Outdoors update: As winter turns to spring
By Ben Gruber
What is going on in the woods this time of the year? A lot more than the average person would observe from the road.
For me, I am already starting to see signs of impending spring. The coyotes and the red foxes are both reaching their breeding season. The coyotes especially can be pretty vocal this time of year as they search out mates. Vocalizations are usually reserved for the dark but can be heard on occasion during the day when the breeding season is upon them.
2016 was a rather interesting year in regards to the mast crop. Mast refers to the fruit of oaks and other nut-producing trees. Mast is a major food source for many forest animals, especially deer, turkeys, and squirrels. The failure of a large majority of the mast crop in 2016 has made it a tough winter for those critters.
I see a lot of digging around the edges of corn fields as they are desperately trying to find enough to make it through the winter. My squirrels have been caught dragging entire ears of corn across the road from the neighbors’ fields.
Whitetail bucks have begun to shed their antlers. Every year a buck drops his antlers in late winter in preparation for growing a new set that spring. A hobby of many folks this time of year is “shed hunting,” or searching the woods for antlers dropped by bucks.
With the food situation the deer have around here, I would suggest focusing efforts on the edges of cornfields, standing or picked. It appears in many places the majority of deer have given up on their normal haunts and herded up near food sources like standing corn. Find the food, find the deer. Find the deer, find the sheds. Many folks will even train their dogs to sniff out shed antlers, and that is said to be highly successful.
Migrating birds are going to start returning in the next few weeks, and now is a great time to get a bird feeder you can watch out the window. If you have children, it might be a great way to get them away from their screens. Put up a feeder, check out a bird book from the library, and let them see how many they can identify.
We are smack in the middle of the dog days of ice fishing with a slow, tough bite in many places. Soon, as the intensity of the sun increases, snow will start to melt a bit every day, and trickles of fresh water will start to run into the flowages and lakes. This fresh water brings with it fresh oxygen, and that fresh oxygen washing in will wake those fish up and get them biting again.
Unfortunately, this comes at a cost: safety. As soon as water starts running like that, it will begin to eat away at the ice quality near shore, and it will be difficult and dangerous to find to good ice. Always use caution, and no fish is worth your life.
Ben Gruber can be reached at [email protected]