Snow Helps Tell the Story in the Woods: Past, Present, and Hopefully Future

Outdoor Opportunities By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II

Now, if you’re a regular reader, you know in last week’s column (WBB #2438, Jan. 11), which was written and submitted on Tues., Jan 8 (before we received any precipitation), I lamented our lack of snow in a piece titled, “What’s Up with So Little Snow Coming Down this Winter?” Like many PA flintlock hunters, my prayers were answered as snow arrived on Wed., Jan. 9, and has blanketed the ground ever since. Snow is a complete game-changer when it comes to hunting.

Without snow, the Winter woods are a drab backdrop of mottled browns and grays appearing almost lifeless and devoid of wildlife. During a snow storm, most animals remain “hunkered down” to take advantage of available cover. But afterwards, they will be out-and-about moving, feeding, and going about their business of surviving the lean times Winter brings. Their activity patterns are captured in the new fallen snow and with deer, you can quickly learn a lot about where they travel, what they are feeding on, where they bed down, and overall gain a better understanding of how they use available habitat to avoid humans. Experience teaches you how to delineate between a freshly made track, ones that are several hours old, and sets that are several days old based on the sharpness of a track’s outline, whether it’s filled with additional snow, and how debris (snow, mud, water, leaves) has been kicked up by the deer’s passing. Besides deer, you can read the stories in the snow of past travels of wild turkey, coyotes, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, opossums, porcupines, chipmunks, and a variety of songbirds. Tracks in the snow accurately capture the past activities of wildlife and tell fascinating stories for those willing to venture outdoors in Winter and see it for themselves.

With Sat., Jan. 12 being the last day to pursue deer in our area with either a bow or flintlock for the 2018-19 hunting season, I, like many other flintlock hunters, made it a point to get out in the woods as much as possible once the snow came. Friday afternoon, Jan. 11, I was still-hunting (moving very slowly and quietly) on PA State Game Lands 150 when I caught the movement of a large animal that was rapidly slipping away from the tangled branches of a large blow down and moving off through thick multi-flora rose bushes only 25-yards away. Based on the size and its gray coat with red underneath, my mind immediately screamed, “Coyote!” I saw it for two seconds, way too fast to get a shot with my flintlock rifle, but I made sure to slowly circle around the blow down and multi-flora rose bushes to confirm what I had seen. There, only two minutes old, were the distinct tracks of a sizable coyote. I followed the tracks for almost 100-yards, noting where the coyote had deftly jumped up on a snow-covered log to cross a small stream. However, I went back to my pursuit of a whitetail when the coyote’s tracks indicated he had headed North off the game lands onto private property where I did not have permission to hunt.

The final day of the PA statewide 2018-19 flintlock season, I was back up in Venango County. All told, between early archery, regular firearms, and flintlock season, I hunted up in Venango County over two dozen times this past year. My compulsive behavior was based on the fact I had seen a 14-point buck up there and was determined to make every effort to hunt him. My last-ditch effort on Sat., Jan 12 produced one sighting of his “running buddy”, a thick-beamed ten-point. I never would have seen that deer without the white backdrop, but he stood out 400-yards away down an open gas line, and all I could do was watch him in my binoculars.

Without snow, I never would have seen either that coyote or the buck. Even though deer seasons are over, I encourage you to continue making trips to the Winter woods to check out tracks in the snow. They have a story to tell and can help you locate feeding areas, travel corridors, and bedding sites for deer and other species. You can lay down a foundation for future success by what snow enables you to learn now. God Bless, Be Safe, and Great Outdoors! ©WBB 2019

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