Hunting set to give way to ice fishing

Hopes were running high going into the muzzleloading season that I might still get lucky enough to drop a buck. However, those hopes sort of evaporated away in the frigid cold that has enveloped the region the past week.

I did get out for a short time last weekend, but it was not a very comfortable time in the woods.

First of all, there was about an inch of rock-hard crust on the snow from the rain last week, which wasn’t thick enough to support me. After breaking through the crust there was about 10 inches of powder, so walking any distance was pretty much a farce.

Besides plunging through the crust and then tripping on it, the loud noise produced by each step would spook any deer that may have been within about a mile.

So instead of walking a half mile or so into a swamp where I wanted to sit along a deer trail, I decided to at least sit for a while in a pop-up blind I had set up the week before not far from where I parked the car.

I had a small propone heater in the blind so I figured that it would be bearable, even in 7-degree weather with a pretty good breeze blowing from the north.

Wrong. Besides the foot or so of snow that had fallen and piled up against the Outhouse blind since I put it up, the aforementioned rain and then freezing temperatures had coated the entire thing with a good layer of ice.

Then I looked inside, where condensation from the drastically changing temperatures had laid another thick coating of ice on the inside walls.

It took me about 5 minutes to pull everything out of the blind and uproot the stakes, which of course were frozen in the ground. In addition, as anyone who has an Outhouse blind knows, twisting and coiling the thing up so it fits into its carrying bag is a whole other story, about as enjoyable as catching minnows in an ice cold bucket of water with your bare hands.

Once I did wedge it into the bag, though, I’d had enough “hunting” for that day and packed it all to the vehicle for a slow drive the 2 1/2 miles out of the woods.

However, there’s still this weekend to get out and attempt to zero in the crosshairs on a whitetail, and the temperature is even suppose to warm up into the mid-teens – real balmy hunting weather.

As I’ve mentioned before, though, the true success of hunting, as well as fishing and other outdoor sports, is to get out in the woods and enjoy the wonderful natural resources that abound across the Upper Peninsula.

In fact, speaking of minnows and fishing, it’s just about time to trade the hunting gear for ice fishing equipment and hit the ice, which is forming fast with the extreme cold we’ve been enjoying.

Early ice can be some of the best fishing of the year, too, so I’m sure there will be some anglers out on an ice-covered lake this weekend.

On the other side of the coin, early ice can also be the most dangerous ice of the year. Anglers should be aware of this and be extremely careful while venturing out – no fish is worth a very cold dip in a lake that could quickly turn tragic.

Here are a few tips offered by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for anyone who ventures out onto the ice:

Check with local sources of information, such as bait shops or local stores, about ice conditions before venturing out.

– Travel in pairs whenever possible and make sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return.

– Carry a spud to test the quality of the ice as you move farther onto the ice.

– Avoid inlets and outlets, areas with natural springs or currents and places were structures – docks, pilings, dead trees or other vegetation – extend through the surface of the ice.

– Pay attention to wind direction, especially on large bodies of water.

– Wear a personal flotation device and carry personal safety devices such as spikes and rope to help you get out of the water should the ice break.

I think I’ll wait a little while before hitting the ice to make sure it’s safe, but I might as well check the ice on a few favorite lakes on my way out for that last trip of the year in search of the elusive buck.

Editor’s note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270.