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DNR: Gun Deer License Sales Up Amid Pandemic

Wisconsin Sporting Goods Stores Report Ammunition Shortage

Hunter in woods during hunting season
A hunter walks through the woods on the first day of regular firearms deer hunting season in most of Pennsylvania, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. Keith Srakocic/AP Photo

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is encouraging deer hunters to take extra precautions this year as the coronavirus pandemic continues to build across the state.

“We’re just reminding hunters that it’s not a time to let your guard down,” said Eric Lobner, wildlife management bureau director for the DNR.

Gun deer season opens Saturday, and the agency is expecting to see a spike in the number of hunters this year. Sales for gun deer licenses are up about 10 percent compared to last year, according to the DNR.

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“Nationally, any time there’s a downturn in the economy, there is generally an increase in hunting license sales, so this year is definitely playing true with that,” Lobner said.

Hunters should wear masks and socially distance when they encounter people from outside their household, he said. They should also look for opportunities to hunt locally on the DNR’s Hunt Wild app, he added.

And though hunting is a social sport, Lobner recommends people avoid staying at deer camps this year.

“Think about maybe just driving there for the day and participating in the hunt, and then avoid those evening social events that are ultimately where people get together. Those are where greater risk of spreading COVID can occur,” he said.

Due to the coronavirus, the DNR suspended in-person training requirements through the end of the year for new hunters younger than 18. The agency is also asking hunters to register their deer by phone or online, and to have it tested for chronic wasting disease.

The pandemic has also left hunters facing an ammunition shortage, according to several Wisconsin outdoor outfitters.

“There are some calibers of ammo that are harder to get than others, but 99 percent of ammo is gone,” said Breck Eytcheson, who works in sporting goods at Log Cabin Store & Eatery.

Located in Danbury, Log Cabin typically sees a spike in business from Minnesota’s gun deer season, which opened Nov. 7. It’ll be difficult for Wisconsin hunters to find ammo if they haven’t already bought it, Eytcheson said.

With the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus and its effects on the economy, Eytcheson said the ammunition shortage is likely to last. He and his colleagues are already thinking ahead to next hunting season — that’s his advice to hunters too.

“If you find it, buy it, because it’s going to be tough,” he said.

And it’s not just ammunition that’s difficult to come by this year. Across the board, outdoor equipment is in short supply.

Supply chain challenges brought on by coronavirus are a contributing factor, Eytcheson said. Some American-made gear is easier to keep in stock, and he’s ordering more products from local small businesses amid the pandemic, he said.

But a surge in demand is also playing a role.

“It seems like, with the kids not playing sports this summer and whatnot, that they’re getting pushed toward another avenue, which would be the outdoors, and a lot of them are finding that they appreciate the outdoors more than playing baseball or video games or that kind of stuff,” he said.

The DNR has also noticed a big uptick in the number of people getting outside this year.

“We’ve seen an increase in general outdoor recreation activities, whether it was hiking or camping or boating or biking,” Lobner said.