In late November, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which oversees the Chippewa tribes’ treaty rights in Wisconsin, voted to authorize night hunting for deer by tribal members.

To participate in the after-dark hunt, tribal members would be required to pass a marksmanship test. According to an Associated Press report, 74 members met those requirements but, thus far, none have applied for a night-hunting permit.

But they might. And that has hunters and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials concerned. {C}

A little history here. In the 1800s, the Chippewa entered into a treaty with the U.S. Government that reserved the right for the tribes to hunt in a “ceded” territory that covers about 22,400 acres of northern Wisconsin. The tribes are allowed to set their own hunting and fishing regulations including season dates and bag limits. The tribes are allotted a percentage of all state-mandated quotas on fish and game.

The law isn’t entirely clear on whether tribal hunters are allowed to hunt on private lands not owned by them or the tribe outside of the recognized reservation boundaries. But public land is clearly on the table.

In 1989, the tribes also attempted to incorporate night hunting for deer into their regulations stating that because the WDNR allowed night hunting for fox and coyotes, they should be allowed the same opportunity for deer. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the hunt would present a risk to public safety and therefore was not allowable under the terms of the treaty.

But the debate has been rekindled thanks to the Chippewa’s recent decision to authorize the night hunts.

Why now?

Well, this doesn’t seem to be a simple case of the tribes wanting to offer additional hunting opportunities to their members. Instead, it seems to be a case of tit for tat.

The tribes are upset by the Wisconsin Legislature’s decision to hold a wolf hunt (which allows for night hunting) and its attempts to loosen mining laws.

The tribes consider wolves to be sacred and they fear more relaxed mining laws will result in the establishment of a large-scale mining operation that would impact an area lake.

Perhaps the tribes are truly interested in providing members with more opportunities to hunt and night hunting is an important part of their cultural history. I’m not a tribal member so I clearly don’t know for sure.

But the timing is interesting. When the Legislature was working on the mining regulations, the tribes made an announcement: The Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission authorized tribal members to target an elk, a species that state wildlife managers have had difficulty reintroducing.

Now, on the heels of the state’s wolf hunt, the tribe authorized night hunting for deer.

I certainly don’t pretend to know all of the background and history concerning a consent decree from the 1800s. Nor do I understand all of the cultural implications of the methods of take for tribal members.
But I do know this: The decision to hunt deer at night concerns a public resource in the Wisconsin deer herd and that any decisions made by the tribes can have an impact on public lands that we all own.

And, as a hunter, I’m not inclined to look fondly on playing a game with such stakes.