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Nature Conservancy Hunting Program: Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers to common questions about the Conservancy’s hunting program in Wisconsin.

1. Why does The Nature Conservancy allow hunting on its preserves in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin has a long tradition of hunting, passed on from generation to generation. It’s an important part of our history, culture and economy. The Nature Conservancy is helping to safeguard this tradition by providing hunting opportunities on its lands.

Hunting is an important management tool for the Conservancy. At some of our preserves, for example, white-tail deer populations have grown well beyond the ability of plant communities to withstand their browsing. We use hunting as a tool to control deer populations and reduce the damage they are causing, allowing plant communities to recover their full vigor and diversity.

Public funding programs like Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund and the Managed Forest Law have been important partners in helping the Conservancy protect thousands of acres and enhance hunting opportunities in Wisconsin by opening these lands to the public.

2. How much land has the Conservancy protected that is open to hunting?

Of the more than 25,500 acres that the Conservancy owns today, 97 percent are open for hunting deer, turkey, pheasant and other game species. Thousands of acres of land that the Conservancy has helped protect and transferred to public and private entities are also open to the public for hunting and other recreation opportunities.

3. How do the Conservancy’s land and water conservation efforts benefit hunters?

With the increase in human population and fragmentation of land due to urban and suburban development, the lands available for hunting in Wisconsin are decreasing. The Conservancy’s work to protect more than 231,100 acres in Wisconsin since 1960 protects the habitat that game species and other wildlife need to survive and provides places where young and old alike can enjoy hunting and other recreational activities.

4. Does hunting negatively impact plants and animals at Conservancy preserves?

We have allowed deer hunting on Nature Conservancy lands since 1985 and, in that time, we have not seen any negative impacts on plants or animals. Hunting has, in fact, been a useful tool in helping us protect native vegetation by reducing overbrowsing by deer.

Where we are providing new opportunities to hunt turkey and other game species, we will monitor use and watch for impacts. If there are negative impacts, we will look for ways to reduce or eliminate them.

5. Why did The Nature Conservancy discontinue its hunting permit system in the Baraboo Hills?

There was tremendous interest from hunting groups in having the Conservancy open its preserves as broadly as possible to hunting opportunities, especially in southern Wisconsin where there are fewer acres of public hunting land and more demand.

Managing the permit program in the Baraboo Hills was very time intensive for our staff, and we have never issued all of the available permits. By eliminating the permit program, we have freed up limited staff resources and can provide hunting opportunities to a broader group of people.

6. Why did The Nature Conservancy discontinue its hunting permit system at Spring Green Prairie Preserve? 

At Spring Green Prairie we have offered deer hunting via a permit system for many years. As of 2014 we continue to offer deer hunting at this preserve, but we no longer require the purchase of a deer permit.

We made this change to reduce confusion about hunting opportunities at this preserve and to encourage more consistent use of the preserve by hunters throughout the entire deer hunting season.

All lands acquired with State Stewardship Program funding since 2006 are open to the public for hunting and trapping. This has resulted in a patchwork of preserve lands at Spring Green, with hunting on some Nature Conservancy lands governed by permits and hunting on other Conservancy lands where no permit is required. This had been confusing to hunters who were uncertain which lands were subject to permits and which were not.

While the 9-day deer gun season continues to be a popular time for hunters with permits to hunt at Spring Green Preserve, there had not been as much hunting taking place during the rest of the deer hunting season. Other than a few weekends during the archery season and the opening weekend of the gun season, hunters with permits were rarely out hunting at Spring Green. Because deer hunting is an important management tool for the Conservancy, we would like to encourage more consistent use of this preserve by hunters throughout the entire deer hunting season. By opening up this preserve with no TNC permit required we are providing more opportunities for hunters to get out on the land, hunters who may not have had the chance in the past because they were not lucky enough to receive one of the limited number of permits available. 

7. Without a permit system, how will you ensure that your Baraboo Hills and Spring Green preserves don’t become overcrowded with too many hunters?

We have allowed deer hunting on Nature Conservancy lands across Wisconsin since 1985. In most places we have not regulated access with a permit program, and we have not had a problem with overcrowding. As on state lands, hunters have naturally created separation among themselves to ensure that they have a good hunting experience.

8. How does the Conservancy ensure that hunters have a safe experience at its preserves? What does the Conservancy do to ensure the safety of individuals who visit its preserves for uses other than hunting?

