There is more to winter than just shoveling snow

Published 6:00 am Sunday, December 7, 2014

Column: Woods & Water, by Dick Herfindahl

As we adjust ourselves to the fact that winter is here for the duration, we can now focus on the many outdoor activities we have available.

Although some feel the need to head for warmer climates during the winter months, I have never found that to be an option I would choose. I have chosen to remain in Minnesota because I look forward to the changing seasons and what each one brings to the table. I know a few folks may think that I am a little weird for embracing winter, but there are many things about this season that I really do enjoy.

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Now I have to tell you that shoveling snow is not one of my favorite tasks, but even that chore is not without its benefits. Shoveling snow on a moonlit winter’s evening can actually be enjoyable — note the word fun was not used — at times.

Our neighborhood seems to have a good healthy population of squirrels and rabbits that like to frequent my backyard. Yes, seeing those critter tracks in the snow remind me of my days as a youth trekking through the slough between Bridge Avenue and Goose Lake. I loved spending time outdoors in the winter just walking that slough. Even if none of my friends wanted to go I would venture out alone, all the while looking for critter tracks with my trusty Red Ryder BB gun in tow.

There were a few times when I would actually stumble upon a field mouse or a rabbit. Whenever that would happen, the last thing on my mind would be shooting anything. I just enjoyed seeing those little critters in the wild and was more interested in seeing where they lived and following their tracks to see where they were going. There were a few times when I’d stumble upon a pheasant that would scare the heck out of me when it took off flying. Sometimes I actually followed the tracks in the snow and spotted the pheasant hiding in the slough grass. To me, this was an awesome discovery, and I’d tread lightly trying not to scare the bird from its hiding place.

Not only do I have an abundance of wildlife frequenting my yard, I seem to have some neighborhood cats that like to stalk the birds at my feeder. A couple of weeks ago, something deposited a dead woodpecker on my front steps. There is only one critter that I know of that would do that: a cat. I don’t know if the cat owners of the neighborhood are unaware of the damage their cats can do to the bird population or if they just plain don’t care. I enjoyed watching that woodpecker at my feeder each day, so when that happened it left a void. There are acts of nature that are part of the life cycle of all things wild and then there are things that are preventable like letting cats run loose in the neighborhood.

Getting back to the good parts of winter, the warming houses at some of the parks should be opening soon for ice skating, and with a little more snow, sledding and skiing are other activities to enjoy. I have to mention, of course, the ice fishing season has started, judging by the houses popping up on Fountain Lake. I am still not sold on the overall safeness of the ice with the cold then warm and rain, but I have heard that it is at least four inches thick in a lot of places. Always be sure to use caution when venturing out on the ice.

There is still plenty of time for those hunters who haven’t switched to ice fishing yet. The seasons for most game go until at least the end of the year. The muzzleloader season for deer ends on Dec. 13 followed by the end of the archery season on Dec. 31. The season for both hunting and trapping goes until March 15 for raccoon, red and gray fox, badger and opossum.

One of the best things about small game hunting is that it affords our youth plenty of opportunity to enjoy the sport. Pheasant, grouse and partridge hunting goes until Jan. 4, while small game such as squirrel and rabbit can be hunted until Feb. 28. Small game hunting is a great way for a young hunter to hone his or her skills and enjoy the outdoors experience.

Winter is indeed a time to enjoy the outdoors, and hunting and fishing are just two of the ways that you can do that. As kids, we used to have toboggan and skating parties with a campfire and hot chocolate, which always seemed to taste a little sweeter when sipped in the outdoors by an open fire. Taking a walk on one of our area trails on a crisp, sunny winter day can be not only exhilarating but a great way to exercise and enjoy time in the outdoors.

Until next time, be careful when venturing out on the thin ice and if you’re hunting — hunt safe. It’s always time well spent when you spend it in our great Minnesota outdoors.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.