Plan and project as we might, ecological factors are the final determiners in animal densities for hunting, viewing and recruitment.
This past spring’s ruffed grouse forecasts suggested the 10-year-cycle would continue to creep toward a peak in about 2020. Hunters expected to flush more birds than last year. Early indicators in some of the better grouse habitat in northern Wisconsin have been underwhelming.
Several weeks into the 139-day season in Zone A, hunters and biologists were whistling a different tune. Something happened to the grouse population, Scott Walter, RGS regional biologist for the Midwest states, said. He went back and reminded us that we had heard good indicators from the spring drumming counts and early brood numbers, but there are many pretty clear signs that there just are not as many grouse out there as we thought there would be. It’s likely due to production being down. Greater percentages of adult birds have made up the takes, which helps to pinpoint the takedown.
Still, there are birds out there and some of the better locations are about on target, but many are not. Some long-term, carefully organized hunts tell the same low numbers.
One of several factors is likely the weather conditions during the early weeks after hatching when young chicks cannot tolerate torrential rains.
What the dip in the cycle means as the clock ticks toward 2020 is unclear, but the more hunters who hunt this fall, the more everyone will learn.
Whether these same factors impacted turkeys, pheasants and other ground-nesting birds is yet to be determined.
Deer hunters, on the other hand, continue to bring good numbers of deer home. The charts on the DNR web site show archers of both types reported 20,185 deer, 11,948 of which were antlerless. The charts show totals for each Deer Management Unit, which are counties in most situations.
Birds and mammals alike continue to gravitate into combined soybean and corn fields, as well as hay and other grain stubble. Pathways to and from these feeding areas are prime hunting areas, as are acorn locations.
Buck activity continues to be noticeable, with scrapes and rubs dotting the better feeding, bedding and areas between. Grunt calls have provided almost immediate activity by younger bucks.
Turkeys, too, appear in soybean fields where waste beans are abundant from spillage and lower-on-the-stalk unpicked pods.
Squirrel hunters have noticed deciduous trees are beginning to drop leaves, exposing these animals to clearer shots.
Peak leaf pigmentation is upon us in most parts of southern Wisconsin, but leaf fall is already creating bald spots in many mixed forests. Leaf peakers no doubt rate 2017 a medium year for October color displays.
One way to moderate this color disappointment is to look for out-of-the-ordinary plants, including poison ivy and shrub maples. While not blanketing entire hillsides, close examination will point out rosy-pinks in these small maples and bright yellows in the herbaceous poison ivies. Varied textures help, too, to display contrasts between leaf shapes and margins. Looking smaller will not disappoint.
More fall-like weather is ahead, encouraging hunters and dogs to pursue harder without overheating and stressing circulatory systems beyond limitations.