Pierce County deer hunters not thrilled with DNR’s new online system

Posted May 6, 2016

A number of Pierce County deer hunters are upset with updated regulations that are associated with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ new Go Wild online licensing system.

The hunters are concerned for several reasons. The DNR recently changed regulations that affect “back tags” and the way harvested animals are transported and tagged in Wisconsin. Before this year, a deer hunter in Wisconsin was required to wear a tag on their back that identified them by the license number.

“It really exposes the opportunity for people to be dishonest,” said Dwayne Benedict, a River Falls resident and Pierce County Deer Advisory Council member. The new program makes it easier for cheaters to cheat and puts the hunter’s safety at risk, Benedict said, adding that the changes are not all good and the DNR has not done a good job letting everyone know about them.

The main changes to the regulations are that hunters themselves now have to print out their harvest tags and back tags are no longer required. According to the DNR’s website, hunters will either print a game harvest tag themselves or they can have one printed at a registration station. In the past, harvest tags were printed on a material that was weather proof and back tags were mandatory.

“People who cheated the system before will still be dishonest and it’s my job to catch them,” said Brad Peterson, the DNR’s game warden for Pierce County. During a Pierce County Deer Advisory Council meeting on April 21, members shared their concerns with Peterson. Some council members asked about hunters’ safety and the ability for dishonest hunters to cheat the system.

“How am I supposed to keep a paper tag on a deer?” asked Benedict.

“Put it in a Ziploc baggie and zip tie it to your deer,” Peterson answered. Many of the “what if” harvest tag scenarios presented to Peterson ended with, “It is still the hunter’s responsibility to make sure the tag stays on the animal.”

“When you leave that animal, it needs to be tagged,” he said. A harvested animal does not need the tag on it until hunters arrive at either their home or at a place that will process the meat. “Tags stay with the meat,” that rule hasn’t changed, said Peterson. When game is not being transported it needs to have a tag.

In Pierce County, 94 percent of land is privately owned, according to Francis Ogden, secretary of the County Deer Advisory Council. With the new laws, land owners think they will have problems when confronting individuals who trespass on private property without back tags. Many council members cited trespassing hunter issues in the past. Peterson assured council members that the changes are better and said he doesn’t think there will be any issues.

Wisconsin hunters can easily recall an incident when a man opened fire and killed several other hunters in 2004. Law enforcement officials cite back tags with apprehending the man.

“There are only two states left that have hunting back tags,” Peterson said. The incident that happened over 10 years ago still frightens hunters. According to Peterson, the laws would have changed a long time ago had it not happened. Other states haven’t had any trouble and Peterson doesn’t foresee any problems for Wisconsin.

The hunting murders occurred in Rice Lake. Sawyer County Sheriff Jim Meier told Minnesota Public Radio in 2004 that the suspect was lost in the woods and apparently wandered onto private property. There, he found and climbed into a deer stand. Chai Vang, 36 at the time, opened fire on a hunting party, killing six people and seriously wounding two others. Vang was taken into custody several hours later. He’d been identified by his back tag identification number. Vang now is serving a life sentence without parole.

The DNR prepared for the changes by conducting a test of electronic registration options during the 2014 deer season. According to the Go Wild website, more than 14,000 hunters were selected to participate and offer feedback. The feedback resulted in changes that helped make the new electronic registration system quick and easier to use than the DNR first planned on.

Peterson said he realizes that with any new system there are going to be bugs. He said he knows that the system may need to be tweaked. He also understands change is hard, but said he thinks it will be easier and encourages hunters to be patient. When asked his opinion of the new Go Wild system, he said, “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”