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Outdoor Report

Published December 3, 2015 by the Central Office

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View current conditions for Wisconsin State Parks, Trails and Forests
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For current statewide information on statewide snow conditions, log onto the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report (exit DNR).

Wisconsin's nine-day regular gun season ended Sunday, with more than 612,000 hunters out in the field. Preliminary registration totals indicate hunters brought in 201,812 deer during the nine-day season. A muzzleloader gun season is now open statewide and runs through December 9. This will be followed by an antlerless-only firearm hunt from December 10 through 13 in those parts of the state open to antlerless hunting. As a reminder, all hunters, except waterfowl hunters, are required to wear blaze orange clothing whenever a firearms deer season is open.

Parts of northern Wisconsin received 2 to 4 inches of snow earlier this week, but unseasonably warm temperatures are in the forecast and much of the snow is melting, as has the snow that fell last weekend in southern Wisconsin. Many lakes across the Northwoods became ice covered in the last week, but thickness is variable and only in the range of 1 to 3 inches. As such, ice conditions are extremely variable and generally unsafe for any kind of ice travel. With that said, there have been the first sightings of early season ice anglers venturing out, but they are staying in shallow water and close to shore. The first reports indicate minimal success with just a few smaller walleye caught.

Lakes remain open through most of central and southern Wisconsin, allowing anglers to continue to fish from boats. Some skim ice has been forming along shorelines, but the very warm temperatures forecast for this weekend should make most of that melt away.

A few duck hunters are taking advantage of the last few days of the southern zone season, which closes Dec. 6. The freeze-up starting on northern lakes has moved some additional ducks down, but the unusually warmer temperatures have promoted a slow migration throughout the fall.

Turkeys have begun forming winter flocks, so late-season turkey hunters may see a change in the daily patterns they've been observing. Pheasant hunters are still having good success with many birds seen in recent days drying out alongside the road ditches and parking areas. Pheasant stocking has resumed and will continue to provide opportunities for pheasant hunters through the rest of the season, which runs through Dec. 31. Squirrel numbers in southwestern Wisconsin have been very strong this year and have been offering plenty of challenges for beginning and advanced hunters alike.

A reminder that next Thursday, Dec. 10, is the application deadline for 2016 spring turkey and bear permits.

A lot of eagle and crow sightings have been reported with all the gut piles left over from the nine-day season. Waterfowl viewing opportunities still abound along the Mississippi River, with bluebills, canvasbacks, goldeneyes, buffleheads, mallards, ringnecks, and tundra swans remaining in numerous areas along Highway 35, especially between Ferryville and Lynxville. Lake Michigan has good numbers of red-breasted mergansers along with some scoters, red-throated and common loons, and other regular species. Great horned owls are already ramping up courtship activities. Listen for dueting pairs on calm nights, with the male's deeper hoot standing out from the female's higher-pitched response.

After an atypically large influx in October, reports of snowy owls have dropped off precipitously. As of November 30, approximately 87 have been tallied in 40 counties statewide. However, only 22 new birds were reported in all of November and only a handful of owls have been detected in recent weeks. Get the latest update on the snowy owl page of the DNR website.

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Upcoming State Natural Area Workday

Volunteers can enjoy a spectacular view and a free lunch high above the Mississippi River while helping restore a unique bluff and peregrine falcon habitat during a Dec. 18 workday at Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area.  The workday [PDF] runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the site, renowned for its mile-long bluff rising 400 feet above the river, and for its nesting peregrine falcons, a state endangered species. Volunteers will help remove buckthorn, an invasive shrub, and overgrown native cedar trees, to prepare for a prescribed burn planned for next spring. No special skills are needed for the work day and training will be done on site. Volunteers are asked to contact Dean Edlin at dean.edlin@wisconsin.gov or 608-792-3054 or Pat Poeschel of the Pepin County Land Conservation Department at 715-672-8665 ext. 5 by Dec. 14 to assure that enough equipment and food is available for the event. The workday is sponsored by the Lower Chippewa River Alliance, the Pepin County Land Conservation Department and the Department of Natural Resources. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane

