Handicapped Hunters Are Key Players in Goose Island Conservation Plan In Wisconsin

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Jon Grotjahn harvested two deer during the 2007 Goose Island deer hunt using a rifle adapted to allow him to blow into a tube to discharge the weapon. His mentor during the hunt was family friend Charlie Luna. - WDNR PhotoLA CROSSE – A popular and effective two-day gun deer hunt for people with disabilities returns for a third year this December to Goose Island on the Mississippi River.

Wildlife officials said the 2006 and 2007 managed deer hunts earned high marks from the participants and the public as well as from local, state and federal officials who designed and monitored the hunts.

“I get excited about the Goose Island hunt,” said Ron Lichtie, wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. “It’s like a larger version of deer camp. Besides accomplishing our ecological goals, we are making new friends and sharing the special bond that develops during a hunt.”
This year’s hunt takes place Dec. 13-14. The deadline for applications is Oct. 31. About 25 participants will be randomly selected for the hunt with preference going to applicants not drawn last year. Those selected will be contacted in early November.

The managed hunt is administered by a locally based, non-profit organization, the North American Squirrel Association. The association, which provides opportunities for the physically challenged to enjoy outdoor recreational opportunities, will be collecting applications from anyone who carries a Class A, Long-term B or Class C disabled permit. Applications can be found at North American Squirrel Association under the event updates tab.

Goose Island is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Part of the island is leased to La Crosse County and is managed as a county park and campground. The remainder is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge.

Excessive deer numbers on the island have resulted in undersized, malnourished deer and damage to wildlife habitat caused by heavy browsing. At public meetings, a clear majority of people said they would prefer to see healthy deer over high numbers of deer.

The Goose Island deer management plan is the result of a collaborative effort by representatives from the county, the Town of Shelby, the two federal agencies and the DNR.

On the first day of the 2006 hunt, 28 physically challenged hunters harvested 18 deer. On day two, 21 hunters harvested 19 deer. Of the 37 deer taken, 29 were does or fawns. Four of the 8 bucks harvested had already shed their antlers, a sign of stress on the herd that can be attributed to overpopulation. Half the bucks were 30 or more pounds under average weights and most does were underweight, some by more than 40 pounds.

During the two-day hunt in December, 2007, a total of 24 physically handicapped hunters harvested 26 deer, 23 of them antlerless.

Lichtie said these deer appeared healthier than those from the 2006 hunt but were still generally underweight. The inter-agency task force has determined that another hunt this year will be beneficial to herd management.

“Thanks to the Badger State Sportsman’s Club and other volunteers, we have enough information to develop a long-term management plan,” Lichtie said. “I’ve enjoyed seeing these volunteers come together and give their time to accomplish this managed hunt. The participants and volunteers make it work.”

The flat terrain and the roads and trails associated with the campground create an ideal opportunity for physically challenged hunters, Lichtie said. The special hunt is well managed and no concerns about safety arose from the earlier hunts, he said.

The early morning hunts come to an end each day at 11 a.m. and by noon the island is re-opened to the public.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Ron Lichtie, (608) 785-9992 or Randy Hansen, North American Squirrel Association (608) 781-2026