Where we have a permit system, we follow Wisconsin DNR guidelines of one hunter per 20 acres. Where we do not have a permit system, we rely on hunters to create enough separation among themselves to ensure a safe and enjoyable hunting experience. We post season dates for deer and turkey hunting at the entry points to our preserves so that non-hunters are aware that hunting could be taking place at the preserve. To date, we have not had any safety issues related to hunting at our preserves.

9. Why are some Conservancy preserves closed to hunting opportunities?

Not every activity is appropriate at all Conservancy preserves. We try to open our preserves as broadly as possible for public recreation and enjoyment but do limit use where it conflicts with our ability to protect native plants, animals and habitats. We also limit use where we do not have public access to the land or where the size of the property makes it too small to hunt safely.

10. Are there volunteer opportunities for hunters/trappers at Conservancy preserves?

The Conservancy relies on volunteers to help manage our lands, and we have volunteer opportunities year round. This is a great way to visit preserves and gain first-hand knowledge of the lay of the land before hunting season starts. Volunteers clear fire breaks, help cut buckthorn (a non-native tree), plant trees and assist with many other activities. If you take the required training sessions, you could become a member of our Prescribed Fire Crew. If you are interested in volunteering with The Nature Conservancy, please visit the Volunteer page of our web site at

11. Are tree stands allowed at Conservancy preserves?

Temporary, non-damaging stands and ground blinds may be used on Conservancy land. Hunters should place their name and contact information on the stand/blind. Stands/blinds may not be put up more than seven days before the start of the season, and they must be removed within seven days after the close of that season. No stands or blinds shall be placed within 50 yards of the preserve boundary or another stand or blind. The Conservancy assumes no responsibility for lost or damaged stands and blinds left unattended. All ground blinds used on the preserve during hunting season must display at least 144 square inches of solid blaze orange material visible from all directions around the blind.

12. Is baiting allowed at Conservancy preserves?

The Conservancy does not allow the placement or planting of supplemental food or nutrition sources on its preserves. This includes food plots, bait piles and salt blocks.

13. Can I use dogs to hunt at Conservancy preserves?

Dogs are allowed off-leash for turkey, small game and waterfowl hunting purposes only at preserves that offer those opportunities. For non-hunting purposes, dogs are allowed at the following preserves: Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area, Tenderfoot Forest Reserve, Bass Lake, Caroline Lake, Mink River in Door County and our Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area preserves. Dogs are not permitted at other Conservancy preserves in Wisconsin. When dogs are off-leash, they must be kept under voice control by their owners at all times to prevent them from creating a nuisance on adjacent properties and residences. From April 15 to July 31, all dogs must be on a leash to protect ground-nesting birds.

14. Isn’t it unethical for a conservation organization to allow hunting on its preserves?

Hunters were some of the early conservationists in our state, and they continue to support habitat protection through hunting license fees and taxes on guns and ammunition. Their support benefits not only game species, but the many other plants, animals and habitats that the Conservancy is working to protect in Wisconsin.

15. Did the Conservancy broaden hunting and trapping access on its preserves as a direct result of new rules for Knowles-Nelson Stewardship funding established by the Wisconsin DNR?

Yes. We would not be able to buy and protect land in Wisconsin without funding sources like the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, and one of the requirements of the Stewardship Fund is that we provide hunting and trapping opportunities on land purchased with Stewardship funds.

16. Does the Conservancy limit the number of species hunted on its preserves?

The number of individual animals that can be taken each season is regulated by the Wisconsin DNR and guided by their research and staff expertise. Based on past experience, we are not concerned about overharvesting of deer on our land. Where we are providing new opportunities to hunt turkey and other game species, we will monitor use and watch for impacts. If there are negative impacts, we will look for ways to reduce or eliminate them.

Hunting Opportunities at Nature Conservancy Preserves
Learn what’s new this year, find links to hunting map and other hunting program pages, and get information about volunteer opportunities and Nature Conservancy preserves.

Wisconsin Hunting Opportunities Map
View a map and get more details about all Nature Conservancy preserves with hunting opportunities.

Nature Conservancy Hunting Guidelines
Learn about the guidelines for hunting at Conservancy preserves.

Nature Conservancy Deer Hunting Permit Application Process
Get a link to the permit and the details on how to apply.

Hunting and Conservation in Wisconsin
The Conservancy has provided hunting opportunities on its lands in Wisconsin since 1985. See how hunting helps land conservation and how land conservation helps wildlife and hunters.

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