We're making ice and snow now. We're also getting a little snow cover. Ice anglers are prepping in earnest as ice depths continue to increase in backwater areas of local rivers. It won't be long now, maybe by late this weekend, when brave souls begin tip-toeing onto ice to get their first tastes of ice fishing for the winter. For gosh sakes, be smart and safe. Wear a life jacket. You may wish to check out our latest web video titled, "First ice." Meanwhile, ski enthusiasts are awaiting for Mount La Crosse to open. The good news is that a continued cold wave allows for 24-hour snow-making at the historic site south of the City of La Crosse. Coulee Region residents awakened to a dusting of snow this morning with another inch or two expected Friday night into Saturday morning. As for me, I drive over to 'Ol Tom's boathouse each day to check things out. A thin layer of ice surrounded the boathouse on Wednesday. My minnow bucket, containing a couple of dozen live minnows, was in the boathouse. However, when I propped open the spring-held, minnow bucket door, I discovered at least one inch of ice covering the minnows which had all died. They were alive and well the day before and for that fact, for two weeks before. I never lost one. But now I lost them all. In fact, I brought the bucket home to thaw out the remaining ice coating more dead minnows. Brrrrrr! It's certainly going to be cold for Wisconsin's four-day, holiday deer hunt Dec. 7-10. Until we meet, have a great day outdoors.
From Southern Wisconsin
Ground and pond water have hardened. Freezers, driers, pantries and other storerooms are loaded with winter nutrients and needs. Feasting has begun. Dig into wood cords as needed for heat and comfort. Pick up processed venison in town. Continue to bag a squirrel, rabbit, pheasant or turkey as desired, or panfish through the ice when safe. Pull down strings of dried morels and open canned berries or venison, and maybe horseradish for flavor. Sell or barter venison, raccoon furs and ginseng roots. Now, too, begin sorting this year’s stored photos and journals for sending out Christmas wishes to friends, relatives and landowners. Bryce Kubly, of Groenewold Fur and Wool, directed his mobile pelt purchasing business, an enclosed truck becoming clogged with deer hides and muskrat furs, into McFarlanes’ parking lot in Sauk City last Saturday. He had already made stops in Argyle, Mount Horeb, an Amish deer processor, and two public meat processors to purchase deer hides. If large enough, he paid $4 per deer hide or traded for a pair of deer skin gloves for each hide. A cashier in front of the truck box was cutting checks for raccoon, muskrat, mink and coyote pelts. Most trappers and hunters in line could carry their furs in their arms, including David Kerl, of Mazomanie, who trapped 12 muskrats on his farm. “They’re pests to farmers, digging holes in stream banks and out into the fields, so I’ve been farming and trapping muskrats for 50 years,” Kerl said. Maybe enough cash for a couple fish dinners, he thought as he looked at a $30 check. The largest “rat” brought him $4, but a small kit fetched a mere 50 cents. Another trapper had cleaned out a den of raccoon from under a neighbor’s deck, but most of those in line brought their deer hides to barter for gloves to keep their hands protected from this winter’s outdoors. Low fur prices are connected to supply and demand, beginning with mild winters, lower fur coat sales in China, oversupply of farm mink of late, and now rock-bottom prices except for a light-colored coyote, which might mount interest to $50. Kubly purchased one of those at Argyle. GRW also purchases squirrel tails, but none were stowed in the arms of waiting sellers on this mild afternoon. Most tails go to lure companies, including Mepps, which purchases by mail. On Feb. 21, 2018, Kubly will be back at the parking lot at McFarlanes’ for 30 minutes or less to pay out a few bucks of spending money to local outdoors gatherers who congregate furs and pelts. These same men, and a few women, gather wild edibles and salable produce including morels, berries and other wild edibles throughout the year. Next stops for Kubly were Spring Green, Dodgeville, Darlington, Monroe and then back home to Forreston, Ill., to unload and head back into Wisconsin for more furs and hides the next day. Human gatherers aren’t the only animals settling in to enjoy the fruits of past seasons. Some never stay around for winter and are south by now, spending the nutrients on flight. The last skunks are about to hole up until February to the pleasure of late bird hunters and their dogs, as well as early morning nature hikers. Deer continue to make use of stored fat and improved hollow-haired coats. Birds, too, are fit for weather with better quantity and quality of feathers and down. Seldom does a feeder bird perch, with its back toward incoming winds, allows the wind to reach a bird's exposed skin under its down and feather coat. The gratification of gathering has now led to a winter of indulgence.
