Private lands open to hunting, fishing under VPA

Finding a place to hunt, fish and trap is luckily pretty easy in Wisconsin, thanks to our millions of acres of public land in the form of county, state and federal areas.

Sportsmen now have another option: private lands voluntarily open to sportsmen.

The state offers more than 30,000 acres of private land open to hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife watching under the relatively new Voluntary Public Access program. Under VPA, landowners who participate receive $5 to $15 an acre for allowing access to their lands, depending on the type of land (farmland, wetlands, forest).

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is especially interested in at least 40-acre parcels and also land adjacent to existing public lands. Most of the state is eligible to participate, although most northern counties are not. Shawano County is one of the northernmost counties eligible.

Unfortunately, there are currently no private lands in Shawano or Waupaca counties enrolled in VPA, according to the DNR website.

Aug. 1 is the enrollment deadline for this year.

Once a landowner signs up for the program, outdoorsmen do not need to ask permission to enjoy specific activities there, although there is a code of conduct that must be followed. ATVs and horses are not allowed on VPA properties, although dogs may be used for hunting, but not training. Ground blinds and tree stands also are allowed, but they must be removed at the end of the day and can’t damage trees.

Only hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife watching are allowed on VPA lands. Landowners are not restricted from building permanent blinds or using ATVs, for example, on their own lands signed up for the program.

State law holds landowners immune from liability in the event of a hunting or other accident, so that law also protects VPA landowner participants. Landowners are reimbursed for damage to crops or property such as gates or fences if hunters or others are careless (so don’t be that guy).

It’s an exciting program for those of us who don’t have access to large sections of private land for hunting and other sports we hold dear. Since I moved up here from Iowa in 2000, I’ve been amazed at how many outdoorsmen have their own land, or relatives who let them hunt. For the rest of us, that means hunting deer and turkeys on public land. Those lands are full of wild game, but also get a lot of hunting pressure and things can get a little dicey during the firearms-deer season, or even other seasons.

I’ve had plenty of success on public lands in Waupaca and Shawano counties, but I’ve also had my share of head-shaking encounters with other hunters. As the have-nots realize, most Wisconsin hunting is done on private land.

VPA participants can receive additional money from the state for enhancing habitat under the Habitat Incentive Program. Grassland mowing, controlled burning, invasive species control and native grass planting are examples of things VPA landowners can do to receive additional money.

Land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program and Managed Forest Law programs also may be eligible for VPA.

For more information on VPA lands to hunt or to learn more about signing up as a landowner participant, go to the DNR website and enter VPA on the search line. You can also call Anne Reis, VPA coordinator, at 608-279-6483.

Deer season quotas approved

The DNR Natural Resources board has approved this fall’s deer season framework, based in part on more than 7,000 public comments and the recommendations by County Deer Advisory Committees.

Iron County is the only county restricted to buck-only harvest this fall. The antlerless quota for the rest of the state is down slightly, from 276,515 in 2017 to 233,690 this year. A total of 44,000 bonus antlerless deer tags (now called harvest authorizations because carcass tagging is no longer required) will be offered for public land (up from 31,945 last year), with 181,200 antlerless permits offered for private lands (up from 168,210 last year).

Central Farmland Zone bonus tags go on sale at 10 a.m. Aug. 14, with other zone sales occurring on Aug. 13 and Aug. 15. Any remaining tags can be purchased Aug. 16 until they are all sold.

A total of 19 counties will have a holiday hunt for antlerless deer Dec. 24 to Jan. 1. This includes all firearms, bow and crossbow hunters. A dozen of those counties with a Holiday Hunt also extended the archery and crossbow season to Jan. 31. The extended portion of the season (after Jan. 1) will be open to both buck and antlerless deer hunting.

Waupaca, Outagamie, Brown and Oconto counties in our area have a holiday hunt while Shawano County does not. Outagamie, Brown and Oconto counties offer the extended archery/crossbow season.

The free antlerless deer licenses provided with the purchase of buck licenses are now available online at gowild.wi.gov. Both Shawano and Waupaca counties provide three free antlerless tags per gun and archery/crossbow buck license, the same as last year. If you already bought your patron license or buck deer license, you can print your antlerless tags now.

Type in “deer” on the DNR’s search bar to find the season structure and other maps.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at Ross@wolfriverccw.com.