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Statewide Birding Report

Waterfowl migration remains fairly slow amid atypically warm weather conditions throughout the region. Numbers and diversity of many species are expected to build in the coming weeks if and when northern water bodies eventually freeze. Lake Michigan has featured good numbers of red-breasted mergansers along with some scoters, red-throated and common loons, long-tailed ducks, and other regular species, though numbers of most have been below average. Tundra swans were seen by the thousands on the Upper Mississippi River south of La Crosse and lower Green Bay this past week, while birders found smaller numbers elsewhere, such as the Madison chain of lakes and lower Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior. After an atypically large influx in October, reports of snowy owls have dropped off precipitously the past month. As of November 30, approximately 87 snowies have been tallied in 40 counties statewide, compared to 76 as of this date in 2014 and 22 in 2013, both of which were large irruption years. However, 65 of this year's 87 came during the October 15-31 period alone, while only 22 new birds were reported in all of November and only a handful of owls have been detected in recent weeks. Get the latest full update on the snowy owl page of the DNR website. Short-eared owls are being seen near dusk at some large grassland and wetland complexes, while great horned owls are already ramping up courtship activities. Listen for dueting pairs on calm nights, the male's deeper hoot standing out from the female's higher-pitched response. December often brings "winter finches" to the region from Canadian breeding grounds. This year looks to be good for Bohemian waxwings and pine grosbeaks in the Northwoods, while common redpolls are being seen statewide, though more commonly across the north. Small numbers of red and white-winged crossbills and evening grosbeaks have been reported, especially up north as well. Warmer weather and abundant natural seed sources have bird feeders fairly slow across much of the north, save for the regular chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Southern birders are hosting cardinals, goldfinches, juncos, small numbers of pine siskins, and others. The week's best find was a Lewis's woodpecker photographed in Trempealeau County, only the fourth of this western species to ever be recorded in Wisconsin. Report your sightings and find out what others are seeing at www.ebird.org/wi. - Ryan Brady, Bureau of Wildlife Management research scientist, Ashland

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Northern Region

Superior DNR Service Center area

Brule River State Forest - December has arrived and brought wet, heavy snow and warm temperatures along, making some forest roads slushy and hard to navigate. Another nine-day gun season is behind us. Law enforcement personnel reported light gun pressure over the season and opening weekend harvest totals were down from last year. To follow the deer harvest numbers in your county or management unit, search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for "deer harvest." Dec. 10 is the application deadline for 2016 turkey and bear permits. For more information on how to submit your application, search dnr.wi.gov, for "application deadline." Christmas tree permits are available for sale on the state forest. Permits cost $5 and enable you to harvest one Christmas tree on the state forest. You can stop in at the Brule DNR headquarters to pick up your permit. - Edwin Koepp, visitor services associate

Ashland DNR Service Center area

Copper Falls State Park - All multi-use trails are currently open for hiking. Please remember, hikers and snowshoers are not allowed on designated cross-country ski trails when the trails are snow covered. A fresh coat of snow is making for a beautiful hike out to Copper Falls and Brownstone falls on the Waterfall Trail (Purple Loop.) Although covered with a fresh layer of snow, there is not yet enough to groom the ski trails. Please remember that pets are not allowed on the winter trails aside from the 2.5 mile Red Granite Falls trail, where they are welcome as long as they are on a leash and under control.

Park Falls DNR Service Center area

Upper Chippewa Basin fisheries report (Price, Rusk, Sawyer Taylor and inland Ashland and Iron counties) - Most lakes across the Northwoods became ice covered in the last week, BUT ice thickness is real variable and only in the 1- to 3-inch range. In addition, much of the area received an inch or 2 of heavy wet snow just after the ice formed, and this has been slow to firm up with the mild temperatures of late. As such, ice conditions are extremely variable and generally unsafe for any kind of ice travel. Most ice anglers wait for a solid 4 inches of ice before venturing out, and with the current warm spell it may take a while yet to reach that thickness. And with that said, there have been the first sightings of early season ice fishermen venturing out and these anglers seemed to be staying in shallow water and close to shore where the ice thickness was in the 2- to 3-inch range. This EARLY early season fishing is often quite erratic, and the first reports indicate minimal success with just a few eater size walleye being caught. - Skip Sommerfeldt, senior fisheries biologist, Park Falls

