Deer hunters headed to Wisconsin this weekend who haven’t yet purchased a license might be surprised to learn that for the first time since 1942, the Badger State won’t require them to wear “back tags’’ showing their licenses.
Even for hunting parties whose members span multiple generations, this will be the first opening weekend in memory that they won’t wear these tags when they climb into their stands Saturday morning.
For many hunters, the change amounts to a good idea long overdue. But some DNR wardens (as they are referred to in Wisconsin) and at least some sheriffs departments, believe the tags help enforce the state’s hunting laws, particularly those dealing with trespassing.
That said, the end of back tags is just one licensing change facing Wisconsin deer hunters this season. Consider:
• Wisconsin deer licenses and (importantly) deer carcass tags now can be purchased online, with immediate delivery to the hunter.
This can be done at home or anywhere a hunter can access a computer and a printer. The hunter simply provides the necessary information and pays required fees with a credit card, then prints out — on standard printing paper — the license or licenses he or she purchased, and also the deer carcass tags.
• The thought of carrying a flimsy piece of copy paper into the field to attach to a deer carcass that might have to be dragged a long distance to a road seems like a goofy idea. But the Wisconsin DNR has helped here, saying the carcass tag needs to be attached only when the hunter “leaves” the deer.
So if a hunter downs a deer and leaves it in the field to seek help from a friend or perhaps get an ATV to drag out the animal, he must attach the carcass tag to the deer. But if the hunter stays with the deer and drags it out or transports it from the woods himself, the tag needn’t be attached to the deer until later. Note: The DNR suggests the carcass tag be enclosed in a Ziploc or similar bag to protect it. It can be attached to the deer with tape or by any other means. Also: It’s illegal to print multiple harvest tags to carry into the field in case one is damaged. Finally: Though the carcass tag needn’t be attached immediately to a downed deer, so long as the hunter stays with the carcass, the tag must immediately be validated before field-dressing or moving the carcass. With the paper carcass tag, this is done with a pen, rather than a knife, as in the past.
• Meanwhile, the hunter’s actual license is on copy paper also (hunters who don’t have home printers can have licenses and harvest tags printed at a DNR service center or a license agent for $2). This also presents a new wrinkle for hunters, because the back tags of old — hassle though they might have been, or big-brother-like intrusion — were comparatively durable. Additionally, because back tags doubled as deer licenses, hunters always knew their licenses were with them when they headed afield, so long as the tag was attached to their backs. Now hunters must remember to carry the paper license.
• There are alternatives to this last requirement. Most Wisconsin residents will have their hunting licenses linked to their driver’s licenses. In these cases, a warden can simply scan a hunter’s driver’s license and see which hunting licenses are held. Hunters, meanwhile, who aren’t comfortable carrying their driver’s licenses into the field can instead purchase a Wisconsin “Go Wild” card for $3.50 that will perform the same service. This option also is available to nonresidents, including the nearly 20,000 Minnesotans who hunt whitetails in Wisconsin.
• Wisconsin license purchases also can be made by smartphone, with the license downloaded onto the phone. (Note: Taking a photo of a hard copy of a license isn’t legal; it must be a downloaded PDF file.) This also can serve as a license. But deer hunters must still print out carcass tags for carrying.
A spokesman said Thursday that, while the changes weren’t prompted by the Wisconsin DNR — some legislators have had back tags in their sights for at least 15 years — the new system will allow hunters the convenience of purchasing and acquiring licenses and harvest tags far more easily, and quickly, than in the past.