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MADISON – A number of furbearer hunting and trapping seasons open Oct. 20 in Wisconsin, with additional opportunities opening later in October and early November.
“Wisconsin has a wonderful diversity of common, unique, and rare furbearer species,” says John Olson, furbearer specialist with the Department of Natural Resources. “Beaver, coyote, raccoon, and muskrat are good examples of the more abundant and common species across our large region. In contrast, the more secretive bobcat, fisher, and river otter are present in the northern one-half of the state and are expanding southward to the pleasure of most. American marten is a native, endangered furbearer of northern Wisconsin.”
Raccoons are found in a wide variety of both rural and urban habitats. Those areas close to a wetland or farmland mosaic have the highest populations, with even the northern forests now being home to raccoons.
“We have large populations of raccoons with the highest densities in southern and western portions of the state,” reports Geriann Albers, assistant DNR furbearer specialist, “Raccoons are still very abundant in all counties in a wide variety of habitats, often to nuisance levels.”
The raccoon season opened statewide for residents on Oct. 20, 2012 with the exception of the Mississippi River Zone where the season opens with the muskrat and mink season. The non-resident raccoon trapping season is from Nov. 3, 2012 to Feb. 15, 2013.
Sluggish fur prices and poor ice at the start of the 2011 season, followed by a steady decline in spring pelt values may have affected trapper interest. Statewide, the beaver population estimate is around 82,000 animals, based on helicopter surveys in 2011. This is an increase from 2008, the lowest statewide population estimate since these surveys began in 1992. Concerns over this decline are being addressed by fish and wildlife biologists, fishermen, trappers, user groups, and interested citizens.
Because beaver populations are now at or below acceptable levels, the trapping season in Wisconsin opens Nov. 3, rather than mid-October, with a southern Wisconsin zone closing at the end of March rather than the end of April. A Beaver Task Force, comprised of citizens and agency personnel is currently reviewing overall beaver management in Wisconsin with initial recommendations expected in late 2012.
Current statewide otter populations are below management goals of approximately 13,000 animals. Although a majority of the population is found in the north, otter numbers in southern Wisconsin are increasing. They’re now present in many of our major river systems of the south and southwest, namely the Kickapoo, Black, Chippewa, Buffalo, Trempealeau, Mississippi, and Wisconsin rivers and tributaries.
“The otter harvest is highly regulated, which helps to control harvest pressure at a time when recent fur prices have strongly fluctuated,” says Todd Naas, wildlife biologist for Ashland County. Permits are issued based on annually adjusted quotas, estimated fall populations, and expected success rates. In 2012-13 harvest quotas will continue to remain conservative, at 900 statewide.
The statewide opening date for otter is the same as beaver, Nov. 3, and continues until March 31, 2013 in the Central and South Zones, and April 30, 2013 in the North Zone. Anyone interested in trapping otter must apply for a permit by August 1.”
Fishers may only be taken by trapping and by permit only. People must also apply for a permit for fisher trapping by August 1. Strong interest in fisher harvest has resulted in more applicants than permits. There are six fisher management zones in Wisconsin. Permit numbers are down in northern zones and the same or slightly higher in southern zones, but the number of applications received for each zone will determine whether a trapper receives a permit in their zone of choice or is awarded a preference point.
The northern forest bobcat population increased through the early 2000s, stabilized, and may now be on a decline.
“Even though we’re on the northern edge of bobcat range, we do have relatively good habitat and mild winters compared to regions north of Lake Superior,” states Robert Rolley, DNR wildlife researcher who studied bobcats as his doctoral thesis. “The population apparently peaked at over 3,000 animals in the early 2000s, but is now likely at the low end of our population goal of 2,000 to 3,000 bobcats north of U.S. Highway 64. Due to a combination of reduced reproduction and a decline in the winter track survey index, a significant reduction in the harvest quota will occur in 2012-13.”
A preference system allows the continuous applicant a bobcat tag about every six to seven years. Beginning in 2010, a $3 fee increase on bobcat permit applications has earmarked funds specifically for bobcat research in Wisconsin.
As with fisher and otter, bobcat must be tagged at the point of harvest and registered with the department. The bobcat season has a new structure this year. The bobcat harvest season is split between two time periods: early, Oct. 15 through Dec. 25, and late: Dec. 26 through Jan. 31, 2013, with permits valid for the season selected.
Also, in addition to registering bobcat harvest with a conservation warden, successful hunters and trappers are required to report their bobcat harvest using a call-in system. Within 24 hours of a kill, successful permit holders need to call 1-800-994-6673.
Coyotes, foxes, and wolves
Coyotes, the second largest of Wisconsin’s native canids, have expanded their range throughout southern and western Wisconsin. In the remainder of the state they continue to do well with their greatest challenge being in established gray wolf territories, where coyotes have bounced back, having learned to be less vocal and avoid their larger cousin!
An adaptable animal, coyotes seem to fair equally well in rural, urban, and suburban settings. Wildlife managers and conservation officers across much of central and southern Wisconsin are reporting a marked increase in coyotes. The same is being observed for both gray and red fox, with ‘reds’ closer to human dwellings and grays in the brush land and woods.
“There is an abundance of coyotes on the landscape in south-western and west-central Wisconsin,” according to Area Wildlife Supervisor, Kris Johansen. “Trappers in southern Wisconsin will be able to start trapping two weeks earlier as this year the north and south coyote and fox season dates are combined. This will provide trappers south of highway 64 additional days during a pleasant time of year to be afield with coyote and fox sets.”
Also, new this year, the coyote season will no longer be closed in the northern zone during the gun deer season.
Red fox numbers have increased across many areas of the north, with mange and coyote competition impacting populations in western and southern portions of the state. Gray fox have fewer cases of mange and appear to be doing well in southern and central Wisconsin.
Muskrat and Mink
Mink and muskrat populations appear to be doing relatively well in most of the state, with pockets of good numbers and other spots with low numbers.
On a statewide basis, opportunities to trap these species are quite good, as they exist in most areas where permanent water can be found. Brian Glenzinski, wildlife biologist in Southern Wisconsin observes that, “Muskrats are doing really well and it should be a great year for them.”
Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Trapping
In a progressive effort to improve the science of furbearer management, the State of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Trappers Association, Wisconsin Conservation Congress, and individual trappers have been actively involved in an international effort to develop BMPs for Trapping. This is one of the largest collective trap research efforts ever undertaken, with the final product being information and suggestions that each state and their trappers can use to improve on animal welfare and trapping in general, but specifically, in their trapper education programs. There are now 20 BMP studies completed and available at www.fishwildlife.org.
If you are interested in becoming a trapper, completion of a 12-hour Trapper Education course is mandatory.