Flambeau River State Forest - The deer are done rutting and the bucks are catching up on their lost calories in preparation for winter. The does are fat and hopefully pregnant. The muzzleloader season has begun and runs through Dec. 9. There are a few inches of snow on the ground and snow is in the forecast so we anticipate good tracking and visibility. The elk are also enthusiastically feeding, preparing for the winter months. Most bears should be hibernating now; however the amount of rainfall may have flooded out a few dens. There is a thin layer of ice on most lakes. Ice fishermen, get those ice fishing shacks and tents repaired and ready, it won't be long now. The Flambeau River is open so there is still time to toss a line in the open river and see if you can catch a fish. ATV trail closed as of November 15. Lake of the Pines Campground is open till December 15 and ready for business. If you are adventurous, you may want to try winter camping. But be sure to dress in layers. - Diane Stowell, forestry technician

Woodruff DNR Service Center area

Oneida County - A few inches of snow and mild temperatures are creating great conditions for late-season deer hunters and grouse hunters. Ice conditions remain very poor to nonexistent. Some of the smaller lakes and bays have frozen over and anglers have ventured out; however, extreme caution is urged. Ice remains very thin and inconsistent. - Tim Ebert, conservation warden, Woodruff

Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - Opening deer season weekend was busy on the NHAL but it quieted down after that. One hunter reported a black bear around his deer stand. It's been very quiet for muzzleloader hunters. But there has been a lot of deer movement during the days following the nine-day hunt, probably from laying tight most of the season. There are a lot fishermen driving around checking if the ice is walkable yet. A couple brave souls have been venturing out on the way-too-thin ice, hopefully only in areas where the water under the ice is shallow. Lake and stream water levels on the Northern Highland-American Legion state Forest rebounded after a dry August and September. Ice conditions are not safe on the forest at this time. Warmer temperatures are forecasted so it may be best to hold off on ice fishing until conditions improve. The forest received about 2 inches of very wet snow Dec. 2, but the melt has started and will continue the rest of the week. There is about 2-4 inches of snow on the ground but it's melting fast. The trails crew will be out packing and clearing the ski trails of trees and debris. There are some large flocks of hooded mergansers and a few mallards are still around. A lot of eagle and crow sightings with all the gut piles and dumped carcasses. With little snow and seasonally mild temperatures, it's still a good time to be out gathering firewood on the forest (with a permit of course). Quite a few vehicles driving around from Thanksgiving on with scraggly Christmas trees strapped to their roofs, which one can only hope were cut from the forest (with a permit of course) and not purchased. Wood gatherers have been busy in our campgrounds over the past few weeks, but there is still some easily accessible firewood to be found. Gates were opened at the closed campgrounds to allow access for firewood gatherers and we will close them as we see that there is no wood remaining to be gathered. Permit holders are allowed to gather downed wood from all campgrounds on the forest from Nov. 1-April 30 annually. Scheduling next year's campground hosts will begin around the first of the year, so now is the time to get more information and apply if you might be interested in serving as a volunteer campground host. Contact Joe Fieweger at 715-385-3355 ext 113 or joseph.fieweger@wi.gov if interested. - Kimberly Krawczyk, Visitor Services Associate

Antigo DNR Service Center area

Langlade County - In the Antigo area winter is trying to make its start, but above average temperatures are melting the snow quickly after it falls. Hunters had a successful deer season with many hunters reporting an increased number of does and fawns observed. In spite of not having much snow mild conditions will allow muzzleloader hunters comfortable conditions to hunt in. Little ice has formed on most lakes. A covering...but too thin to support any weight. - Eric J. Borchert, wildlife technician, Antigo

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Northeast Region

Wautoma DNR Service Center area

Waupaca County - No reports of any fishing activity happening anywhere. Partially due to some skim forming, mainly due to firearm deer season. Seems to be plenty of deer left for the muzzleloader deer season. They were already back out in the agricultural fields on second Saturday of the season. Turkeys are all over during daylight hours up here. Just doesn't seem like there is much hunting pressure on them. Lots of geese around yet, haven't seen many ducks. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma

