DAVIS COLUMN: Pandemic provides and eliminates outdoors activities

DAVIS COLUMN: Pandemic provides and eliminates outdoors activities

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Outdoor exploits continue to provide prospects and solutions for physical and mental stresses related to COVID-19 as well as opportunities to dine from the land.

Fruits, nuts, fish and meats can all be gathered on some public locations, sometimes with only moderate expenses.

Wisconsin’s renowned pheasant stocking program, with relatively new egg hatching equipment, had to cut back chick production as well as the day-old chick program. The regular stocking on public lands will be reduced by 33 percent, with releases of 50,000 birds instead 75,000, the normal number stocked the last several years. The day-old chick program to conservation clubs was eliminated for 2020.

“We determined we would be able to continue to propagate birds, but decided going down to 50,000 would be a happy medium keeping staff we had and also being able to meet the CDC guidelines and precautions,” Kelly Maguire, Poynette Game Farm manager, said.

Exactly how those bird releases will be allocated to the numerous public hunting grounds is being determined with input from area DNR wildlife managers from counties with public pheasant hunting lands. The two-year-old Holiday release program is likely to continue at some level on many of the properties receiving birds last year.

“Almost anything is possible within the 2020 framework,” Maguire said. “We’ll be looking at numbers of stockings, length of stocking during the season and the economics of releasing a small number of birds, for example 10, at distant locations.”

Prescribed burns, particularly on prairies, were mostly held off until 2021. Wildlife, waterfowl and fish surveys were mostly spoiled too.

Ruffed grouse drumming counts did not occur, leaving upland bird hunters mostly guessing what to anticipate on the Sept. 12 grouse opener. Anecdotal data, in the absence of scientific surveys, can at least remove some of the uncertainly. Several northwest Wisconsin biologists noted drumming was good and weather for hatching and poult recruitment was also positive. It has been a nice warm and dry spring in good grouse habitats, they said. A few broods and roadside birds have been common.

Prairie blooms, and fauna that depend on those foods, are coming into their own, including monarch butterflies searching for milkweed flowers, as well as a vegetative plant to place an egg.

Wild berry creation continues to be on or ahead of schedule with warm days, frequent moisture and positive anticipation for blackcaps.

“The wild berry crop should be excellent, starting with mulberries and black raspberries,” Wayne Whitemarsh, of Sauk City, said.

Elk hunting authorizations (four) have been randomly selected and winners called. One permit was held out for a foundation lottery drawing, which requires buying chances through ticket purchases.

Based on some common fungal diseases, cedar-apple rust and elderberry rust, 2020 autumn may be a good mushroom season for chicken and hen of the woods mushrooms. Unlike morels, which do their vegetative growth the previous year and then fruit next spring, most fall mushrooms grow in spring and summer and fruit the same autumn.

Deer fawns are omnipresent, with a few triplet families reported. When twins are observed, and if there is a he-fawn and a she-fawn, size may signal a young buck and a doe. Male fawns average a half pound more than females at birth, or are about 6% heavier.

“Lots of fawns are being seen; farmers are taking precautions haying and week’s old fawns are already following and nibbling,” Whitemarsh said.

Don Martin, of Monroe, said bluegills, some 12-inchers, are being caught in the Madison area, while catfish continue to be caught in the Sugar and Pecatonica rivers. Devils Lake is another location, Whitemarsh said, for big bluegills and trout.

Antler growth continues to be swift; coats on most adult deer suggest a relatively healthy population and good seasons ahead.

Wisconsin’s deer, come November, can provide a good supply of healthful meat, usually at a reasonable cost. Novice hunters who are in need, might team up with an experienced hunter, take advantage of group hunting during gun seasons, and stock a freezer with tender venison.

Squirrel season, too, is another source of fine meat, to go along with walnuts and shagbark hickory nuts when September rolls in. Hazelnuts are now obvious, but squirrel have a monopoly with these early fruits.

A kids book just published, “Dave Explores the Outdoors: Minibeasts,” by Nicky Gould and Glen Holman, lists seven reasons spending time outdoors is valuable for children: Building confidence; promoting creativity and imagination; teaching responsibility; providing different stimulation; getting kids moving; making kids think; and reducing stress and fatigue. These aims apply to young adults and seniors, too.

Don’t overlook summertime as providing some relief, too, even as simple as sitting in the cool of a large oak tree, with a hunting mask, a can of IcyHot, and a cool lemonade.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at sivadjam@mhtc.net or 608-924-1112.

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