This Land is Your Land
By Will Stahl
Elena Maderas, daughter of DNR wildlife biologist, Kay Brockman-Maderas, turkey hunting at Navarino.
With a little extra effort to get off the well-trodden paths, hunting state wildlife areas could be surprisingly rewarding. This bachelor group was captured on a trail cam in the heart of Wolf River Country!
About Land Acquisition

DNR warden Mike Young offers these tips for landowners interested in selling property to the DNR.

Contact the local DNR wildlife manager. If the property falls within the area defined by the master plan, the DNR already has authority to buy it.

You have a better chance if the land is adjacent to existing DNR land. The state likes to round out boundaries to roadways “so people know where they are.”

The DNR wildlife managers will try to get the first right of refusal.

Don’t expect to make a killing. The DNR pays market value for land, no more or less. Stories of high prices paid by the DNR for land may refer to high market value properties bought to gain access to other property.

DNR purchases do not normally drive up property values. Exceptions may occur on individual adjacent parcels, which are now protected from neighboring development.

DNR purchases do not drive up taxes. The DNR contributes “aid in lieu of taxes” which replaces what local governments would lose.

The days are growing shorter and the afternoon shadows longer. Nights are cooler and mornings come a little later. The air is drier and a tinge of red appears in the maple down the block.

You may be one of the inhabitants or frequent visitors of Wolf River Country who sees these mostly as signs of the approaching hunting seasons. But where do you hunt?

Perhaps you own some land that is yours to hunt exclusively (excepting some siblings and in-laws). Perhaps you’ve leased some hunting acreage, which is about the next best thing. You might have charmed your way onto the land of a friendly farmer. Not that either? No place to go? No worries—there are still many places to hunt. The lower Wolf River valley contains more than 35,000 acres (about 55 square miles) of state-owned hunting land.

And if you’re concerned about some of the problems usually encountered on public land—crowding, game that’s scared off, careless hunters—the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would beg to differ.

Kay Brockman-Mederas, a DNR wildlife biologist based out of Shawano, particularly likes hunting turkey with her daughter, and the Deer Creek and Navarino wildlife areas are good for that. The lands in her jurisdiction, with a few small exceptions, are always open for hunting and have many underused parts. Navarino especially, at just under 15,000 acres, has large areas that see few hunters. “Most people hunt close to the parking lot and don’t want to beat the bush,” she said.

Scouting, Brockman-Mederas emphasized, is very important for deer. If you get out there a few weekends before the season and locate where the deer are feeding and bedding, you can find a good area to hunt.

“You’ll see the benefit of your efforts,” she said, and beyond finding deer, it gets you out of town and into the woods. “If we had people in contact with the environment, more people would calm down, feel less stress.”

Mike Young, DNR warden out of the Wautoma office, added, “People need to do their homework and do some scouting. They need to realize their first, second and third choice spots may be taken.”

He also emphasized that hunters should be willing to walk a little. One day at Deer Creek, he encountered six groups of hunters; the farthest in was a quarter mile from the parking lot. “People think they are way in there,” he said.

Young tried to dispel the idea that hunting public land is more dangerous. Eighty to 85 percent of accidental shootings occur on private land, caused by members of the victim’s own party, according to Young. The usual pattern is, “People think they know where the others are, but someone gets itchy feet and starts walking.”

Using the example of the Wolf River Bottoms area, he pointed out that 20 cars in the parking lot makes it look like it’s crowded. “But that’s 20 people in four square miles.”

Having other hunters around is not necessarily bad, Young said. “People don’t realize other people can work to their benefit because they move deer around.”

He’s seen evidence of that. “I saw a guy 100 yards off the parking lot, and I thought, he’ll never get anything. On the way out, I saw he got a deer, a decent-sized buck.” In general, the more hunters, the better they do.

But because most people tend to think like that, much of the public hunting land is underused. The Maine State Wildlife Area in northern Outagamie County, for example, is a small one, only 800 acres (still over a square mile), but it has some oak ridges and is good for deer hunting. The problem is that it has only one access, and it requires a “hellacious walk” and a willingness to cross some water to get in. Young has seen years when not a single car was there during deer season.

