A recommendation to prohibit shooting bucks this year in Buffalo County has many hunters and residents up in arms.
That likely would be true in any county in a state with such a prized deer-hunting tradition, but the reaction is especially strong in Buffalo County because it is widely considered one of North America’s top destinations for hunting trophy bucks.
The recommendation, approved 4-1 last week by the Buffalo County Deer Advisory Council, is intended to reduce the county’s white-tailed deer population.
“This is a nightmare with what they created,” said Dan Rolbiecki, a taxidermist at Ridge Top Taxidermy in Fountain City. “This is going to snowball in the next few weeks like you wouldn’t believe.”
The issue already has gotten the attention of members of the state’s Natural Resources Board, which is expected to establish deer-hunting rules across the state at its May 22 meeting in Madison.
NRB chairman Frederick Prehn said he took calls all Easter weekend from people upset about the proposal, which he characterized as “radical,” and knows other board members are getting input as well.
“I know the board is very concerned with the recommendation and the process used to come up with the recommendation,” Prehn said. “There will definitely be some lively discussion.”
In the end, constructive conversation is what the Buffalo County Deer Advisory Council was aiming for by approving what members knew would be a controversial recommendation, said Mark Noll, the panel’s chairman.
“None of us on the committee want this to go through, and none of us think it will go through,” Noll said.
Instead, the council hoped to use the county’s status as a trophy buck haven to call attention to the lack of tools available to counties to control the size of their deer herds.
“By golly, they’re talking about it now,” Noll said. “We’re starting a revolution. We have lit a fire.”
Some folks in Buffalo County, however, argue the stakes are too high to take a chance on such a dramatic proposal and would prefer to see people take the matter up with legislators.
Rolbiecki, for instance, estimated he would lose 70 percent of his income if the antlerless-only rule is approved.
He also maintained the process leading to the vote was too secretive.
“The public didn’t even know they would vote on this,” Rolbiecki said. “If they did, I guarantee we would have had a gymnasium full of people opposed to it.”
Jarrad Fluekiger, owner of Rutting Ridge Outfitters in Alma, said the proposal, if approved, would have a huge negative economic impact on Buffalo County, harming outfitters, motels, restaurants, gas stations, meat processors, taxidermists and other businesses that serve hunters or tourists.
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“It would crush my business,” he said. “I’d have to shut it down.”
Outfitters typically pay $70,000 to $100,000 a year to rent land used for hunting, and many other county landowners use income earned by renting out hunting land to offset their property taxes, Fluekiger said.
Spurred by Buffalo County’s reputation as the No. 1 county in the nation for producing large bucks as determined by the wildlife conservation and big game recordkeeping group Boone and Crockett, hunters converge on the county every fall from across the country and even abroad.
“People come from all over to hunt Buffalo County, but they wouldn’t come if they couldn’t hunt bucks,” Fluekiger said. “You can shoot a doe just about anywhere.”
The problem, according to Noll, is that the county’s advisory council has used every tool in its toolbox in an attempt to reduce the deer herd, but to no avail. The need to decrease the number of deer in the county has grown more urgent with the spread of chronic wasting disease.
“We want to do what’s right for the resource,” he said.
The council initially discussed an antlerless-only Holiday Hunt that would run through Jan. 31, 2020, but a large contingent of snowmobilers showed up at last week’s meeting and objected to that idea.
Noll said the panel’s final vote, taken despite awareness that members of CDACs in other counties have faced death threats for even making preliminary buck-hunting ban recommendations, came with sadness and reluctance.
“It was probably the most dramatic meeting I’ve ever been a part of,” said Noll, adding that he was a Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegate for 37 years.
Noll said the former Earn-A-Buck program, which required hunters to kill an antlerless deer before shooting a buck, was the only tool that was successful in reducing the size of the deer herd. But the state Legislature banned that controversial regulation in 2011.
Buffalo County is the first county in the state to approve a final recommendation for an antlerless-only hunting season.
The measure now advances to the state Department of Natural Resources, which can endorse the recommendation or offer its own alternative, but historically has seldom overridden county council recommendations.
The Natural Resources Board will take comments for the next four weeks and then listen to public testimony at its May 22 meeting before making a final decision.
“The buck stops with us,” Prehn said. “We’re the ones who set the season.”
“People come from all over to hunt Buffalo County, but they wouldn’t come if they couldn’t hunt bucks. You can shoot a doe just about anywhere.” Jarrad Fluekiger, owner of Rutting Ridge Outfitters in Alma