Saturday is the opening day for a number of Wisconsin hunting seasons.
Northwoods hunters taking to the woods with shotgun or bow should be able find something to pursue.
Small game seasons such as grouse, squirrel and cottontail rabbit open Sept. 15. Ruffed grouse are a popular target of hunters in the Northwoods.
Grouse use a variety of habitats, but looking for the densest cover available is often the quickest way to locate grouse in a new hunting area.
According to Rhinelander DNR wildlife biologist Jeremy Holtz, spring drumming counts showed that the grouse population is down in some areas. Mild winters like the one we just experienced aren’t all beneficial for grouse.
“They roost in snow, so without snow to dive into they are more vulnerable to cold and predators,” Holtz said.
Holtz said an early spring can, however, be helpful for brood rearing. An early growing season brings plants that insects inhabit early, too, and these insects are an important part of a grouse chick’s diet.
“We have had some pretty well-timed rains, so there are some good amounts of natural foods available out there such as berries, hazelnuts, and acorns which feed grouse as well as deer, bear, and turkey,” Holtz said.
Holtz expects hunters can expect this season to be similar to last year, with grouse numbers maybe down a little.
“Early season hunters should look for water, hunting moist fringes of balsam or alder near creeks or streams. My best early season hunting is oftentimes in an older aspen or birch stand with a tangled understory of hazelnut. After leaf drop, that will change,” Holtz said.
Often, hunters pursue woodcock as they are pursuing grouse. Keep in mind that woodcock are migratory and are subject to additional federal rules. Woodcock season also opens a week later than the Zone A grouse season (Sept. 22).
A small game license is $18 for residents and $85 for nonresidents.
Fall turkey season also gets under way Sept. 15.
To hunt turkey, a hunter must have a turkey hunting license, turkey stamp, and turkey permit. Small game licenses don’t authorize turkey hunting and are not required for hunting turkey.
Unlike the spring season, in which hunters can harvest only jakes or toms, fall hunters may kill one bird of either sex per permit.
Holtz said this year’s turkey hatch was good with the warm, early spring. He notes that many broods can be seen alongside roads.
“I think the outlook for fall turkey is excellent,” Holtz said.
He thinks it’s likely turkeys will be found using some of the same forage as the grouse.
Holtz reminds bowhunters that are holding a turkey tag that they cannot legally take a turkey while hunting deer if they’re hunting over bait. While baiting is legal for deer, it is not for turkey.
The deadline for applying for a fall turkey permit was Aug. 1, but extra permits became available on a fist-come-first-serve basis beginning Aug. 25.
Holtz said Mitch Mode from Mel’s Trading Post in Rhinelander thinks sales of the leftover tags are lagging compared to last year.
Permits are zone-specific and none are available for the northernmost zones — 6 and 7. Zone 7 covers all of Vilas and most of Oneida County.
Area hunters looking for these extra permits are going to have to hunt south of U.S. Highway 8, basically.
Applying for a turkey tag costs $3. A fall turkey license is $15 for residents and $60 for non-residents. An additional $5.25 turkey stamp privilege fee is added at time of purchase unless the hunter purchased a 2012 spring turkey license, stamp and tag.
Hunters register their turkeys through the DNR website or using a registration hotline. No in-person registration stations are available.
Archery deer season
Archery season has grown in popularity over the years, and hunter success rates have grown as well. According to the DNR, there were about 85,000 licensed archery hunters in Wisconsin in 1966. Those archers harvested about 6,000 deer. In 2010, 260,000 licensed bowhunters took 87,000 deer.
The 2012 season opens Sept. 15.
Holtz said he has had fewer reported fawn observations this year, but notes that the early spring, which resulted in denser cover earlier and better forage away from roadsides, could well be a factor.
“Trail camera reports are starting to come in, and people are pleased with what they are seeing,” Holtz said.
He reminds hunters that some deer management units are “zero quota” units, meaning antlerless deer cannot be harvested. Included are DMUs 29B, 34, 35, 36 and 39.
“Early deer observations by archers will be difficult with leaf cover and plenty of available food, so the hunters that prepare the best will have the best results,” Holtz said.
A resident archery license costs $24 for residents and $160 for nonresidents.
An archery license allows for the use of a bow and arrow only, except crossbows are allowed for hunters age 65 or older, and hunters with a disabled hunting permit which authorizes use of a crossbow.
New this year, bowhunters can use their bow while hunting under the authority of their gun deer license, including during the 10-day muzzleloader season. Hunters with a gun tag can now hunt using a gun, bow and arrow, or crossbow.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.