His firearm hidden by trees, the lone small game hunter to check in before noon on Friday — opening day of a new month-long fall state park hunting and trapping season — sat on a log and soaked up a beautiful day at Potawatomi State Park near Sturgeon Bay. / Photo by Kevin Naze
A controversial expansion of state park hunting and trapping that began Friday morning was more of a non-event than the game-changer some had predicted.
For the past year, opponents of the state park hunting and trapping provisions in the Sporting Heritage Bill — Wisconsin Act 168 — said they were concerned about safety for park users and their pets.
But a check with managers and assistants at three Door County state parks Friday afternoon found that only a few hunters had stopped in on the first day of small game, archery deer and trapping opportunities.
Erin Brown, assistant superintendent at Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek, said one camper registered intending to hunt this weekend. There were also a couple of other phone calls and visitors stopping in with questions.
“It’s pretty quiet so far,” Brown said. “There may be a few in, but we’ve also got park visitors here just to recreate.”
Newport State Park Manager Michelle Hefty said she wasn’t aware of even one hunter or trapper through 1 p.m. Friday, though she heard some shots — possibly from duck hunters on Rowleys Bay — outside the park.
Visitor Services specialist Lois Hanson of Potawatomi State Park said only one small game hunter stopped in Friday morning. A bow hunter — this columnist — was the first to arrive shortly before 9 a.m., more on a mission of curiosity than anything else.
However, I had my bow along and got some exercise walking the best deer cover, which I’d learned while taking part in the park’s first gun deer hunt two years ago. I stopped in good-looking areas, sat quietly for a while, then got more aggressive with grunts and rattling. However, I didn’t see as much as a tail.
There was very little deer sign. Heck, I didn’t even see a single squirrel, though I did call in three hen turkeys and shot them all — with a camera.
Some locals signed a northern Door online petition against expanded hunting and trapping in 2012, but back then it was proposed for a seven-month season — not the two-month compromise eventually approved by the state Natural Resources Board.
Soon though, the petition was overrun with out-of-state and even out-of-country animal rights activists, many who posted multiple times.
Regardless, the season is in state statute, and features one month in spring for wild turkeys and one month in late fall for small game, trapping and bow deer, with extended archery opportunities late season in some parks.
Each park has many areas closed to hunting and trapping. In addition, Peninsula State Park is archery only except for its regular nine-day muzzleloader season.
Peninsula also requires access permits for both bow and muzzleloader deer hunting; 175 are available, but only 56 have been claimed.
It was a gorgeous day Friday, with light winds and temperatures in the low 50s. In four hours, I saw one man walking two dogs on a trail, a young woman biking Norway Road with a dog on the leash, several drive-through visitors enjoying the scenery from their vehicles and two young men on mopeds cruising through.
I also talked with two men scouting for next weekend’s gun opener. They were disappointed in the lack of deer sign, and were considering other options.
Hunting and trapping is only allowed in areas designated as open. Closed areas include within 100 yards of designated use areas, such as parking lots, campgrounds and picnic areas, as well as within 100 yards of certain trails.
Types of traps that may be used on dry land are restricted to ones that have been shown to be not capable of catching dogs.
Hunters may not discharge firearms, bow, crossbow or air gun from, on or across designated trails that are not open to hunting.
For much more on hunting and trapping in state parks, including links to maps, visit http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/hunt.
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One week to opener
The annual 9-day gun deer season begins Nov. 23.
Procrastinating hunters should get licenses soon, or risk waiting in long lines. Last year, nearly 106,000 hunters waited until Friday before the season to purchase.
As of earlier this week, sales were running four percent higher than a year ago, and thousands were taking advantage of the first-time and decade-lapsed hunter discount — just $5 for a license.
For much more on Deer Hunt 2013, visit dnr.wi.gov, or “like” Hunter’s Network of Wisconsin on Facebook.
— Kevin Naze is a freelance outdoor writer. Call him at (920) 883-9792 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.