Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer hunt begins Saturday.
Thousands will head into the woods, yet the state is fighting a national trend: fewer people buying hunting licenses. To generate interest, the DNR plans to employ technology. It knows some hunters remain “connected” -- even in a tree stand.
Take Michelle Glenn of Greendale, who takes her smartphone into the woods when she hunts with her family in Marquette County.
“Because we do want to be in contact, so we can call and tell somebody something’s coming. But also I’ll putz around on Facebook while I’m up in the tree -- as long as I don’t hear anything,” Glenn says.
The DNR hopes people like Glenn use their smart phones and iPads to share tales of the hunt. For the first time, the agency is encouraging hunters to pin items on Pinterest. The website allows people to create and share virtual bulletin boards. Trish Nitschke is the DNR's social media coordinator. She says if hunters wish, they can also post items on the agency’s Facebook page.
“We’re looking for pictures of your hunting tradition. It can be getting ready for the hunt, it can be out in the field, it can be gathering with friends, it can be making a traditional recipe,” Nitschke says.
Nitschke says the DNR will chime in, with its own updates. And staff will tweet – something the agency started last year.
“We did a tweet-along with wardens, and we picked a warden each day of the season. (They) kind of gave a play-by-play of what was going on out in the field, and it was very, very popular,” Nitschke says.
There’s yet another way the DNR is using technology to connect with hunters. It’s holding three online chats this week. Tuesday’s will feature tips on preparing for the season.
“Wednesday at noon we are doing a chat about public land, how to find public land. Sometimes there are some relatively small parcels that you may not know about, so the chat will be wonderful for those who are kind of maybe looking for a new place to go, or you’re heading out for the first time and you’re not sure,” Nitschke says.
On Thursday, experts will cover new rules and regulations. One person who will reply to hunter questions is Kevin Wallenfang. He’s the DNR’s big game ecologist.
“Historically, I guess the department has always been known as the regulators of the hunt, ‘the bad guys,’ I guess, you might want to say, and we don’t want to be that, we want to be part of peoples’ hunt. We want to help them get excited about it, we want to provide them with all the information that we possibly can, to make their hunt the very best that it can be,” Wallenfang says.
Wallenfang says the DNR must satisfy customers, if it hopes to retain them and attract new hunters. He says fewer young people are getting involved, because of demands on their time.
Twenty-four-year-old hunter Andrew Limmer applauds the DNR for ramping up its use of social media.
“I think it’s a great new tool to reach out to a number of new people who are interested in hunting, or even simply learning about hunting,” Limmer says.
Limmer is an advocate for the outdoors. He has served as Milwaukee County chair of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. It advises DNR leaders on managing Wisconsin’s natural resources.
Limmer says the state has a lot at stake, when it comes to keeping the hunt popular. The sale of hunting and fishing licenses helps fund state parks and trails.
“Hunters on a yearly basis are responsible for over 80 percent of the dollars that are spent on conservation, so hunter retention and hunter recruitment is vital to DNR funding and conservation funding,” Limmer says.
Limmer says he’s hunted during the gun deer season every year since his early teens, when his dad introduced him to the sport. But the 24-year-old will miss it for the first time this year, because of work. He does plan to follow along though, online.