By Mark Crawford
Hunting is a long-treasured tradition in Wisconsin and a time-honored opportunity for families to enjoy the outdoors together. It is also an important activity for controlling animal populations, especially deer. Even though fewer kids today are involved in hunting, their role has never been more important—more hunters are needed in the future to help maintain healthy herds and a balanced ecosystem.
Keith Warnke, hunting and shooting sports coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, helps create programs that increase the numbers of hunters across the state. “We are very heavily focused on outreach to adults and families because it takes an entire support structure to become a hunter,” he says.
The State of Wisconsin has created several programs that make it easier to engage young hunters. For example, the DNR sponsors youth hunting events (ages 10-15) throughout the year for turkey, deer, and waterfowl. These are unique opportunities for kids to hunt, without competing against adult hunters. The program is open to resident and nonresident hunters. There are two ways kids can participate in these events:
In both cases, youth hunters must have all required licenses and stamps, abide by daily bag limits, and be accompanied by a parent, mentor, or other adult guardian.
An easy way to introduce young people to hunting in Wisconsin, without having to take a hunter education course, is the state’s Hunting Mentorship Program. Any person at least 10 years of age, from any state of residence, can participate. The mentored hunter must have a hunting license and be accompanied at all times by his or her mentor (an adult at least 18 years of age with a valid hunting license, who is the hunter’s parent, guardian, or designated mentor). This is a great way to allow people interested in hunting to safely experience everything it has to offer, before investing in a hunter education program, outdoor equipment, etc. The program also enables experienced hunters to pass on their hunting skills and depth of knowledge about the outdoors.
Learn to Hunt
A perfect complement to the Hunting Mentorship Program is the Learn to Hunt in Wisconsin, which provides expert how-to-hunt guidance for new hunters that is specific to the game they are hunting.
Choice hunting locations are vast stretches of state and national forest in northern Wisconsin, Black River State Forest and George W. Mead Wildlife Area in central Wisconsin, and the Kickapoo Reserve, Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, and Kettle Moraine State Forest in southern Wisconsin.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are, or how much experience you have,” says Warnke. “If you want to try hunting and know someone who hunts, just ask. Being part of our mentorship and learn-to-hunt programs will hopefully foster a lifelong interest in hunting and wildlife conservation.”
The DNR provides a full list of hunting season dates and application deadlines here. They also offer both a podcast and web video series called Wild Wisconsin with topics ranging from hunting season forecasts to conservation and what hunting means to Wisconsin. They are a great way to learn about the Wisconsin hunting tradition and prepare for a successful hunt.