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Deer hunting No. 1 in survey
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Ever wonder why the white-tailed deer gets so much press?

Perhaps it is because a recent survey of several hundred Wisconsin hunters shows that the majority (77 percent) of Wisconsin licensed hunters reported deer hunting was their most popular pursuit. Waterfowl was the next most popular at eight percent, followed by upland game birds and wild turkey at six percent.

A mitigating factor is that the question asked respondents to name the single species they primarily hunt, not all species they hunt. Many of those responding to the survey also hunted other species. But white-tails clearly dominated the involvement of most hunters.

Two groups, Responsive Management and the National Shooting Sports Foundation conducted the research in several states, including Wisconsin. According to the authors, the purpose of the study was to gain a better understanding of issues related to hunting access.

Research indicates that difficulty with access to lands for some hunters nationwide has become not just a point of frustration, but a barrier to recruiting and retaining sportsmen and women. Studies show adequate access to land is one of the most fundamental issues affecting the future of hunting today.

The good news regarding access to hunting lands in Wisconsin is that hunters were more positive than negative. Sixty-three percent gave a rating of excellent or good while 35 percent reported access as fair to poor. The moderate answers (good and fair) exceeded the extreme answers (excellent and poor).

The ratings improved when hunters were asked about the amount of time they spent hunting for their primary species on public land. Of those who hunted public land at least half the time, 77 percent recorded excellent or good ratings. The top reasons for rating public land access as fair or poor were "no land on which to hunt" and "land too crowded with other hunters."

The survey asked a series of questions about possible hunting access constraints. For each possible constraint, the survey asked if over the past five years, it had been a major problem, a moderate problem, a minor problem, or not at all a problem.

The highest percentage of hunters saying that a constraint was a major problem listed previously - open private land sold and posted by the new landowner (18 percent) as their primary concern. Other constraints included land ownership changes, housing and other development issues, the cost of gas and land use changes.

According to the survey, hunters in Wisconsin most often hunt their primary species on private land (54 percent) rather than on public land. Those with the greatest propensity to hunt mostly on private land were white-tailed deer and wild turkey hunters. Conversely, upland game bird hunters and waterfowl hunters have the greatest propensity to hunt on public land.

Regarding demographics, the median (half above and half below) number of days that Wisconsin hunters engage in the sport is 30, while the median age of respondents claiming to have engaged in hunting was 40. The survey revealed the hunting population is avid about their sport, reporting that 98 percent of hunters had hunted in all five of the last five years.

Perhaps the most telling of recent trends is the gradual decline in hunting. When asked whether their hunting participation has increased, remained the same, or decreased over the past five years, 50 percent said it has stayed the same. However, the percentage who said it has decreased (31 percent) exceeds the percentage who said it has increased (19 percent).

The survey summary points out that while hunting is an important social and cultural activity in the United States, it is also important to the economy and to conservation. Hunters are conservationists who donate more money to wildlife conservation per capita, than do non-hunters or the general population.

Hunters spend billions on their sport annually and any decline in the number of hunting enthusiasts is cause for concern.

- Lee Fahrney is the Monroe Times outdoors writer. He can be reached at (608) 967-2208 or at