With the traditional Wisconsin deer hunting season over, my thoughts usually turn directly to the ski season. I have my Welch Village passes, BDahlieOfMahtomedi is heavily into dryland training, and ABR cross country ski area in Ironwood, MI is open and rolling. This year though, two hunting opportunities cropped up and I took advantage of both of them. One was the muzzleloading deer season, a hunt that requires traditional guns with 19th century technology that fire a single shot. The second was a pheasant hunt set up by a co worker with a buddy that's a passionate upland bird dog trainer and hunter. Both are very traditional hunting activities yet both have that little bit of technology creep that worries me. Both offer a bit of insight and relate in different ways to the ongoing wolf hunting saga in Wisconsin, a story that is heating up with a hearing on the motion to ban the use of dogs on 20 December as well as a move by the DNR to make the 'emergency' wolf hunt rules permanent.
I came home from deer camp with no venison this year for the first time in years. The BearWhisperer had told me he was purchasing a muzzleloader and planning to head out to camp for a day last weekend. I jumped on the opportunity to join him, was given dispensation by the VOR, and broke out my little used Hawken replica rifle. Fans of the film Jeremiah Johnson will recognize the Hawken as the gun that JJ (Robert Redford) took from frozen, dead Hatchet Jack, whom he encountered with his last will and testament pinned on his chest. It's state of the art circa 1830's technology and fit what I felt was the spirit of the hunt. When I tried to buy round balls and greased patches at my local sporting goods store however, I got the blank look. They had percussion caps but no round balls and no tins of FF black powder. Apparently now teflon coated 'maxi balls' preclude the need for patches and powder comes in 50 grain capsules. They no longer have external hammers but some sort of inline ignition system, some even electronic, that is faster and more reliable. Also, in Wisconsin hunters can use a scope on their muzzleloaders. I don't think Jeremiah had to choose between a Leupold or a Bushnell for his rifle. All these techno enhancements are to make it easier to fill your deer tag. After all, it shouldn't actually be work or require any skill, practice, or marksmanship to shoot a deer during this traditional season, right? That seems to be the DNR attitude anyhow. I climbed up in my stand at the crack of 10am on Sunday and at 12:15 managed to take a nice basket rack six point (oh, all right, a tine was broken off...five point) buck with my hopelessly archaic rifle. One shot, the buck ran about 50 yards, and then as we say it was all about 'guttin and draggin'. I had sighted the rifle in the day before with Pod and RangerMark and it paid off. There was a certain amount of satisfaction and sense of 'fair chase', not to mention a bit of a nod to Jeremiah and his hunting tools.
The pheasant hunt was along similar lines. No stainless autoloading shotguns with composite stocks or red dot electronic sights, just wooden stocked pumps and doubles and a great wintry afternoon hunting pheasants and chukar partridge over some really superb bird dogs. We walked the fields, shot some birds, missed some birds, and were happily tired when we were done. At the post hunt discussion over some Leinenkugels I raised the topic of wolves and bird dogs. The immediate response was 'any wolf that gets close to my dog is a dead wolf'. No arguement there. I also asked them what they thought about wolf traps set up to lure canines, wolves, coyotes, (bird dogs?), and if they knew how to get their dog out of a wolf trap. This brought some hemming and hawing but the real thought provoker was wolves chased and hunted by dogs that would become conditioned to think that dogs were their enemies. Since the bear and wanna be wolf hunters that use dogs claim that success rate on either species with dogs is very low it would seem that most of the time the wolves would be chased by dogs and escape. This conditioning, in my opinion, would not be good news for Springer, Labs, Goldens, and even trusty American Water Spaniels that were out hunting for grouse, pheasant, and woodcock. I'm not sure any consensus was reached or that any minds were changed on the issue but thought was indeed provoked. Hunters love their bird dogs.
From muzzloaders with electronic ignition and scopes, to motorized spinning winged duck decoys to running bear/wolf dogs with gps collars and ATV's and four wheel drive chase vehicles, there seems to be a trend to use technology to make hunting easier and less work and then attempting to defend and justify it as 'traditional' hunting values. There are a certain number of hunters who just want to go out and shoot a deer, grouse, or duck limit and get it over with so they can brag in the bar. Apparently there are a number of politicians, especially in Wisconsin, who are listening. Fair chase seems to be more and more of an archaic notion that is superseded by the need to shoot the biggest buck or the largest limit of ducks in the shortest amount of time with the most high tech equipment to help conform to our busy modern schedules. I officially call bullshit on this concept. True fair chase and tradition have had a place in the Wisconsin hunting community for decades and have been passed down through families and hunting camps over the years and it needs to stay that way.
Enter the wolf hunt updates. There is a motion due to be heard in Dane Co Circuit Court on 20 December to ban the use of dogs in wolf hunting. Before that hearing however, the DNR is taking comments on the use of dogs for bear hunting. It's common knowledge that the bear hunting groups and their lobbyist wrote the wolf hunting regulations for the DNR and the Walker administration. You can comment on the bear hunting with dogs issue between now and December 10th. Just drop a note to Laurie Ross, the Natural Resources Board Liaison, at firstname.lastname@example.org or give her a call at 608.267.7420. If you dislike the idea of chasing bears up a tree with a pack of dogs followed via 4 wheeler or pickup, now is the time to let the DNR know. Cathy Sepp, the DNR secretary, also wants to make that crazy set of wolf hunting regulations permanent and a series of hearings will be held in early 2013 for public input. My guess is that they won't make a hell of a lot of difference but it feels good to attend and get your opinion out in public. I liken the whole public hearing process to one of those car seats with the steering wheels that kids had before the current armored, titanium, terminally padded car seat monstrosities now used. Every once in a while a kid would turn the wheel in the same direction as their parent turned the car and it made them think they were driving when, of course, we all knew who was actually doing the driving. Still it's good to stand up there and let them know what we think.
As I've said before, I'm not against shooting a few wolves but lets give them a bit of a chance. Read the technique for hunting wolves with dogs that a proponent of the activity outlines in this Wisconsin State Journal article. Put the gps collars on the dogs, split up with your ATV's or 4WD pickups, and when the dog chases the wolf to the guys who raced ahead they shoot it. A guy might not even need to wear boots if you could shoot the wolf from the pickup bed when it crossed a road. I didn't make this crap up, read the article. Its an interesting headline by the way since DNR has already closed two zones and 90 out of 116 remaining wolves available for the quota have been killed. So I guess you really don't need dogs to hunt wolves after all. Or at least evidence, a little utilized resource in this whole controversy, would seem to indicate that.