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Another Wisconsin nine-day gun deer season is in the books, and preliminary registration numbers show a slight increase in statewide buck harvest, with 98,364 hunters successful in their pursuit of an antlered deer. Similar to 2016, northern counties again showed the most significant increases in both buck and antlerless harvest. Overall, preliminary figures show that 195,738 deer were registered down slightly from the 197,262 registered in 2016.
The gun deer season continued to show hunting as a safe recreational activity, as the season ended with seven hunting incidents and no hunting-related fatalities. None of these incidents involved mentored youth hunters.
The GameReg registration system worked well overall, with 62 percent of registrations completed online and 36 percent completed via telephone--while other hunters continued to visit walk-in stations that offer these services.
A muzzleloader season is now open through Dec. 6, and the archery season is open through Jan. 7. A four-day antlerless-only hunt will take place Dec. 7-10, while the holiday hunt will be offered in select counties from Dec. 24 to Jan. 1, 2018. Any legal firearm, crossbow or archery equipment may be used during these hunts.
While the nine-day hunt has ended, hunters are reminded to connect with DNR staff on social media through the department's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Also, be sure to check out Wild Wisconsin - an all new web and podcast series focused on all things deer hunting. So far, more than 200,000 viewers have used the series to help prepare for deer season.
In the north, most of the snow that had fallen previously has melted with temperatures in the 40s and 50s. Marshes, ponds, and shallow lakes have a half an inch to an inch thin layer of ice on top and in most areas Ice is not safe to go out and ice fish yet. For those open water anglers, musky season closes today Nov. 30.
Snowshoe hares and weasels have gotten their white winter coats in anticipation of blending in with the snow-covered landscape. However, they are very visible in the fallen leaves and underbrush of the brown woods and their lack of camouflage makes them easier targets for predators. Bears are denned up.
Duck hunters are still having success on the Green Bay and other inland bodies of water. Pheasant stocking will resume on some state wildlife properties now that the regular gun deer season is over. And a reminder that the Dec. 10 deadline for spring turkey and bear permits is now just over a week away.
Wisconsin is experiencing a blizzard of snowy owls this year, with more than 100 found statewide since Oct. 20. Seeing one is a great thrill but remember to minimize stress on them by not approaching too closely. While the specific distance varies by situation, you are too close if the bird becomes alert, spends time watching you, and/or flushes from its perch. Learn more about finding and respectfully viewing snowy owls on the DNR website.
Flocks of snow buntings have also been reported. These plump songbirds possess lots of white in their plumage which when are in a flock suggests the image of a swirling snowstorm.
2018 Wisconsin State Park stickers are on sale Dec. 1 and make great gifts. Stickers are available at park and forest offices, all DNR service centers and by phone at 888-936-7463.
Snowy owls continue to take the state by storm, with over 100 individuals reported from 44 counties since October 20. Seeing one is a great thrill but remember to minimize stress on them by not approaching too closely. While the specific distance varies by situation, you are too close if the bird becomes alert, spends time watching you, and/or flushes from its perch. Learn more about finding and respectfully viewing snowy owls on the DNR website . The Lake Michigan shoreline offers a good chance to see one, as well as various duck species such as red-breasted and common mergansers, common goldeneyes, greater scaup, bufflehead, horned grebes, and long-tailed ducks. Look for winter gull species like glaucous, Iceland, and great black-backed among the more common herring and ring-billed gulls. Several rare birds were also found there this week, including harlequin ducks in Sheboygan and Milwaukee counties, purple sandpiper in Milwaukee, western grebes in Kewaunee and Ozaukee, possible black-legged kittiwake in Ozaukee, and the western "Audubon's" form of yellow-rumped warbler also in Ozaukee. Rarities found elsewhere in the state included a Eurasian wigeon in Vernon, summer tanager in Barron, and a late Ovenbird in Dane.
Feeder activity remains on the slow side, in part due to the mild weather and lack of snow cover. Perhaps most notable are flocks of pine siskins in the south. Common redpolls are widespread, especially across the north, but still focusing on natural foods and generally not visiting feeders yet. Red crossbills also continue in numbers well above average. Look for them in areas rich with conifer cones or gritting on roadsides. With cold weather on the way next week now would be a good time to prepare a heated water source and put out high fat foods like black oil sunflower, peanut chips, and suet. Find out what others are seeing and report your finds at www.ebird.org/wi. Good birding!- Brady, NHC conservation biologist, Ashland
Ridgeway Pine Relict: December 8, 9 a.m. - noon
Ridgeway is known for its pine relicts that have northern plant species. Help the Friends of Ridgeway Pine Relict care for this site by removing invasive plants and planting native plants. This month we will be cutting brush and will burn it if there is snow. No skills needed you will be trained onsite.
