Deer hunting across northern Wisconsin without snow is just like apple pie without ice cream. The first six days of the 2012 Wisconsin gun-deer season were windy and extremely warm. Friday morning after Thanksgiving that changed suddenly. We woke up to a two-inch coating of snow. On Thursday we hunted in 60-degree heat and Friday morning the thermometer on the porch of the C&R Hunting Shack registered a temperature of 20 degrees with a cold wind blowing.
The deer season began on Saturday, Nov. 17, across the state. There were eight of us heading out from the shack at 6 a.m. The alarm had been set for 5 a.m., but it was not necessary. At 5 a.m. most of us had finished breakfast and were getting ready to head out. Excitement is a better alarm clock than any mechanical device.
Our son, Craig, and his 13-year-old son, Jack, headed out to a pine ridge east of the shack. Craig said he and Jack sat down on stools next to a spruce tree waiting for shooting light. About 10 minutes prior to shooting light, they heard something moving very close to them at the edge of thick green cover. They were trying to identify the source of the noise when they heard a wolf howl quite loud and then got a quick glimpse of a large wolf as it ran away from their position. Jack said he won’t forget that experience.
We did not hear a gunshot until almost a half-hour after shooting hours began. Normally we hear several shots even before legal shooting hours. When we gathered for a sandwich, no one in our group had seen a deer.
The day was spent making a series of silent drives until mid-afternoon, when we walked to stands for the rest of the day. Not one deer was seen on opening day of the 2012 gun-deer season.
Sunday morning we each took stands in areas where we have hunted over the past 30 years. I chose to sit on one that we call the tripod stand, which allowed me to sit about 10 feet above the ground. The stand is hidden in a Norway pine tree so the silhouette of the hunter is not obvious. After perhaps an hour the tree branch that rests across the front edge of the windbreak began to move. All of a sudden, a red squirrel jumped from the branch into the three-foot box that is the windbreak. The squirrel was as surprised as I was and it left the confines of the windbreak in a big hurry.
Later in the day on Sunday, our group was down to six hunters and we were again making short, silent drives. I was a stander on this drive and was sitting on a stool located on an overgrown logging road. Shortly after we began the drive, we heard Duane Frey say, “Hey, guys. A black bear just went past me and into the drive.”
As he said that, I saw the black bear coming in my direction. The bear stopped on the logging road and looked around just 10 paces from my position. My hand moved to my gun and the bear made a noise like “woof” and away he went. Duane and I guessed the bear to be over 300 pounds, but neither of us is experienced at estimating the size of bears.
On Monday I got a good look at a wolf that crossed another overgrown logging road. It was the second Sunday of the hunt before I saw a deer! Three youngsters were among the groups we hunted with during the season. Our 14-year-old granddaughter, Gretchen Arneson, was the only one of the youngsters who saw a deer, and she shot a nice-sized doe. Our grandsons, Jack Sabota and Will Schroeder, also spent some time hunting with us and did not see any deer.
It is difficult to keep youngsters’ interest high about deer hunting when they do not see any deer. If the DNR is really sincere about getting youngsters into deer hunting, they have to change some policies that will increase the size of the deer herd across northern Wisconsin. In my opinion, in order to accomplish that goal, the practice of shooting deer over bait must be stopped. This practice encourages nocturnal movement of deer. Many hunters say that they see deer moving past their trail camera, but always after midnight. Also, a method must be found to reduce the number of predators that are roaming the woods of northern Wisconsin. Likewise, for several years the regulations have to protect antlerless deer to allow the herd to expand.
I realize that some hunters and game managers may not agree with me; however, after hunting deer for nearly 60 years, that is my opinion.
A great friend of outdoorsmen across the North passed away a week ago. Father Jim Jackson, formerly of Rhinelander, we will miss you.
Longtime Northwoods outdoors personality Roger Sabota writes a bi-monthly column for the Star Journal.