Might As Well Enjoy the Other Stuff, Too, Right?
Are your deer tags already filled? Still some season left? Here are four things you can do to pass the time until the New Year.
It's cold, wet and generally miserable. It's also some of the best waterfowl hunting of the year.
"It" being hunting ducks and geese in winter. The reason it can be so good is quite simple -- subfreezing temperatures have put an icy lid on many of the wetlands wintering ducks and geese favored earlier in the hunting season, forcing them to seek out the often-limited habitats that are still open.
Make no mistake, this is cold-weather hunting at its best (or worst, depending on your viewpoint), but for nearly foolproof shooting opps and concentrations of birds, it's hard to beat. Whether you hunt rivers that have sections that remain open, windswept grain fields with minimal snow covering them, or those rare marshes or other wetlands that have springs which keep sections from freezing over, the ducks and geese will be there. Best of all, it doesn't take a big spread of dekes to draw birds in. Dress warm and in appropriate camo, even though you'll enjoy brief periods of warmth when a flock sets its wings and your adrenaline kicks in.
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Small Game Hunting
While most rabbit hunters prefer using beagles when seeking wintertime cottontails, the dog less cottontail hunter can get in on the action as well, and without the aid of a sharp-nosed hound.
All that's required is an accurate shooting .22 rimfire rifle, some snow cover, and an area that contains a good density of rabbits.
In colder weather, cottontails will often remain in burrows, only venturing out to feed at night or on sunny days to sit at the mouth of the hole and soak up the sun's warmth. A brown cottontail against a white background isn't all that difficult to spot if the hunter moves slowly and quietly and looks more than he moves, thereby not spooking any cottontails back down their burrows. On cloudy or the cold days, the best hunting will occur just after daylight and just before dusk. On warmer, sunny days you're apt to encounter them above ground throughout the day.
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Winter is a tough season on all wildlife, both prey and predator, as both are challenged to find sufficient food to carry them until springtime. It's also the beginning of the mating season for fox and coyotes and, as such, you'll often see them running in pairs. But possibly just as notable is the simple fact that these predators are much more active and remain on the move, seeking prey, far longer than they would in other seasons. And some scouting on the part of the hunter, both visual and via tracks left, can reveal their normal hunting routines and preferred routes.
The places to look for both fox and coyote travel patterns are in the open meadows and pastures that offer a long-distance view of any predator that is crossing or hunting there. From my own experience, I find that while driving back roads that border such habitat, the first couple hours after dawn produces the most visual sightings. Once the hunter has a solid idea of the most popular ones used by predators, he can return the following day, take up a dawn (or evening) stand overlooking the area that will offer him a reasonable rifle shot.
Due to predators' sharp vision and sense of smell, wind direction is important when choosing stand placement. It should also be far enough away so, should the wind shift slightly, the hunter's scent won't be picked up by any approaching predators. Lastly, wear appropriate camo and avoid being silhouetted against the skyline. Carry a predator call and use it to lure the critters out or get them to move closer for a better shot. Flatter-shooting centerfire calibers in the .22-caliber range are best because of the usually open areas being hunted. And keep in mind that a fox or even coyote at 150 to 200 yards is not all that big of a target. So the hunter should make sure their rifle is zeroed and proficiently accurate at longer ranges.
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Guns and Shooting
Whether you're chasing deer, ducks or rabbits, the sometimes foul weather that you'll be exposed to in winter can be just as testing on the gun you're carrying.
Moisture that creeps into the gun's mechanism can freeze and result in a malfunction. Also, unless you use the right lubricant and sparingly, subfreezing temperatures can transform it into thick gunk, especially if a bit of debris gets mixed with it. The results can be a frozen or slowed action, especially in semi-autos, or a non-fire because the frozen firing pin fails to release or releases too slowly to ignite the primer. Follow these rules to ensure optimum results:
- Use a lubricant that doesn't thicken in cold weather.
- Make sure to use the lubricant sparingly.
- Keep all your gun's moving parts clean as a whistle.
All too often, I've witnessed hunters blast high-pressure aerosol cleaners into their gun's mechanisms and then do the same with enough lubricant to last me a lifetime. In extreme cold, I usually carry a gun that I've cleaned of all excess lubricants. The mechanisms in today's guns are very reliable and only require to be kept clean and with just enough lube to keep the rust away after being subjected to foul weather or when stored. But they'll perform best in really cold weather if lubrication is kept to a minimum and the actions are kept spotless.
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Food Plots and Land Management
It's important to give back to the wildlife you hunt. That's why I always try to make it an appoint to plant food plots, improve bedding habitat, and anything else I can to improve the land.
Sadly, most people don't own land, though. Most of those who do hunt private is by permission or leasing. And those properties often range from 20 acres to 200 acres throughout much of the country. The majority of hunters don't have access to big chunks of property, either. That generally means they don't have permission to do large-scale habitat work. They're left conducting smaller projects such as planting food plots. If planting ¼-, ½-, or 1-acre food plots is all you can do, you're still making a difference. If hinge-cutting a few trees here and there is all you can do, good on you for making the effort. Every little bit counts.
Regardless of whether you're doing small- or large-scale projects, make the effort. Give back to wildlife. And if there are any land management questions you might have, feel free to check out our library of articles, galleries and videos on all things related to food plots and land management.
Editor's Note: This was originally published on January 12, 2006.
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