Published December 10, 2015 by the Central Office
View current conditions for Wisconsin State Parks, Trails and Forests
Check out the Wisconsin Department of Tourism (exit DNR).
[CORRECTION: The four-day antlers hunt runs from Dec. 10-13.]
The unseasonably warm weather has continued another week. Snow that had fallen has melted, with the exception of a little on the ground in shaded areas of the far north.
Most lakes and rivers through southern and central Wisconsin remain ice free, including the Winnebago system and the Mississippi River. Northern lakes that had frozen have open water areas redeveloping along many shorelines and inlet and outlets. Most early-season anglers that had been out trying their luck have now backed off and are waiting for cold temperatures to re-establish a solid 3 to 4 inches of ice.
While the unseasonably warm weather has ice anglers and snowmobilers contemplating trading their gear for boats and ATVs, it has created opportunities for others. While there's no snow for skiing, trails around the state remain in excellent condition for hiking, and many mountain bike and horse trails remain open. Grouse hunters report still flushing good numbers of birds while hunting in 40-50 degree days with no snow. Turkeys have been very talkative on the roost, including some gobbling. Trappers have easy access to trap lines and are starting to catch a few more furbearers.
The last pheasant stocking of the season is wrapping up but there are still opportunities on many wildlife areas. The southern duck hunting season ended last weekend, but goose hunting is still open and runs through Dec. 16 in the Horicon Zone and through Dec. 21 in the southern Exterior Zone south. Canada geese are still common throughout these areas thanks to the lack of snow and unfrozen conditions.
These conditions should also make it easy for hunters to endure longer hours afield for the four-day antlerless hunt that began Dec. 10 and runs through Sunday, Dec. 13. This hunt is open statewide in counties open to antlerless hunting [PDF]. Many northern counties are buck only, which means bucks cannot be harvested during this time. The archery and crossbow seasons remain open, but harvest is restricted to antlerless only, including the buck only counties. People can check the DNR website to see where additional antlerless carcass tags are available. A reminder that any one out hunting anything besides waterfowl still need to wear blaze orange through the end of this weekend.
Migrating waterfowl, gulls, and loons are being seen on Lake Michigan. The Mississippi continues to offer tremendous waterfowl viewing opportunities. Most waterfowl are currently adorned in their most striking plumage of the year.
The weather has been good for wildlife and the maintenance of their calorie reserves. Partridge have been seen "budding" in the aspen trees. Deer and elk are eating voraciously packing in the calories for the winter months. With the lack of snow, white ermine have been easier to pick out. Juvenile Coopers hawks and barred owls have been commonly observed in the past few weeks and rough-legged hawks were observed north east of Green Bay.
People interested in cutting their own Christmas trees can obtain permits to cut trees from northern state forests, such as the Brule, Black and Flambeau river forests, and the Northern Highland-American Legion and Governor Knowles. Permits can be obtained from the property headquarters for a nominal fee, typically $5 per tree.
December 12 Whitewater Oak Opening State Natural Area
Warm up your brush cutting arms and legs and help volunteers remove buckthorn from 9 a.m.-noon during our monthly Southern Kettle Moraine SNA workdays on the second Saturday. Protect some majestic oaks in the process. Buckthorn can spread and shade out savanna plants at this site. Bring a bag lunch to eat afterwards. Dress for the weather and wear clothes that are okay to get beat up. There may be fires throwing burning embers into the air. Wear clothes that can get holes in them. No skills needed you will be trained onsite. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane
Superior DNR Service Center area
Brule River State Forest - December has been here a little over a week and many people are asking the same question: where is the snow? The area has experienced abnormally warm weather for this time of year. Instead of ice fisherman out on the lakes and skiers hitting the trails, we are finding that the bigger lakes in the Brule area are still wide open and if the weather remains like it has, we won't be dreaming of a white Christmas this year. Dec. 10-13 there will be a state-wide antlerless ONLY hunting season for units where there are antlerless tags available. Many of the northern units, including the area around the Brule, are buck only units, which means that bucks cannot be harvested during this time. 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. Looking for gift ideas? We are now selling 2016 Stickers and trail passes here at the office. - Edwin Koepp, visitor services associate
Ashland DNR Service Center area
