An average December in northern Wisconsin would, one would hope, deliver up decent snow cover in the woods and solid, clean ice on lakes. Not this time; not this December. The expected snowfall of a week ago fizzled out; most of the snow stayed to the west. We got a meager dribble. Ice? After a good start a few weeks ago, the thaw came in and stalled it. The past week brought some new ice, but it’s still a very iffy proposition and some lakes as of early week were wide open.
What does that leave us with? Not a lot, all things considered. But what we do have will provide a starting point for winter 2012-2013, and a “better late than never” attitude for those who love winter sports.
The forecast a week ago was for about five inches of snow; we got perhaps half of that. But that has been enough for some cross country ski trails to get some early attention. State trails at McNaughton, Madeline Lake and Escanaba Lake were rolled and packed early in the week and some skiing is possible. Make no mistake: Trail conditions are very sketchy and any skier heading out best take an old pair of “rock” skis to use. We have had reports of the McNaughton trail and while it is skiable there is not much snow, no set track and a lot of leaf and debris to deal with. For those who have an old pair of skis that can take another scratch (or two or three) to the base there is some skiing to be had. But don’t even think about it with new skis or high expectations.
Some who ice fish have been venturing onto some area lakes for a few weeks now. But, and we can’t emphasize this enough, ice conditions are variable and as noted earlier, some lakes are still open. On some bays and flowages there is up to five inches of ice; on other lakes there is hardly any. Do not assume there is good ice on most lakes; there is not. Ice is building slowly and inconsistently. Some areas will have enough ice to support weight; other areas are not at all safe. If in doubt, stay off the ice.
That does not leave a lot! Archers have good conditions and we’ve seen significant deer activity in areas that have a good acorn crop. Deer will travel to find acorns, given that they are a great source of protein. And grouse hunters who like the late hunt actually find the relative lack of snow works to their benefit. So if you are in the ranks of December hunters, things are looking good.
If you need thick ice or deep snow for your winter fun, things are on hold and all eyes are on the forecast, looking for word of impending snowfalls and cold weather.
The Outdoor Report is provided by the staff of Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander.