Hunting is a long-established tradition woven into the fabric of Wisconsin’s culture. As hunters new and old make their way into the woods this November, we wanted to know what makes this season so special in Wisconsin.
In this episode, we hear from Carissa Freeh, a wildlife biologist for Pheasants Forever in central Wisconsin. Hunting since 2014, she shares advice for anyone interested in trying it but not sure where to start. Also joining the podcast is lifelong hunter Jim Wipperfurth, a retired DNR wildlife technician, hunter’s safety instructor, and mentor for the DNR’s Learn To Hunt classes. Hunting since his father first took him out in the ’70s, Jim shares his love for the hunt.
Whether it’s your first deer season or your 50th, there’s something exciting about heading out to your treestand on a cool, crisp November morning. Listen in as these guests talk about their favorite time of year – Wisconsin deer season.
Find more information on deer hunting in Wisconsin at dnr.wi.gov/adventure/deer
[00:00:00] Welcome to Wisconsin DNR's Wild Wisconsin "Off the Record" podcast. Information straight from the source.
KATIE: [00:00:13] Welcome back to another episode of Wild Wisconsin, Off the Record. I'm your host, DNR's Digital Communication Section Chief Katie Grant. This year, many of Wisconsin's residents have found themselves connecting with our natural resources more than ever before. Many of our state parks had lines of people waiting to get in this summer.
Overall the park saw 15% more visitors in 2020 than in 2019, and fishing license sales were up 21%.
As the leaves start to crunch and the mercury drops we're seeing another interesting trend. As of 10 days before the start of this year's gun deer season, sales of gun deer licenses are up 9% over 2019. Whether they're new hunters or people who just took a couple of years off, we're certain these hunters will find something unique to enjoy in the experience that is hunting in Wisconsin.
On today's episode, we spoke with a couple of hunters. One who got into the sport within just the last couple of years and one who has been doing it pretty much his entire life. To learn more about what makes deer hunting in Wisconsin so special. Though our two guests come from different backgrounds and have different experience levels one thing is clear. They are passionate about hunting. So sit back and listen in to hear their stories. First up is Carissa Freeh.
CARISSA: [00:01:44] Yeah. Hello. My name is Carissa Freeh. Um, I am currently a Wildlife Biologist, uh, for Pheasants Forever and I work in central Wisconsin. Prior to my job with Pheasants Forever I held, um, a couple of different positions with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in the Wildlife Health section. And then as a Field Biologist up in Merrill, Wisconsin.
KATIE: [00:02:10] How long have you been hunting for?
CARISSA: [00:02:13] I began actually hunting um, I believe in about 2014. Um, my first hunt was actually kind of unique. Um, It was... a mentored raccoon hunt.
KATIE: [00:02:29] Very cool. Tell us a little bit how you, how you ended up going on a, a mentored raccoon hunt.
CARISSA: [00:02:35] Sure. So I, uh, went to college at UW Madison and after a little bit of soul searching, ended up majoring in Wildlife Ecology and just absolutely fell in love with the major and my peers. And I actually didn't have a hunting background growing up. Um, my immediate family did not hunt and some of my uncles and distant relatives who did, um, we're not living in Wisconsin. So I just was really never exposed to it. And in one of my college courses it was just highly recommended that you know, those of us going into the field of wildlife management, um, to at least just take a Hunter Safety course with hunters being such a big stakeholder and important in the conservation world.
Um, they just thought it would be really important for us, you know, in our careers moving forward that we understood kind of that, that hunting heritage that's so rich in Wisconsin. So that was kind of my intention. Um, so I, took Hunter Safety for that reason. And afterwards was still you know, very interested in hunting.
And shortly after finishing my course, I started getting some emails and saw some flyers of Learn to Hunt courses that the DNR was hosting. And it, it just so happened that the first one I saw and a weekend that was available to me was a Learn to Raccoon Hunt course. So that was super fun. It was a weekend course where we just learned about the management of hunting in general, and particularly, um, hunting with hounds, raccoon hunting. And I was successful in the mentored hunt and harvesting my first ever animal, which was a raccoon. And really just fell in love with the comradery and the people just being so willing to teach and share and particularly fell in love with dogs. Because of that I now have my own hound and do a little bit of bird hunting as well. And deer hunting and turkey hunting, but it all really just kind of started with that first mentored hunt.
KATIE: [00:04:40] So tell me about how you went from small raccoons to hunting something big, like deer.