Check the State Natural Areas Volunteer Program page of the DNR website for details. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane
Superior DNR Service Center area
Brule River State Forest - We went from snow on the ground in late October to bare ground in late November. It looks like early December will remain snow-free as well. The past week has been unseasonably warm with high temperatures in the 40s. Next week the forecast is for daytime temperatures in the teens and 20sóback to normal. Besides putting a damper on our human winter recreation activities, the lack of snow has an impact on wildlife in the area. The deer herd can still easily travel and forage in the woods. Snowshoe hares and weasels have gotten their white winter coats in anticipation of blending in with the snow-covered landscape. However, until we get some snow, they are very visible in the fallen leaves and underbrush of the brown woods. Their lack of camouflage makes them easier targets for predators. Muzzleloader season is underway until Dec. 6. If you are out enjoying the warm temperatures in the autumn forest, be sure to wear blaze orange or fluorescent pink. If you would like to cut a Christmas tree from the Brule River State Forest, permits can be obtained at the Brule DNR Headquarters. The cost for a permit is $5. With no snow, the recent lack of precipitation and windy conditions, the likelihood of wildfires has increased.Fire Danger level is now Moderate. Be careful with any campfires, wood stoves, or hot ash disposal as fire could easily get away from you and spread quickly under these conditions.Burning permits are required when the ground is not snow-covered. See the DNR's Burning Restrictions webpage for more information.
Amnicon and Pattison state parks - Both parks are providing great hiking opportunities this late fall. There is little snow remaining in the woods and "no mosquitos". Snowshoe hares are all white now and can be seen easily in the brown landscape. This snowshoe hare was photographed Nov. 29 at Amnicon Falls. - Kevin Feind, property supervisor
Park Falls DNR Service Center area
Flambeau River State Forest - Marshes, ponds, and shallow lakes have a half to an inch thin layer of ice on top. Connors and Lake of the Pines have dabbles of ice. Nights and mornings have been cold but days have been warming up. Temperatures are again on the rise. Fire danger in this area is moderate. Hunters have reported seeing groups of elk around the State Forest. Gun deer season seemed to be successful and hunters were happy with the amount of deer seen and harvested. Muzzleloader season is open until Dec. 6. Bears are denned up and the weasels have turned white. Porcupines have been seen more than usual by the forest staff. Porcupines are vegetarians with a winter diet of conifer needles, buds and the bark of pines, hemlock, maples and birch. They are relatively silent animals but respected because of their barbed quills. Beaver and muskrats are starting to prime-up so it seems that all indications imply that we will be having a normal winter. There are seven timber sales cutting on the Forest. Under the tree canopies there is starting a frost base but in the open areas there is little to no frost. Lake of the Pines Campground is open till December 15. The weather forecast for the weekend calls for Friday to be partly sunny with a high of 44 and a low of 27. The ATV/UTV Trail is closed.Saturday sunny and a high of 41 and a low of 26. Sunday, mostly cloudy with a slight chance of rain and a high near 44 and a low of 37. If you are traveling north this weekend, visit the Flambeau River State Forest. We have nearly completed the "Old Pine Trail" at the new headquarters and are welcoming its use. The boardwalk snakes around some old white pines with regeneration occurring around the edges and part of the trail follows the meandering Flambeau River and instills a feeling of peacefulness. - Diane Gobin, visitor services associate
Woodruff DNR Service Center area
Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - The State forest is enjoying October like weather! Most of the snow is gone and temperatures are above normal! Ice on area waters is thin at best, so outdoor enthusiasts need to be careful when crossing swamps and waterways on their way to their deer stands or if just out and about. It is a great time to sneak, look and listen to see if you can see that buck trying to get away from you! Be sure to check out the ironwood trees to see if there is a partridge budding in it! - Rosalie Richter, visitor services associate
Peshtigo DNR Service Center area
Oconto County - During the gun deer season, staff observed many bucks killed. There are still plenty of opportunities to go out and deer hunt. The muzzleloader season is currently open, and after that is the antlerless hunt. Have seen many pheasants running around and have heard from sportsmen's clubs they have had a good year of pheasant production. Individuals are currently fisher and otter trapping. There are lots of otter sign near Pulaski, and along the Oconto River from Oconto Falls up to Mountain. Beavers populations between Suring and Mountain are also high. Individuals stated they have seen a lot of beaver activity near the Weso Flowage. Ice is not safe to go out and ice fish yet. We have not seen much of turkey activity but that doesn't mean they aren't out there. Duck hunters are still having success on the Green Bay and other inland bodies of water. - Paul Hartrick, conservation warden, Oconto Falls
La Crosse DNR Service Center area
Vernon County - Several snowy owls have been observed in the Viroqua area this week. Snowy owls are rare winter visitors to southwestern Wisconsin but are more regular winter visitors to northern, central, and even southeastern Wisconsin. These distinctly marked, large white owls nest on the ground in the circumpolar Arctic tundra. Some years many snowy owls visit Wisconsin, but other years' experience almost no snowy owls. There is no permanent population of snowy owls in Wisconsin. Harsh winter weather in Canada or a scarcity of lemmings, which is a staple snowy owl prey, may cause large-scale southerly migrations. The majority of these visitors will migrate northward again in March. Additionally, flocks of snow buntings have also been reported from western Vernon and Crawford counties. These plump songbirds possess lots of white in their plumage, including white undersides and large white wing patches, and the mostly white plumage of a bunting flock suggests the image of a swirling snowstorm. Keep a watch out for these two winter visitors from the Arctic. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua