Done until next season. That may be the case for some, but not for others.
Granted the most recent cold snap provides just the right amount of incentive to keep most inside, however the lure of a fresh blanket of snow on the ground provides just enough incentive for others to suit up and head out.
Now don’t believe for a minute the frigid temperatures are my idea of a good time.
When you come right down to it, traveling the frozen landscape this time of year can provide some interesting insight.
Engaged in a conversation with a friend I said, “Snow cover provides clues to what is traveling within a given area. Each time it snows the covering of white can be like looking at a clean sheet of paper.”
Just that quick my friend, a retired “Game Warden”, glanced down at his half full coffee cup with a gentle grin on his face. His gestures prompted me to ask, “Now what was that all about?” His answer was simple and to the point. His response was, “The snow never lies.”
Right now snow cover can be found throughout the northern tier. The higher elevations, for the most part, retain cooler temperatures throughout the months of winter. A “tracking snow”, as deer hunters call it, provides an opportunity to witness firsthand where game and other wildlife travel and can be found.
What we’re talking about here is not travelling woods roads behind the windshield of a truck or SUV. Instead it’s putting boot tracks on the ground.
Woods walking right now can be difficult. Obstructions covered with snow can make walking deliberate and at times slow. And winter winds, even on a balmy day, can get your attention in a hurry.
Right now wildlife populations in general are at a low ebb. That’s especially true when it comes to game species. That’s the way it should be. Winter weather and the adverse conditions it hands out will cull additional animals before spring. Even with the arrival of spring, wildlife remains vulnerable. It’s a race against time as wildlife try to outrun winter before they run out of available calories.
Walking the landscape and seeing tracks left behind by deer always puts a smile on my face. Some say there are too few deer, others feel the opposite.
Regardless of one’s particular point of view, the type and amount of overwintering sources of food will ultimately be a deciding factor as to what the numbers should be.
Spend some time following the tracks deer leave behind. They can reveal a great deal. It’s not just where deer travel across the landscape and why. One driving force is the need to eat and retreat to shelter.
Browse found where a young forest is regenerating is a source of food for deer.
Briars is another source of winter food. Yes, deer can and readily will feed on and consume blackberries, red raspberry cane, and even autumn olive, along with a wide variety of additional sources of plant life.
While deer tracks are perhaps the most readily found, the tracks of turkeys most likely come in second. However there are more to be found.
It is amazing where animal tracks seem to turn up, and that keeps things interesting.
On more than a few occasions I’ve come across tracks I can’t readily identify. The tracks were later identified using my Field Guide to Animal tracks. The book worked well, but the electronic age and devices have simplified things.
Seems like everyone today carries a cell phone. The cameras are great. Simply take a close up photo of an unidentified animal track. Upon returning home the photo can be employed to ID the impression left in the snow.
Those who want to quickly identify animal tracks in the field without the use of a field guide can use a cell phone. There are a number of apps that can be downloaded on cell phones. Search “animal track identification” to learn what is available.
Over the coming weeks additional snow will fall, that’s for sure. Each new layer of white covering the ground provides new opportunities to travel the winter woods.
Yes, traversing the landscape provides unique challenges. The snow that drags on your boots with each step taken will most likely be felt within the mussels of your legs by day’s end.
Be prepared and dress accordingly. Carry a small winter survival kit. Let someone know where you will be traveling. Don’t rely solely on your cell phone. After all, within many outlying areas a cell signal might not be in range of your phone.
Remember that the rigors of winter can be harsh for wildlife and humans alike. So exercise common sense when venturing out, especially this time of year.
By walking the woods it is amazing what can be found and how much you can learn.
Besides, like my friend pointed out, “The snow never lies.”
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Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net.