WAUSAUKEE - An overview of deer hunting rule changes provided a new twist to an old spring tradition for Wisconsin outdoors enthusiasts.

The overview was given at the Department of Natural Resources Annual Spring Fish & Wildlife Public Hearing, held in each county Monday night. About 50 attended the Marinette County hearing, held at Wausaukee High School.

By announcing the deer hunting rule changes - in effect this year - at the Spring Hearing, the DNR was able to get a combined audience of thousands at the same time.

The public hearing, and subsequent Wisconsin Conservation Congress Annual Meeting, drew little discussion for 58 proposed rule changes.

The deer hunting rule changes - prompted by Dr. James Kroll's 2011 Deer Trustee Report - got the public's attention.

Previously, Wisconsin was divided into 134 deer management units. It is now divided into 76 units - almost all of which encompass an entire county. There are no longer any state park deer management units, and four native American reservations have been designated as separate DMUs.

Wisconsin is divided into four deer management zones - Northern Forest, Central Forest, Central Farmland, and Southern Farmland. The spacious Marinette County previously encompassed all or portions of seven DMUs - 41, 45, 49A, 49B, 50, 51A and 51B.

The Central Farmland extends into southern Marinette County, while the Northern Forest encompasses Marinette County north of Highway 180.

Deer populations vary significantly from the largely agricultural southern portions of the county to the heavily forested central and northern Marinette County. Deer harvest goals often vary significantly from north to south, and the county will now be managed as two separate entities - the Central Farmland Zone and the Northern Forest Zone.

"This is all one unit now. How will antlerless quotas be determined for such a large area?" asked Al Hofacker of Athelstane. "I believe this new county-based deer management is a giant step backwards."

"You definitely are addressing a lot of the concerns we have," replied Janet Brehm, DNR wildlife biologist in Wausaukee.

Proposed antlerless quotas are much higher in the Central Farmland Zone of Marinette County than in the Northern Forest Zone, where quotas were lowered in part due to the high winter severity and expected deer mortality.

In another 2014 rule change, there is no longer an age restriction for the use of crossbows.

The antlerless-only season, to be held from Dec. 11-14, will only be held in the Central Forest and Central Farmland Zone.

Wisconsin is among the few states without automated deer registration. While there will be no changes to deer registration this year, some hunters will be selected to participate in various registration methods as an experimental tool.

A proposal to allow the transfer of limited draw hunting and trapping permits for species such as bear, bobcat, fisher, otter, wolf, grouse, elk and turkeys, drew criticism. Bear hunters often wait 10 years to get their number drawn. This proposal could result in bear hunters filing applications in the names of other family members.

"Instead of giving it to anybody, I think you should do it for veterans and handicapped children," one sportsman said.

A Conservation Congress resolution, proposed by Marinette's Mike Kitt, would support the reinstatement of northern pike spearing from a darkhouse on the Wisconsin portion of Wisconsin-Michigan Boundary Waters.

A town of Stephenson man questioned how many spearers know the difference between a pike and a muskellunge.

"I'm also afraid or concerned that once we start spearing northern again, the next proposal would be to spear musky," he added.

Kitt assured him that fish are very easily identifiable from a darkhouse. Kitt represents the Wisconsin Darkhouse Anglers Association, which is trying to get uniform spearing regulations between Wisconsin and Michigan.