Skip to comments.Background of the Wisconsin shooting area
Posted on 11/25/2004 3:08:08 PM PST by marktwain
I was born within 50 miles of the shooting area. I will refer to this area as the "North Woods" as it is common among the local population. I grew up there, and spent my youth roaming the woods and rivers. I became an accomplished woodsman, hunter and trapper. I financed a significant fraction of my college education with the proceeds from the trap line. I was a game warden in Wisconsin for a short time early in my career.
Much of the information that I recently read about the area is speculation and prejudice, based on little or no personal experience. I have kept in touch with the area during my career and maintain close ties with family and friends. I feel fortunate to report that none of my relatives or friends was immediately involved in the shooting itself. I would not be surprised if peripheral connections are discovered in the course of the next few weeks. What follows are my personal opinions and observations formed over the last half century.
Northern Wisconsin has a culture that has formed primarily during the last 120 years. A look at the lives of some of the early settlers can be found in Laura Ingles Wilder's famous "Little House in the Big Woods". Prior to 1880, most of Northern Wisconsin was covered in "Virgin" pine forest that had grown up since the end of the Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. After the Civil War, increasing interest in the lumber potential of the area resulted in the harvest of nearly all of the forests by 1920. The cleared land was sold to farmers of primarily German, Scandinavian, and eastern European extraction, who found the area flora, fauna, and climate similar to that of their ancestral lands. Their populations vastly surpassed the remnant of the Chippewa and Ojibwa and other tribes, who had displaced earlier groups of Indians.
The glacial till that covers the area has only small pockets of fertile land. Most of the land is suitable only for growing poplar, white pine, Norway pine, jack pine, and various hardwoods, while tag alder swamps, lakes and streams, cover considerable area. The primary industries are dairy farming, lumbering, and tourism. The area is famous for its hunting and fishing. Since World War II, much of the marginal farmland has been abandoned, with vast forests once again covering much more area than cultivated land. More than half is public land, owned by various government entities. County forest cropland, National forests, and Indian reservations cover significant areas of the North Woods.
The dominant culture in the area is this mix of self-reliant farmers, small businessmen, lumbermen, and resort holders, with a small minority of Indian tribes remaining on the reservations. Considerable numbers of Indians have integrated with the more recent immigrant populations. This culture is extremely law abiding. Murder is especially rare, with most cases confined to the Indian reservations, where alcoholism is rampant. Some proto gang activity apparently aimed at taking control of Tribal casinos has resulted in an increased murder rate in the last decade. Remove the tribal component, and the murder rate for the area falls well below that of Canada. The people in the area are reliable red county folk, with the Indian reservations forming the rare rural blue county.
There is however, an underlying sympathy for socialism, transplanted to the area with 1900's German and Scandinavian culture. For example, my family was intimately involved in the formation and sustenance of a rural farm cooperative to supply needs not provided by the early local merchants.
People are, in large majorities, church going Catholics, Lutherans, and Baptists. Nearly everyone is familiar with and trained in the safe operation of firearms. Open carry of firearms is legal, but not common when not hunting, although a burgeoning black bear population has increased the number of individuals who routinely carry guns when out in the woods. An amendment to the state Constitution, passed in 1998, enshrined this familiarity in a state right to keep and bear arms for self-defense, security, hunting, recreation or any other legal activity. However, a statue in effect before the amendment passed prohibits carry of loaded firearms in a vehicle, and has not yet been repealed or tested in the state Supreme Court. This prohibition has made the regular open carry of firearms for security or defense too inconvenient and unsafe for most people. The constant loading and unloading of firearms every time one enters or leaves a vehicle is judged by many to create more security problems than it solves, when the extremely low crime rate is considered.
Most people are strongly patriotic. Careers in the military are respected, as is service in the National Guard. The National Guard in the area has received awards and national recognition. My next-door neighbor was an officer in the Guard who rose to become the Commander of the State National Guard.
Deer hunting is the area sport, surpassing all others. I believe that more people participate in deer hunting than are football fans. Arrangements are made for children to take off from school during the traditional nine-day deer season, which always starts the weekend before Thanksgiving. Junior High and High schools take on a deserted appearance at this time. A vast lore of deer hunting traditions and stories form part of the popular culture. Going deer hunting is a rite of passage for young people. During the last two decades, there has been a considerable increase in the number of women and girls joining the hunt. My sister in law and niece have both shot many deer, and in the last three years each has shot a black bear.
Hunting parties hunt in familiar territories. After a decade of two, territories become as well known as an urban neighborhood. The phrase "move down along the swamp to the end of the pine plantation has as much meaning and precision as "driving down Fifth Avenue to Joe's Deli". Territories often overlap and tend to cover both public and non-posted private land, usually by tradition and permission. Neighbors often exchange hunting privileges, sometimes with pertinent information, such as " sure, you can do a deer drive, but watch out for the horses" or " there's been a big buck hanging out around the field down by the river. Larsen's gang saw him the other day, but he was too quick for them to get a shot off".