Oshkosh DNR Service Center area

Calumet County - Hunters in the area are still looking for that elusive deer with their muzzleloaders along the east shore of Lake Winnebago. Temperatures above freezing, along with several days of heavy rain, have made most marshes and lowland woods inaccessible. Several hunters have been seen venturing into these areas with hip boots and chest waders. Many deer hunters are hoping for a good freeze so they can get into their favorite spots for the December antlerless only firearms season. Pheasant hunters are still having good success on both the Brillion and Killsnake wildlife areas. Many birds have been seen in recent days drying out alongside the road ditches and parking areas. The pheasant season will run through the end of the month, and hunters are reminded to wear blaze orange if out during an open deer firearms season. - Michael Disher, conservation warden - Stockbridge

Winnebago County - It is hard to believe the 2015 gun deer season is behind us and yet we still have no ice. There are many anglers that are getting the itch and breaking out the tip-ups, augers, and jig rods. Early ice is universally seen to be a great time for success when ice fishing but it also the most dangerous. Remember this is the time to ask around and be very cautious before venturing out onto the ice. Let someone know where you are going and go with another person, never alone. It doesn't hurt to have each person in the group in possession of a throw rope and ice picks. Realizing that this is a time when bad things can happen, should make everyone remember to be prepared for the worst. If testing ice conditions wearing a lifejacket or float coat can also be a lifesaving decision. We have all heard the saying "there is no such thing as safe ice" and every time we walk on water that saying should be at the forefront of our conscious. - Jason Higgins, conservation warden, Oshkosh

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Southeast Region

Milwaukee DNR Service Center area

Southern Lake Michigan fisheries team report - Compiled from creel clerks by Cheryl Masterson and Jeffrey Zinuticz, fisheries technicians, Milwaukee

Streamflows are up and water clarity is poor on the southeast Wisconsin Lake Michigan tributaries. Conditions should be improving by the weekend, especially on the smaller tributaries like the Pigeon River, Sauk Creek, the Menomonee River, Oak Creek, or the Pike River. With warm temperatures in the forecast for this weekend, it should be a good time to hit your favorite spots and try catching some steelhead or brown trout.

Racine County - In Racine, brown trout remain in the harbor and in the Root River. Steelhead numbers are on the rise as well. The temperature in the river remains in the upper 30s, and there is no ice yet in the river or the harbor.

Plymouth DNR Service Center area

Theresa Marsh State Wildlife Area - The final pheasant stocking for the season will be done this week on Allenton, Jackson and Theresa Marsh wildlife areas. The pheasant season runs through Dec. 31. Effective Dec. 1, the two waterfowl refuges on Theresa Marsh are open for the season to pheasant hunting, trapping, bow hunting, and other hunting except no waterfowl hunting. A few duck hunters are taking advantage of the last few days of the duck season on Theresa Marsh and other area wetlands that still have open water because of the warm weather. A bald eagle is still hanging around the north end of Theresa Marsh off of Highway 28, and another has been spotted along Highway 60 near Slinger. Wildlife staff have been aging several hundred deer at four local meat processors in Washington and Ozaukee counties (Gehrings, Kewaskum Frozen Foods in Washington County, and Blau's and Schwaii's in Ozaukee County) as an aid to help estimate the local deer population using the sex-age-kill model. We greatly appreciate the participation of the four processors. Deer hunters have been having great success in Washington and Ozaukee counties despite the lack of snow and unfrozen conditions the past few days. - Tom Isaac, wildlife biologist, Hartford

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South Central Region

Dodgeville DNR Service Center area

Green County - Deer seasons are winding down; however, muzzleloader season is open until Dec. 9. The four day December antlerless season starts on Dec. 10 and runs through Dec. 13. Remember you must wear blaze orange while hunting any species other than waterfowl during this time. Also, as the snow begins to fall, please watch for trail openings and closing and be sure to follow them closely. When the trails do open be sure to maintain a safe speed, ride sober, and wear a helmet. - Ryan Caputo, conservation warden, New Glarus

Lafayette County - Yellowstone Lake is still not iced over. Lately hunters have been seeing bucks still in rut. Geese are moving through and some flocks are still hanging around. The turkey population is strong and the snow cover is little to none. - Nick Webster, conservation warden, Darlington

