Youth injuries rise during opening weekend of Wisconsin’s gun-deer hunting season

MADISON, Wis. — The number of youth-involved hunting incidents is up so far this season compared to previous years.

In 1966, there were 264 hunting incidents in Wisconsin. Since then, state initiatives have caused those numbers to plummet, but on opening weekend this year, there was an alarming spike in youth incidents. Of the six incidents, three involved teenagers, and five involved people 24 or under. 

In 2021, opening weekend had three total incidents, and six in all of deer season.

“It’s frustrating for me because I’ve been doing this for 16 years now,” said Jeff Weishoff, the president of the Columbia County Sporting Alliance and a longtime hunting safety instructor.

The DNR put its resources towards older hunters this year, saying that leading into 2022, “the majority of folks involved in hunting-related incidents really were in that age bracket of approximately 20 years has lapsed since they’ve taken hunter education,” said April Dombrowski, a recreation safety section chief with the agency.

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Weishoff sees multiple reasons for the trend, beginning with online gun safety classes. Full virtual training was offered for two years of the pandemic. 

Advocates liken it to issuing a driver’s license without ever setting foot in a car. Weishoff also cited a 2017 Wisconsin law that eliminated age restrictions on hunting. 

“To have, when they open it up to any age, it just, kids that are 5 and 6 can’t do that,” he said.

Furthermore, laws with “mentored hunts” changed, and as someone who guides mentor hunts, it’s a non-starter for him to allow both the mentee and mentor to carry a gun. 

One of the weekend incidents left an 11-year-old boy dead in Green Lake County, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

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“A 41-year-old male shooter attempted to unload his firearm while he was placing the firearm in the backseat of the vehicle, when the firearm discharged, striking the victim,” Dombrowski said.

This coincides with another past legal change, now allowing guns to be uncased in cars, following suit with other states. 

“We are Wisconsin, right, it’s good to be the more intelligent state in my opinion, and the state that’s safer,” said Weishoff.