Thanks to Doug in WI for this excellent guest blog about Earn-A-Buck (EAB) and its origins in his home state.
EAB was first used in Wisconsin in 1996. According to Jason Fleener, asst. deer & elk biologist for the DNR, the idea was developed after previous attempts to bring the deer herd down to acceptable levels proved insufficient.
EAB has been highly controversial since its inception, although it is not really a new way of managing deer. In its early years EAB was utilized through 4-day antlerless-only hunts (also called T-Zone Hunts) in October. Hunters had to shoot a doe (or a buck with antlers less than 1") in order to pre-qualify to shoot a buck in the regular November Gun Deer Season. There were also antlerless hunts in December, after the gun season had ended.
Due to the backlash by hunters, EAB was discontinued and not brought back until 2002, when the DNR made public their findings about Chronic Wasting Disease. This created something close to hysteria about CWD and its effect not only on deer populations, but its potential to be passed to humans who ate venison. Many people quit hunting due to fear they could contract CWD. When CWD was "discovered" in 2002 the EAB program was brought back to eradicate herds in units where CWD was most widespread.
In 2004 units that did not have CWD were made EAB for the first time. Hunters had to shoot an antlerless deer in October to qualify to shoot a buck during November gun season. Due to more hunter outcry the DNR stopped using EAB in non-CWD units in 2005 and in CWD units in 2006. Hunters failed to bring the deer populations down to the desired goals in these years, however, and EAB was brought back yet again.
To attempt to make EAB more appealing, the DNR changed the program to allow hunters to pre-qualify by shooting an antlerless deer first and then receiving a buck tag to allow them to shoot a buck in the same season. If a hunter is not able to shoot a buck after receiving the sticker they are pre-qualified to shoot a buck the next season. Confusing isn't it?
From what Jason Fleener told me, this combination of October and December antlerless hunts and EAB will continue until the population goals are achieved in any given unit and may change due to CWD being found in certain units or eliminated in others.
BTW, I do not have a problem with the current system. I believe in shooting more does than bucks to maintain a healthy balance. This hybrid of understanding what it takes to maintain a healthy deer herd and the desire to shoot large-antlered, mature bucks is gaining in popularity.
I think most hunters who have a problem with the deer management system in WI are frustrated by 2 things. One, the confusing nature of the different seasons from year to year. Two, having to pass up the "buck of a lifetime" due to not having "earned" a buck tag. The DNR would tell those hunters to ensure they are pre-qualified to shoot a buck by shooting a doe the previous year. That is the carrot in front of the hunter that wants to be able to shoot that monster buck. The DNR is hoping it will work.
Jason Fleener stated that other states are currently looking at the EAB management system. From talking to hunters from outside Wisconsin and reading what many of you have posted on Mike's blog before, EAB is looked upon as a progressive and realistic way to successfully manage a whitetail herd. What do you all think?