It is hard to believe that many decades ago, whitetail deer were relatively uncommon. These days the iconic animal is America’s most prosperous and highly sought-after big game species. In many areas, an abundance of deer is causing serious problems like forest degradation, property damage, and becoming a danger to motorists. Increasingly, municipal authorities are turning to hunters to keep populations low. Lawmakers in Wisconsin recently passed legislation that could draw an even greater number of bowhunters to urban areas and remove many regulations regarding where they are allowed to take game.

Wisconsin Act 71 curtailed the restrictions imposed by many local governments on hunting with a bow or crossbow, although hunters can still be barred from hunting on city-owned land. The new law means that archers can now hunt within city limits during regular deer bow seasons and no longer need to be certified by city police officials.

“Anyone who has a bow hunting license is automatically granted permission to hunt in the city of Marshfield,” explained Marshfield Police Department Chief Gary Jepsen.

Previously, cities and towns could open up programs to allow a limited number of hunters to manage nuisance deer, but now hunters have much greater leeway in where they can hunt. The new law does have its critics, who say that fewer restrictions could lead to a public safety issue. Jepsen is among those who have doubts over the new law.

“When you don’t have the ability to control the expertise level of the hunters, the safety level decreases,” he said.

However, hunter safety was a key issue considered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Last April, DNR Recreation, Enforcement, and Education chief Todd Schaller reported that archery is one of the safest hunting methods. In fact, of the 1,063 hunting incidents reported in Wisconsin over the last 24 years, only 17 involved archery equipment.

“Our impression is that this proposal could increase archery hunting opportunities in this state,” Schaller stated.

State Representative Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), who introduced the law last February, agreed.

“This legislation will help control Wisconsin’s deer population, specifically in urban areas,” Kleefisch said. “Prohibiting hunting in urban areas means the Department of Natural Resources has little to no ability to maintain our deer herd. As a result, areas that do now allow hunting have become places of refuge for deer in Wisconsin, resulting in expensive property damage and increased numbers of automobile accidents.”

Wildlife officials advise that hunters seeking to take advantage of this new law should contact local authorities. Regular hunting regulations still apply, and no hunting is allowed within 100 yards of an occupied building.

Image courtesy National Park Service

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