How COVID-19 Is Shaping the 2020 Deer Season

By Zac Schultz

November 20, 2020

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The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is advising hunters not to travel across the state to hunt for this year’s gun-deer season.

Keith Warnke, the administrator of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division, said “We’re recommending hunters keep hunting local and they do it with members of their household to best avoid spreading COVID-19.”

At the same time the DNR says license sales are up over a similar time period from last year. That follows a trend where more people have been purchasing fishing licenses and using state parks for camping and hiking during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we’re seeing when we look at our license figures is that it’s a lot of people who previously had hunted or had gone fishing and they’re getting back to it now,” Warnke said.

But if more people are purchasing deer harvest tags, it seems unlikely hunters will stay close to home, since many hunters travel north or to rural areas to hunt. There are thousands of acres of public land open to hunting, and Warnke says hunters should be especially careful in those areas if they come across other hunters.

One scenario that concerns health experts is the number of hunters who may travel to hunting camps where they congregate with people not part of their immediate family. Many of those camps come with years of tradition for hunters to visit local restaurants and taverns, along with sharing sleeping quarters.

Paul Casey is Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Bellin Hospital in Brown County.

“Outside, in a tree stand by yourself is not a problem. The problem is the deer lodge where you have 10 people, or however many people who don’t live together normally. Those are potential spreading events.”

Bars and restaurants around the state are worried about the impact of Covid-19 on deer hunting. Diane and Marvin Wulff own Diane’s Back 40 in Taylor County. They will be open and hoping for customers, “I’m not trying to hurt anybody, but I have bills to pay, you know, I have a mortgage,” says Diane Wulff.

Her husband Marvin says they’re already expecting a down year, but hope some hunters will still show up. “The ones that come out to hunt, they will come out, I believe, you know, that’s part of the hunting camp tradition thing. But the ones that aren’t going to want to go to the bars or to the restaurants and stuff like that, they’re just going to stay home.”

Despite the DNR’s recommendations for hunters to stay local, Keith Warnke would not directly answer whether hunters should avoid bars and restaurants. He simply repeated his advice for everyone to wear a mask and socially distance.

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