MADISON, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) – Right now, you can't take a hunter safety course in-person—no matter where you live in Wisconsin.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) insists it is part of an effort to maintain social distancing, but with so many places re-opening some people feel like a health recommendation is being treated as a rule.

Oneida County Sheriff's Office Capt. Tyler Young said the agency is just trying to give the community what it wants.

“The people of Oneida County came to us and said 'Hey can you teach one of these classes,' and this was last year, 'you know sooner in the summer before our summer vacations start, before our kids get into sports and then they have to pick and choose what they're going to do,' so we scheduled one back in February for June,” Young said.

The sheriff's office limits class sizes to 30 students at a time and the field day portion is done on a 40-acre shooting range. However, the class can't be taught without materials and certificates which come from the DNR.

State Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) simply asks why, especially when protesters have been gathering in large crowds over the last several weeks.

“Hunter's safety is a big deal,” Felzkowski said. “It's almost like a rite of passage if you grow up in a hunting, fishing, outdoors family. You know if I want to be like partisan, I could say it's an attack on, you know a way of life. I'm really trying hard not to do that. I'm trying to give the administration the benefit of the doubt that there's some confusion here but they're not making it too easy to take that approach.”

In a statement, the DNR said classes are still on pause and have not been suspended for the rest of the year:

The Department of Natural Resources places a high priority on the safety education programs offered to Wisconsinites. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the department has been working closely with the Department of Health Services to ensure proper protocols were in place to ensure the safety of our students. This entailed temporarily suspending in-person classes to prevent social gatherings.

The DNR has not suspended hunter safety courses for the remainder of 2020. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency and the need to properly social distance, Wisconsin’s Hunter Education classes are still on pause. Moving forward the Department will continue to look to health officials for guidance when the safety class program can be resumed, while ensuring our students are learning in a safe environment.

The DNR is encouraging those age 18 and older to take the course online and those who aren't of age to participate in the Mentor Hunt Program, which requires hunting with someone who has completed the course or is grandfathered in.

Wednesday afternoon the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) announced it filed a lawsuit against the DNR on behalf of Hunter Nation and Hunter Nation President and CEO Luke Hilgemann after the agency adopted the policy canceling all in-person hunter education courses in Wisconsin as a result of COVID-19.

The lawsuit filed in Marathon County Circuit Court comes following the publicity of the DNR's cancelation of the class originally scheduled for June 22, 2020, in Oneida County.

The lawsuit argues the DNR policy conflicts with state law and was adopted illegally for the following reasons:

  • The DNR lacks the authority to unilaterally eliminate in-person hunter education courses
  • Even if DNR had the authority, the agency would have to follow the rule-making process detailed in state law
  • DNR’s policy relies on the ‘Safer at Home’ order, no longer in effect as a result of a Supreme Court decision in Legislature v. Palm
  • The Wisconsin State Constitution provides a ‘right to hunt’ and the DNR’s policy violates the Wisconsin Constitution by imposing unjustified burdens on Wisconsinites seeking to legally exercise their right

“The DNR’s decision to cancel all in-person hunter education courses occurred without justification or public input,” Deputy Counsel Lucas Vebber said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this is just another example of Evers administration agencies illegally creating, adopting, and enforcing policy.”

Realizing their instructors could be de-certified if they taught the course anyway, the Oneida County Sheriff's Office decided against having the class but Young said that affects more than just the youth.

“There's people that were grandfathered not to have hunter's safety in Wisconsin but they want to go out West on an elk hunt and all of a sudden 'Hey I've got to get through this course,' and now they don't have that opportunity so the elk hunt may be a moot point at this time,” Young said. “It's really taking away, you know there's a mandate that you have to have this course but we're not going to give you the ability to do it. In Oneida County we have the ability, I think, to do it very safely—one shoe doesn't fit all.”