Amnicon Falls State Park - Most of the snow has melted at both Pattison and Amnicon Falls state parks, making hiking conditions excellent. The warm temperatures recently have really made it pleasant. New signs were installed on the Amnicon Falls snowshoe trail and staff and volunteers have pruned the trail's entire length. - Kevin Feind, property supervisor
Pattison State Park - Work has been done on the Pattison ski trails to make them more pleasurable for the hiker and skier. Most of the snow has melted at both Pattison and Amnicon Falls State Parks, making hiking conditions excellent. - Kevin Feind, property supervisor
Spooner DNR Service Center area
Burnett County - In Burnett County there is some thin ice that was receiving some ice fishing pressure the last week, but with warm temperatures what ice there is on the lakes is very unsafe. Some individuals fishing from shore have been experiencing some luck. Trappers are starting to catch a few more furbearers, and the grouse are beginning to be more visible. - Dustin Gabrielson, conservation warden, Webster
Governor Knowles State Forest - It feels a lot like April instead of December. No snow cover or ice makes for great hiking and horseback riding conditions. Eight electrical sites are being added at the Trade River Equestrian Campground, power is still on for the next few weeks. Christmas tree permits are still available, which can be obtained from the Governor Knowles State Forest headquarters. Permits are available for $5 and allow the holder to harvest one Christmas tree on the state forest. - Brandi Larson, visitor services associate
Park Falls DNR Service Center area
Upper Chippewa Basin fisheries report (Price, Rusk, Sawyer Taylor and inland Ashland and Iron counties) - The continued mild weather of the last week has really weakened the ice cover that we had and most lakes are down to just 1 to 3 inches of soft and questionable ice. Most rivers and streams have lost all their ice cover and are flowing at a moderate to high level. On the lakes, open water areas have redeveloped along many shorelines and inlet/outlet areas, and all waters are considered unsafe for any kind of ice travel. Most early-season anglers that had been out trying their luck have now backed off and are waiting for cold temperatures to re-establish a solid 3 to 4 inches of ice. This week's words of advice - better safe than sorry. - Skip Sommerfeldt, senior fisheries biologist, Park Falls
Flambeau River State Forest - Temps have been in the 30s and 40s and the forecast doesn't look like it will change till around the Dec. 15. Fishing in the Flambeau River State Forest, lakes and river, has been quiet. There are a few diehards out there but most folks are waiting to ice fish. It is a transitional period till ice covers. The weather has been good for wildlife and the maintenance of their calorie reserves. The deer and elk are eating voraciously packing in the calories for the winter months. Noticeable hunting activity around the forest has been the archery and crossbow deer season and the muzzleloader season (last day Dec. 9th). Grouse hunters have also been working some of the 90,000 plus acres of the Forest. No snow yet for the use of the snowmobile trail. The ATV/UTV trail is closed. The forest has beautiful silent sports trails. The Lake of the Pines Nature Trail and the Little Falls/Slough Gundy Trails are traversable year round. They are both signed for snowshoeing also. For the explorer, the forest has a unique set of trails north of the Flambeau Hills Ski Trail called the old Oxbo Trail. This trail is mowed once a year, but is not signed. It is set in an area of the forest of rolling hills covered with northern hardwoods. The weather has been just perfect for those long weekend hikes! The Flambeau Hills Cross country Ski Trail has been mowed and prepared for snowfall and ski conditions. Our grooming equipment has been maintained and ready for use. Lake of the Pines Campground is open till December 15, 2015 and ready for occupancy. - Judy Freeman, visitor services associate
Woodruff DNR Service Center area
Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - With the lack of snow, the white ermine has been easy to pick out as it hunts near the Clear Lake Ranger Station. Partridge can be seen "budding" in the aspen trees if one really pays attention. Hiking is much easier but one needs to watch for slippery spots with the moderate temperatures. And even though we are deep in the Northwoods, all it takes is the call of the pileated woodpecker to make one think they are in the jungle. With more snow melting daily, the trail crew is still clearing trails of down trees and branches, basically preparing them for when we get snow. Use care while hiking, the trails people are walking on tend to freeze up overnight and become very slippery with ice. Lakes and streams on the Northern Highland American Legion State forest are running higher than long term averages. The reason for this may be the combination of unfrozen ground, recent rain fall and several wet snows. There is still snow on the ground in shaded areas but south facing slopes are now bare. There are a few bays of lakes that are frozen but ice conditions are still poor with ice looking milky in color instead of a clear, more solid appearance. Trout Lake has open water this morning but that is normally one of the last lakes in the area to form ice. Most of the large lakes in the area still have open water. People are making the most of the low snow conditions - someone was cutting firewood at East Star last week and are people out walking in campgrounds that they wouldn't have been able to access if there was more snow. - Kimberly Krawczyk, Visitor Services Associate
