Hunting the Snow

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Joined: 06/03/2010

Hunting the Snow
           There is a weather pattern that happens across the upper Midwest in the winter time that causes low pressure systems from far up in Canada to routinely flow across the Great Lake states causing snow of various amounts to accumulate in certain places like Upper Michigan. Where I live the snow often stays to the north but once in a while we get dumped on with amounts up to around a foot deep but the usual dustings drop about two or three inches at a time. The weathermen in this area dream up colorful names for these systems like “Alberta Clipper” or “Canadian Flyer” because they seem to come through on a timetable of weekly visits. The low is followed by a high pressure cell that usually brings freezing temperatures and even sub-zeros temperatures at times but if the winter sportsman is hardy enough to tolerate this cold he can enjoy some great hunting after a new snow has covered the area.
           The previous night’s snow blanketed the forest like the fluffy comforter on my bed. A light breeze kicked up a snow devil which swirled on the fresh powder moving it across the white landscape darting here and there as if alive while the leafless trees stood as gray skeletons of past glory and gave mute testimony to the power of winters grasp. This was the scene that I looked upon as we moved out along the hedgerow of the cut-over forest to scare a rabbit out of its cozy nest. My younger brother Kevin and I were looking for cottontails on this cold January day and they were staying close in their hiding places making my dog, a Springer spaniel named Freckles, work to flush one out. The cold stung our faces but we ignored the sensation of icy pins biting into our exposed skin and concentrated on the hunt. This was just how winter hunting in the Upper Peninsula was and if you wanted to hunt you endured the cold and snow and enjoyed being alive in a beautiful, silent world.
            I loved the solitude of the winter woods feeling as if it was my private world where I could wander at will and leave behind the cares of the everyday life. I very seldom allowed anyone else to share it with me but Kevin was the exception and I loved having him along to share this wonderland of stark white harshness that tolerated only the strongest to get along in it. We often saw little of each other over the years but when I got discharged from the service after four years away and moved back to our hometown Kevin and I bonded again and were closer than ever. Some siblings don’t get along and we too had our share of tiffs but we felt comfortable together and hunted and fished as often as our schedules permitted. This winter’s day was one of the times we could get together and experience the outdoors. Work and our families only permitted a few such outings and we treasured them dearly.
            We were hunting a cut-over, which is simply our term for a section of land that has been clear cut, and it was usually at least forty acres or more since the loggers didn’t like to cut much smaller areas because it wasn’t economical. Cut-overs opened the forest and allowed new growth, mainly aspen, to develop which in turn provided food for the wildlife.  If the snow had been deeper we would have needed our snowshoes but it was a manageable five or six inches over a hard base so we could walk fairly easily as long as we kept an eye out for buried snags from the few storm battered trees that still stood on the cut-over. Walking across a cut-over in the fall wasn’t much of a problem because a hunter can see the discarded branches and limbs spilled haphazardly like giant pick-up-sticks across the land as he walks but traversing the same cut-over in winter with snow cover burying such things makes winter hunting harder and more perilous. Sprained ankles were common and fortunately we never had broken bones but I have cleared a considerable amount of plugged gun muzzles from inadvertent plunges into the snow. Today most hunters know the value of some tape over the muzzle but back in my younger days checking your gun after a fall, whether in snow or mud, was just something you learned and didn’t forget.
            We usually tried to hunt a full day when we could spare the time but even though we were both fairly fit and healthy the tramping through the snow and the continual intake of frozen air chilled our lungs and made walking a chore. The only thing that kept my feet reasonably warm was the felt lined Pac boots and even that wasn’t a certainty. Sweat from slogging through the snow froze on your body when you rested and the day usually ended with all concerned thoroughly exhausted and ready for an early bedtime. I vividly remember cleaning rabbits with fingers so cold I could barely feel them and the use of a knife required extra care lest a finger or hand wound would result. I still couldn’t end my day because I had to take the snowballs and still frozen ice balls off my poor, tired dog’s feet and legs and clean my gun. Only once all these day ending duties were over could I finally rest.
            The next day all the hardships of the past days hunt were quickly forgotten and I anxiously looked forward to the next hunt with relish.