Growing up in an urban area and without a robust hunting tradition among my family members, I didn’t realize until later in life just how strong the hunting culture is throughout most of Wisconsin. My aunt and uncle, who were both school teachers in the arcadian town of Lake Mills (pop. 5,000) tell me that deer hunting season rendered the classrooms half empty as students and their families took to the fields starting in mid-November. I also didn’t realize people could legally hunt black bears until I came across two baying dogs wearing tracking collars while on a cross country ski trip up north.
Despite this strong hunting culture, it’s still no surprise – as communities become more urban and traditions fail to pass on to the young, screen-obsessed generation – that the number of deer hunting licences issued has declined in the past two decades in Wisconsin. Outdoor Life, in an extensive article about hunting recruitment, notes that, “shifting demographics play a big part. Hunters have historically been white men; today, more than 90 percent of hunters are Caucasian, and more than 70 percent are male.”
And so, it’s also no surprise that groups like the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point have created programs like “Becoming an Outdoors-Woman in Wisconsin.” I asked around. Turns out I know more women hunters than I thought. Their reasons for hunting are as varied as they themselves are. For one, it’s the local, sustainable and eco-conscious food, for another it’s about spending time with her grandfather, and for yet another it’s the time and solitude in nature. She shares her thoughts here:
Every fall I take a break from teaching at an environmental semester school to to travel to northern Minnesota to go deer hunting with my Dad. This yearly tradition has always given me the much needed time to rest and reflect while enjoying the beauty of nature for whole days at a time. I find that I only make time to watch the sun rise and set while deer hunting. There is something magical about walking slowly and quietly through the dark trees to sit in a stand and watch grays turn to mute greens and browns and then slowly see the colors of the forest come alive along with the calling of birds and the chattering of squirrels. I also find that I am more observant than usual while hunting-I am striving to pay attention to every crunch of leaves and subtle movement in case it happens to be a deer. Most of the time I watch voles skitter through the underbrush and ravens and eagles wheel overhead. Sometime a Black-Capped Chickadee will land in my majestic White Pine roost. And always, Red Squirrels chatter and chase each other through the trees.
As I reflect on my own experience as a hunter I also wonder what an experience with hunting would do for my students. I have observed over my five years of teaching that students seem more anxious and distracted than I feel I was at that age. I believe that any time spent in nature can relieve anxiety and also help students be present. I particularly feel that the experience of hunting helps one practice the observational skills of sitting quietly and focusing on listening and looking closely at everything that is around you. To me this is a form of mindfulness. It helps me stay present and observe things in nature I never would have noticed otherwise. With the numbers of hunters falling dramatically throughout Wisconsin, I wonder what the loss of this art and skill will mean for our youth?
Special thanks to Eleva Potter who is the Director of Conservation Programming at Conserve School, an environmental semester school in northern Wisconsin, for sharing her thoughts. Incidentally, my daughter just concluded an amazing semester at Conserve School – she thinks hunting is a meaningful way for people to connect with traditions and nature. But, she’s not sure if she’ll become a hunter.
Did You Know:
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources keeps detailed records of all hunting licenses issued and the number of game animals harvested. Information is kept on species collected, where, what time of year, and with what weapon (bow, crossbow, firearm, etc.)
In 2018 about 248,000 deer were collected with firearms, and nearly 88,000 with bow or crossbow. You can find all the details in the “2018 Wisconsin Big Game & Turkey Harvest Summary.”
Wisconsin Life recently featured the story of one man’s “buck of a lifetime.” Take a listen here:
To Do This Month:
- Check out the MacKenzie Center’s Learn to Hunt webpage to find information about their hunting program and how to get involved.
- As winter approaches, you can take your child to an event or class at the Madison Children’s Museum, where the snow or bitter cold can’t stop you from learning!
- Visit the Henry Vilas Zoo, which is open year round, to start the conversation about wildlife and animals with your kids.
- Continue to get involved with restoration at many of the nearby county parks during their volunteer work days, all listed on our website.
- You can visit the Nature Net calendar to find more fun, nature-based events coming up this month!
Given that whitetail deer out-compete other game species in terms of hunting harvest numbers (and in terms of being the quintessential Wisconsin “mascot”) it makes sense for area students to have a well-rounded understanding of deer biology, physiology, and habitat needs. Here are a few resources to get you and your classroom attuned to the world of the whitetail deer:
Whitetails Unlimited, which strives to dedicate resources to “the betterment of the white-tailed deer and its environment,” views deer as a “priceless renewable natural resource.” They have created a handful of educational booklets, including “Deer Talk: A Field Guide to Whitetail Communication,” which could easily be adapted to classroom use.
Project Learning Tree, which “uses trees and forests as windows on the world to increase students’ understanding of the environment and actions they can take to conserve it,” creates many classroom activities, including “Web of Life” where deer can be added as forest mammals in an interactive food web. (This activity is also available for download HERE.)
Horicon Marsh, located about an hour south of Oshkosh, WI, has a series of educational trunks for teachers to borrow, including one focused on whitetail deer. The “World of Whitetails” trunk includes over 20 activities for middle-school-age students to explore the world of whitetail biology, history, ecology, and more. Free for two-week loan periods.
Nature Net member MacKenzie Center offers a few family-friendly programs that help build hunting skills and aim to connect people with food from the land.
January features an afternoon of ice fishing (no licence required on Free Fishing Weekend) with an indoor presentation followed by time on the ice with expert guides.
Or, bring out our inner Katniss Everdeen with an archery class offered this summer. A Women’s Archery Clinic (ages 8+) is offered June 13th, and a Youth Archery Clinic for kids age 8-15 takes place in July 7th. Both events are free and bows are provided.
These events and more are a part of MacKenzie Center’s Get Outdoors! program. Find out more HERE.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offers additional programs for hunting and outdoor skills, including Hunt for Food which was born from “a recent and growing trend in the United States…an uptick in people who are conscientious about their food sources because of commitments to personal health, ethical treatment of animals and environmental awareness.” The program offers information on conservation history, animal biology, and hands-on training with firearms. A colleague of mine recently took this course with her spouse and was all praises.
Betsy Parker is an environmental educator who supports all children, families, and classrooms getting their recommended daily allowance of #VitaminN.
Funding for Nature Net and the Nature Net News blog is provided by American Girl Fund for Children.