PLAIN – Alma Avenue is only a block long but on Saturday it could have used a traffic cop.
Some of the deer hunters who filled the angled parking stalls on the street were hauling their harvest to Straka Meats for processing. The meat market has been a staple here since 1948 and every November is a destination for those who want their bucks and does converted to summer sausage, bratwurst, hot sticks and landjaegers.
But Straka isn’t the only draw to this southern Sauk County village each fall for the orange-clad army.
Next door, at I-Diehl Tap, the bar stools were full, the grill was filled with hamburgers and cheeseburgers, and the deep fryer was pumping out golden brown servings of breaded mushrooms and onion rings that tasted even better on a cold, damp day.
The pool table was also a busy spot in the bar, only the cues, balls and chalk were idle. Instead, on the green felt was where successful hunters filled out their blue registration cards in order to get a red metal tag to attach to their deer.
“As soon as we opened, bang, we had one. They were waiting to get in,” said Dennis Haas, who manned the registration table near a pair of video poker machines. “A lot of people said they got their deer right off the bat.”
Haas lives in Racine and, for more than 20 years, has returned to his hometown each fall to help with the in-person registration. He was dressed Saturday in coveralls, cracked jokes when he could and had the registrations separated by gender. This was done by placing the cards into the bottom halves of empty plastic apple cider vinegar jugs that had their tops removed. Each was labeled: one for buck, doe, doe fawn and buck fawn.
But come next season, Haas may be out of a job, the cider jugs recycled and there might be fewer people to serve at the bar. The state Department of Natural Resources wants to end in-person registration and switch to a system that allows hunters to register a deer over the phone or online.
The new system was approved in January and was part of multiple rule changes recommended by James Kroll, a researcher from Texas who was hired by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 to review DNR deer policies. Other changes include a reduction of deer management zones and the creation of county committees to recommend local population goals.
But with more than 710,000 deer hunters in the woods, fields and prairies of the state this season, the changes in registration will be the most noticeable come next deer season. Last year, 635,165 hunters killed 255,003 deer, all of which were registered in-person at stations throughout the state, many of them bars, restaurants and convenience stores.
“Of course I’m against it,” Emil Diehl, 61, said of the upcoming registration changes. “Easier isn’t always better.”
Diehl has owned his bar for 36 years and it has been a registration station since the early 1980s. Last season, 286 deer were registered at his place just on opening day. On the 2012 opener it was 386 and on the first day of the 1986 season, a whopping 786 deer were registered. Each comes with a story that oftentimes is told over a beer and a burger.
“You won’t have that anymore,” said Diehl, whose bar is filled with deer, bear, turkey and moose mounts. “You’re going to lose that storytelling.”
And not just at the I-Diehl.
We’re talking classic, Wisconsin spots with memorable names and people. They include the Ott Haus Pub & Grill in New Glarus, Held’s Bar in Deerbrook in Langlade County, Boondocks in the Jefferson County community of Hubbleton and the Thirsty Turtle in Stoddard in Vernon County.
There’s the Teddy Bear Tap in Sarona in Washburn County, Dog House Tavern in Elroy, Anton’s General Store in New Diggings and Kluck’s Saloon in Ringle in Marathon County. I also like the The Loon Saloon in Lake Namekagen, Nelsen’s Hall on Washington Island and the Turtle River Trading Post in Mercer. There are dozens more but you get the picture.
Isaac Bindl has grown up with the Internet and owns a smart phone. Registering a deer electronically won’t be any problem for the 16-year-old sophomore at River Valley High School. Bindl, who lives in Plain and is taking part in his fifth deer season, shot a doe at about 7 a.m.
“I like coming down here every year,” Bindl said. “It’s fun seeing people and seeing their kill, too.”
The display on Alma Avenue was impressive Saturday. Pickup trucks, trailers and sport utility vehicles with hitch platforms were filled with deer. Hunters sat on tailgates or stood before their harvest taking questions and telling stories. Cellphones were used to snap photos to be shared on Facebook, Twitter or sent by text to friends.
“It’s half of the hunt,” said Dale Kramer, 52, of Plain.
He was with his daughter-in-law, Heather Kramer, 27, of Spring Green, who shot an 8-point buck in the fog 40 yards out.
“Everybody wants to brag about their shot,” Heather Kramer said. “It’s reminiscing with other people you know in town and seeing all the deer that everybody got.”
Two of the biggest were in the back of a pickup truck just out the side door of the I-Diehl. Pete Laubmeier, 39, of Mazomanie, bagged a 12-point buck with a 20-inch spread while longtime friend, Heath Drone, 38, of Dubuque, Iowa, shot a 10-pointer with an 18-inch spread.
The two men, who have hunted together since they were 21 years old, harvested the deer from a farm that has been in the Laubmeier family for 105 years, about 10 miles east of Plain. They also do their own processing, which means if they get large deer next season, few will see the animal in person.
“It just adds something to the hunt,” Laubmeier said of in-person registration. “If (electronic registration happens next season) it will really take a part of the hunting experience out of here.”