Hunting with a handgun is legal, but the firearm of choice is the rifle. Only expert shots and hunters use handguns as a handicap in order to introduce a greater challenge to the hunt. Calibers used to hunt deer are limited to those fired in center fire rifles. As most handgun calibers are available in center fire rifles, this does little to limit the choice of handguns, however the barrel length for hunting deer must be at least 5 inches. There is no magazine limitation for hunting rifles or pistols. If a shotgun is to be used, it must be at least 20 gauge, and must be used to fire a single projectile per shot. Buckshot, despite the name, is not legal for hunting deer. Hunters are required to wear at least 50% blaze orange clothing, and a back tag (a little smaller than a license plate) with an identifying number.
During the last decade, a combination of mild winters and the sustainable harvest of softwoods have resulted in an enormous deer herd. The herd is so large that not enough hunters can be found to reduce the herd to sustainable numbers. As a consequence the bag limits are generous. In some management areas, an antler less deer must be harvested before the hunter can legally take an antlered buck. Additional permits are available at $12 each. There is no longer any reason to poach deer, as people can legally harvest more than they can eat during the year. When I was growing up, giving a deer quarter to a family was a sign of generosity. Today, it can be difficult to give away a deer, as few people seem willing to process the meat themselves. It is a prosperous land, and the people have no shortage of good food.
Despite the large numbers of hunters and deer; the requirement to wear blaze orange, increased firearms safety training, and improved firearms technology have reduced the number of fatal firearm accidents enormously during the last decades. Now fatal accidents are rare, though not unknown. Hunting is far safer than baseball or other sports. Violence involved with hunting is almost unheard of. Other than the murder of a game warden about 20 years ago, I cannot recall another single intentional homicide resulting from a hunting situation. Compared to national averages, the area has an extremely low crime rate. Like Switzerland, it boasts both a strong tradition of firearms use and an extremely high proportion of firearms ownership. I am not surprised that no one shot back at this assailant. The event is so rare as to be far outside normal experience. No one shoots another person deliberately in deer season! The occasional fatal accident provided all the necessary cover for the shooter, as others drawn to the scene were almost certain to believe that a terrible accident had occurred. I suspect that even those who were shot did not realize that they had been shot deliberately for some time.
There is little racial or ethnic tension in the area. I was raised to be tolerant of others, and tolerance in the area has increased over the past decades. I have two cousins that are half Indian, and another who married a very beautiful young woman of Vietnamese ancestry. I do not know if she is Hmong. I have never asked. The highest tension came with court decisions in the 1980's to enforce tribal hunting rights in existing treaties with the tribes. There was considerable talk about the pending destruction of the deer herd. The burgeoning deer herd and generally increasing game populations have removed that source of tension. No one was ever shot, the talk died down, and I have not heard the subject discussed for more than a decade.
Taverns are common, with beer a popular beverage. Outside of the Indian reservations, none of the counties are "dry". While many hunters drink during deer season, it has been my experience that most drinking occurs at night, after the day's hunt is done. Drinking inhibits sharp senses, fast reflexes, and good judgment. All of these are desirable while hunting. Alcohol is also a diuretic. When you are wrapped in multiple layers of clothing for warmth, urinating can involve some time, effort, and discomfort!
The people of the area are resourceful, hard working, well educated, friendly, and community oriented. The limited number of high paying jobs means that many young people leave the area to seek their fortunes elsewhere. I did so, and never felt handicapped by my upbringing, values, or education. Instead, I felt privileged. I often pitied urban dwellers for their poor, deprived existences. Now, I realize that many of them pitied me!
While this has been an exceedingly long vanity, I hope that it has been some help as background to the recent shooting. I only hope that time will shed more light on this perplexing and shocking event.
Excellent post, thank you for taking the time to do this.
I missed the part about the Hmong and their diaspora from Vietnam.
I hope your thread sticks around until this holiday is over. I'm afraid not too many freepers will see it.
I think I'll bookmark it and bump it Saturday.
You might be interested in this.
I seem to recall hearing that, of the first five persons shot by the actor, that they had only one weapon between them, and the holder of that piece was shot first.
As far as I now know, it has yet to be determined if that particular weapon was shot at all during the incident.
Thank you for posting this excellently written background.
The first Hmong diaspora was from Laos. It stemmed from the fact that having worked closely with us against the Pathet Lao during the war, the Hmong became victims of genocide after the war. The headbanger in question is a bit young to have participated in the war, although it is possible that he did. More likely he came over in the last 20 years. One story has him in a Guard outfit in Kali, but with a clerical, not a line MOS. All that said, I too would like to hear mtwain's observations on the behavior of Hmong "hunters" toward other hunters, landowners, etc. On this point, under the circumstances, his silence is deafening.
Your report is one of the best ever published here; and thank you.
Thanks for the post.
Thanks. If venison steaks became popular throughout the US, your herds would dwindle quickly. Probably, too quickly.
Wow! Excellent! Thanks for posting this - it certainly corresponds with my recollection also, growing up and living nearby. And...I also worked for DNR in the 70's. Small world, eh?
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.