Winter Passions for the Outdoorsman

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For the true outdoorsman, winter is no excuse to go inside. As a matter-of-fact, it can beckon one to get outside and enjoy passions that the other seasons just don’t offer.

One of those passions is ice fishing. For the true fisherman, this sport offers opportunities that summer fishing doesn’t. For one thing, you can get to places that you can’t in summer and the equipment is relatively inexpensive. All you really need is a hatchet or axe for checking the safety of the ice. My dad always figured on four inches to be safe to walk on it; however, you still have to be cautious about springs or holes from other fishermen. You can chop a hole with an axe or use a fancy auger.

The only other piece of equipment is your line for catching fish. You can use a line with bait on the end that is dropped into the hole or you can fashion a snare with a slip noose from fine wire and attach it to the end of the line. A snare requires a little practice to learn how hard to pull it without breaking the line or cutting the fish in two.

Either way, ice fishing has a charm all its own with a mystique of lowering a baited hook or jiggling a snare into a dark hole. Some ice fishermen are so caught up in the sport that they have their home away from home, their ice shanty on the lake. True, it blocks the wind and offers amenities; however, the down side is that you have to be sure and get the shanties off the lakes and ponds before the ice melts and they fall through. This was never an issue when we used to have old-fashioned winters where the ice stayed all season long but, with today’s freezing and thawing, having a shanty can be more of a hassle than it is worth.

If your outdoors side leans more to hunting than fishing, then you may want to try coyote hunting. After the traditional hunting season in the fall is over, winter brings a time to try sport hunting and coyotes offer that perfect game. Winter is the time to hunt the hunter.

Coyotes were long thought to be creatures of the wide open west, but in recent years they have moved into timber country and even many urban areas. The popularity of coyote hunting has soared in the last 20 years, especially east of the Mississippi where their populations have risen dramatically.

So, why hunt them? Whether they are trapped or hunted with a gun, coyotes remain the bright spot in the fur market. According to Trapping Today, western coyote pelts went for an average of $56 last year while their eastern cousins brought an average of $25, which is far higher than mink, raccoon or fox pelts. Coyotes also eat the same game as we do: quail, duck, deer, rabbits, etc. So, a hunter can take out the competition and pursue an exciting hunt at the same time. Last, but not least, coyotes do spread disease, especially when they move into urban areas and come into contact with humans.

They are subject to diseases like distemper, rabies and trichinosis and can carry parasites like lice, fleas and worms. They are clever animals and easily adapt to different environments, which means they are not afraid to approach homes and farms. In this close proximity, they can easily pass diseases to dogs and humans. No domestic farm animals are safe when they are around because they are not very fussy on what they choose for dinner.

So, how do you hunt coyotes? Most times a hunter will set up in a camouflaged area and start calling them. The trick here is to be patient. In flat country, search out clear meadows, logger’s landings and marshy areas because it will give the hunter more visibility and the calls will carry further. In hilly country, look for hollows and valleys where you can set up on one side and survey the opposite side.

For the hunters that come back empty-handed after a coyote hunt, it is usually a few common mistakes that are the reason for their failure. Quite possibly they could be hunting an area where there are just no coyotes. On the other hand, if you haven’t killed one, it doesn’t mean that they are not there. Remember how cunning they are, it could very well be that the coyote saw you first. You hear them but don’t see them, it could be they are laughing with the thought that they outsmarted the hunter.

Using the calls can be tricky too. It is a fine line between knowing when to call too much or too little. Also, you may need to switch it up some and use calls that they haven’t heard before.

The number one mistake boils down to giving up too soon. It takes patience to wait them out. They also have a keen sense of hearing so any unusual noise will be enough to alert them.

When hunting deer and other game, if you don’t have your own land to hunt on, many hunters will meet closed doors when approaching farmers and inquiring about hunting their land. It is usually the opposite scenario for coyotes. Most farmers and landowners are more than happy for someone to rid the area of these menaces.

I remember my Uncle Don and his friends going coyote hunting many a night. The kill was always a thrill but, even more so, the sport provided them an opportunity to scout the land with friends and spend a starlit winter evening listening for their calls.

Coyotes have earned the nickname “Native American trickster” by being clever. They are twice the nuisance, but also twice the challenge to hunt. They provide the sheer excitement of tracking a wild animal.

So, just because snow blankets the land and temperatures drop, don’t forget the special challenges that only winter can offer the true outdoorsman. You can tap your fishing and hunting skills during this season, just like you do the other three seasons of the year, and tap into your winter passions.