The Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage voted this afternoon 14-1 in favor of a bill designed to prohibit people from harassing hunters in the woods. The proposal would make it illegal for people to interfere with all forms of hunting, fishing or trapping.
The bill will now move to the Assembly floor.
Some hunters claim they’ve been harassed while pursuing their sport. They’re urged the natural resources committee to pass the bill.
Andy Schmeckel supports the bill.
He dabbles in deer hunting, yet it’s bear hunting – and the six dogs that assist him - he seems to love as much as life itself. The dogs live behind the house Schmeckel built in rural Kenosha County.
He got a taste of fox hunting at age 12 with his uncle. Six years later, Schmeckel’s cousin suggested hunting bear.
“We didn’t know nothing about it. So we read up a little bit on it and we started going up to Hurley, which was an 8 hour drive in those days. And then my brother-in-law said, do you want to go to Canada, I think I was about 24 or 25. After that we were just hooked,” Schmeckel says.
Inside his home, Schmeckel quietly shows off a few of his taxidermied treasures, some mounted on walls.
"That’s a Canadian bear, the rug is Canadian bear. There’s two more downstairs,” he says.
Schmeckel serves on the board of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters’ Association. It’s pushing the state to adopt a harassment law.
Schmeckel says harassment is increasing. He recalls incidents last summer, when a group called Wolf Patrol videoed bear hunters training their dogs in northern Polk County.
“I know one guy, a person who parks in front of his driveway, follows him through the woods, follows him down the road, that’s harassment," he says. "If somebody’s going to park in front of your driveway and take videos of you, what would you do?"
Keri Lewis is part of a wolf advocacy group and believes the patrol’s work is legal.
“I went on assignment with Wolf Patrol on numerous occasions. I’ve witnessed their methods. Basically they are out there documenting hunting practices, legally and legitimately from public roads on public land,” she says.
Lewis is a native of northern Wisconsin, but now lives in Milwaukee. She says, groups want to make sure, for example, that hunters don’t use their dogs to inflict damage on other animals.
Lewis says it sometimes happens when hunters train their dogs by running them through areas where wolves are protecting their young.
“It produces a conflict with wolves that doesn’t have to be there. They come in contact with wolf packs defending their territory and protecting their families. So, these dogs run in, there’s a conflict, the dogs end up dying, it’s very sad,” Lewis says.
Video recording isn’t the only way people are attempting to stop hunters from doing what they do, according to Russell Bass.
“My son had this happen to him. A person was coming through walking his dog and saw my son up in his deer stand. So they just stopped and started making all kind of noise, talking to his dog. Just stood there for an hour doing that, interrupting his hunt,” Bass says.
He welcomes measures to deter hunting opponents from disrupting activities, but he isn’t sure the proposed law would address hunter-to-hunter spats.
For example, during days when the bear and bow deer seasons overlap.
“Sitting in my stand it’s all nice and peaceful and quiet and almost a perfect time for a deer to show up and then you have 5-6 dogs running though and then 10 or 15 minutes later you have three or four hunters running though behind the dogs. You can hear them on their walkie talkies talking to each other on the woods – hey we’ve got a bear treed over here. It’s just upsetting to me,” Bass says.
It is up to Wisconsin legislators to determine whether throwing their weight into the hunting debate will bring peace to public spaces.