ZEKE WILSON: These are tough times afield
February 11, 2014 10:40 AM

Recent days afield have indicated that for many the hunting license year is over until spring gobbler.

As I waded through 5 inches of fresh powder, I was beginning to understand why. Although my snowshoes allowed for better floatation, hidden tree limbs, briars and boulders made every stride interesting. The poor blue tick coonhound that accompanied me was waist-deep in snow but insisted on breaking the trail.

It was past noon when sign of a bobcat was finally discovered, and with the fresh powder it was hard to determine how old the track was. Despite following the cold trail across rocky outcroppings and into a fresh clear-cut for nearly a mile, it became apparent that conditions favored the cat. Today is the last day for bobcat season, and with a little luck perhaps I will find a fresher track.

Predator hunting is popular at this time of year due to a lack of other pursuits, but in late winter it can be frustrating. When I finally did discover cat tracks, shoveling out a parking spot to pull the truck off the road was necessary. The high bank created by the state plows was tough digging, and after breaking a sweat I still felt the need to fold in the mirror. The snow is significantly deeper north of Interstate 80, and the area I hunted had twice what we have here at home.

• Those who plan on partaking in the upcoming coyote hunts should plan on taking precautions. A snow shovel and tow strap go right with my peanut butter-and-jelly and Mountain Dew for hunt essentials. Hand-held GPS devices have become quite affordable, and it seems more hunters are going into the less-accessible tracts of ground with confidence in technology. Although knowing where you are is nice, when it is below zero with a foot of snow, even good woodsmen can find themselves in a bad spot.

The weekend warriors who are unfamiliar with an area should have extra batteries for their GPS. I also recommend carrying a compass as backup, although the number of people that have the competence to use one is fading fast. I was lucky and poor enough to enter the outdoors in my younger days with a compass and paper topography maps. The affordability and ease of GPS today leaves little incentive for someone to learn the old-fashioned way of not getting lost.

When one is contantly checking the screen of a GPS, less time is spent studying the terrain and surroundings. Should the unit fail or power down, one can quickly find themselves hopelessly lost. Although backtracking in such snowy conditions is usually an option, heavy snow flurries can blot out tracks and hang on the landscape and quickly change the appearance.

The bulk of woodlots in this area are small enough that becoming lost for more than a few hours would be difficult. However, when one enters more remote parts of the state, where even the crows carry knapsacks, special care must be taken. Tracking a predator such as the coyote can quickly turn a hunter around, and spending a night in the woods unprepared during late winter could be fatal.

• Calling, tracking, organized drives, hunting over bait and the use of hounds all are proven ways to kill a coyote. Paying attention to the wind regardless of hunt method is paramount, and even then it seems that the coyote always has the wind in his favor.

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