County deer councils bring more public input into deer management

Dan Hansen


Hunting from elevated stands is very popular and effective. However, safety must always be the hunter’s first concern. It’s important to make sure all stands, whether wood or metal, are in top condition, and hunters are advised to wear a safety harness when in their stand.

Following a recommendation by Wisconsin Deer Trustee Dr. James Kroll, County Deer Advisory Councils (CDACs) were formed in 2014 to increase local involvement in deer management. Councils are composed of representatives from local hunting or conservation clubs, forestry, agriculture, tourism and local governmental interests.

Each council is led by local Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegates, while a team of three liaisons from the DNR’s wildlife, forestry and law enforcement programs attend CDAC meetings to present data and offer professional perspectives.

Each of Wisconsin’s 71 councils (Menominee County chose not to have a council) directly participate in setting population objectives, antlerless harvest quotas and antlerless tag levels.

They also provided recommendations on various season structure elements that will affect the 2016 deer seasons. These include whether junior antlerless tags may be filled in a specific county.

During the fall of 2014, councils also began reviewing county deer herd metrics and solicited public input to develop three-year population objective recommendations to increase, decrease or maintain herd levels in each county.

Once these population objectives were approved in early 2015, the CDACs immediately began forming antlerless quotas and antlerless tag recommendations, relying on deer herd data and public feedback. They again met in the spring of 2016 to recommend antlerless harvest quotas, antlerless tag levels and certain season options that will guide the 2016 season.

Drawing hunter attention

The councils didn’t appear to generate widespread interest among the general hunting public until earlier this year when the Waupaca County Council, attempting to stabilize herd growth in the county, made a preliminary recommendation to have an antlerless-only season in 2016.

Some claim the Councils’ only three available options – Increase, maintain, or decrease the population – are too constraining, and that they don’t have sufficient tools to meet these population goals.

Some tools currently available are:

  • Antlerless harvest quotas for both public land and private land, bonus antlerless permit levels for both public and private lands;  
  • Number of Farmland Zone permits to be issued per individual license sold (not total for unit, and;
  • Whether to implement the December 24-January 1 antlerless-only “Holiday Hunt.”

If sufficient herd reduction doesn’t occur using these tools, the only remaining option for the CDACs is to recommend an antlerless-only season. Many hunters, and others would like to see councils have the option to recommend an October four-day antlerless season, or implementation of the Earn-A-Buck rule. However, both EAB and October gun hunts have been removed from the deer management tool box through legislative action.

When the Waupaca CDAC met in mid April to make its final recommendations, more than 700 people turned out. Although the final recommendation was to allow a buck harvest, the message was clear that the antlerless harvest must increase in many farmland units in order to stabilize the deer herd.

DMAP public-private partnership 

Another management tool for Wisconsin landowners is the state’s Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP), which provides habitat and herd management assistance to landowners interested in managing their property for deer and other wildlife.

The DNR helps landowners implement forest regeneration and deer hunting practices that will help achieve property goals while considering the ecological and social impacts of whitetail deer.

In its first year, DMAP enrolled over 43,000 acres across the state, and by the close of the 2016 enrollment period the total acreage enrolled in DMAP approached 221,000 acres. In 2015, more than 200 landowners were surveyed to help gain insight into their experiences with the program. Most landowners sought to improve habitat for deer and other wildlife, including turkey, grouse, woodcock, small game, songbirds and other species.

Survey responses indicated that landowners enjoyed the simplicity of enrollment and were satisfied with additional resources provided through the department’s website. Over 90 percent of respondents expressed satisfaction with the site visit and working alongside a local DNR biologist and forester to achieve management goals.

Overall, over 80 percent of landowners gave the program a good or very good customer service rating. The program is currently working with nearly 1,000 landowners throughout Wisconsin.

Enrolling in DMAP 

Properties can be enrolled by an individual landowner or through a cooperative of landowners whose property boundaries are within one-half mile of each other. A group cooperative can be formed to qualify all landowners at a higher enrollment level.

DNR staff have worked to expand program offerings to DMAP cooperators, and 2016 was the second year of workshops offered around the state to share information with enrolled landowners about cost-share program availability, invasive species management, timber harvest strategies, and deer research and herd health updates.

Workshops include landowner-led tours of DMAP properties to share experiences and lessons learned in land management program availability, invasive species management, timber harvest strategies, and deer research and herd health updates.

Landowners can enroll at one of three levels:

  • Level 1: No acreage requirement, no annual fee (ongoing enrollment);
  • Level 2: 160-640 acres; $75/3 year commitment (annual enrollment deadline of March 1); or
  • Level 3: 640+ acres; $1,50/3 year commitment (annual enrollment deadline of March 1).

In addition, DMAP cooperators are able to voluntarily participate in a mentored hunting and trapping program that may help them achieve their property management goals while providing novice hunters access to their property. For more information regarding Wisconsin’s DMAP, visit and search keyword “dmap.”