Antigo DNR Service Center area
Langlade County - Muzzleloader season ended with very wet and brown conditions across the Antigo Area. Hunters that will be heading out for the late antlerless deer season will find less than desirable conditions for seeing deer. The area is snow free at this time. Lakes that were completely iced over are beginning to show some open water. People should avoid iced bodies of water due to the variability in ice conditions. There are still some summer bird residents in the area. Medium sized flocks of robins have been seen routinely throughout the week.- Eric J. Borchert, wildlife technician, Antigo
Peshtigo DNR Service Center area
Marinette County - Unseasonably warm weather has created opportunities for some while it is somewhat depressing to others. Grouse hunters report still flushing good numbers of birds while hunting on the 40-50 degree days with no snow. One hunter reported flushing nearly as many woodcock as grouse. Turkeys have been very talkative on the roost, including some gobbling. A few male birds have been seen strutting practicing for spring. Muzzleloader hunting closed Dec. 9. One last gun season will occur in the southern portion of Marinette County starting on Thursday Dec 10th. This season is for antlerless deer only and will only take place in the farmland zone. Please remember to wear blaze orange while any gun deer season is underway. Ice-fisherman and snowmobilers are likely contemplating trading their gear for boats and ATVS—no opportunity for winter sports right now. - Aaron McCullough, wildlife technician, Wausaukee
Hawk and owl migration and activity must be at a peak. Juvenile Coopers hawks and barred owls have been commonly observed in the past few weeks both unfortunately deceased and along road sides. Motorists should use caution not only when driving near deer but also these road side hunters. Rough-legged hawks are being observed north east of Green Bay, telling us that despite the weather it is winter. Unseasonable warm weather is in store for the antlerless hunt coming up making it easy for hunters to endure longer hours afield. Hopefully that translates to more deer observations. Remember to try that overlooked small dense habitat spot and perhaps some small group hunting through those dense patches to shag out those deer. Late waterfowl season opportunities have been great along the Green Bay west shores; ducks are feeding on the seed of rushes in many areas. Many geese are around as well yet. - David Halfmann, wildlife biologist, Peshtigo
Green Bay DNR Service Center area
Brown County - It has been unseasonably warm, with no ice formation in sight. Be sure to take advantage of this warm weather and recreate outside. The southern duck hunting season ended last weekend, but southern goose season goes for another two weeks. A reminder that any one out hunting anything besides waterfowl still need to wear blaze orange through the end of this weekend while the antlerless season takes place. Also a reminded that although Brown County metro archery hunt goes until the end of January, people out bow hunting this weekend cannot harvest a buck during the antlerless season. - Cara Kamke, conservation warden, Green Bay
Sturgeon Bay DNR Service Center area
Potawatomi State Park - There is still no snow on the ground as of Dec. 9, so all hiking and off-road biking trails remain open. The leaves are off the trees, so the park's terrain and animals are more visible. The north bluff offers good views of the surrounding waters and shorelines. - Lois M. Hanson, visitor services associate
Wautoma DNR Service Center area
Waupaca County - Have not noticed any fishing pressure lately. Duck season is now closed, Canada goose season open until Dec. 21 and tons of them still around. Lots of deer left, they are not moving well with the warm weather. Lots of turkeys around and it's awfully nice weather for December. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma
Waushara County - Things have been somewhat idle since the end of the gun deer season. The weather remains comfortable and there are still opportunities for small game out there. Folks are starting to see deer coming back out and moving since the pressure of the gun deer season so the antlerless hunt or late season bow hunting should be promising. If nothing else the weather is great for a walk in the woods or along parts of the Ice Age Trail. - Ben Mott, conservation warden, Wautoma
Oshkosh DNR Service Center area
Winnebago County - Sturgeon spearing season is fast approaching for the Lake Winnebago System but you would not believe it when you see that the entire system is ice free. Mother Nature works in mysterious ways and rest assure we will have ice come February...that is just Wisconsin. Now is a good time to begin to prepare yourself for the sturgeon spearing season by getting your gear prepared and ice safety equipment ready. Sturgeon spearers and ice fishermen need to know the ice, be prepared for anything and always expect the worst. - Jason Higgins, conservation warden, Oshkosh
