Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Reviewing past year’s outdoors events may lead to engaging ongoing winter opportunities.

Last October’s ruffed grouse season was more about looking for answers than searching the for birds that many hunters said were not there, even in the better northern habitat. Weather seemed to be the initial culprit being blamed for damaging recruitment of newly hatched grouse chicks, and therefore paltry autumn bird populations. And while that hypothesis is still on the table, another cause may be West Nile virus. Michigan believes that to be the case.

But evidence of an additional cause does not mean weather is still not a suspect. In fact, heavy rainfall could have hindered chick recruitment twice, including enhanced mosquito vector populations.

More moisture could have meant more mosquitos to carry and transmit West Nile Virus, but unlike Michigan, no recent tests were conducted yet in Wisconsin to try to understand the level of infection.

“Still, (West Nile Virus) could end up being another mortality factor for Wisconsin’s ruffed grouse,” said Scott Walter, a regional Midwest Ruffed Grouse Society biologist.

The message Walter leaves us with is that the DNR, biologists and health professionals are knowledgeable about what some hunters observed this fall and this is not doomsday for Wisconsin’s ruffed grouse.

In fact, an avid grouse hunter (in the field most days during the season) living in northern Wisconsin, encountered a lot more birds during the last part of the season, particularly after the gun deer season. Field data revealed his flush and kill rates were more than 75 percent of 2016, in other words, a respectable year.

The five-year deer predator study has begun its second year of winter capture. The teams setting drop nets over bait could use some real winter, as in snow and cold temperatures, to bring deer under the nets in Dane, Grant and Iowa counties.

This year the teams are using Covert wireless trail cameras that transmit images directly to the research team telling them through timed images if and when deer are visiting the sites. Having that knowledge, the teams can sit on site and drop the nets while others wait nearby to process the captured deer before releasing them.

Birders watching the skies no doubt have seen a plethora of hawks and other predator birds searching for food before heavy snow seals the deal. Bald eagles are beginning to ready their permanent nests for late winter egg laying.

Golden eagles and snowy owls are high on birders’ lists for winter sightings and the birds visitations should not disappoint this year.

Ice fishing is beginning to take priority in the minds of many anglers. First ice is best ice, they say, and meager snow cover enhances ice making and sunlight penetrating the water below. Vegetation under the ice needs light to create and add oxygen to the water. Then comes early trout season, beginning at 5 a.m., Jan. 6.

Pheasant and turkey hunting continue for a few more days, while rabbit, squirrel and grouse seasons continue longer.

Whether on the ice or slippery woodland slopes, boot chains could be the answer to worn soles. Try grippers, but not while walking on the basement wood stairs or while driving.

Anticipate added bird interest at feeders of all sorts. Some holiday left overs can be useful, too, including a discarded Christmas trees for animal roosting and hiding, as well as a turkey carcass to be picked at for meat and fat scraps by a dozen or more species.

I wonder if those occasional larvae inside hickory nuts might make an interesting panfish bait or bluebird food.

It’s not too early to bring pussy willow twigs indoors to force some catkin flowers. All that’s needed is water in a vase and warmth. They’ll turn fuzzy and then yellow or green as the flower parts emerge in a couple weeks.

Winter need not be disenchanting; mixing outdoor and indoor activities concocts real soul comfort food.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at or 608-924-1112.