CARISSA: [00:04:47] So, after my first Learn to Hunt class I just really wanted to learn more. And I think what really sparked the next step, um, in particularly hunting deer, was the motivation of food. And so the next, uh, Learn to Hunt course again, that I actually took through the DNR was, a Learn to Hunt for Food class that was targeted around deer hunting. And this was a longer course. I think it ran a couple of months and we would, we would meet and have class, and it was much more in depth of a course. Um, because instead of, you know, some of our standards, like youth hunts, where a lot of the youth that maybe attend, um, have family members that have already exposed them to, you know, what to look for when hunting deer or the equipment you need.
Or even how to properly butcher a deer. This class was really geared towards more of those adults who had the interest and motivation to hunt for sustainable meats. And so the class went into all those details and talked about firearms and firearm handling. And we had days that we got to go in the field together and basically scout for good deer hunting spots. And the teachers of that course you know, taught us what to look for, what signs to look for. We had a course on butchering the deer. Um, so that would, we would ultimately be self-sufficient in doing that once we completed the course. Like many of the Learn to Hunt classes, they culminate in a mentored hunt. And I was fortunate enough to get paired with a mentor who's actually a DMAP cooperator. So, the Deer Management Assistance Program. Um, he's a cooperator in that program, and I was paired up with him and on a September afternoon I harvested my first deer at his property.
KATIE: [00:06:44] Tell me a little bit about what it was like to actually be successful in that, and what did it mean to you to be successful?
CARISSA: [00:06:52] You know, it's really, it's really difficult to pinpoint what it means. And I think that that's something that I value so much about hunting is the fact that it is such a unique experience person to person. It's incredibly hard to describe like there are some tangible things that I can take away of why I enjoy hunting and continue to do it.
And some that are a little bit less tangible and I guess, hard to communicate. Um, but I do recall on that my first deer hunt, it was... it was incredibly overwhelming. At first it was this feeling of, Oh, what did I do? You know, I absolutely love wildlife. I'm fascinated with wildlife. And so there's that, you know, moment of almost shock when you are responsible for taking a life.
And so that lasted, you know, for the first half an hour or so, but that quickly changed and it quickly changed because of the support and comradery back at camp. And so ultimately what it meant to me is... I felt incredibly self-sufficient. Like, I had just been through a course and was able to retrieve that animal and get it back and butcher it and package it and, you know, eat that meat over the following year. There was just, you know, that yeah, the self-sufficiency of doing that on your own and knowing that I was eating sustainable, uh, local foods.
KATIE: [00:08:22] Yeah, for sure. Would you say that for you it's that self-sufficiency that, that food aspect that keeps you coming back? Or is there something else that keeps you coming back to hunting year after year?
CARISSA: [00:08:34] Um, it definitely originated with hunting for food. And that is one main reason that keeps me coming back. But it's kind of evolved since then. Um, you know, since hunting and this first mentored hunt back in like 2014, I have continued to deer hunt on my own now or with family and friends, um, assisting me.
It has evolved in the motivations that keep me coming back year to year. And some of those that I've seen are how quickly I'm able... Like it wasn't that long ago that I was the student and I was the one learning. Um, and in the few short years that I've been hunting, I've already found myself in scenarios to help new hunters around me or even longtime hunters.
Um, and so something that actually comes to mind that is such a motivation for me is just assisting others and seeing other people's joy, um, from harvesting a deer. Um, actually just last week a close friend of ours harvested his first deer ever. And so it was really fun to help him track, um, and be there and help him, you know, learn how to field dress that deer.
And I got to assist in that, even though it wasn't that long ago that I was a student myself. Um, but again I would say one of the biggest motivations keeps looping back to that community aspect. And so our friend came and we helped him butcher the deer and help him package it and told him the different cuts of meat and gave him some ideas on recipes.
And he just told me that this past weekend he made a venison roast for his family and had his entire family over for a meal. Which is something that he has never done before. And so it was just kind of such a joy to live through other people's successes as well. So that community aspect is big um, in terms of the motivation that keeps me coming back year to year. In my first few years of hunting, um, it definitely has evolved.
And I was thinking about this a little bit and it's kind of a strange motivation, but it is definitely very valid in that is honestly the mystery behind it. So I was just thinking about this and you know, like, why am I excited to go out this fall? Why am I excited to get out in the stand? Because... just like the years before the intent is the same, ideally to get some sustainable meat on the table to ideally have some time with friends and family and share stories to just be in the natural world.
Um, because I have such a fascination with wildlife. It's just so wonderful to be out there. But one of the best parts is the mystery. Every time you walk into the woods, you never know if you're going to see zero deer or 10 deer, if you might spot the biggest buck of your life, if you might see a bear or turkeys or other wildlife, maybe the chance that even seeing like an albino deer.
