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MADISON — The state Senate has passed a bill that would curtail wildlife officials' unpopular earn-a-buck program and scale back October gun-deer hunts.

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Hunters in areas with earn-a-buck requirements must shoot an antlerless deer before they can take a buck. State wildlife officials say it's a key herd- control tool, but hunters have groused about it for years, saying the program forces them to pass up trophy kills.

Under the bill, no one would be required to kill an antlerless deer before taking a buck. The state could still impose the antlerless requirement for a second buck, however.

The measure also generally prohibits any gun seasons ahead of the traditional November hunt.

The Senate passed the Republican-authored bill on a voice vote. It goes next to the state Assembly.

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