Winter need not be a season to dread. It is not necessary to confine one’s self to the living room chair watching some inane show on TV. With the proper dress and a positive attitude, winter can be a delightful season for outdoor activity.

Ice fishing is one way to spend free time and is a good way to get a fresh meal of fish. The equipment needed is quite simple and inexpensive.

Some small ponds and river backwaters have ice which will be helped by the recent cold weather but the record high temperatures that preceded mean ice may not be safe. Many places have little or no ice.

Always check the ice before you go on and at regular intervals. Often there is much less ice over reefs, springs, around docks and places where there is current. Always carry an ice spud or chisel to check ice as you proceed.

My cardinal rule is, don’t drive on the ice. I used to, but not anymore. Every year several motor vehicles go through the ice in Vermont and New Hampshire and people have drowned as a result.

I used to do a lot of things that I now consider dangerous such as driving on the ice. The older I get the more cautious I become. I have responded to far too many tragedies that could have easily been avoided.

Just as in hiking, it is a good idea to let someone know where you intend to fish and when you expect to return.

I also often ice fished alone but do not now. Having someone with you increases safety significantly.

I always carry a set of hand spikes draped around my neck to help me work my way out onto the surface of the ice if I fall through.

It is also a good idea to carry a safety line that can be thrown to someone who has gone through the ice.

Though all ice is potentially dangerous, the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., offers a “rule of thumb” on ice thickness: There should be a minimum of six inches of hard ice before individual foot travel, and eight to ten inches of hard ice for snow machine or All-Terrain Vehicle travel.

Keep in mind that thick ice does not always mean safe ice. It is possible for ice to be thick, but not strong, because of varying weather conditions. Weak ice is formed when warming trends break down ice, then the slushy surface re-freezes. Be especially careful of areas with current, such as inlets, outlets and spring holes, where the ice can be dangerously thin.

I like the saying, Thick and blue, tried and true

Thin and crispy, way too risky

Vermont Turkey Hunters Bag Many A Delicious Meal

A preliminary report from Vermont Fish and Wildlife shows that hunters brought home 6,136 wild turkeys during 2020, including 627 turkeys taken during the April youth weekend hunt, a total of 4,791 gobblers taken during the regular spring season, and 718 birds during the fall.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife turkey biologist Chris Bernier said, “Second only to 2010, a near-record number of turkey licenses were sold during 2020, resulting in an impressive turkey harvest that closely tracked the average harvest reported over the past ten years.”

Hunter success rates remained high with 20 percent of resident hunters taking birds during the spring hunt, and 32 percent of those successful hunters taking a second bearded bird. Youth hunters also enjoyed a remarkable 29 percent success rate during the April youth weekend season.

Turkeys were hunted statewide and were harvested in 241 of Vermont’s 255 towns. The northern Lake Champlain Valley and the Connecticut River Valley continued to be productive regions for turkey hunters with the highest harvests again recorded in these parts of the state.

Bits and Pieces

New Hampshire’s winter free fishing day in Saturday, January 16. On this day anyone can fish without a license in New Hampshire.

All other regulations must be followed.

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Many of us hope to return to Maine for some fishing this spring once Covid is under control. We can now download digital versions of Maine’s fishing and hunting regulations at https://www.maine.gov/ifw/maine-outdoors-laws.html to help us plan.

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Mark Breen reports in the Fairbanks Museum Skywatch Almanac what happened on January 15, 1885: “A special anniversary today for meteorology, but also photography, and even the realm of art, for it was on this date in 1885 that Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley took his first micro-photograph of a snow crystal.”

I would point out that Bentley was a native of Jericho, VT where his interest in photographing snowflakes was born and perfected.

Mark reminds us that on January 17, 1965: “Heavy snowstorm buries parts of the Connecticut Valley with 1 to 2 feet of snow.”

I remember it well as I was working for Sprague and Henwood of Scranton, PA doing core drilling for the design on I-91. We were drilling far from any highway along the Duck Pond Road between Sheffield and Barton and hiking in every morning with five-gallon cans of diesel fuel for the drilling rigs.

***

Mark said, “While the January Thaw may be thought of as a staple of our weather, January rarely fails to deliver the most consistently cold weather of the year. Following the shortest daylight of the year, the lengthening days are hardly enough to off-set the polar region’s continual loss of heat, helping one Arctic airmass after another form and head south. This generous supply of cold also establishes January as the snowiest month of Winter, even though February and March tend to deliver more dramatic events. January is the no-nonsense, focused, but not flamboyant winter laborer, whose hallmark is reliability - if there is such a thing concerning weather.”

Parting Shots

I came home mid-afternoon one day last week and as I rounded the corner of the garage with Oak at my side I spotted what I first thought was a kestrel on the ground looking at me. I immediately froze and held Oak’s collar as I was within 25 feet of the bird which had killed another bird from what I could see. We stared at each other for a few minutes before Oak decided to walk by to pee while ignoring the bird. I guess he was deemed a threat as the bird took off with something in its talons, leaving behind a cluster of feathers, down and a little blood.

A few years ago a kestrel hit my office window and died. The bird I saw looked like it. However, after studying my Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds and going online to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I think more likely what I saw was a sharp-shinned hawk.

What most impressed me was how it stood its ground guarding its kill while what should have been perceived as a threat was so close. Keep in mind Oak weighs 177 pounds and is quite large and although I am not a big man, most birds take off when I approach.

The bird was a real treat to see although not for the little songbird which became its meal.

We live in the woods and regularly see hawks, mostly red tails and occasionally owls near the house but the only things I ever see them take are red squirrels and chipmunks and occasionally a gray squirrel. Should the bird I saw start hanging around, I will remove our bird feeders for a time in hopes it will find another place to hunt. As much as I enjoyed seeing it, I want to protect the chickadees, tufted titmice and nuthatches that frequent the feeders and which I am watching at the feeder hanging outside my office window as I write this.

Syndicated columnist Gary W. Moore may be reached by email at gwmoore1946@icloud.com or at Box 454, Bradford, VT 05033.

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