Wisconsin’s New Bear Hunting Plan


The Wisconsin DNR has proposed, and the Natural Resources Board has adopted a new bear hunting management plan. The current plan was adopted in 1980 so it was a bit out of date. In the thirty-nine years since the last plan was adopted, many factors in bear management have changed. The two factors with the largest change are an expanding bear range and an expanding bear population. In 1980, the bear population was limited to the northern third of Wisconsin i.e. most of the bear lived roughly north or near U.S. Highway 8. The bear population has also greatly increased in the same time frame. A study that occurred in the last 6 years determined there were roughly three times as many bears in Wisconsin as previously thought.
The new Plan has many interesting new features. One on the most innovative features is that the new plan will not use numerical quotas to set harvest total but use a number of metrics to determine harvest total. The metrics that will be used to determine bear population goals and subsequently annual harvest quotas include agricultural damage, nuisance complaints, hunter crowding, success, and satisfaction, bear disease and health issues, and maintaining bears’ ecological role. The bear advisory committee will study the data on a yearly basis and help to set the harvest quotas. Most species are managed with a specific population goal that is maintained by increasing or decreasing the harvest quotas. By managing with a variety of metrics, the DNR will be working on a different approach to game management. It will be vital for the DNR to gather sound scientific data on the bear population since black bears are vulnerable to over hunting. Part of the plan calls for extensive scientific research on the number of bears in the woods and periodic reviews of the estimates to ensure that an accurate population count is established and maintained.
Dealing with nuisance bears and agricultural damage from bears is also written into the plan. One feature of the damage abatement portion of the plan will allow the DNR to issue ag damage kill permits to landowners who have a history of bears damaging the crops before the crops are damaged, so the landowner can respond quickly when further damage occurs. Bears really like corn that is in the “milk phase” and this proactive approach may help limit the damage done to corn crops.
There are two types of way to measure the potential for a wildlife population-biological and cultural carrying capacity. Biological carrying capacity is the number of animals that can survive in an area given the amount of food and the amount of space the critters need. The cultural carrying capacity is how many critters people will tolerate in a given area. This plan is designed to manage the bear population based on the social carrying capacity.
The other major change in this plan is the redrawing of the bear hunting zones. Under the old plan there were four zones. Zones A, B and D covered the northern third of the state and Zone C covered the remainder of the state including Dunn County. Under the new plan, there will be five zones. Zone A, B, and D will still be in northern Wisconsin. However, the boundary of Zone D will shift southward from highway 8 to highways 64, 128, 170 and 40. So Southern Barron County and Northern Dunn County will now be in Zone D. This also means that norther Dunn County will go from being a bait only hunting area to an area that hunting with hounds and bait will be allowed. Zone C will shrink to primarily cover the central portion of the state. A new zone E will cover most of the western part of Wisconsin including the southern two-thirds of Dunn County. And a new Zone F will cover much of eastern, southern, and a portion of central Wisconsin.
The DNR plan states that they will manage zone A, B, C, D, and E for the cultural carrying capacity of the Zone and that they will provide liberal harvest opportunities in Zone F. Liberal harvest opportunities translates as keeping bears out of zone F as much as possible. Zone F has the least suitable bear habitat and the densest human population, hence the potential for bad human-bear interactions is the greatest there.
Besides changing the zones, it was also proposed that the new Zone C be opened to hunting bears with hounds. This change proved to the most controversial provision in the new plan. Many hunters in the new zone C were opposed to allowing hunting with dogs in the Zone for a variety of reasons which included lack of public land in some areas of the Zone, trespassing issues, bear hunter overcrowding, disruptions to bait hunters who have hunted this area in previous season, and conflicts with bow deer hunters. The hound hunters contend that hound hunting is a more efficient method of hunting so nuisance bears would be more likely to be harvested. They also noted that training bear dogs is currently permitted in this area. At the end of the debate, the Natural Resources Board decided to remove the hound hunting in Zone C from the new plan.
The issue of the use of chocolate in bear bait was also discussed by the Natural Resources Board. Chocolate contains theobromine which is toxic to some animals. Dogs are particularly vulnerable. Documented deaths of bears from theobromine poisoning have occurred in New Hampshire, and Michigan. As a result, Michigan has banned chocolate in bear baits, and New Hampshire has a near total ban on chocolate in bear baits. In Wisconsin, 3 cubs found dead in 2011 were necropsied and presumed to have died from theobromine poisoning. In 2013, the DNR issued an advisory about use of chocolate in baits. Since then there have been no documented bear deaths from theobromine in the state. This is an issue that will get more scientific study under the new plan.
Now that the plan has been adopted, the long process begins to write the rules needed to implement the plan. The rules writing process usually takes a fair amount of time. The earliest the new rules will go into effect will be for the 2020 hunting season.

