Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Winter Fishing & Hunting

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Don’t look now but the holiday fishing and hunting seasons are underway. There is a fair amount of snow, ice conditions in many locations are in good shape, and a sportsman doesn’t have to look far to find fish to catch or game to hunt.

The archery deer season is still underway, and although the animals are a bit spooky because of last month’s firearm season and this month’s muzzleloader season, the stick-and-string bow hunters have the fields, swamps and woods to themselves. Very few rabbit hunters spend time afield with hound until after Jan. 1 when the deer season closes.

The deer have become almost nocturnal, and often move during the last 15 minutes of legal shooting time. One exception to this rule would be just prior to a winter storm. A drop in barometric pressure, the first few snow flakes bending into a parallel-to-the-ground travel route on a increasing wind is a key sign to pay attention to. If you hunt near home, it’s easy to scamper for safety if the need arises. Those hunters who have a greater distance to travel should use their own judgment of how long to stick it out.

Once,some years ago, I sat in a tree stand with a 20-degree temperature. My stand was 20 yards downwind of a well-trod trail. The wind picked up noticeably, and it began to snow. Big, heavy flakes soon covered the ground, and it only took 15 minutes. An adult doe and a yearling doe moved through, and I sat motionless as the storm’s fury increased.

I thought I was done, but then came the unmistable sound of two antlers meeting. The sound came from behind me, and I suspected the doe fawn was entering her first estrus cycle, and the bucks were trying to establish dominance and breeding rights. The antlers rattled and clattered, and soon the bucks were within shooting range. They need to move five yards closer for me to see through the heavy snow to shoot.

Then, there they were. Their eyes had that wild look that antlered bucks get during the rut. They were only 12 yards away, and lowered their heads and charged each other. Each buck was pushing and shoving while using thick neck muscles to move the other animal. The stopped, panting in the near blizzard condition, and I arrowed the largest of the 8-pointers. The wounded buck ran off into the heavy snow, and disappeared from sight.

Then another buck, this time one with 10 points, walked out to inspect the scene of the battle. I had no bow tags left, but it didn’t stop me from doing a practice draw on the big, heavily antlered animal. My red-dot sight paused just behind his front shoulder, and I went through all of the motions without an arrow on my string. The buck vanished into the storm, and I climbed down, took my bow to the car, grabbed a four-foot piece of thick wood doweling and 10 feet of sturdy rope.

I took the blood trail, and 60 yards away, found the 8-pointer. He was quickly field-dressed, and his head and antlers were securely tied to the wood doweling, and he was easily skidded through the snow to a nearby two-track. I ran 300 yards through the snow to my truck, drove back to load the buck, and then had to find a place to turn around. The snow made it difficult to see the trail, but we slowly eased out of the woods. A late-season buck is an accomplishment.

Bunny hunters seldom get too worked up about unleashing their beagles until after the archery deer season closes. They do keep track of where bunnies seem to move, and that where-to information is carefully stored away for later use.

This also is the time when predator hunting becomes popular. There are few red foxes in this area simply because coyotes and fox don’t get along. A coyote, whenever possible, will chase down, kill and eat a fox. Most predator hunting these days is done with a predator call although many sportsmen prefer to run them with hounds. A third alternative is the spot and stalk method. Hunters drive slowly down secondary roads, and if they are lucky, will spot the animal. Once they locate the coyote the stalk begins.

Some stalk-and-shoot predator hunts are successful, but many fail. Each failed stalk is filled with wildlife lessons, and it is nowhere close to being easy. Every coyote taken with this method is earned.

This period between Christmas and New Years Day, and the next 60 days, offer an abundance of magical days afield in the snow. Grab a pair of webs (snowshoe) if the snow starts getting deep, and continue hunting.

Best outdoor wishes to everyone.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/25 at 07:47 PM
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