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It’s a tradition.

Each November, a “big deer” display is showcased inside a popular third-generation family restaurant, Chet & Emil’s, off Wisconsin 45 in Birnamwood.
Jeremy Praslowicz, who is in the process of taking over the business as his parents retire, said hunters are invited to hang their deer head mounts for a few weeks during the season.

“We try to get new ones each year,” he said, adding that the restaurant might give the donor a free chicken dinner. “Right now, there’s just two of mine up there.”

The hunting season provides an economic boost to many areas across Wisconsin, including Praslowicz’s Shawano County restaurant, because hunters often are looking for a warm meal, drinks and places to buy gas, licenses and supplies.

Tourism dollars related to the state’s nine-day gun-deer season in November help bridge the money-making gap many businesses experience between the fall when many people travel north to see the changing fall colors and the winter season that features snowmobiling, skiing and snowshoeing.

In 2006, DNR Commissioner Scott Hassett estimated the annual economic impact of the hunt at $1 billion. A more-recent DNR document put it at $1.4 billion.

“The (state’s) northern counties have a big stake in managing a deer population that’s attractive to people coming up north,” said Jeff Pritzl, regional wildlife supervisor with the Department of Natural Resources.

Brian Dhuey, DNR wildlife surveys and database manager, said some of the highest hunter density and harvest figures come from counties west of Green Bay: Waupaca, Waushara and Outagamie. But many people follow tradition and travel to areas of the northern forest.

“I would say, overall, the economic impact of deer hunting is greater in the north than in the south,” Dhuey said. “And that is the case in the northern forest where people are traveling to get there.”

Bill Cashman, manager of Wild Eagle Corner Store in northern Wisconsin’s Eagle River, said the deer hunt is an important part of his business and a tradition he looks forward to each year.

During the opening weekend of the nine-day gun hunt, people stop in looking for licenses and supplies like camouflage apparel, scents, boots, hand and toe warmers.

“A lot (of hunters) come in (to town) for the weekend and there’s a good share of locals too,” Cashman said.

The Northwoods draws thousands who are after a big buck or at least some venison for their freezers.

Conrad Heeg of the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce said hunters are filling resorts and hotels and stopping at local grocery stores and gas stations.
Thousands of hunters travel to the public hunting forests of the Northwoods, hoping for a chance at a trophy buck.

“If you get a deer, chances are that you’re going to get a pretty good-sized deer,” Heeg said.

The Nicolet National Forest is a contiguous 665,000 acres in Vilas and Oneida counties in far northern Wisconsin. Northern Island American Legion State Forest, also in northern Wisconsin, is 235,000 acres. Ottawa National Forest is 1 million acres and Vilas County has 40,000 acres of public forest.

“We’re surrounded by public forestland and it’s plastered full of lakes,” Heeg said. “There is year-round activity.”

Eagle River, with about 1,700 year-round residents, is “noticeably different with people running around town,” Heeg said.

“(Deer hunting) puts a little bounce in their step with the money coming into town. That’s our economy up here — tourism. Deer hunting is an extremely important part of that.”

Scott Kirkpatrick, a licensed guide and owner of Buffalo County Outfitters, has transformed his boyhood hobby into his livelihood.

Kirkpatrick has a lodge in Mondovi — an area in far western Wisconsin’s Buffalo County often recognized as one of the top destinations in North America for opportunities to harvest trophy whitetails. \

Beginning his seventh year, Kirkpatrick said he hosts 50 to 75 hunts each year with most of his clientele coming from outside of Wisconsin.

“I take them out to dinner in local restaurants,” he said. “They’re renting cars and trucks and buying equipment. They’re ultimately creating a livelihood for me.”
Kirkpatrick said he leases thousands of acres of land from farmers and other property owners.

“I bet you between what I pay in leases and what the clients (add to the economy) is close to $100,000 in one year,” he said. “And I’m just one outfitter.”

Others who benefit are taxidermists and the food pantries, according to Kirkpatrick. His clients have donated thousands of pounds of venison, he said.

For Kirkpatrick, it’s important that the state continue to make hunting affordable for out-of-state residents and licenses easily obtainable.

His clients spend $160 each for non-resident gun-deer and archery licenses. Similar costs in others states in the Midwest range from $400 to $500, he said.

“Right now, Wisconsin is absolutely one of the cheapest places to buy a whitetail tag,” Kirkpatrick said, adding that tourism related to deer hunting is “99 percent” of his livelihood.

Laurie Ritger writes for the Fond du Lac Reporter.

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