Fitchburg DNR Service Center area

Columbia County - Predicted temperature for the next week are to be mild and above normal, making the skim ice that's recently formed melt away. This last weather push seemed to bring in many more birds, from mourning doves to sandhill cranes. Excellent opportunities to see massive numbers of sandhill cranes exist just into Sauk County in the crop fields west of County Highway U. Pheasant stocking continues on the stocked properties in the county with many hunters still chasing those wily roosters. - Sara Kehrli, wildlife biologist, Poynette

With seasonably warm weather, no ice has formed on the lakes in Columbia County allowing for open water fishing to continue as well as waterfowl hunting. Decent numbers of migrating ducks and geese are making for some good hunting. The DNR will continue its pheasant stocking on state properties for two weeks following the gun deer season. It is a great time to pheasant hunt with reduced pressure. - Ryan Volenberg, conservation warden, Poynette

Dane County - The Madison lakes are still open and will get better and better over the next two weeks for waterfowl and water birds as lakes to the north freeze over. Expect large numbers of loons, tundra swans and a good variety of duck species. Reminder that the metro gun season extends to Dec. 9 in the greater Madison area. Check the regulations or DNR website for a map of the metro zone. DNR Staff will continue to stock public properties with pheasants through next week. With the warm weather in the forecast get out and take advantage of one more pheasant hunt! - Andy Paulios, wildlife biologist, Fitchburg

Jefferson County - Warmer temperatures have promoted a slow but steady migration throughout the fall. Pheasant stocking was halted during the nine-day gun deer season, but stocking has resumed and will continue to provide opportunities for pheasant hunters through the rest of the season. Turkeys have begun forming winter flocks, so late-season turkey hunters may see a change in the daily patterns they've been observing. The snow we received last week has since melted, and warm temperatures are expected to continue through next week. - Mark Witecha, wildlife biologist, Lake Mills

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West Central Region

La Crosse DNR Service Center area

Vernon County - Looking for some late season hunting opportunities? How about setting your sights on gray and fox squirrels? Squirrel numbers in Crawford and Vernon counties are very strong this year and offer plenty of challenges for beginning and advanced hunters alike. Squirrels remain active throughout winter but will hole up for several days during the nastiest winter weather. With a daily bag limit of five squirrels and an open season that runs through Jan. 31, there are numerous opportunities for squirrel hunters. Waterfowl viewing opportunities still abound along the Mississippi River. Bluebills, canvasbacks, goldeneyes, buffleheads, mallards, ringnecks, and tundra swans remain in the area and may be viewed from numerous areas along Highway 35, especially between Ferryville and Lynxville. Binoculars or a spotting scope will greatly improve viewing. Keep a sharp eye out for bald eagles, gulls, and other birds. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua

Wisconsin Rapids DNR Service Center area

Buckhorn State Park - Fishing pier and boat boarding piers are removed for the season. Rain and warmer temperatures are keeping most of the lake free of ice, except for some bays and backwaters. Remember, staff do not monitor ice conditions. Check at the park office for availability for camping. New campground, A1-A8, B1-B3 and site 8 are open. Backpack sites open are 9, 16 and 26-29. Drinking water is available at the park office and in the group camp. Showers and flush toilets in campground and south picnic area are shut down for the season. Pit toilet buildings are located in the campground and throughout the park. Stickers required at boat launch parking lots/picnic areas. Archery deer hunting is allowed in the park and wildlife areas. Other hunting and trapping are allowed in open areas from Nov. 15-Dec. 15. Hunting maps are available online or at the park office to see regulations and closed areas. Park area south of County G and south of 31st Street is bow hunting only for deer, turkey and small game. Gun hunting for deer, small game, and turkey is allowed in the park area north of County G and north of 31st St. The Yellow River Wildlife Area is open for all hunting opportunities. - Heather Wolf, park manager

Roche-A-Cri State Park - Camping and the main gate are now closed for the year. Please do not park in front of the gate. Parking will be in the winter lot on Czech Ave and park stickers will still be required. Hunting and trapping are allowed in open areas of the property from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, except that hunting with legal archery methods is allowed through the Sunday nearest Jan. 6. See map for closed area. - Heather Wolf, park manager



Last Revised: Thursday, December 03, 2015

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