Wisconsin Sporting Freedom Act Testimony

Last week I had the distinct honor of offering testimony on the bills in the Wisconsin Sporting Freedom Act. I applauded the authors and legislators who have supported these bills. You can watch my testimony here.

In my testimony I highlighted how these bills would expand the enjoyment of our God-given natural resources, make it easier for more people to get involved in hunting and fishing, and recognize the positive contributions outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen make to our state’s economy and way of life.


I was also joined by 17-year old Cole from Marshfield, Wis. at the legislative hearing. Cole shared his own experience with how hard it is to understand all of the new deer hunting regulations, especially as a student. Cole did an outstanding job conveying to the legislators why we need to simplify our hunting regulations in Wisconsin.

One of the legislators posed the question “Why do we need a new system on how we do our hunting, fishing, and trapping tradition?” We are losing two hunters for every new person that takes up our sport. We cannot afford to lose that many hunters. Our economy relies on the hunting industry year in and year out. We need to find new ways to bring people to the outdoors. These bills would be a great first step.

The full transcript of the testimony is below:

Luke Hilgemann:

Good morning! Thank you, chairman and members of the committee. My name is Luke Helgerson and I am the president and CEO of an organization called Hunter Nation. We are one of the fastest-growing groups in the country that's out there every day, protecting God, family, country and the future of our hunting and outdoor traditions. Right here in Wisconsin, we have thirty-six thousand activists who are part of our organization.

We've been a part of the sporting freedom package from the beginning, and we applaud all of our authors and the legislators who are supporting these bills for listening to the concerns of Wisconsin hunters, anglers and trappers and coming out with a package of reforms which we think are long overdue and necessary.

The four bills that you have before you today are all important pieces of this legislation, and here's why. The representative before asked for solid evidence as to why hunting is important in Wisconsin. There are eight hundred and ninety-five thousand hunters in the state of Wisconsin. One in five citizens participates in the outdoors in this way. That pursuit supports two and a half-billion dollars in annual economic activity. Thirty-four thousand jobs are supported by hunting, fishing and trapping in the state of Wisconsin. If the Legislature does not respond and act in a way that advances opportunities in the outdoors for hunting, angling and trapping, then in my opinion, you're missing the beat because this is an important part of who we are not only as Wisconsinites, but it supports a large part of our economy. So we applaud you for your efforts. We're going to talk about each one of the bills in particular, but I'll just say this it's important for you to hear from organizations like ours. Again, people feel as if the hunters, anglers and trappers of Wisconsin have been a little bit of an afterthought. OK. And I think what you guys have done with the sporting freedom package changes that you showed this group of people that you care about their issues and you're willing to work in a way that advances these causes and protects them for the future, so I thank you for that.

A couple of things. This is my intern, Cole Timmler. He's going to talk about the rules reform package. I had him do some research. He's a 17-year-old senior high school student from Marshfield Columbus. And I think he's done an exceptional job on this research project, so I'm going to turn it over to Cole for his testimony.


Thanks. All right, like you said, 17 year old, I just I'm here today representing my family and my own experience here. Like Luke already said, the DNR Regulations Simplification Bill is just necessary bill that allows for more hunters to go out and hunt. For me, it's, I guess, easy this year to go out and hunt because I was a 17 year old with my license and I could just go straight out to the woods. But there's a lot of regulations that a 17-year-old like me either didn't understand, didn't have the time to read because of Football, Student Council, etc. I know that so many other kids have to deal with. And like it or not, I was not able to read over 30 pages of hunting regulations on deer hunting. And I believe, like you said, fifty-five thousand laws. Probably over a thousand of those are deer hunting regulations alone. I just didn't believe that I had the time or anyone really had the time to look over it. And it was just really hard to understand why.

Let's say my scent had to be, my little scent drip, had to be 12 feet in the air, two feet away from my tree stand at all times, and I had to take it down every day because of where I hunted, how I hunted, and if I hunted with a bow or a gun, crossbow, it goes on and on and why my food plot for their season had to be different than if I was shooting a squirrel and how they only had to be a hundred yards away from the local county highway and why that matters. When my corn plot's right here and there's a cornfield sitting there right in front of it.

Like it or not, the DNR simplification bill would allow for the removal of unnecessary, outdated rules. Like I just stated it would limit the creation of new hindering regulations that the DNR would put in place and simplify the regulations like the 30-page pamphlet. That's just a simplification on the DNR  website, and it would like it or not get more hunters out in the outdoors like my brother, who is 13 and has to try to understand all these different regulations as a 13-year-old, when really he should just be able to go out there and hunt with my dad and not have to worry about those problems. And that should be the main goal of the DNR when it comes to hunting, which is to get more and more people to become experienced re-occurring hunters. Its goal should not be to kill off one of the Wisconsin sources of economy, tradition and outdoor activities, and getting out into nature is one of the greatest gifts in life that we are given and restrict and falsely regulate their god-given gift is something the DNR should never have to stand for. Thank you.

Luke Hilgemann:

Thank you, Cole and just a couple of other things in specifics on a couple of the bills. The representative also asked at one point Why? Why should we what? Why should we be doing these things? Why do we need a new system, a new structure, a new way of doing our hunting, fishing and trapping traditions, our seasons, what we do as hunters, anglers and trappers? And the reality is stark. We're losing two hunters for every new person that takes up the sport. OK, that's the statistic. OK, so if we want this economic activity $250 million in annual tax revenue that comes from the sport of hunting, angling and trapping, then this legislative body and every organization out here that you're going to hear from needs to be doing things a little bit differently to find new ways to bring people to the outdoors.

Here's the other fact that I'll share with the committee. $20 million comes into the state of Wisconsin just this year from the excise tax that we as hunters, anglers and trappers put on ourselves for all of the gear and supplies that we buy every year, it's called the Pitman Robertson Act. $20 million is the payment that's coming in to the state of Wisconsin alone just this year. As hunters, anglers and trappers we have little to no visibility of where those dollars are being spent. So when the agency comes before you and says that they need to have another five million or $7 million to stock pheasants, I'd say B.S., show us where you're spending that $20 million already and then come back to the Legislature and ask for more funding, there's one point.

On the turkey hunting bill I have a nine-year-old daughter, people have testified to this fact I think Representative Brooks did a fantastic job. My nine-year-old daughter had the first season this last year. It was snowing, it was windy. It was terrible weather. It was her first experience in the outdoors. We went out one morning. We heard no turkey, saw no turkeys and her season was up before I had time to take her back to the outdoors. Guess what? My daughter doesn't want a turkey hunt anymore. That's why we're doing this, to provide more opportunity for the youth hunters who are the next generation who are going to be footing the bill for our conservation opportunities in this state. Give them that opportunity.

And one other point that the representative brought up, hunters when they don't hunt, they don't fish, they don't trap representative come along, please. I'd openly invite you to come and hunt fish trap with me and my family any time because I think it is literally the thing that keeps our family together and it is part of our tradition and our culture in this state, and I would welcome anyone to join me in the outdoors any time.

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