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Hibernation facts all hunters should know

By DICK MARTIN • Jan 27, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Sometimes in winter, especially bad winters like this one is proving to be, I feel a little sad just thinking about the wild animals forced to survive ice and snow, lack of food, chill winds and rain with little recourse and nothing to do but tough it out until spring. Or give up the ghost and die. But Old Mother Nature has ways of caring for her creatures, and one of them is hibernation until the happy season comes again.

Some animals skip winters, whatever their severity, all together like the groundhog or woodchuck. These small mammals are true hibernators who disappear into their holes in early winter and don't emerge until late February or thereabouts. Their long sleep lasts for about five months most winters, and during it their body temperature lowers by almost half and their heart rate slows down from 160 to four beats per minute. In short, they're nearly dead, but not quite, and if dug out during this period they'll hardly move at all.

Many other animals go into a sort of "winter sleep", usually when outside temperatures drop dangerously low. These include squirrels, skunks, raccoons, chipmunks, and opossums. During such times, they seek shelter in trees, hollow logs, beneath rocks, or underground, even in your garage or attic, where they hole up and sleep for up to five days until the weather breaks. It's a good idea. Sleeping when basically no food is available anyway allows them to save body fat and energy for better days ahead. Which is why late season squirrel hunters should concentrate their efforts on days when the weather suddenly improves and snow begins to melt.

We don't think of bats as hibernators, but they are. There are no insects available in winter, so types like the Indiana and little brown bat while away the hungry months sleeping in caves where the temperatures stay well above freezing and change little from day to day. Most do their hibernating in either southern Ohio or just south of the Buckeye State border. I've had a few try to hibernate in my garage too, including a pair that attempted to winter in a five gallon bucket hanging below my rafters. They ran out of body nutrient and didn't make it.

Then there are frogs, snakes, turtles, and other cold blooded animals that crawl into holes, burrows or bury in mud and swampy areas where they remain through cold months. Then emerge in early spring to start their yearly cycle again. Spring peeper frogs are one of the first to emerge and their peeping is a nice sign of spring. Snakes like to gather together in a den and even clump into a "ball" there to help insulate themselves. I well remember a friend who was trout fishing in Pennsylvania one early spring and happened across a rattlesnake den deep in the rocks from which the snakes had just emerged. He shouldn't have done it, but he told me that he shot the snakes until he ran out of bullets for his .22 handgun.

I still feel sorry for animals that have to fight for life during bitter winters, and perhaps you do, too. If that's the case, you might build some thick brushpiles to give winter cover for songbirds, rabbits, and other small animals. Planting food patches of energy rich field corn, sorghum, and millet will help them, too. Doing such gives them a boost each winter, and makes sure that more survive till spring.

I'm sure Mother Nature would appreciate the help.

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• It's going to be a good year for boats, and an even better one for those who sell them. The National Marine Manufacturers Association announced recently it expects sales of new powerboats to be up six percent in 2017, making an estimated 260,000 new power boats sold last year. As consumer confidence continues to rise and boat manufacturers introduce products and experiences to attract younger boaters, the outlook for 2018 powerboat sales is another five to six percent increase.

• Many Ohio deer hunters have long worried that Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) would arrive in Ohio, and now those fears have been realized. State Rep. Jack Cera recently addressed the growing concern over an outbreak of OHD in deer herds throughout the state, with Jefferson County among the hardest hit by the disease. "Upon hearing from a constituent about large numbers of dead deer in a concentrated area, I spoke with the ODNR to gather information about what is being done to address the outbreak." said Cera. "While EHD is not a threat to humans, Ohioans need to be made aware of the circumstances that have resulted in mass fatalities to our deer population..."

• The disease is spread through the bites of small gnats with an incubation period of five to ten days. It has a high fatality rate and typically kills an infected deer within 36 hours. Cold weather will kill the gnats, but in the meantime sick or dead animals should never be touched or handled. As for what could happen come spring, only time will tell.

Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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