Um, so one of, one of the biggest motivations and I guess which... what keeps it exciting is the fact that there's just so many unknowns and there's so much mystery. And every time you walk into the woods, it's just going to be a new experience.
KATIE: [00:12:01] That's actually a really cool way of thinking of it that I've never heard anyone express before. So thank you for sharing that, you know, you don't know what you're going to find in the woods. You don't know if you'll be successful. Um, and I think that that adds to the challenge. And like you said, the excitement, so... very cool. So for you, I know you've talked a lot about the, the community side of things. What is that like to be a deer hunter in Wisconsin? What does that mean to you?
CARISSA: [00:12:28] To me specifically to be a deer hunter in Wisconsin, it feels like a love of place. I just feel like it is so ingrained in the history and heritage of the people around us now, and people many, many, many years before us. And so, yeah, definitely love of place.
I just feel like a lot of Wisconsinites in general and particularly wisconsin hunters have this passion for where they live. A passion for where they recreate. This passion for the diversity and the landscapes that are offered in our state. Um, and so it definitely feels like to be a deer hunter it's just have a love of home and a love of place.
KATIE: [00:13:10] What are you most looking forward to in this 2020 deer season? I know 2020 has been a bit of a crazy time. Um, it's, it's a little bit, not what anyone has expected, but what are you most looking forward to this year?
CARISSA: [00:13:25] Yeah. It is a difficult year. I guess I'll preface that a little bit with the fact that the last two years, a group of friends and colleagues of mine created our own little version of, um, deer camp.
It's a ladies only deer camp. Since most of us there, um, didn't start hunting until a little bit later in life. Most of us, um, did not grow up, you know, hunting with mom or dad. And so we kind of have this connection and that, you know, we're all ladies, which not as many women are hunters and we all are more or less, relatively new to hunting.
And so the past couple of years, we had this deer camp where we got together and just the comradery hunting together, helping each other, sharing equipment. But just that time, I just was probably the thing I looked forward to the most in the last two years. And so in a normal year I would say that that is again, what I would be looking most forward to was, um, our ladies deer camp.
And unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we're not going to be able to get together like we have the last couple of years, but still, um... what I'm most looking forward to this season is finding a way for us to get together and enjoy hunting together. We're not quite sure how it might look yet, but what I'm most looking forward to this year is seeing friends I have not seen in a long time, um, and just celebrating the best time of the year.
KATIE: [00:14:59] For sure. I know we've kind of here at the DNR, talked about different ways that people can still experience that community, that comradery, even if we can't physically get together. And one of the things we talked about, you know, was utilizing those group chats or, you know, I know we're all zoomed out. We spend too much time on the computer, but just, you know, doing a quick FaceTime after someone gets their deer and being able to celebrate that together.
So I think there it's, like you said, it's going to look different, but there, there are ways to make that happen. For sure. So. Obviously, you know, as you talked about Wisconsin, hunting has been a thing in this state for many years. A lot of our, our residents have, have grown up hunting, but we also have a lot of people who have never hunted before much like you hadn't until recently. What would you say to someone regardless of age, sex, race, you know, wherever in the state that they're from, if they're on the fence about getting into the woods and giving hunting a try, what, what advice would you give them?
CARISSA: [00:16:02] Yeah, if I was giving advice to, um, a non hunter who, who may be interested, um, I guess just kind of reflecting back on, on my early experience, the advice I would give is... there is no expectation. One of my biggest fears when kind of looking down this path and following my interest in learning how to hunt was that I didn't have the equipment.
I had never handled a gun. I didn't know how to field dress a deer. And so I guess the advice I would give is that there is no expectation and there is no right way. I learned very quickly that, you know, old pair of Goodwill jeans and a hand me down orange coat from a mentor, um, is all you need. I've been very fortunate and I would want other people out there to know who may be interested, that there are lots of people willing to help.
Our biggest challenge is connecting the right mentors with mentees. Like how do we find people who are close, you know, located or live near each other that we can make it work. But there's so much help out there. The other thing I would say is there's no expectation with harvesting an animal. In some of my early classes, there was at least one peer of mine that when a deer presented itself for a shot, uh, they were....they weren't comfortable with it. And so my biggest advice is there's no expectations. And just to kind of learn with yourself and go with your gut and that there are people out there willing to help.
KATIE: [00:17:41] Thanks, Carissa. We can't wait to hear how your deer season goes. Next up is a conversation with Jim Wipperfurth. Someone who has been hunting almost as long as he can remember. He's also spent a good chunk of his time mentoring others through their first hunts. Take it away, Jim.
