Hunting advocacy group sues DNR after Oneida County hunter safety course cancellation

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Editor

MARATHON COUNTY – Hunter Nation, a hunting advocacy group based in Mission, Kan., filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on Wednesday, June 17, nearly a week after the DNR announced the cancellation of a hunter safety class scheduled for June 22 in Oneida County due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a June 11 release, the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office, which teaches hunter safety courses, said the DNR would not “recognize the course due to Governor Evers (sic) Covid-19 restrictions.”

“As a result, students would not receive the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Hunter Safety Certificate and they may decertify our hunter safety instructors,” the release stated.

The 15-page complaint states Luke Hilgemann, CEO of Hunter Nation, is a resident of Marathon County, which is why the case was filed there.

Luke Hilgemann, CEO of Hunter Nation, Hunter Nation Board of Directors.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), a conservative public interest law firm, is representing Hunter Nation.

The complaint says the DNR’s online course is “inadequate for individuals who do not have prior hunting or firearms handling experience” due to the inability to use a firearm during the course, which is part of the in-person courses. The complaint also claims the DNR “lack(s) the authority to cease all in-person hunter education courses in the State of Wisconsin, and lack(s) the authority to refuse to issue certificates of accomplishment to individuals who successfully complete such courses.”

The inability to take in-person courses is “a restriction on the right to hunt,” the complaint states.

“Specifically, this policy makes it impossible for anyone in Wisconsin born after Jan. 1, 1973, who is under the age of 18, to complete the hunter safety course required by law to obtain a hunting license necessary to engage in hunting, and makes it difficult for anyone over the age of 18, by requiring them to take an online only course that the Defendants themselves have acknowledged are inappropriate for less experienced hunters and which courses are not available to those without access to the technology to take classes on-line,” the complaint says.

Anyone born after Jan. 1, 1973 must obtain a license to hunt in Wisconsin.

“Earlier this week, Governor Evers’ (sic) said he ‘encouraged people to get outside and exercise their rights’ in regards to protests that have taken place in Madison and Milwaukee,” Tyler Ruhland, Hunter Nation’s Wisconsin State Director, said in a release from June 12. “So, it’s ok for protesters to exercise their first amendment rights, but it’s not ok for kids to exercise their constitutionally protected right to hunt? This move by the Evers’ (sic) administration makes no sense and Hunter Nation calls on the Governor, Secretary and the Legislature to immediately re-open these vital courses for the future of hunting in Wisconsin.”

DNR Communications Director Sarah Hoye said the DNR has no comment on the lawsuit.

“However, regarding safety instruction, due to public health advisories relating to COVID-19, the DNR temporarily suspended all in-person safety classes in March,” she stated. “Our first priority is safety. That includes not only providing educational safety courses for hunting, boating, and off-highway vehicles, but also ensuring the students and instructors who participate are as safe as possible from exposure to COVID-19. We hope to be able to resume in-person classes as soon as possible and the Department will be ready to assist our hunter safety instructors to make that happen.”

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