Friday, March 7, 2014

... we thought last winter was tough

Last November there was a tangible reduction in the number of mature whitetail bucks to be found during hunting season. The area DNR Wildlife Manager related that the number of adult male deer in the fall correlates directly to the severity of the preceding winter, and explained that the deer around here lack any meaningful agriculture to supplement winter diets and survive until spring mainly on stored fat and low quality browse. Ok, that makes sense and last winter was bad, but this winter is worse so far and we all hope it doesn’t last as long. I see young deer daily, mostly fawns enjoying the easy going on plowed back roads or standing on hillsides belly deep in snow. Fuzzy, teddy bear faced and looking healthy this late in the winter. They’re finding food somewhere, even though there is something like 50 inches of snow on the ground. And it’s cold. The first few days of March registered temps of -24, -27, and -32 degrees. Yeah, that’s below zero. This morning when I left for work the thermometer read a balmy 17 below. However, they say, it’s going to warm up soon.

So this evening I broke the red wax seal on a bottle of Makers Mark and am sitting here comfortably waiting for the warm-up. In my daily travels, besides the deer, I see very little wildlife other than birds. I think there is just too much snow, soft dry powdery snow, for the critters to move about in. There are few tracks, as well. But I can’t help thinking the wolves are laying low, biding their time ‘til there’s a hard crust on the snow and the pickin’s will be easy. “Yikes!” for the deer.

What will probably turn out to be a very hard winter for deer has certainly been a fine year for the grouse, with plenty of snow for deep roosts it’s hard to imagine how it could be better. I see the grouse, too, in the tops of tall aspens and alongside the road shoulders seemingly oblivious to the harsh weather and patiently waiting for the snow to melt from the drumming logs. When the temps warm during the day and the snow crusts at night the grouse will be in fine shape to rough it out to springtime.

Deep snow has made the firewood cutting a real job of work and I don’t need any excuses to stay indoors in this sub-zero weather, so I’ve had fun at the fly tying vise, putting together everything from tiny BWO’s to big, bushy pike flies.

There are many of us who enjoy wintertime sports and activities, but you’d be hard put to find anyone around here who hasn’t had enough of this weather. Fledge and I took snowmobiles into a remote lake to fish for lake trout through the ice. The ride in was fun and the scenery gorgeous, but we talked mainly about how long the winter would last. Fledge is looking to start a new lab pup and is as eager for spring as anyone. 

Ski resorts closed – too cold to ski. Poor turnout at the big ice-fishing contest – too cold to ice fish. Too cold for cold weather events. Uh, well… all right, then. Schools closed, work didn’t. The dogs are crazy bored, but it’s seldom warm enough to have them out for more than a few minutes. Last year it was winter until May. Spring field trials were canceled, there was no spring dog training and even fishing season was postponed. Let’s hope we don’t have another like that!

It takes some imagination to move into the right frame of mind and think about fishing when all the water around here is under three feet of ice that’s under four feet of snow, but the Makers Mark helps, and after months of moving snow and trying to stay thawed, the thought of slipping into the water on a pleasant summer day warms me better than the ticking woodstove.

5 March 2014