and parents’ requirements, he can climb a tree, scout deer, or read about an animal who has become a large part of his life.
“Most definitely, virtual schooling is an advantage right now. Otherwise I’d be getting some hunting in before and after school and some weekends,” he said. “I bought my own 30-06 rifle with money I earned helping a friend’s father hang sheet rock in homes.”
But Luke decided sheet rock work doesn’t match up with working in nature.
Luke’s father, Chris, and his 12-year-old sister, Ella, also hunt deer. The family uses venison quite a bit, Luke said, processing the meat themselves, taking some all the way to sausage and jerky.
“We’ll use two or more deer in a year. My dad generally prepares it, but my mom supports us in what we do even though she doesn’t hunt,” he said. “Ella’s provided two deer so far from youth hunts.”
Luke did youth hunts, too, turkey and deer when he was getting started.
Luke will need the extra time this year because the three hunting members drew a blank opening weekend. So he has no tall tales to tell his friends at school, which would be on social media these days. He likes to relive his first archery deer, instead.
“I was young then (10) and became frustrated after a couple hours in a buddy stand with my dad,” he said. “I wanted to leave and my dad started poking me and whispered, ‘There’s a deer coming.’  I remember shooting it. It ran a ways up a hill and dropped. I remember crying I was so excited about it.”
Luke thinks back to earlier days of wanting to know and learn about deer this whole time. 
“Deer give me an adrenaline rush,” he said.
Even hearing stories from current field wardens, who to a person remind aspiring wardens that they often have to miss gun deer season, or might get a day off duty if lucky.
The wardens pull through by hunting other seasons and getting their adrenaline rushes by being with hunters who have taken deer, or talking to them and see the excitement.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 608-924-1112

 


DEER TRAILS 8: Yellowstone Deer Camp continues tradition

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jerry Davis, a former UW-La Crosse professor, is a longtime free-lance writer who produces “Deer Trails,” during Wisconsin’s traditional nine-day gun deer hunting season)

Wayne Smith, a long-time resident of Lafayette County, wasn’t sure what to expect when the Wisconsin gun deer season opened this year.
Smith and some close friends typically hunt from an informal “deer camp” on private land adjoining the state wildlife area. The camp consists of several trailers, outside camp cooking and plenty of land to roam. Some stay at camp and others drive each day. Other friends stop by to share stories of previous day’s hunts, and sometimes more ancient tales, too.
“There were more vehicles in the areas around the public land than usual,” Smith said. “But with COVID, a number of hunters came by themselves to avoid riding with someone else.
“But there are more folks hunting this year, just as there were participating in many of the other outdoors activities since late winter when the virus first appeared,” Smith added.
Some hunters may have looked to public land because they weren’t going to a deer camp in the north.
That’s OK, that’s public land and that’s what it’s for, according to Smith.  
“Anything to get more people outdoors is a good thing,” he said.
Being close to Illinois, some hunters drive north in search of public land.
The regulars in the Smith Camp did everything possible to remain separated, downwind, and being separated while traveling and sleeping.
“It’s good for the businesses in the area, like the Cork Down Saloon on the edge of the State Park and wildlife area,” Smith said.
When the Smith land is filled, squeeze comes to shove to find a spot for a young hunter for a day.
While some hunters come back later in the season, others leave after the opening weekend, but no one goes home empty or hungry.
“One hunter gave his deer to his friend who was heading home early and that favor may be returned the next year when someone brings back venison sticks,” Smith said. “That’s what deer hunting is about, camaraderie and friendships, sharing in the fun and the outdoors.”

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 608-924-1112