Cabin fever can strike without warning as the winter wears on.
In this week’s Wildlife Matters, the Masked Biologist reminds us there are still some ways to get outside and stay active.
I have observed over time that the outdoorsman calendar becomes pretty singular this time of year. Well, it really bottlenecks starting with firearms deer season. Prior to that, people are fishing for fall muskie and walleye, going grouse hunting, duck hunting, archery deer hunting, but that typically funnels to firearms deer season. After that, it seems the average Northwoods sportsman’s next question is “how thick is the ice?” Ice fishing then becomes the focus until the ice begins to break up in spring. There is a smattering of interest in turkey hunting after that, until the walleye opener. Then it is all fishing all the time for most folks I know.
I would remind you, though, that there are some great opportunities to get in the woods right now today and hunt. Typically, ruffed grouse stays open into this month, but this season was closed by emergency order on December 31st due to health concerns. However, there are some seasons that are open year round and are most enjoyable this time of year.
First, there is snowshoe hare season. Snowshoe hares are all white this time of year, and are most active at dawn and dusk. They develop runways to help them get around in the snow, but are usually quite capable of travel on any slight crust or drift due to their large furry feet for which they have been appropriately named. You can usually find them in sub-mature aspen stands, alder thickets, hazel brush, really any thick brushy cover. Look for fresh footprints in the snow, and examine live tree trunks and branches right at the snow line for where they have been gnawing at the bark. You can use a .22 rifle if you want to be able to hunt them from a distance, but if you want to be able to hit them on the run you may want to use a shotgun. I recommend using steel shot or a non-toxic lead alternative for the health of the rabbit and anything else that might eat it.
Coyote or predator hunting is also open this time of year. Predator hunting is fairly popular in areas of the north during this time of year, a sporting event where hunters can register to hunt for a period of days and bring in all the animals they harvest for the competition. You can go out and hunt on your own, though, and do it not for competition but for satisfaction and a significant challenge. Hunting any predator is difficult, but coyotes are incredibly smart so harvesting one is truly its own reward. Most people hunt coyotes by setting up an attractant of some kind. When I have gone in the past, we used a small piece of white fluff on a wire that twitched periodically. Then we had mouth calls that sounded like a squeaking or squealing rodent. If all goes well, a predator will eventually follow the cries and approach the decoy giving you a chance at a shot. If you participate in this sport, make sure you have permission on the land you use, and know your target well. There is nothing more disappointing than shooting a coyote only to discover that you accidentally harvested a Federally protected wolf. Foxes can also be harvested in the same way. I don’t claim to be an expert in this activity, having only gone a couple of times, but it is a very different and exciting form of hunting.
You can also hunt coyotes with the use of dogs. Most common would be contacting someone who hunts with hounds, maybe for bears or bobcats, because they will run coyotes this time of year to help keep their dogs active. You could also keep an eye out far ahead while snowshoe hunting, because you may catch a coyote off guard and you might have a chance at harvesting it. These hunts may not put a lot of food on your table, or any, but they can be a memorable and enjoyable way to fight off cabin fever.
Striving to make new things familiar and familiar things new, this is the Masked biologist coming to you from the heart of Wisconsin’s great Northwoods.