For hunters interested in waterfowl, Young recommended that anyone wanting to hunt on opening weekend stay north of the Hwy. 10 line because of all the “southerners” coming up. The Benke unit is especially managed for waterfowl, as is a 400-acre DOT mitigation site (one created to compensate for wetlands filled in) on Hwy. 54 at Van Patten Drive, east of Shiocton.

Young prefers to hunt after opening weekend. He thinks those willing to put in their time walking can “jump some ducks.” Across from Benke State Wildlife Area, the DNR has purchased 1,000 acres, to be managed for waterfowl, which in recent years has amounted to poor hunting due to lack of water. “I don’t think that will be a problem this year,” Young said.

DNR Wildlife Biologist Steve Hoffman is a dedicated hunter of deer, roughed grouse and waterfowl and a trapper who takes muskrat, beaver, fox and coyote. Though he said the lower Wolf areas get “hammered” on opening weekends, hunters willing to work a little for it can still find good hunting even then. He recommends using hip boots to get back into the cattail marsh to find good waterfowl and even deer hunting.

“Use of a boat can get you into areas you can’t reach otherwise” for waterfowl and deer opportunities, he said. Setting up on a bayou can provide good hunting even on opening weekend, but there are always areas where you can find good hunting, especially on a weekday.

Hoffman recommends using DNR Web maps if you are looking for really remote places. The DNR owns 20 to 50 acres of oddly shaped, unnamed areas along the Wolf River, accessible only by boat. While Rat River and other areas close to the Fox Cities see a fair amount of pressure, even there those willing to use their boots or boats can find deer and other hunting opportunities.

Brian Lockman, a DNR warden who supervises the lands south of New London, enjoys grouse hunting and deer hunting with bow, muzzleloader and regular gun. He especially touted the hunting at Mukwa State wildlife area, west of that city.

“Should be good duck hunting at the potholes (areas of standing water),” he said. The area gets pressure on the first two weekends of waterfowl season. Some hunt the main river or what’s called the “old river,” but remote areas are less used.

Along the south line of the wildlife area stands 300 acres of mature timber. Lockman has seen plenty of deer signs in but rarely sees a hunter. To make things easier for older and less agile hunters, he has moved deadfall and logs so access is easier.

Even less pressure occurs in the part of Mukwa on the west side of the Wolf. If a hunter would walk in off Thompson Road or approach that area by boat, he or she might see no one else. Lockman mentioned a new parcel just downriver of Mukwa being converted to prairie, now mostly marsh grass and cornfields.

Lockman was also excited about the recently opened Hortonville Bog, north of CTH S off Allcan Road, just east of New London. Its more than 600 acres have been made available by state acquisition of a private parcel that had blocked access. It has good deer hunting and some turkeys. Though some people already know about it, pressure will be heaviest only on opening weekends and during youth hunts. He did caution that it is ringed by poison sumac, which he learned the hard way. Let the allergic beware.

Like Hoffman, Lockman recommended going to the DNR Web site under “maps” to find small properties not otherwise marked. One is off Hwy. 54, just west of New London, and provides access to the “Oxbow,” an old cut-off part of the Wolf River. “Deer are in there,” he said confidently.

Asked about small game opportunities, Hoffman said that squirrel and rabbit numbers are down. Deer Creek in Outagamie County has opportunities for grouse, squirrels and rabbits. As a bow hunter himself, he noted that hunters are now allowed to leave deer stands set up on public hunting land through the day, even if they only hunt the early morning and evening. It still must be taken down at night. You are entitled to make ground blinds from natural materials and leave them up, but most use tree stands of some kind.

Despite its closeness to so much civilization, Wolf River Country is a kind of paradise for the hunter and fisher. As happens in many national parks, the state wildlife areas may seem crowded, but most people stay close to the road. In hunting as in other aspects of life, the venturesome are rewarded.

The Wolf River with its tributaries, bayous and back swamps rule this land. Those who are willing to take the land on its own terms can find what it has to offer. Those unwilling will probably find a place to park their cars, a short walk and a long wait.

According to the DNR, the primary purpose of state wildlife areas is to provide areas in which any citizen may hunt, trap or fish. Hunter numbers have been declining in recent years and according to surveys, one of the reasons people state is lack of access to hunting lands. But the lands are there—think and plan and walk or boat, and you will find your own place in them.