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ON WISCONSIN | BOW HUNTING

On Wisconsin: No blaze orange but plenty of history

From the On Wisconsin series
Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation Museum

Don Rogalski looks over leather quivers and historic arrows on display at the Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation Museum in Clintonville. The museum, founded in 2004, chronicles the history of the sport that began in 1934 with the country’s first bow deer season.

{{tncms-asset app="editorial" id="985a8044-6c46-5b2a-8bc0-94675ade0043(/initial tncms-asset)CLINTONVILLE – The gun deer season that opens Nov. 21 is a Wisconsin tradition that includes blaze orange, bowls of chili at camp and reunions of more than 600,000 friends and family members — who will tromp through stands of forest, stalk out cornfields and plots of prairie.

There are bake sales, dances, brat stands, bar specials and restaurants that open early — all in an effort to cater to and cash in on the annual rite of fall that consumes our state for nine days.

But the pursuit and harvest of whitetail is already underway for many. Only their hunt — which began Sept. 12 — is solitary, silent, draped in camouflage and absent gun powder.

The nearly three-month-long archery season operates in stealth mode compared to its older, high-powered, colorful and braggadocios cousin.

“With a nice long season everyone doesn’t have to rush out on opening day. It’s nice and quiet. A no-stress situation,” said Don Rogalski, a longtime bowhunter with an iron-grip handshake. “The woods are calm, and there’s an autumn smell. The only thing is, I didn’t see a deer.”

At least on Thursday morning.

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Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation Museum

The Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation Museum in Clintonville not only features deer hunting accomplishments but other types of bow hunts. In the background is the first turkey harvested by a member of the 5,000-member Wisconsin Bowhunters Association. The gobbler was shot in the spring of 1984 by Dan Mundth of Reedsburg. A wooden box of old arrows can be seen in the foreground.

Rogalski, 67, did get a glimpse of a porcupine, three raccoons, a mink and dozens of squirrels. And he has seen dozens of deer from his 12-foot ladder-stand on the edge of a cedar swamp near Manawa in Waupaca County.

Rogalski has been out for a few hours each morning or evening, 33 times this season. He bagged an eight-point buck on the evening of Sept. 25 with a shot from 14 yards out and is now looking to fill a few doe tags before the season comes to a close Jan. 3.

The retired Clintonville electrician is among the more than 200,000 bow hunters taking part in the annual fall season and is among those working with the Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation to preserve the sport’s history.

Since 2004, the foundation has rented space for a museum at the headquarters of the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, next door to the Walgreen’s in Clintonville. The museum’s 1,000 square feet is jammed with bows, arrows, leather quivers, broadheads and historical photographs.

There are arrowheads from when Native American tribes here hunted not for sport but for survival. However, the museum is primarily focused on the history of the modern-day hunt that began in 1934 and was the first licensed bow hunt in the country.

“Wisconsin has led the nation in terms of innovation and in terms of creating opportunity for archers,” said Bill McCrary, a lifelong bowhunter who lives in DeForest and earlier this year published a book on the sport’s history. “We have been quite instrumental on a nationwide basis in terms of product innovation and designing products.”

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Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation Museum

Bill McCrary, 70, looks over a trophy buck in his DeForest home. McCrary, who has been bowhunting since he was a child, published a book this year on the history of bowhunting in Wisconsin.

They included bow makers American Archery in Oconto Falls, Staghorn Archery in Merrill and Whiffen Broadheads in Milwaukee. Today the big names out of Wisconsin include Mathews Archery in Sparta, Renegade Archery in Altoona and Forge Bow Co. in Waukesha. HHA Sports in Wisconsin Rapids makes sights and Lakewood in Suamico manufactures cases for bow equipment.

“Wisconsin has been a leader, without any doubt,” said McCrary, 70, who will hunt during the gun season but has tallied 53 hours in his tree stand this bow season near the Baraboo Hills of Sauk County. “When I walk in the woods with a bow in my hand, I’m hunting deer. When I walk in the woods with a rifle in my hand, I’m shooting deer. And there’s a big difference.”

Displays in the museum include bow equipment used by Aldo Leopold, the first deer, wolf and turkey taken by bow and scores of patches and buttons from archery clubs from around the state. The museum recently received the files of Norb Mullaney, who tested bows for manufacturers and is considered to be the most widely recognized authority in the country on the design and performance of bows. The files fill four, four-drawer file cabinets.

Space in the museum, however, is running out.

“We don’t have a lot of money to work with,” Rogalski said. “We’re doing what we can.”

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Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation Museum

Wisconsin plays a key role in the bowhunting industry with multiple companies making products that are distributed around the country. This display at the Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation Museum in Clintonville shows where at one time broadheads were made in the state.

The bow season came about when Roy Case of Racine applied to the state for a special permit in 1930 and harvested in December of that year a spike buck. Case pushed state officials for the season and is considered the father of Wisconsin bowhunting. He also organized the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association (now with nearly 5,000 members), produced broadhead hunting points and helped to establish national standards for the sport.

In the first season, 40 hunters took part but only one deer was shot during the five-day season. But the numbers over time grew. By 1945, the state’s 3,500 licensed hunters took 160 deer with 15,000 archers taking part in 1954 with a harvest of 743 deer, according to research compiled by McCrary.

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Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation Museum

Archery club patches like these are prolific throughout the Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation Museum in Clintonville.

By 1985, the number of hunters reached 215,900 with a harvest of 40,744 deer, meaning a 19 percent success rate. In 2007, 116,010 deer were killed by 258,854 permit holders for a 44.8 percent success rate. Much of the increase is due to advancements in technology, easier access to and affordable equipment and hunter education.

In 2014, the state’s 214,213 archery hunters took 54,810 deer but those numbers are lower than 2013 due to a new cross-bow season that started last year and drew 108,765 hunters, who shot 26,891 deer. By comparison, more than 222,000 deer were taken during the gun season, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

McCrary, a retired food inspector at Oscar Mayer, said in the early days of Wisconsin’s bowhunting seasons, equipment was homemade or modified. The typical setup was effective up to about 25 yards with arrows traveling at 150 feet per second. With today’s gear, shots of over 40 yards are not uncommon with arrows whizzing through the autumn air at 350 to 400 feet per second.

The change in technology that includes bows that can cost more than $1,000 has been profound for the sport but not welcomed by Case, its late founder, whom McCrary met in the 1980s.

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Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation Museum

Don Rogalski, a board member with the Wisconsin Bowhunting Heritage Foundation Museum in Clintonville, points out a photo of Roy Case of Racine who is credited with starting the state’s bowhunting season in 1934. In 1930, Case had applied for a special permit from the state to hunt deer with a bow and shot a spike buck, left, in December of that year.

“He felt the high-tech equipment created a distance between the bowhunter and his equipment,” McCrary said. “Back in the ’30s, you couldn’t go buy your equipment, you had to make your own and so there was a certain intimacy that was achieved and there was a unity that was achieved between the man and his equipment.”

Barry Adams covers regional news for the Wisconsin State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at badams@madison.com.

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Barry Adams covers regional and business news for the Wisconsin State Journal.