­­­THERE is no disputing the fact that electronic registration of deer and tur­keys is far more convenient than in-person registration, but it’s not without consequences.

Whether the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wants to admit it or not, there are probably hundreds and even thousands of animals being harvested and never registered.

You can add to that all the deer being registered under false pretenses using the wrong zone or the wrong land type, such as the general misuse of free farmland zone antlerless authorizations on deer taken across the North Woods.

The bottom line is that it’s just too easy to cheat, especially when the state no longer requires that hunters keep deer or parts of deer visible when leaving the field and traveling roadways toward home.

What the DNR wrote about electronic harvest registration in the latest 2021 deer season outlook is almost laughable.

“Hunter compliance with electronic registration is assessed annually using several methods including warden field checks and hunter surveys,” they wrote. “Results showed that approximately 90%-94% of deer hunters registered their deer as required during the past few seasons.”

The funny part is that warden checks are virtually nonexistent these days, especially during the archery and crossbow seasons.

These law enforcement officers have never been stretched so thin, with low numbers forcing them to cover expanded territories that sometimes include three counties. Limitations on budgets and patrol miles also hampered their efforts in recent years.

And hunter surveys? You mean the department asked the same people who might have cheated whether they cheated? They make it sound like that’s a proven method for accurate oversight on a program.

They also wrote a little summary they could never prove: “This level of compliance is believed to be similar to compliance rates when registering was held in person.”

One reason the current system makes it so easy to cheat is that we no longer have to tag a deer or turkey in the field before transporting it. Instead of tags, today we have harvest authorizations.

And because there is no one-use tag to designate place and time of kill, and actually affix to a carcass, hunters are allowed to transport deer and even process deer into their freezers before they are registered.

All deer harvested during any deer season must be registered by 5 p.m. the day after harvest. The problem is, many of those deer are in a freezer before a hunter has to register the kill. And many, believe it or not, either forget to register their deer or choose not to. 

At that point in time, the authorization hasn’t been breached or nullified through the registration process. So the hunter still has a viable, although now illegal, harvest authorization to use on another deer.

The DNR claims that this happens infrequently, but they really don’t know the truth. Or maybe they just don’t want to admit the system is flawed and ripe for abuse?

Accurate deer and turkey registration totals are extremely important to the department’s overall management system, for harvest numbers are key to establishing estimated population totals and trends.

They used to call it the sex-age-kill management formula for determining populations, and the harvest totals are key to determining the number of animals on the ground.

That means if the registration totals are off, the DNR’s population estimates will be equally skewed. Then they establish permit numbers and antlerless quotas on the same false information, which can’t be good for deer herd management in the long run.

The system is one reason why buck-only hunters don’t like to register deer, because the department uses a multiplication factor on every harvested deer to determine the size of the herd. As an example, every harvested deer might mean another three to six deer exist on the landscape for estimating purposes.

Many buck-only hunters don’t like the DNR’s practice of giving out thousands of antlerless tags, for it lowers herd production and also puts more venison-seeking hunters in the woods.

The bottom line is that the scribbler hopes the DNR’s guesstimate on registration compliance is accurate, but there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical.

There is no way I’m going to believe that warden field checks and hunter surveys prove that the DNR?has an accurate finger on the pulse of the issue, because those methods aren’t viable or believeable.

I realize that convenience will win here and in the end, we’ll never go back to in-person deer or turkey registration.

One consequence of that is the lost camaraderie at the registration stations, where hunters could meet to see big bucks, exchange some tall tales from the field and support some local businesses with their purchases.

It’s been a bittersweet adjustment to the electronic registration system, which has accounted for more than 1.5 million deer registrations since 2015.

But you’ve got to wonder just how many deer were actually killed by hunters in those six seasons?