Town leaders said they weren’t expecting new state rule that lifts ban on rifles in county during deer season
A change in Wisconsin deer hunting regulations that will allow the use of rifles during this fall’s nine-day season throughout the state, including Ozaukee County
where they have been prohibited, has surprised local officials who say they are waiting to see if the new rule sparks concerns.
The new state measure allows local townships to pass more restrictive ordinances that would prohibit the use of rifles in favor of shotguns. Whether local officials
consider such laws depends on what they hear from constituents, town chairmen said this week.
“I understand that people have legitimate concerns because rifle bullets travel a lot farther than shotgun slugs, but if you look at hunting areas (elsewhere in the
state) where you have high concentrations of rifle hunters, there hasn’t been a lot of accidents,” Grafton Town Chairman Lester Bartel Jr. said, adding that he didn’t
hear about the change until last week. “It would have been nice to have been told about this.
“I haven’t heard a lot about this from residents, probably because most people don’t know about the change. I’m sure once they do there will be some concerns.”
Regardless of whether the Town of Grafton restricts rifles, Ozaukee County will continue to prohibit them in its Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve in the Town of
Grafton, Director of Planning and Parks Andrew Struck said.
Rifles are prohibited in the nature preserve, where deer hunting is allowed by permit, according to county policy. The county may codify that prohibition by passing
an ordinance to ensure the restriction is clear, Struck said.
The county will also work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns land abutting Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve, in an effort to have consistent
hunting regulations, he said.
Deer hunting in the nature preserve during the nine-day gun season when the park is closed and the following extended bow season has become a fact of life, but
the idea sparked concerns from residents who live near the preserve when it was proposed.
“Clearly the neighbors would have some serious concerns if we lifted the rifle prohibition,” Struck said.
Traditionally, deer hunters have been prohibited from using rifles in relatively densely populated areas of the state like Ozaukee County because of concerns
about stray bullets.
Slugs fired from shotguns, a popular alternative to rifles for deer hunting, have varying ranges but are generally considered short-range ammunition.
High-velocity rifle bullets used for hunting deer and other game can travel in excess of three miles.
The change in state hunting regulations has its roots in a 2011 vote by the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, an elected citizen group that advises the DNR on
how to manage the state’s natural resources. At that time, 61 of the state’s 72 counties supported it.
The measure was then the subject of hearings and considered for several years at DNR spring rules hearings. In 2011, Ozaukee County voters favored allowing
rifle hunting statewide by a 40-36 vote. During the most recent hearing in April, county voters supported the change by a 32-26 vote.
Statewide, the measure was supported 3,007 to 2,171 during the April hearings.
The change had been slated to take effect next year but was fast-tracked to take effect Nov. 1 of this year. The DNR announced the change Oct. 1.
This year’s nine-day gun season runs from Nov. 23 through Dec. 1.
Public support paved the way for the change, but allowing rifles to be used for deer hunting statewide was based on data that shows rifles are no more dangerous
than shotguns, Tom Isaac, a DNR wildlife biologist, said.
According to a 2003 DNR survey, 76% of hunters used rifles and 24% used shotguns to hunt deer in Wisconsin. Yet, data collected from 1998 to 2008 show 42%
of shooting incidents involved shotguns.
“There has been a belief for years that shotguns are somehow safer because the bullets don’t fly as far,” Isaac said. “But when you look at the data, it shows rifle
hunting is no more dangerous — in fact it may be less dangerous — than hunting with a shotgun.”
Isaac pointed out that while using rifles to hunt deer is new in Ozaukee County, these types of firearms are allowed locally for hunting other game, such as coyote,
fox and squirrel. In addition, farmers can use rifles to kill deer in Ozaukee County throughout the year except during the nine-day gun season if they have
agricultural damage permits.
“The main factor, of course, is hunting safely. We stress this constantly. Hunters must be sure of their targets and what’s beyond them,” Isaac said.
In the Town of Belgium, Chairman Tom Winker said the change came as a surprise to him.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of it,” he said Tuesday. “You’ve got to hope hunters use common sense. They’re using loaded weapons after all.
“If anything, maybe it will help better control the deer population. It’s just not safe on the roads with all the deer, and you look at the poor farmers, especially those
by the lake, who suffer all that crop damage caused by deer, and you have to feel sorry for them.”
Town of Fredonia Chairman Richard Mueller said he wasn’t expecting the change either.
“I don’t necessarily like to see it, but if we have safe hunters, it shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.
Town of Saukville Chairman Barbara Jobs said she has received only one call on the matter from a resident who had questions. The Town Board has not formally
discussed the change, but undoubtedly will if it becomes an issue.
“I’m playing the wait-and-see game right now,” she said.
Jobs noted that in 2006, a slug fired from a shotgun hit a house off Highway O on Thanksgiving day. No one was injured.
She said she was surprised to learn recently that farmers can use rifles to hunt deer on their property if they have permits. She noted she is not aware of any
incident related to such hunting.
“I guess it all boils down to the fact you have to hope hunters know what they’re doing,” she said.