JIM: [00:17:59] All right. So I am actually a retired DNR Wildlife Technician. I retired from there four years ago. Um, I'm a Hunter Safety instructor. Uh, also have taught the DNR's Learn to Hunt Turkey and Learn to Hunt Deer classes. And, uh, avid hunter. I've hunted pretty much all my life. Hunt, fish trap, all the outdoor stuff.
KATIE: [00:18:21] Fantastic. So you said that you've hunted pretty much your whole life. Do you remember how old you were when you first started hunting?
JIM: [00:18:27] Well, when I first legally hunted you had to be 12 years old. So that's how old I am. So, so now we can hunt earlier, you know, with the mentor hunting laws, but we didn't have that back then. So when I was 12 years old, I got my first hunting license and I have had a license, a deer license every year, since then. And I've also had small game licenses every year, since then. So that's been... I'm 61 now so that's been almost 50 years.
KATIE: [00:18:53] There've been a few years in there for sure. Was it deer that you went hunting for first or was there something else?
JIM: [00:19:00] I think... back then we all started with small game. So I was a squirrel hunter. I mean, it was when I was 12 years old I was a squirrel hunter first because that season opened first. That was open early in September or October and the deer season didn't open until November and there wasn't as much archery hunting back then as there is now. And my dad was not a bow hunter so I never bow hunted until I was at least, oh, I think I was 17 or 18. So it was a few years since I was a bowhunter.
KATIE: [00:19:27] So was this something, you know, where you wanted to do it for a specific reason or were you interested in it because it was what your family had done? Or tell me a little bit about how you got started.
JIM: [00:19:39] Yeah. For sure. My dad is, was a big hunter and still hunts. He's 86 and doesn't get around to hunt as much as he used to, but he still likes to get out. So that's what we did. All my cousins, all my uncles. That was the big thing. We hunted. When there, there was no computer games, no video games, you know, there was three stations on TV, so our entertainment was to go out and hunt. And so that's how I learned to hunt.
KATIE: [00:20:03] For sure. Is there a favorite memory that you have from your childhood hunting that you might mind sharing?
JIM: [00:20:10] There are so many, but I will say my, I can remember my first deer, which was shot actually about half a mile from where I live right now. I can give you every detail of that one.
It would be a long enough story, but, but, uh, I shot him... I was driving, my dad and I were driving. It was about lunchtime and we were driving back to our house and my mom was out. She always would drive around looking for deer. This is back in the day and we were in Dane County. And she was parked in the road in front of us and said, a deer just ran across the road right here.
And she was excited to see it. So I was 14 at the time, so I could legally hunt by myself. So my dad and I took off across the field, the woods to get back where we expected that deer to run. And I, of course being 14, beat my dad back there and then the deer came running across the field where we expected it to, which never seems to work nowadays.
But I remember I shot that deer. So like I say, it was a half a mile from where I live right now. So, so the first of everything is always one that I remember. So that was my first deer. Ever. And I think it was a nub buck. It wasn't a big deer, but it didn't matter. Your first deer doesn't matter if it's a nub buck or a 30 pointer, they're all, all special.
KATIE: [00:21:24] For sure. That's very cool that you have such a fond memory. Do you have another favorite memory from all of your years hunting?
JIM: [00:21:32] I will say one of my... I'm a big turkey hunter now. And back in... 50 years ago, we didn't have turkeys here. So this is, you know, these are the much more recent memories, but even those are 20...getting to be 25, 30 years old. But one of the best ones is... my wife actually shot a turkey and she is not really a hunter, but she was seeing all the fun we were having. I was taking my nephews out and she said she would go if it was going to be 70 degrees. Cause she doesn't like the cold weather. So we went and we hunted across the road from where we live now.
And we tracked and tracked and tracked and never heard a turkey. And at that time you could only hunt till noon. So we were... I think it was 10:30, we were about probably a mile and a half from the... our house right now, from where we started. And I had three or four mouth calls and went thru all of them. And I had one that never, ever got a turkey to answer.
I figured I got nothing to lose. It's 10:30. We haven't heard a turkey all morning. I put that in. Turkey gobbled back at me. And he wasn't very far away so we set up on him and he came right in, strutted in front of us. And my wife was sitting just a little bit below me and she couldn't see the turkey. I could see him plain as day, but she could not get a shot.
And finally, I just let the turkey walk away. And then she's, I said, let's circle around and see if we can get a better angle on him. Maybe he'll come back in and we snuck around and came back at a different angle... and called and that turkey came right in and she shot him. That's the only turkey she's ever shot.