Schafer's River Rentals
The ice is coming, although the wind is slowing down the formation. I think guys will start venturing out early next week. Just to let everyone know, I will have a ramp for ATVs and UTVs that goes from my parking lot straight onto the ice. This is free for everyone to use, no more having to turn around and go back up the hill! I am also going to have a shuttle run on the weekends from the shop out to Marge's Island as soon as ice permits. Stop in if you have any questions about that. I am excited. We are set for a really good ice season on Lake Onalaska! Thanks, Chad
Karen Perry from Wild Birds Unlimited
Brrrr... it's that time of year: The delight of seeing so many active and energetic birds at your feeders, and knowing that you are having a positive impact on the quality of their lives, makes feeding the birds a real joy, especially this time of the year. The best part is that this joy is available to everyone. Across North America, over 180 bird species can be attracted to yards with the right food, water and shelter. Any given yard can attract 60 or more kinds of birds. That’s a lot of joy and all of it right outside your window. Winter is a great time to watch the different types of birds at your feeders. Woodpeckers are busy eating mouthfuls of suet. Juncos and sparrows hurriedly scour the ground for millet. Finches take turns at the finch feeder. Jays raucously grab peanuts, and nuthatches and chickadees industriously horde sunflower seeds. Bird feeding is a fun and educational hobby, and this is the season to share it with everyone. Stop by the store this month and share the joy of the birds with us. We have the best seed, feeders, nature gifts and advice, and we can help you introduce this wonderfully joyful hobby to your neighbors, friends and family. Our offering for December is 20 percent off one regular priced item. Stop in and see us at: Wild Birds Unlimited (Crosseroads Center), 9348 State Hwy 16, Suite 214, Onalaska, WI, 608-781-5088. Happy birding! Karen Perry
VERNON COUNTY - Now that the nine-day gun deer season is behind us, many Crawford County upland hunters have shifted their focus to wild turkey, raccoon and rabbit hunting, all three species having strong numbers in the county. Wild turkeys are especially fond of acorns, which still remain abundant in many woodlots, and harvested cornfields. Successful wild turkey hunters are incorporating these food sources into their hunting strategies. Raccoon hunters have been focusing on large woodlots, and many raccoon hunters use hounds in their pursuit. Rabbit hunters, with and without the assistance of hunting dogs, are concentrating their efforts along field, forest and marsh edges, and brushy hedgerows, all ideal rabbit habitats, according to Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua.
BLACK RIVER STATE FOREST - Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-20s this week with a chance of snow on Friday. If you would like to cut a Christmas tree from the Black River State Forest, Forest Product permits can be purchased at the Castle Mound campground office. Please call ahead to verify office hours. Cross-country ski trails are open to hikers and bikers until we get snow. Snowshoe trails are open to hiking. Snowshoers can enjoy the one- mile and 0.6-mile trails at the Smrekar parking lot, the three-mile trail that connects Pigeon Creek to Smrekar Road or the 1.5-mile loop around Castle Mound. Snowshoers are allowed anywhere on the state forest that is not a groomed trail. Winter ATV and UTV trails are closed. Trails will re-open on Dec 15, weather permitting. UTVs are allowed on winter ATV trails, except for designated snowmobile only trails or any other trail that was previously closed to UTV use. Jackson County Forestry and Parks maintains and grooms all of the state forest's snowmobile and winter ATV trails. Grooming updates are posted on the Jackson County website. Castle Mound and Pigeon Creek campgrounds are open on a first-come, first-serve basis. East Fork campground and Outdoor Group camp are closed and will re-open on April 15. Mark your calendars for Saturday, Feb. 3. The Black River Forest Trail Foundation will be holding its annual candlelight ski, hike and snowshoe event from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Smrekar warming shelter. Food and refreshments will be available as well as a raffle with great prizes, said Emily Alf, visitor services associate.
ADAMS COUNTY - Prospective hunters would have to purchase an Adams County central forest zone antlerless tag to hunt antlerless deer north of Hwy. 82 during the upcoming antlerless only hunt Dec. 7-10. As of Dec. 4, public land tags are gone, but there are more than 2,700 private land antlerless tags available, according to Wade Romberg, conservation warden, Friendship.
BUCKHORN STATE PARK - The group camp and gate are now closed for the season. Dec. 7-10 is antlerless only deer for bow and gun. You must have a Juneau County/Central Forest/Public antlerless tag or Junior Antlerless tag for public land, said Heather Wolf, park manager.
