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Hunting at Hartman Creek

Campground convenient for deer hunt

By Greg Seubert

At the same time the University of Wisconsin football team was taking care of the Michigan Wolverines, Rocky Torres and Mike Hernandez plotted their next move.

Sitting on a picnic table at their Hartman Creek State Park campsite, the longtime friends were taking a break Nov. 18, opening day of Wisconsin’s gun deer hunting season.

Although Torres, from Kenosha, and Hernandez, from Fond du Lac, had yet to fire a shot, they weren’t discouraged.

“The ranger came by and said he saw a few of them,” Hernandez said. “I said, ‘Hey, where’d you see them?’ He said, ‘In the closed area.’ Go figure. Deer are pretty smart. They’re out here, but they know what time of year it is. They hear that first shot and they bed down.”

The pair have deer hunted together for several years and first visited Hartman Creek, west of Waupaca, two years ago.

“We came here a couple years ago, so we’re kind of familiar with the area,” Torres said. “We decided to come up this year and see what it’s like. He did a little research and he found out they were supposed to be pretty abundant here.”

Torres and Hernandez were two of a handful of hunters that camped in the park’s campground. They arrived at about 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 and returned home Nov. 19.

Hartman Creek is one of several state parks that have designated areas open to deer hunting.

“A lot of guys out there have campers,” Torres said. “We have our tent, which is perfectly fine for us. As long as we’re warm, we’re good.”

The pair started hunting at about 6:30 a.m. opening day and made the short trip back to their campsite before noon.

“It wasn’t too cold,” Torres said. “This is not cold at all right now, about 35, 38 degrees. We just came in for some breakfast and we’re going to go back out there in a little bit. We didn’t really see much. We heard a couple shots close by, but we really didn’t see anything ourselves.”

“I like to go to state parks,” Hernandez said. “You have the campsites, the electrical and everything. Sometimes, we’re in Yellowstone Lake State Park in Lafayette County. I’ve been going there since I’ve been knee-high to a fly. My dad took me there when I was a kid, so I’ve been going there for a long time.

“There’s an area in the park where you can hunt, but the majority of the public land is about a five-minute ride up the road,” he said. “There are 1,800 acres of public land, so it’s pretty big. A lot of people that go out there, but there’s so much land, so you’re not bumping into anybody.”

About half of Hartman Creek’s 1,500 acres are open to hunting during the gun deer season.

The pair came up empty on their first trip to Hartman Creek two years ago, but decided to give it a second chance.

“We saw three or four of them, but it was too far of a shot for me,” Hernandez said. “I was hunting with a rifle slug.”

Hartman Creek is less than a two-hour drive for Hernandez, but it’s a three-hour trek for Torres.

“I don’t feel like driving eight hours across the state,” Hernandez said. “Two hours or less is a good spot for me. I look at the harvest and what (hunters) harvested the last couple years. I check and see if the deer population has grown or if it’s gone down.”

Waupaca County hunters harvested the second-highest number of white-tailed deer during last year’s gun hunt, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

“I like checking new places,” Hernandez said. “The only thing is public land has more hunters as opposed to private land, where you go out there and you know there’s not going to be anyone there.”

The vast majority Waupaca County’s huntable land is privately owned, but Hernandez said he looks into property enrolled into the state’s Managed Forest Law.

The program encourages sustainable forestry on private woodland and landowners pay reduced property taxes in exchange for following sound forest management.

Lands enrolled in the MFL program are designated as open or closed to public recreation. Open designation allows public access to the property for hunting, fishing, hiking, sight-seeing and cross-country skiing without additional permission from landowners.

“They get the break on their property taxes and it’s open to the public,” Hernandez said. “You just have to go to the property owner and say, ‘Hey, I see you have (land) in the Managed Forest Law. I just want you to know that I might be out on your land if that’s OK with you.’ Ninety-nine percent of the time, they’re like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’”

Opening weekend is a reunion for Torres and Hernandez, who have known each other for more than 30 years.

“He moved to Fond du Lac from Kenosha a few years back,” Torres said. “It’s how we reunite every year and meet up. We do our thing. As soon as this weekend’s over, we’re looking forward to next year.”

Chances are, they’ll return to Hartman Creek.

“I love it here,” Torres said. “We’ll be back here for many more years.”

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