Working through winter...

Doug Leier

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Regardless of what the calendar says, North Dakota's current winter began during the days leading up to the opener of last fall's deer season.

Now it's the backside of January and it's colder and snowier. Young and old alike seem to have one eye looking out for the present, and one eye peeking at the calendar to gauge how much of this we have left.

Nothing wrong with looking to the future, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that away winter doesn't melt the snow any faster. The past few years I've realized I'm better off hooking up the snow shoes and sled and dragging the kids across the frozen tundra, than sitting inside watching television and dreaming of spring snow geese or open-water fishing seasons.

Ice fishing, North Dakota's number one winter outdoor activity, is a little different this year because of heavy snowpack on many lakes. The snow makes for challenges in getting around, and also adds such a weight on the ice that in some places water gushes out of auger holes, creating puddles where you want to fish.

Still, even if you can't get to exactly where you want, or even if the bite is a bit slow, there's the draw of deer sausage and pinochle in a fish house, and just getting outdoors.

In lieu of fishing, and when the weather allows, why not a good old Sunday afternoon drive in the country? A few deer enjoying a sunny reprise from winter brings a smile to everyone's face, and a hungry fox or coyote plodding the prairie in search of a meal might cue a hunter to break out the call and work a predator hunt into that afternoon outing.

And there are other hunting opportunities, like cottontail rabbits, that just might be the recipe for a weekend outing.

While the opening date for the spring snow goose conservation season (Feb. 21) is just a few weeks away, the endless drifts of white hard snow covering the countryside probably mean that hunters might be better served investing time in ice fishing rather than scouring the sky for a few scout flocks.

As you wait to see what the rest of winter brings, don't forget about the spring turkey season. The deadline for license applications is coming up on Feb. 11.

While winter does offer many avenues for outdoor activity, it's best to plan your outings conservatively. It's probably not a good thing to try to replicate the legend of “toughing out the storm in the ice shack,” or following the wisdom that “the roads may be closed but the lake is wide open.”

While I have shunned my own advice a few times, I am learning along the way that it's best to plan for the worst. Don't let an attitude of “it can't happen to me,” put you in a life-threatening situation.

Let someone know where you are headed and when you'll return, and stick to your plan. Pay attention to weather advisories and make sure you have a shovel, winter gear, and survival kit included with the thermos and whatever other equipment is accompanying your outdoor adventure. The only sure way to ruin a successful outdoor adventure is to not return home safe and sound.

The bottom line is that winter can be enjoyed, which is a good thing because it may still be awhile before we lose this glorious white blanket.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email:

Posted by Doug Leier under Field Journals on March 6, 09 11:01 AM | Permalink

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