"When snow falls, nature listens" — Antoinette van Kleef
Some people like snow. They talk about how pretty it is and how it puts them in a good frame of mind. I am convinced these are mostly people who like to ski, work at a ski resort or maybe own one.
For the past several years, I have been much less a fan of snow than in my younger days. When you are young, most anything new seems like the chance for some exciting adventure. Waking up to a fresh snowfall was like walking into a pristine new world, even though you knew it may not last for long. Now that I have a lot less hair, energy and tolerance for adverse conditions, a big snowfall does not exactly seem like a reason to celebrate.
Sportsmen, especially hunters, have many different opinions on how they see snow and how it affects their particular brand of pursuing game animals.
Deer hunters may be the most enthusiastic about snow hitting the ground. First, it paints the landscape mostly white, and the hunters are greatly helped in that they can see the brown deer against the contrasting background. Local deer kill numbers almost always go up after a new snowfall. Next, of course, is the simple fact that hunters can track a deer and try to use this to their advantage to catch up with the buck making those tracks.
In my part of the world, bear hunters — especially those who hunt with hounds — love to get a fresh snowfall during the season. Many of these hunters will spend a lot of time driving snowy mountain roads trying to find where a bear crossed. They can examine the track for how old it might be and try to determine from the size if it is a bear they want to release their dogs on.
Small-game hunters also benefit from a blanket of the white stuff. Tracking a rabbit, grouse or pheasant can be a lot of fun on a winter afternoon. The track is showing you exactly where your quarry has been and is going. All the time you follow, you are scanning ahead to see where they may be sitting in hopes you might be ready for the half-second you may get for a shot. The anticipation grows as you follow the track.
There are far worse ways to spend the day, such as working.
For all hunters who will venture forth in the snow, a new snowfall is like a newspaper they can read and find out what is going in the animal world: Who came out last night, where they went and who visited who.
Here is a cottontail rabbit track coming out of some dense brush. As you follow it, for a while it is joined with a red fox track as he seeks out Mr. Rabbit to invite him to breakfast. You can imagine the stealth of the fox as he sneaks along behind the rabbit hoping to catch him unaware and make a quick grab. The trail indicates the rabbit may have been in a clump of high grass, the fox rushed him and the rabbit left there in a hurry — as indicated by his long strides. The fox pursues, but the rabbit tracks continue a long way and it appears ol' Red went hungry this time.
The animals themselves react to the snow in different ways. Just before a snow and the arrival of the front that brings it in, you may sometimes see many forms of wildlife out and about. Everybody is trying to forage and pack away as many calories as they can in case they are snowed in for a while. It is roughly the same thing as when we humans crowd the stores and buy all the milk and bread on the shelves when the weatherman says we are going to get more than an inch.
Bears and their little brothers, raccoons, may den up and sleep off a long spell of heavy snow and deep cold. Squirrels will often decrease activity to running out in the morning and grabbing a quick snack of some acorn or other nut they have hidden, then rushing back into a warm nest in a hollow tree. Ruffed grouse in deep snow have the peculiar habit of sometimes flying into a deep snowbank and staying there as insulation from the cold. Tracking a grouse to one of these hiding places can be pretty exciting when he comes blasting out the other side of the pile of snow.
Turkeys just pretty much have to endure whatever the snow and cold bring them. They don't have a den or burrow; they roost each night high up in a tree. Some winter night when there's about a foot or two of snow on the ground and it's about 4 degrees, go outside and imagine you are a wild turkey sitting out there on a limb.
I'm going out soon to spend some time looking for tracks in the snow. The bear season is in now. Soon we will have another deer season, and I need to put some venison in the freezer.
Who knows, I may even get to where I like snow again.
As long I don't have to shovel it.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.