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Area report: It should be another noisy weekend

By BOB LAMB / Tribune Outdoors Editor

Gunfire echoed across the Mississippi River throughout the Coulee Region at noon two weeks ago when the Wisconsin waterfowl hunting season opened in the Southern Zone. Advertisement

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A bevy of gunfire is expected on both sides of the river again on Saturday for the opening of the pheasant hunting season. Wisconsin's pheasant opener begins at noon, while Minnesota's opens at 9 a.m.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife officials expect mixed success for pheasant this fall.

"Wisconsin's wild, naturally-reproducing pheasant population experienced a mixed nesting season this year," said Eric Lobner, an upland game ecologist for the DNR. "Spring crowing surveys showed an increase in the number of crowing roosters, but our summer brood surveys indicated a decline in the number of broods produced and the number of chicks per brood. I'd say overall, the wild pheasant population can be considered stable and hunters can expect a season similar to last year."

Lobner said pockets of habitat escaped the worst of the cool, wet weather during the crucial nesting and brood rearing time of late spring to mid- summer and produced more normal numbers of new birds. However, Lobner said the challenge is to find those pockets.

Pheasant stocking in Wisconsin is limited to about 19,000 birds this fall, down from 30,000 last season. Wildlife officials cited budget limitations as the main cause of the reductions.

A complete listing of public hunting grounds that may be stocked with birds can be found in the 2004 Special Pheasant Hunting Regulations, which is also accessible on the DNR Web site under the outdoor recreation and hunting buttons.

Wisconsin's pheasant hunting season closes Saturday, Dec. 31. The daily bag limit is one cock on Saturday and Sunday. The daily bag limit is two cocks the remainder of the season. Some public hunting grounds have both hen and cock pheasant hunting (requires free permits and tags) and/or 2 p.m. closure times.

Meanwhile, fall turkey season opened last weekend and hunters reported fair to good success. The Southern Zone duck season closed Sunday but reopens Saturday. The black bear hunting season closed Tuesday and preliminary reports indicate a number of very large bears were taken this year.

DNR waterfowl officials expect a decent supply of ducks available along the Mississippi River. The 30-day canvasback season also begins statewide on Saturday. Another die-off of ducks resulting from trematode infestation has started around Lake Onalaska. Waterfowl biologists hope it will not be as severe as the last two years when thousands of ducks and coots died.

Hunters observing groups of dying or dead ducks or coots are asked to call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (608) 783-8405, or the Wisconsin DNR at (608) 785-9000/Turkeys are feeding heavily in picked soybean and cornfields and feasting on grasshoppers and other insects. Whitetail deer fawns are also growing fast.

Bucks continue to move toward the white-tailed deer rutting phase with increasing numbers of scrapes and rubs being seen in the woods. Many scrapes are made at night and may never be revisited. As the rut intensifies, hunters will find fewer, but more active scrapes. Most bachelor groups of bucks are also breaking up.

"I'm registering just does," said Bob Veglahn at Tri-State Bait and Tackle in La Crescent, Minn. "We've had a couple of bucks, nothing very spectacular, but guys are putting meat in the freezer and there's nothing wrong with that."

Bow hunters in Unit 59D around La Crosse are hunting to fill antlerless tags to earn their buck approval stickers. Many hunters, who haven't been successful in shooting an antlerless deer for earn-a-buck, are passing up a number of bucks, including some large racks.

Squirrel hunters reported good success. Hunters targeting areas like large oak stands or field edges with corn. Most hunters' report squirrel numbers are very good.

Panfishing continues to be excellent up and down the Mississippi River. Large catches of bluegills, sunfish and crappies have been taken from Lake Onalaska.

"Fishing has been fantastic," Veglahn said. "It's that time of year where if you don't want to try anything else, try fishing. Guys are catching big crappies from Lansing, Iowa, all the way up past Winona, Minn."

Veglahn said a plain hook and minnow is the most common rig for crappies, although twister tails and tube jigs are also working well.

"Some guys are using was wax worms on ice fishing jigs and are doing very well, too," Veglahn said.

Bluegills are biting on waxies and chunks of red worms or night crawlers. Some sauger were taken below the Lynxville dam, but they have been running on the small side.

Walleyes have been biting at times off wing dams and along the edges of the main and east channels of the Mississippi.

Veglahn rates walleye fishing about a 5 on a scale of zero to 10.

"Maybe that's because more people are concentrating on panfish," he said, laughing.

Bass fishing continues to be very good and there have been reports of good striper action.

A few northern pike are being caught on sucker minnows.

A number of areas reported increased sightings of dark-eyed juncos. These birds generally summer north of the Canadian border and spend winters south of it.

White pelicans are scattered around Pool 9 near Lynxville and Ferryville.

Asian lady beetles are surfacing again. The best way to deal with them is try and seal them out of homes and vacuum up those that do find their way into residences.

Fall colors are rapidly appearing as greens turn to purple, scarlet, amber, orange and gold. Many maples are showing brilliant reds and yellows and sumac is brilliant burnt red.

Asters and goldenrods are the most conspicuous wild flowers still in bloom.

Bob Lamb can be reached at (608) 791-8228, or at

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