FOR the first time in the history of Wisconsin deer hunting, most hunters will no longer be able to cross county lines with a deer they’ve harvested under a new state regulation.

Claiming it wants to prevent deer carcasses from high-density chronic wasting disease counties in southern Wisconsin from moving northward, the Natural Resources Board approved an emergency rule to stop such movement in any of the 55 CWD-affected counties.

Though well-intended, the far-reaching rule doesn’t take into account which of the counties are “affected” because of infected wild deer, as opposed to game farm animals that are behind fences.

Because of that flaw, the state has adopted a rule that threatens to kill the sport of deer hunting faster than CWD itself. Asking hunters to skin and quarter their deer before they can cross virtually any county border is absolute craziness.

I’m getting the distinct impression that people in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the governing board know nothing about the realities of deer hunting.

Do they not realize the thousands of hunters who cross a county line to hunt in state and national forests during the gun season? Do they not realize how many homes and hunting camps aren’t located in the same county where many hunt?

If they are really trying to keep carcasses from southern Wisconsin from moving north, then pass a law specific to the counties that contain wild deer that are infected with CWD. That would exclude much of central and northern Wisconsin.

Examples of how this rule will frustrate hunters and destroy the sport — or create violators out of normally law-abiding hunters — are very easy to find.

Deer don’t abide by county lines and neither do the hunters who pursue them. Many gun deer hunters have camps in Vilas and Oneida counties but do much of their hunting in the national forest, in Forest County.

Now those hunters are being told that they can’t bring a Forest County deer back to camp unless it is skinned, quartered or deboned to the point where the head and spinal cord is gone — left in the county of origin with the entrails.

For many, that means no more hanging deer in camp. It means no more cooling of the meat on the bone, a process of aging and tenderizing that is essential for quality venison. And it means quite the hassle, in the field, especially after dark following an evening hunt.

Their only legal option for cooling that meat properly would be taking it to a taxidermist or meat processor, which are regulated to ensure the carcasses don’t end up in the wild. But most hunters have a tradition of cutting up their own deer.

If you’ve never been forced to steal warm meat from a carcass, as the moose and elk hunters must often do, you probably don’t know the difference. But when your venison has the texture of shoe leather, tough as a billy goat, you’ll understand the issue here.

It’s no wonder the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association (WBA) testified against this widespread regulation. A lot of archers hunt in the evening, and requiring in-the-field processing of deer after dark is a nightmare.

“We understand the intent (of the law), but feel it as written is not a practical solution,” said Mike Brust, president of the WBA. “We are concerned this proposal may drive hunters away from the sport, or place them in a position where they are encouraged to violate the law. Too many hunters will be faced with this situation.”

The new regulation stands to provide a major boost to the venison processing industry. It will impact 55 of the 72 counties that have been “affected” by CWD?in some way, even if only because an adjacent county had deer from a game farm test positive for the disease.

That’s the case in Forest, Vilas, Florence, Iron, Waupaca, Shawano and most counties in central and northern Wisconsin, where no wild deer have tested positive. In this area, only Oneida County has had a single wild deer test positive.

It’s pretty much common sense that we don’t want any deer carcasses from Oneida County being relocated outside the county, because a wild deer in the public herd was confirmed to have CWD.

But it makes no sense that deer carcasses from adjacent counties can’t be brought back to Oneida, because there have been no confirmed cases of infected wild deer in those surrounding counties.

There are people who believe that CWD has spread to the wild deer herd statewide, and that we just haven’t tested enough deer to confirm their theory. If they are right, the horse is already out of the barn and no amount of carcass movement restrictions can stop the disease. 

It appears that the sport of deer hunting is going to take a major hit because game farms — the real problem in this dilemma — have caused the vast majority of counties to be classified as “affected” by CWD.

Deer hunters have gotten used to blaming the DNR?for management decisions that are based on revenue from tags and licenses. Not this time, for this rule is destined to drive hunters away from the sport.

The average deer hunter is motivated by not only the adventure and camaraderie of the sport, but a chance to harvest an animal that provides a significant amount of lean, high-quality meat.

Most cut up their own deer because they have total control over the process, including aging, and they are more certain that the meat hitting the freezer came only from the deer they harvested. The latest rule threatens to destroy that process in many situations.

Once again, the agency passed a virtually statewide regulation with the stated intent of containing the movement of southern county deer carcasses located in high-density CWD counties.

If they understood deer hunting, especially in the public forest regions of the North Woods, they might have opted for a solution that wasn’t so drastic.