Milwaukee DNR Service Center area
Milwaukee County - Get out for the December four-day Antlerless Hunt on December 10-13. If you have already harvested an antlerless deer, you can visit the DNR website to see where in the state additional antlerless carcass tags are available. You can also visit the department website for updated deer harvest information across the state. With the warm winter weather, most of our waterways are free of ice. Migrating waterfowl, gulls, and loons are being seen around the county and on the lake. New reports of snowy owls in seemingly better condition than those seen in the initial irruption in October and November have occurred in northeast U.S. and northern Plains recently, including a few in Wisconsin. Join DNR staff on Saturday, December 19 at Tichigan Wildlife Area in Racine County to discover some of the great birds that are winter residents in Wisconsin. Contact Dianne Robinson at Dianne.Robinson@wisconsin.gov (262-424-9827) for more details. - Dianne Robinson, wildlife biologist, Waukesha
Plymouth DNR Service Center area
Theresa Marsh State Wildlife Area - The last pheasant stocking of the season was done late last week on Allenton, Jackson and Theresa Marsh Wildlife Area. The pheasant season runs through Dec. 31. All hunters except waterfowl hunters are reminded that they need to wear legal blaze orange for any hunting except waterfowl through Dec. 13 when the four-day antlerless deer hunt ends. The duck hunting season for our area closed Dec. 6, but goose hunting is still open and runs through Dec. 16 in the Horicon Zone (includes Theresa Marsh and NW Washington Co), and through Dec. 21 in the southern Exterior Zone south that includes the rest of our area outside the Horicon Zone. Canada geese are still common throughout the area thanks to the lack of snow and unfrozen conditions. The best goose hunting spots to try are harvested crop fields or short hay/winter wheat fields on private lands if you obtain landowner permission. An immature bald eagle was reported near Pike Lake, and another bald eagle was reportedly vehicle killed near the Highway 41 rest stops north of Theresa Marsh. - Tom Isaac, wildlife biologist, Hartford
Fitchburg DNR Service Center area
Sauk Prairie Recreation Area - Still a lot of Sandhill Cranes congregated in fields especially along the river and towards Pine Island. No snow on the ground for the antlerless only hunt, but still great opportunities for hunting for those who still have unused tags. There are still bonus tags for Sauk County private lands available to purchase. - Nancy Frost, wildlife biologist, Madison
La Crosse DNR Service Center area
Vernon County - The Mississippi River remains ice-free and continues offering tremendous waterfowl viewing opportunities. Most waterfowl are currently adorned in their most striking plumage of the year. A sharp-eyed bird watcher spotted a male long-tailed duck, formerly known as an oldsquaw, along the Mississippi River, near Lynxville in Crawford County this past weekend. The same observer also noted numerous wood ducks in the same general area. Long-tailed ducks are diving ducks, known to plunge to depths of 200 feet or more, and are rarely seen in the generally shallow waters of western Wisconsin. Long-tailed ducks are frequent visitors to the larger, deeper water bodies in eastern Wisconsin, especially Lake Michigan. Long-tailed ducks breed in the Arctic and winter along both ocean coasts and the Great Lakes. At this time of year, drakes or males are easily recognized by the black and white plumage and long, dark, pointed tail that sweeps upward. They feed by diving for mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua
Black River Falls DNR Service Center area
Black River State Forest - Temperatures this weekend are expected to be in the mid-40s with a slight chance of rain/snow. All hiking trails are open and in good condition. Christmas tree permits are available for purchase on the State Forest. Permits are good for one Christmas tree and can be picked up at the main office located at the Castle Mound campground. All ATV trails are closed. With above freezing temperatures, it is unlikely trails will open on Dec. 15. Castle Mound and Pigeon Creek campgrounds are open on a first-come, first-serve basis with a limited number of sites plowed in each. Information on primitive off-site camping is available on the DNR website. - Emily Alf, visitor services associate
Wisconsin Rapids DNR Service Center area
Buckhorn State Park - 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. Archery deer hunting is allowed in the park and wildlife areas. Other hunting and trapping are allowed in open areas from Nov. 15 to 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. Hunting stands may not be left overnight on state lands. - Heather Wolf, park manager
Roche-A-Cri State Park - The main gate is now closed for the year. Please do not park in front of the gate. Parking is in the winter lot on Czech Avenue. 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. No vehicles or ATVs are allowed in the park. Hunting stands may not be left overnight on state lands. - Heather Wolf, park manager