And it was a 24 and 1/2 pound tom and it was 11... I think it was 11:25 or 11:30 um, when, when she finally got that bird and like I say, we could only hunt until noon. So that is a very fond memory of mine.
KATIE: [00:23:14] You've been hunting, obviously for quite some time. You said about 50 years. What is it about hunting in general? Um, and and maybe specifically deer hunting, but I think we can talk, talk hunting in general, that keeps you coming back year after year.
JIM: [00:23:30] Boy. That's a really complicated question. It's, it's kind of a drive. If you're a dyed in the wool hunter like I am. And there... I know quite a few people that are. It's just an inner drive that just keeps me coming back. I think all of... there's so many factors. It's the interaction with the animal... the, you try to fool their senses and their senses are, as anybody who hunts knows, pretty sharp. Um, just the challenge of getting close. I love archery deer hunting because you have to get close and I'm a traditional guy so I shoot a longbow. So I really have to get them close. So, um, the comradery with hunting with family and friends, that's getting to be more and more of a, of a, a bigger part of my hunting. I'd rather hunt with somebody. And that doesn't mean necessarily sitting with me. If we're going bow hunting. But to get together and then go hunt and get back together and share stories and share experiences and help each other out.
Um, mentoring new people is getting... is more and more important. I'd just love to do that. I love to see people get their first deer, their first turkey. Um, so many things. Being part of nature. Just being outside watching the seasons change. I've been hunting, bow hunting... now it's November. So we've been out since September.
So I've seen the leaves go from green and the woods being thick. To watching the leaves fall down, turn brown, you know, all of a sudden it's cleared out. You know, animals getting more active now in November. So it's just so many things. So, I don't know if it's, it's not easy to explain it, but I can just say that it's a drive.
KATIE: [00:25:06] Yeah. I can totally understand that. You know, we've talked to a couple of different people about this and in my time doing this podcast, I've talked to several different guests about similar things. And that is one thing that always comes up is that challenge. And that, you know, you don't know what you're going to end up with. So that's very cool.
JIM: [00:25:24] It's kind of like, I think there's kind of like, Las Vegas gambling. Cause you put a little more in and put a little more in and sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn't. But when you do get the big payoff, which for a hunter would be, you know, getting, you know, a big buck or even any buck or... compared to being in Vegas, hitting the big payoff. Even when that finally happens, it just seems to make everything you've done worthwhile.
KATIE: [00:25:51] That is a perfect analogy for it. What is it like to be a deer hunter in Wisconsin?
JIM: [00:25:58] What is it like? That is a very difficult question. So for me, I don't know what people do in November if they're not deer hunting. To be a deer hunter in Wisconsin is, is a privilege for one. We have such a great deer population, a great tradition in Wisconsin that I guess I have a hard time coming up with what it's like to be a deer hunter because that's just who I am. And, you know, it's not, it's not a hobby if... it's just something that I am. It's part of me. So it's... for me, it's just exciting.
KATIE: [00:26:30] I know, you mentioned that mentoring is, is something you've done a lot of and something that you're pretty passionate about. What would you say to someone, whether they, you know, come from a background where they've grown up with family hunting, or maybe they've never known anyone who's hunted before in their lives, what would you say to them if they may be on the fence and thinking about getting in the woods this season?
JIM: [00:26:55] Yeah. Anyone who's on the fence. If you can find a way to hunt. And the way... really the way the hunt is to find a mentor. Find someone that will take you out. And that can be difficult. You might have to search around and maybe you don't know anybody that hunts, but the thing to do is find out who the Hunter Safety instructors are in your area and give them a call.
And they may... may not be able to do it themselves, but they may have some suggestions for you. That is one of the hard parts of the COVID because we have not been able to do our Learn to Hunt classes. And we see it every year. People come in that want to learn to deer hunt. We see their enthusiasm and, you know, they look at deer hunting a little bit differently.
A lot of that is more the food aspect, but once they get involved and see the excitement part of it, and just the pure fun of it... they're hooked. So, so the hardest part of becoming a new deer hunter is that first step. And a lot of that is just having a mentor to show you those steps, finding a place to go.
So, so if you, if you think you want to go, you know, right now start asking around and find somebody that'll take you hunting. And even if they say, I'll take you along, but you can't bring a gun... go along. And that's one way to at least get a foot in the door, see if you enjoy it. Um, I guess, you know, try your best. Anybody that wants to hunt should try it.
[00:28:15] You've been listening to Wild Wisconsin, a podcast brought to you by the Wisconsin DNR. Interested in learning more about hunting in Wisconsin and how you can get started? Send those questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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