ROCHE-A-CRI STATE PARK - Dec. 7-10 is antlerless only deer for bow and gun. You must have an Adams County/Central Forest/Public antlerless tag or Junior Antlerless tag for public land, said Wolf.
Wisconsin Birding Report
On Monday morning, the refuge manager for the La Crosse District of the Upper Mississippi National Fish and Wildlife Refuge spotted an immature female snowy owl at the refuge Visitor Center on Brice Prairie (west of Onalaska off of County ZN.) By late afternoon, two more had been seen. Yesterday, three birds were perched in the parking lot of the maintenance building at dawn. When refuge employees picked up equipment for the day’s projects, the birds spooked and flew into the cornfield just to the north. At dusk, while a few of us were watching those three birds, we were surprised to see two other birds fly by making a total of five. At least two were immature females and two were lightly barred and were either immature males or adult females. The birds got active between 4:30 p.m., and dark, and moved up from their perches on the ground to perch on signs, posts, tractors, telephone poles and other vantage points making them easier to see. Someone asked if they might migrate as family groups and could these birds be related? Has anyone done genetic testing of groups of birds found at a single location before (Duluth Airport, etc.)? Good birding! Dan Jackson Chaseburg, Vernon County, Wisconsin (Near La Crosse)
Around the Badger State
Temperatures have finally fallen again, and light snowfall also dusted many areas, and some, like the Brule River State Forest, got almost half a foot this week. Forest crews were able to roll the ski trails, but skiers will still have a while to wait before trails are groomed and ready. Across most of the rest of the state, cross-country ski trails are open to hikers and bikers until there is enough snow for grooming. Ice has reformed on some Northwoods lakes, but those looking to get out on the ice are urged to use extreme caution, as much of the ice cover is only surface thick. Remember ice safety - always have a phone, a buddy, ice picks and go slow while checking the ice depth in front of you. Until ice fishing really kicks in, a few anglers are still fishing on the Menominee River for whitefish, walleye and browns, and walleye fishing on the Wolf River has been hot, with anglers reporting great catches on the lower portions of the river. Muzzleloader season wrapped up this week and leads right into the statewide four-day antlerless only season from Dec. 7-10. This season provides an additional opportunity to fill an unused antlerless tag, but hunters must have a tag valid for the zone and land type they are hunting. All hunters must be wearing blaze orange this weekend. Archery remains open, but even bow hunters can fill only antlerless tags during the four-day season. Grouse hunters are still seeing birds and once in a while a grouse can be seen "budding" in ironwood and aspen trees. The last pheasant stockings for the season are done, but pheasants can still be found in the prairies for a little late season hunting. Large numbers of turkeys can be found in the mornings or evenings in open fields searching for food. Quite a few geese are still hanging around and will likely stay until snow covers their food sources. Turkey and bear hunters are reminded to submit their 2018 permit applications by the Dec. 10 deadline. Beaver and muskrats are starting to prime-up and fur registration has been up in the last week or so, with some fisher and otter caught since the cold snap. Sandhill cranes and trumpeter and tundra swans that were plentiful at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area during the mild weather were absent from the area this week. Winter birds such as rough-legged hawks, snow buntings, common redpolls, pine siskins and tree sparrows have all been sighted around the state as they venture south from Canada. Migrating waterfowl, gulls and loons are being seen in southeastern Wisconsin. Flocks of buffleheads have been seen along the shores of Lake Michigan bobbing in the waves. Madison area lakes will likely remain open for a few weeks making them a hot spot for lingering waterfowl. Birders in Madison reported long-tailed ducks and scoters over the past week. Results of recent population surveys on our state's bald eagles show the population is hitting record highs. Reports of snowy owl sightings remain strong, but please be respectful and keep your distance. If you are close enough to illicit a response from the bird, you are too close! People interested in cutting a Christmas tree from northern forests can purchase a forest product permit to harvest trees from the Black River, Brule River, Flambeau River, Peshtigo River, Governor Knowles and Northern Highland-American Legion state forests. Please call ahead to verify office hours (phone numbers listed at bottom right on individual forest pages).
Billy Isbell from Island Outdoors on French Island
Amid the recent cool down, no one is fishing. Most people are just prepping for the ice season. A few back bays are locked up, so I'm expecting there will be some fisheable ice late this weekend or early next week.