The woods and fields of Wisconsin are only beginning to offer hints, but a new season is coming.
Soon the sumacs, maples and hickories will be ablaze in the colors of autumn. Deer will exchange their red coats of summer for a warmer, brown model. And the time of hunting and gathering will begin in earnest.
In fact, the first hunts are upon us. Monday ushered in the early September Canada goose, mourning dove and early teal seasons in Wisconsin.
In mid-September, deer hunting -- including a crossbow season -- will start, as will several traditional small game and upland bird seasons.
Once again, Wisconsin will offer among the nation's finest variety of hunting opportunities.
The deer herd and turkey flocks are large in the farmland regions of the state. Bear and ruffed grouse numbers are as high in northern Wisconsin as anywhere in the country.
Waterfowl, too, are plentiful. This fall will feature another liberal 60-day duck season with a six-duck daily bag limit.
Whether a hunter brings game home will, as always, largely depend on scouting and access to good hunting land.
As they do each year, the Department of Natural Resources' wildlife managers have prepared a comprehensive Wisconsin hunting forecast. What follows are items drawn from the forecast and interviews with DNR staff.
Here's to a safe, ethical, lawful and productive hunting season.
Deer: The 2014-'15 Wisconsin gun deer hunt is a season of changes.
Not only did the deer herd decline after the most severe winter in northern Wisconsin in 50 years, but the state has a slew of new regulations arising from the 2012 Wisconsin White-tailed Deer Trustees Report.
Wisconsin is now divided into county deer management units. The units are in one of four zones: Central Forest, Northern Forest, Southern Farmland or Central Farmland.
Each deer hunting license this year comes with an antlerless tag which may be used in a farmland unit.
To help deer herds recover, antlerless tags will not be available in all or part of 19 counties in the Northern and Central Forest zones.
New this year is a Wisconsin crossbow hunting season. Hunters of all ages and physical abilities may use a crossbow to hunt deer statewide from Sept. 13 through Jan. 4. The season was approved by the Wisconsin Legislature and runs concurrent with the archery deer season.
Also new this year, baiting and feeding of deer is prohibited in Shawano and Waupaca counties. The change resulted from the finding of a CWD-positive deer in the area.
As it does each year, the DNR emphasizes deer are not evenly distributed and recommends hunters actively scout to find the best opportunities in their area.
Bear: Wisconsin's black bear population is doing well and appears to be stable at around 20,000 animals, according to DNR wildlife biologists.
Wisconsin consistently ranks as one of the top harvest states in the country. In 2013, hunters killed 3,952 bears, the fifth-highest harvest in state history.
Gun hunters harvested 3,349 bears in 2013, while bowhunters accounted for 556.
In order to address steadily increasing bear populations and agricultural damage and nuisance complaints, additional harvest permits were awarded to hunters in recent years. Additional permits also provide additional harvest opportunities for hunters.
In 2014, 10,340 permits were issued. The department's current management objectives include population stabilization in zones A, B and C and a slight population reduction in Zone D.
Turkey: Although summer brood observations have yet to be published, state biologists say they've been amazed at how resilient turkeys have proved in the face of even the toughest winter weather. Following an extremely harsh winter in 2013-'14, spring harvests increased in most of the state and decreased slightly in northern zones.
The DNR will make 96,700 permits available to fall turkey hunters this year, the same as 2013.
In the fall, turkeys move from more open-field habitats to forested areas. Turkey flocks make extensive use of areas dominated by oak and hickory -- this habitat shift coincides with food availability as succulent vegetation and insects become less available and mast becomes more available.
Wildlife biologists recommend turkey hunters monitor mast crops where they hunt and determine where turkeys will be feeding. Spending a few evenings before turkey season locating roosting areas will help hunters find birds when the season begins.
Ruffed grouse: Grouse populations in northern Wisconsin tend to follow a predictable cycle every nine to 11 years. Survey results suggest that grouse populations in the state may have peaked in 2011 and are nearing a low point in the cycle.
Statewide, a similar number of drumming grouse were heard (0.84 per stop) in 2014 as during the 2013 survey (0.83). Wisconsin's primary ruffed grouse range, the Central and Northern Forest regions, showed mixed results.
Even near the low point in the cycle, however, Wisconsin offers among the highest densities of ruffed grouse in the nation. In all conditions, hunters need to seek good habitat. Ruffed grouse use a variety of habitat types, but young, early successional forest types are most important when trying to find a good grouse hunting location.
Waterfowl: Based on a record number of breeding ducks this spring in North America, Wisconsin and other states in the Mississippi Flyway have been offered a "liberal" duck season format by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
For Wisconsin hunters, that translates to a 60-day duck season with a six-bird daily bag limit. The daily bag may include no more than four mallards (and only one hen); five mergansers (to include not more than two hooded mergansers); three wood ducks; one black duck; two redheads; three scaup; two pintail; and one canvasback.
The season will also include a Wisconsin first: an early teal season. The experimental season is being offered to states in the upper Midwest. Depending on results over three years, it could become permanent.
The state's breeding population of Canada geese was estimated at 126,000, similar to 2013 and the 10-year average.
Rabbit: The outlook for rabbit hunters is good. The most recent survey indicated an increase -- from 0.14 rabbits per transect in 2011 to 0.17 in 2013 -- and high rainfall this year and plenty of green, succulent vegetation should see good rabbit production and quality hunting opportunities.
Squirrel: Squirrels are a popular game species for beginning hunters and veterans alike.
Squirrel production and resulting hunting opportunities are strongly tied to the previous year's mast production, so hunters are encouraged to look for areas with the presence of acorns or hickory nuts.
During the 2013-'14 hunting season, the results of a mail-in survey indicated hunters in Wisconsin spent 327,969 days afield and harvested 327,398 squirrels.
Pheasant: The pheasant outlook continues a downward pattern linked to loss of wetland and grassland habitat in Wisconsin. The 2014 DNR survey found 0.30 pheasants per stop, down from 2013 (0.42) and below the five year average of 0.48.
The April rural mail-carrier survey was also down, with 0.33 pheasants observed per 100 miles driven this spring. The 2013 result was 0.36.
Similar to last year, pheasant abundance was highest in the west-central region (St. Croix and surrounding counties), compared to regions in the southern and east-central portions of the state.
During the 2013 season, an estimated 43,725 hunters pursued pheasants, spending 368,434 days afield and harvesting 194,397 pheasants. Participation and harvest estimates reflect the pursuit of both wild and stocked pheasants. Fond du Lac, Kenosha, and Dane counties harvested the most pheasants in 2013.
The DNR plans to stock 92 public hunting grounds with approximately 75,000 pheasants in 2014, the same as last year.
(c)2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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