Is there anything a hunter may do prior to season openers, especially when insects are still droning, the weather is not conducive, and sauntering hillsides seems precarious?
This is a great time to put the pedal to the floor and enjoy a ride gathering an annual autumn outlook by road trekking.
Road hunting is frowned upon, and worse, but road viewing and taking mental notes may accomplish some of what’s needed to begin autumn’s quest of an eventual offering.
Alone or partnered, on town roads and beyond, are starts. Eye assists; GPS or unfolded map, and recorder or pad and pencil replace any thought of a gun, bow or rod.
Vegetation is still head-high and unharvested, but roads themselves, pastures and maintained easements make animal sightings possible. Dawn and dusk are best because many species feed when light begins or ends. Rainy days sometimes bring gamebirds, including pheasants, turkeys and grouse, to where there is no wet grass or in this case no grass at all.
Plant identification can help, but need not be totally taxonomic. There are ubiquitous insect-pollinated goldenrods, purple Joe-pye weeds, and vining, white-flowered wild cucumbers.
White oak acorns are a great animal food and sometimes litter roadways. If only the cap remains, this means the food, or nut, has been eaten. The nuts fall, or are cut down by active squirrels and often stolen off the roadway by deer and birds. Note the absence of walnuts and hickory nuts. No buckets needed here.
Painted turtles climb to sun on logs, their backs covered with duckweeds, food for puddle ducks.
Farmers’ fences are lined with mourning doves. Wild turkeys find easier eating, too, under an oak and so do deer.
Bald eagles are still tending their eaglets. They’re searching for live game and roadkill. In fact, roadkill itself can be an indication of squirrel and rabbit populaces.
A maturing soybean field means turkeys, doves, deer and many more coming to feed when the combine leaves. A single swath by a corn chopper means silage for sure, and no more 9-foot stalks to hide deer here in short order.
Crops planted on public land, state wildlife areas, will readily accept pheasant releases and hold birds until season’s end.
Bending branches on wild apple trees are weighted with deer candy.
Fawns with clear coats mean mom’s close and she will attract a mate, albeit for a night.
A broken limb on a road could mean a dead elm for next spring.
Dry ponds may translate into puddle ducks not stopping in October and fewer muskrats, too. Flooded ponds, the reverse.
Even standing corn tells a tale. Are outer rows already missing ears? Squirrels, raccoons and deer have been here, and will return.
Hints of yellowing tree leaves could mean early leaf-fall is likely.
All these symptoms of the system tell whether or not this system will feed the next level and if so, who will be there at that next eating level?
Then it’s time to go the next step and approach, or bypass, the landowner based on the forecast from this “road hunting” prior to season openers.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fall forecast will be online prior to the Sept. 15 season openers.
Jerry Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.