Spring Turkey Hunt

The stress was really starting to get to me. I had been talking turkey to a tom for almost an hour, and the gobbler was planted about 75 yards away in an alfalfa field. I was in the woods lying down next to a tree. Every once in a while, I would cluck and purr with my wing bone call. The tom would gobble and strut back and forth but would not come any closer. I had managed to call the tom across the field from his roost as the day dawned but he would not come within shooting range. The field the tom was in was private land and I was back in the woods on public land. I needed the tom to walk to the tree line and step into the woods before I could smoke him.

I let out a series of clucks and purrs and the gobbler jumped up in the air, flapped his wings and began to trot towards me. I thought, “Dang, that was a good call.” As I was silently cocking the hammer on the right barrel of my muzzle loading shot gun, I noticed movement to my left. Another tom had responded to my calling and slinking through the woods towards me. When the slinking tom stepped in front of my line of fire, I squeezed the trigger and the bird disappeared behind a cloud of white smoke. I scrambled to my feet and charged through the cloud of smoke, and saw that my Pedersoli double barrel 12 gauge shot had dropped the tom in its tracks.

The key to successful muzzle loader hunting is doing the prep work. A muzzle loading shot gun requires a lot more hands on time to make it an effective turkey gun than a modern shot gun, but the effort is more than worth it when the bird goes down.

The first task in successful muzzle loader turkey hunting is developing a well balanced load for the gun. The load must be an effective blend that patterns well and has power. Developing a load for a muzzle loading shotgun is more work than developing a load for a muzzle loading rifle since there are more components to work with. Shotguns can burn 1, 2 or 3fg black powder or their modern equivalents, the amount of shot and even the size of the shot can influence how a gun patterns. The types of wads and the number of wads are also important factors in the load chain. All the testing needed to develop a well balanced load can get expensive-especially the flowers that one must buy to ensure regular trips to the gun range.

The process of developing a load can be simplified somewhat by picking one element at the base and changing the other variables, one at a time, until the shooter comes up with a well balanced load. I decided I wanted to use a 1 ½ oz load of #4 shot. I then shot test targets with 70, 80 and 90 grains of both 1fg and 2fg Goex black powder. The 80 grain load patterned the best. Next I tried different combinations of wads until I fine tuned the load to my satisfaction. The final product was 80 grains of 2fg Goex, a home cut over powder wad, 3 home cut cork wads, 1 ½ half of #4 shot and a home cut over shot wad.

I tested the load for knock down power by placing a 14 ounce tin can inside a 28 ounce can, and then setting them 30 yards down range. After the smoke cleared, I saw that the shot had shredded all four layers of tin. This was not the most scientific of tests, but I figured the results would equate to taking down a turkey.

Actually, I should backup a bit because there is one task to complete even before working up a load, and that is deciding what kind of muzzle loading shotgun to purchase. There are three basic types of muzzle loading shotguns, the double barrel, the single barrel and the flint lock shot gun (sometimes know as the trade gun). Each type of gun has its advantages and disadvantages.

I prefer the double barrel shot gun for several reasons. The quick follow up shot is a major advantage of double barrels. They also have very reliable ignition. The nipple sits on top of the barrel immediately over the top of the powder charge. The flash from the cap only has to travel the length of the nipple to ignite the powder charge. Of all of the muzzle loaders I have hunted with over the years, the Pedersoli double barrel has proven to be the most reliable. One can still find original double barrel shot guns from the mid to late 1800s that are shooters or buy one of new manufacture. The newer guns may even have screw in chokes. The down side to a double barrel is that the shooter must pay special attention to safety when loading or reloading. If a barrel is still charged, the cap must be removed before reloading, and special care taken so some or all components are not placed in the wrong barrel. When loading, I hold the gun sideways so the barrel I am loading is facing me. Then if necessary, I reverse the gun and charge the other barrel.

The single barrel muzzle loading shot gun has the advantage of simplicity. With only one barrel the shooter does not have to worry about charging the wrong barrel or pulling the wrong trigger. Most new single barrel shotguns are in-lines so it less of a transition for hunters who are used to that type of rifle. But some older models such as the TC New Englander are side locks. Some of the in-lines are designed specifically for turkey hunting. The main disadvantage of single barrel guns is the lack of a quick follow up shot.

The flint lock shot gun or trade gun can be reliable if the hunter is willing to put in a lot of time learning how to load and prime the gun so it goes boom every time the trigger is pulled. Trade guns are also designed to shoot round balls accurately so they do not have chokes which greatly limits their effective range with shot. With only a single barrel they lack a quick follow up shot, and they are hard to find if you want to buy one. So why would anyone want to hunt with one? Simple; Challenge. Taking a turkey with a trade gun which was designed and used beginning around 1700 puts the hunter in elite company much like an NFL player who is named to the pro bowl.

Once the hunter has the gun ready to go turkey hunting, a muzzle loader is much like hunting with a modern gun. To be successful, the hunter must put time in scouting, learn to use a call, and be flexible with plans once in the woods. Effective range will be a bit less than with modern turkey guns and specialized turkey shells, but the satisfaction of harvesting a turkey with an old time gun is much higher. I have always thought that wild turkey tastes much better when smoked with black powder.