Walk in the winter woods
The thaw last weekend settled the snow and the following cold snap made for a solid base of snow cover beneath the recent snowfall. It will make for good conditions for skiing, snowshoeing or just taking a walk. Take a walk in the winter woods or fields. It is an opportunity to get exercise and fresh air, see some interesting things, and enjoy the woods from a different perspective.
Take a long or short walk down your favorite hiking trail. Travel some old railroad bed, a log road, unplowed roads in a state park or even some seasonal road through a state forest that is devoid of vehicular traffic this winter. Dress properly, set your own pace and be observant to some of the rhythms of nature in winter.
To some people the woods or fields may seem cold, barren and desolate in winter. But if you are observant and curious, a whole new world may be unveiled to you. The landforms and objects that were hidden by summer’s lush foliage are now revealed, showing some rock formations, streams or other natural features that you did not know were there.
With or without snow cover, the old roads and trails are now evident. Ruts or sculpted terrain show signs of a long ago farm or log road. Deer trails that were hidden by thick briers, vines or weeds are now evident.
Combine the walk with deer scouting. Trails and other signs such as rubs are now more evident. If there is a lack of snow cover you may be lucky to find some shed antlers. Frequently scan the area ahead or on either side and you may be fortunate to see several deer. They are likely to be seen in south facing slopes where the sun will melt the snow sooner.
To some people it seems that the woods are devoid of life because most of the birds that inhabited the area have gone south for the winter. However, if you are near an evergreen thicket you may see and hear plenty of winter residents such as blue jays, juncos, chickadees and others. You may be lucky and see less common birds such as a snowy owl feeding in the open field in daylight or even an eagle near open water.
More likely you will see the signs of wildlife if you know what to look for. If there is a light snow you can study the tracks of the unseen inhabitants. A fox’s tracks that end in a flurry of snow shows where he pounced on a field mouse for lunch. If you see what appear to be dog tracks, they may well be coyote tracks. A coyote’s tracks are usually in a straight line with paw prints in a line. By contrast a domestic dog usually leaves tracks that wander all over and paw prints rarely line up.
During the warmer weather squirrels will emerge from their sleep and scurry about in search of food they have hidden. Both a squirrel when bounding, and a rabbit in its normal hopping pattern will leave prints where the hind paws land in front of the front paws. However, if the tracks end at a tree, you can safely bet that it is a squirrel.
Going alongside a stream with steep banks can sometime reveal a worn area where some critter has been sliding down the bank into the water repeatedly. This is a sign that an otter or two has been frequenting the area and taking a break to have some fun. A random pile of feathers or fur without nearby tracks shows that some hawk or owl has been “dining al fresco” on a hapless rabbit or squirrel.
Be sure to take your camera for some interesting and unique shots of scenery. Carry water, snacks, sunglasses and possibly hand warmers or toe warmer packets. Wear proper footgear and avoiding getting wet feet. In summer it can be inconvenient; in winter it can be a lot more serious.
If you are not familiar with where you are going or are taking a longer hike, be sure to have a map, compass or possibly GPS unit. Carry a small emergency kit in your fanny pack or pocket and be sure to include space blankets. These fold into compact little packets but are essential if you should become stranded.
Dress sensibly and be prepared for changes in weather. It is best to dress in layers that you can add or remove depending on your exercise level and weather. Just remember to add or remove a layer before you get too sweaty or too cold. A light day pack to carry your unused clothing and extra gloves is recommended.
Make it a point to explore or investigate some new area or even revisit a familiar one for a new perspective. Don’t just sit home and wish for spring. Take a walk in the winter woods.
Mentor Program Annual Youth or Women Turkey Hunts: The Oneida County Sportsmen’s Federation and NWTF are teaming up, with the assistance of other groups, to give youngsters a great experience during the Youth Turkey Hunting Weekend, April 26 and 27 2014. Youngsters eligible for the youth hunt and who do not have the opportunity to learn from a family member or an adult mentor will have the opportunity to go turkey hunting with a mentor.
During the weekend of April 12, 2014 - prior to the weekend of the hunt - youngsters will learn from experienced mentors the basics of turkey hunting and practice their marksmanship at a shooting range under the supervision of certified instructors. Eligible hunters are youths 12-15 years of age, holding a junior hunting license and a turkey permit with written permission from their parent or legal guardian.
Youngsters who are interested in taking advantage of this opportunity will need to have completed their hunter safety course and have the permission of a parent or guardian. Youngsters must complete the application and submit it to the address below or by email firstname.lastname@example.org by April 1, 2014:
Youth/ Women Turkey Hunt
C/O Mr. Scott Faulkner
3720 Wells Gifford Rd,
Vernon Center, NY 13477
Some women may want to learn or participate in turkey hunting but do not have family members or someone who are experienced turkey hunters to learn from. The Oneida County Sportsmen’s Federation mentors will again provide this opportunity. This year’s hunt will be May 17, 2014. Prior to the hunt, women will learn from experienced mentors the basics of turkey hunting and practice their marksmanship at a shooting range under the supervision of certified instructors.
Eligible hunters are women 16 years of age and older holding a valid small game hunting license and a turkey permit. The bag limit for that day is one bearded bird.
Women who are interested in taking advantage of this opportunity will need to have completed their hunter safety course by that date. They must complete an application and submit it to the address above by April 1, 2014 or by email to email@example.com. Those chosen for this program will be notified.
X-Bow Status: Many sportsmen were encouraged by the governor’s inclusion of a crossbow season in his budget proposal. However, if you are in favor of this crossbow season regulated by the DEC, now is not the time to be complacent. The budget must still go through committee meetings and there is still room for political maneuvering by the opponents of the crossbow season (i.e. NY Bowhunters, Inc.)
If you are in favor of a crossbow season that would be determined and regulated by the DEC, not some sham set by the NYS legislature, then you need to act in the next few weeks. Contact your legislators and the legislative leaders and let them know that you are in favor of the budget provision as proposed by governor Cuomo. You can find information online or contact the NYS Crossbow Coalition (nycrossbowcoalition.com).