A frost finally came to southeastern Wisconsin last week and there were a few snow flurries to dust things off.
That means, once again, that fall hunting seasons have begun and they go into full swing this weekend when the nine-day gun deer season opens Saturday, sending more than half a million hunters into the woods and marshlands across the state in hopes of bagging a big buck and putting some venison in the freezer.
It’s a Wisconsin tradition that brings friends and families together, not just to hunt, but to reconnect and swap stories of the hunts of yesteryear as they gather in deer camps and north woods taverns.
The fall hunt has a huge economic impact on Wisconsin, which the state Department of Natural Resources estimates at $1 billion a year in tourism and hunter spending.
Over the years, the deer hunt has become safer and safer. Last year there was one firearm-related death and nine others where people were injured. In 2019 there were no deaths and only four firearm-involved injuries.
We hope this year goes safely as well and that each and every hunter makes it home for Thanksgiving dinner or the end of the week.
Even as the Wisconsin hunt tradition remains strong, there have been some changes in the deer hunt and — like everything else in the past two years — the COVID-19 pandemic has also triggered some changes.
For years hunters used to gather at DNR check-in stations to register their deer, recount the hunt to others gathered there and wait to see who else was bringing in their results of a successful hunt. But nowadays most hunters register their deer online or by phone over a day or so and those gatherings are fading away.
So, too, COVID risks changed how families and friends gathered last year. Some hunters continued with their gatherings as they did in the past, but last year some skipped the bar-gatherings and the sit-down dinners over concerns of face-to-face exposure. We read of some hunter camps where people took RVs to live in during the hunt so everyone wouldn’t be gathered inside the same cabin. Some skipped the hunt altogether.
And the specter of COVID hangs over the deer herd itself this year. Recent news reports from Penn State University researchers and wildlife officials in Iowa showed that over 80 percent of deer in their samples taken in Iowa tested positive for the virus. That followed on the heels of another report from deer sampled in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania between January 2020 and March 2021 that showed 33 percent had COVID antibodies.
To be clear, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture report, “there is no evidence that animals, including deer, are playing a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to people.” Nor is there any evidence that captive deer who were experimentally infected with COVID showed any signs of clinical illness.
But the Penn State researchers expressed concerns that COVID “infection of an animal host could result in it becoming a reservoir that drives the emergence of new variants with risk of spillback to humans.” We hope that doesn’t come to pass.
Still, some wildlife officials have recommended taking precautions for hunters processing deer — wearing gloves or even wearing masks if they’re near the respiratory tract of a white-tailed deer.
We hope the advent of COVID-19 vaccines can lessen those worries and bring back the traditional hunting gatherings. For hunters, we would urge them to get a shot before they take a shot.
– Racine Journal Times