If there's a low water mark in a hunter's life, it's got to be now.
Winter has stretched on for too long, as usual, there's nothing much to do, and more winter is coming. Lots of it. Still, there's one activity that will get you outside, provide some beneficial exercise, and offer insights into animal behavior that can come in handy for years ahead. That activity is snow tracking.
Some or most of the current heavy snow is sure to melt, but there'll be more, hopefully light little downfalls of just a couple of inches, and a snow that falls one day will give you a book with new pages to read the next.
Take rabbit hunting, for example. Every gunner knows where cottontails will be waiting during the first weeks of the season, but where are they during winter months? You doubtless believe you know, but snow tracking will tell you exactly.
A trip made last year to a nearby woodlot is a good example. I'd hunted that lot before and worked its few brushpiles and thickets thoroughly, but rarely saw a rabbit. The snow tracks told me why. There were plenty of delicate little prints along a brushy fencerow that bordered the lot, many of them leading down groundhog holes, and more throughout the grassy cover along a farm lane.
But the woodlot itself proved empty, not one single set of tracks anywhere within its perimeter. No wonder I'd so rarely jumped a cottontail there, and you can be sure I won't waste the time to hunt it again.
That same stretch of timber turned up a surprising number of squirrel prints though, and while one bushytail can lay down a lot of tracks, these were scattered in thick clusters throughout the six-acre lot. I saw where one had left a tree and moved here and there, stopping to dig up a nut and leave its fragments scattered, then bounced on to another treasure trove, and finally back to its home tree. Many others had done the same, a place to check when squirrel season rolls around.
In another brushy woodlot a red fox had been hunting, and outdoor types who favor hunting or trapping foxes would have benefited from tracking that creature. He meandered from brushpile to brushpile, from grass clump to thicket, and the straight line of prints gave plenty of insight into fox movements, their watering posts, and where they prefer to travel. The veteran hunter had good success too, as sudden pounces, tiny scuffles in the snow, and traces of blood or fur showed where one of the woodland denizens had met its maker.
And deer? A herd of five had been moving between a densely thicketed segment of timber and a harvested corn field repeatedly. The little group would lay up in the thickest cover as beds showed here and there, then drift out to look for corn remnants, and often stroll along an open woodlot to nibble at twigs before heading back to their bedding area.
Again, where they moved and why is something to remember when late deer seasons roll around.
There were more stories of interest printed on fallen flakes. Here a weasel had scampered through, and there along a farm pond a mink had hunted mice and muskrats.
Bird prints showed where chickadees, finches, and other seed eaters had sought food, and thin little mouse trails were everywhere.
An interesting and productive day, one that would teach you much about the lives of wild creatures. And all it takes is a new snow.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hunters and anglers who pursue their sport in Ohio are reminded that they must purchase new licenses by Thursday. The new licenses should be available at local retail outlets by this time or can be purchased on-line atwww.dnr.state.oh.us/wildlife. A fishing license is $19 for Ohio residents aged 16 to 65. A discounted license is for those 66 and older sells for $10. An adult resident hunting license is $19 for those 18 and older. Those younger than 18 can buy a youth license for $10. Again, a senior hunting license is available to those 66 and older for $10.
Is muskie fishing in Ohio as good as that in Wisconsin and Minnesota? Maybe not, but it's getting close. Last year there were 213 "Huskie Muskies" caught in Ohio lakes, with Leesville Lake again the top producer. Leesville anglers caught a whopping 635 fish in various sizes, followed by Alum Creek with 314, Lake Milton with 239, and Piedmont Lake with 199 fish. Clear Fork Reservoir followed with 187 muskies.
A radio tracking project to help solve the mystery of declining black duck populations has been initiated by the ODNR. Three drake black ducks at the Castalia Duck Pond were recently fitted with GPS transmitters, allowing their migratory and breeding habitats to be monitored by wildlife biologists. The biologists hope to identify key areas used by black ducks during their migration, and in wintering and breeding periods and shed some light on their decline.