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Story originally printed in the La Crosse Tribune or online at

JERRY DAVIS: Yellowstone Lake attracts pheasant hunters

Bu JERRY DAVIS / Freelance outdoors writer

BLANCHARDVILLE, Wis. — Wisconsin is neither Iowa nor South Dakota when it comes to wild pheasants, but hunters can pick up a bird or two by hunting some of public hunting areas that have a combination of cropland and grassland cover.

Yellowstone Lake State Park and Wildlife Area is one such location. It is 130 miles southeast of La Crosse, has 4,000 acres of woods, cropland and grassland and is stocked with birds from Wisconsin's Poynette pheasant facility.

Area conservation clubs also contribute birds, and so does Mother Nature through wild bird reproduction.

First, we need a brief history lesson about Wisconsin's Yellowstone Lake area. No natural lakes existed in southwest Wisconsin 60 years ago. After considerable study, Yellowstone Valley, in Lafayette County, was chosen as a site to dam the Yellowstone River and create a lake. Some of the surrounding area was set aside as Yellowstone Lake State Park.

When the new dam was closed in 1954, recreational people got a 455-acre lake and a wildlife area 10 times that size. It is no surprise to Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists that Yellowstone became home to abundant wildlife, including waterfowl, deer, turkeys, pheasants, squirrels, rabbits and an occasional ruffed grouse.

Historic reports indicate the last wild turkey killed in Wisconsin, before turkeys were re-introduced several years ago, was in 1881 in Darlington, only a few miles from this Yellowstone Lake State Park. It has also been reported that an old elk antler was uncovered when the dam was built to create the lake.

Deer hunters, turkey hunters and pheasant hunters flock to Yellowstone Wildlife Area each fall, in part due to populations of these animals, but also because of other nearby recreation facilities.

In addition to an extensive horseback riding trail system, the wildlife area is home to a rifle range, one of the few in Wisconsin that is open to the public.

The DNR and local conservation clubs release pheasants each fall at Yellowstone. A few of these birds have survived and have begun to create a wild pheasant population. Wild Iowa pheasants, which were released in nearby Iowa County, have contributed to the population, too.

Like other public locations where pheasants are released, fewer birds were stocked at Yellowstone Wildlife Area this year than in the recent past. According to Don Bates, DNR pheasant farm manager at Poynette, Yellowstone received four, 90-bird stockings, during the first portion of the season, which opened Oct. 16.

Earlier this year, Bruce Folley, DNR wildlife biologist in Lafayette County, described the wild pheasant population being as high as it has ever been, due in part to 400 acres of the wildlife area under corn, soybean and alfalfa cultivation.

My older son, Tim, and his golden retriever, Maddy spent several days hunting cropland and grassland at Yellowstone this autumn. On our first trip, Maddy flushed three wild birds and a half dozen released birds. Two of the released birds ended up in our game bags, but the wild birds remained to live another day.

As the season continues until the Friday, Dec. 31 closing, I expect fewer and fewer stocked birds to bust from cover, although local conservation clubs hold some pheasants for release until early December.

Some of the best pheasant hunting follows recent snowfall. I've seen hunters without dogs come away with a bird or two by simply tracking roosters along field and woods edges.

A good pheasant dog kicks up wild pheasants, but most of these wily birds quickly become runners and flush well out of shotgun range. Still, they provide a challenge few pheasant hunters can resist.

Until Wisconsin puts new life in their pheasant stocking program and re-establishes a 50,000-bird release program, these out-of-the way public lands will continue to attract late season hunters.

Jerry Davis can be reached at (608) 924-1112 or at

All stories copyright 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 La Crosse Tribune and other attributed sources.

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