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Judge lets tribes hunt deer at night in northern Wisconsin
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Judge lets tribes hunt deer at night in northern Wisconsin

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MADISON (AP) — A federal judge has ruled Chippewa tribes can hunt deer at night beginning next month across most of northern Wisconsin, a decision that restores a tribal right lost after the bands gave the land to the government in the 19th century.

The state Department of Natural Resources has long banned hunting deer at night out of safety concerns. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb issued an order Tuesday saying the tribes’ new night hunting regulations are stricter than the state’s rules for shooting wolves and deer at night. The regulations mandate that hunters take a 12-hour training course; hit a 6¼-inch bull’s eye from 100 yards eight out of 10 times in the dark; ensure hunting sites have earthen backstops; and submit shooting plans with safe zones of fire.

The ruling cements those rules in place and clears the way for the tribal night season to run from Nov. 1 to Jan. 4 in the so-called ceded territory, a 22,400 square-mile swath of northern Wisconsin the tribes handed to the U.S. government in 1837 and 1842.

“We’re pretty excited about this opportunity,” said Sue Erickson, a spokeswoman for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which oversees the Chippewa’s off-reservation treaty rights. “This is giving (the tribes) an expanded opportunity and it is part of their rights.”

DNR officials said they were disappointed with the ruling but would work to inform the public the night hunt is on.

The Chippewa currently hunt deer at night on their reservations, but they’ve pushed for years for a night hunt in the ceded territory. The tribes tried to convince Crabb in 1989 to exempt tribal hunters from the state prohibition during a court fight over treaty rights in the territory. The judge ruled in 1991 that night deer hunting is dangerous and the state ban applies to tribal hunters.

Crabb analyzed the tribes’ regulations in her order Tuesday and concluded they’re much tighter than the rules the state had in place for the night wolf hunt and chronic wasting disease night shoots.

She took issue with the state’s argument that allowing a tribal night hunt gives the Chippewa a right that the general public doesn’t have. The tribes retained their hunting rights when they handed the territory over to the government in the 1800s and she blocked them in 1991 only because she felt the practice was dangerous, she wrote.

Erickson said she wasn’t sure how many tribal members would ultimately qualify to hunt deer at night.

A spokesman for the Conservation Congress, a group of sportsmen who advise the DNR, didn’t immediately return a voicemail seeking comment on Crabb’s decision.

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