Avoid Winter Doldrums Enjoy Outdoor Pursuits
BY NATE KENNEDY
It is hard to believe that time can go by so quickly. Here we are rolling into February, and winter is finally starting to set in. December and January came and went, as is the norm for those first weeks after the deer season.
The new year brings a great opportunity to organize gear, set goals and refocus on work and home life. How have you spent the first month of 2020? I was fortunate enough to hunt ducks in the Finger Lakes in early January, and more recently spent time ice fishing in the north country for chain pickerel and yellow perch.
It can be easy to fall victim to the dark gray days this time of year, staying inside and growing increasingly dormant as the winter months pass. I am guilty of this at times. However, as I look toward the coming months, I think about the wide variety of outdoor pursuits that February and March have to offer.
Hiking, snowshoeing, fur trapping, scouting for next deer season, cutting firewood for the hunting camp, organizing decoys, cleaning guns, participating in shooting sports, volunteering with conservation groups and sportsmen’s clubs, mentorship opportunities, property management, cooking your favorite wild game recipes, skiing, snowmobiling ... the list goes on!
Ice fishing and small game hunting have always been the primary winter outdoor activities in my life. When I was very young, we kept a family ice shack on Chippewa Bay on the St. Lawrence River. I have few memories of actually fishing back then, but I do recall the cold, riding the fourwheeler, and warming up in the shack with a pot of chili. As for small-game hunting, it has been one of my favorite outdoor pursuits for as long as I can remember.
When I was a kid, my dad and I would jump in the truck and drive all over the North Country. We would hunt ruffed grouse, cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hare. Sometimes we would even get something! Mostly we would drive around, stopping along the way for snacks and soda, and enjoying the time spent with one another. Still today we will make those trips in the winter months. Now we do more hunting and somewhat less snacking, but we still have a blast! It is one kind of hunting that never feels pressured — always fun and laid back.
Ice fishing and small-game hunting are exciting and accessible. In any corner of our state, a person can find solid opportunities for both!
New York provides some really outstanding ice fishing. The majority of folks focus their efforts on northern pike and panfish, but a great variety of fish can be caught through the ice. Northern pike, pickerel, muskies and others are primarily caught on tip-ups using large live minnows. This is the classic image of ice fishing. Sitting, waiting and keeping watch of the tip-ups. Watching the flag go up. Running out and hoping to feel a fish on the other end of the line. I cannot wait!
Jigging is equally as popular and effective as fishing with tip-ups. Panfish like perch, crappie and bluegill are abundant, delicious and fun to catch on a jig rod. If you’re looking to target a heavier fish, walleye and trout are the way to go. Using live bait tends to increase productivity with panfish and walleye. Small jigs, spoons, swim baits and lipless crankbaits work well for these species.
For me, the only thing this time of year that will beat a great day of ice fishing is a great day of chasing small game. There is something special about the woods during February and March. Snowy and quiet, it is the perfect place to be on your days off. Cottontail rabbits and ruffed grouse can be found just about anywhere in the state. Snowshoe hare can be a bit harder to locate, but nevertheless available. Pheasants, gray squirrels and other species can be found in great quantities throughout New York, with long seasons and liberal bag limits. There is no shortage of small-game hunting opportunities here!
What makes small-game hunting so much fun for me are my own personal connections to it. You will have to try it for yourself to see if you connect with it too. If I needed another reason to love it so much, it would be the food! Squirrels, grouse, geese, rabbits, etc. — all incredible eating. The meals made from successful small-game hunting always seem to be a bit more fun and exciting to eat.
Being outside, eating good food, spending time with loved ones, and experiencing the world around you. These are the motivations that bring me back to ice fishing and small -game hunting each season. These winter activities provide a great opportunity to get involved with your local rod and gun club, as many clubs host rabbit, squirrel and ice fishing derbies. It is also a great time to take out youth and first time hunters.
Embrace the opportunities that our state has to offer. Get involved, go outside and enjoy these winter months!
NOTE: Nate Kennedy is a Liverpool resident who works in Waterloo. An Ogdensburg native, he is a lifelong hunter and angler who holds an master's degree in environmental communication from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and he is a 4-H educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. Kennedy loves to write about and share his outdoor pursuits and his column appears the final Sunday of the month in the Auburn Citizen and each month on this website.