Wisconsin Officials Raising COVID Concerns Over.. Hunting?

When I think about all the activities that someone could take part in without worrying too much about the coronavirus, hunting would be near the top of my list, right up there with solo skydiving and snorkeling. Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are warning would-be hunters this year, though, that taking to the woods could result in hunters bringing home more than some tasty venison.

While deer season is still set to kick off on November 21st in Wisconsin, folks like Eric Lobner, who’s the wildlife management program director for Wisconsin’s DNR, say they’re not really concerned about hunters catching the coronavirus while they’re up in a tree stand. Instead, it’s the pre-and-post-hunt activities that have them worried.

Hunting in small, socially distanced groups can be safe, according to Barron County Public Health Specialist Sarah Turner. However, she suggests hunters avoid camps this year.

Turner said, “It’s great because it’s something you can do alone and very well social distanced. The problem is when you go to hunting camp it’s a lot of people who don’t live in the same house as you. So, we’re not as concerned with the actual act of hunting as we are with all the gathering that goes along with that.”

Lobner said, “We’re really trying to encourage people to, you know, stick with people within your household. I know that may be a challenge sometimes when you think of the tradition of deer camps. And I get it. I enjoy those just as much as the next, but maybe there are some opportunities there where you can do stuff outside rather than getting into a building.”

That does make some sense, though I think that the risk of infection could be mitigated even at hunting camps if hunters take some simple precautions like washing their hands and not bunking down with the relative who lives a couple of hours away. We do have to continue to live our lives, but we can also be smart about how we do it.

Wisconsin is definitely seeing another surge in cases, by the way, with hospitals in the northwestern part of the state reporting that they’re at 100% capacity. The state saw a record 66 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, and both case counts and hospitalizations are rising steadily.

Still, it sounds like DNR officials aren’t expecting a big drop-off in the number of hunters this fall. In fact, as of last week the agency reports that deer licenses are up about 10% compared to the same time period in 2019. As Tom Knighton mentioned yesterday, hunting licenses have also increased in neighboring Michigan as well, and many other states are expecting the strongest hunting season in years as millions of Americans look to put some quality protein in the freezer for the upcoming winter months.

I doubt that the first weekend of deer season is going to turn into a superspreader event, but I do hope that those taking to the field will use real common sense when it comes to the older, more susceptible members of their party. We should be aiming for the hunt of a lifetime in the weeks ahead, but that doesn’t mean we want this to be the last hunt of Grandma or Grandpa’s life.

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