On The Ridge: Tips for enjoying winter outdoor time

Published: 1/18/2023 4:07:44 PM
Modified: 1/18/2023 4:07:25 PM

Here we are a little more than 2½ weeks into the new year, and thus far the weather has been more than cooperative for spending time in the outdoors, which can reduce stress, boost your mood, and even bolster the immune system. And there is no time like the present, or any need to wait for springtime to enjoy these great winter benefits that are all around us, right now, than by getting out and experiencing all the fantastic natural landscapes and native wildlife right here in Massachusetts.

Sure, the days are shorter (but they’re getting a little longer now) and it’s really been cold. But with some preparation, January and February can be a great time to explore the outdoors, do some winter hunting, fishing, or whatever it is that fits your lifestyle during the winter solstices. Here are some winter activities and cold-weather tips to help you to enjoy the outdoors in these early months of 2023.

Dress for the weather

With a little planning, you can stay comfortable even on the coldest days. Dress in layers of fleece or wool, wear warm boots, and ensure your outer layer blocks the wind. Don't forget a scarf or face mask, and sunglasses can provide great wind protection for your eyes. Traction for your feet, such as “Yak Trax or Stabil“ice”ers,” will help keep you stay upright even in the iciest of conditions. 

Keep it short

You don’t need to hike for hours to experience the physical and mental benefits of getting outdoors in the winter. Even a short walk can reconnect you with the natural world, lift your mood, and renew your sense of wonder. Start small and extend your outing if you’re staying warm and still having fun. Pack a few snacks, some water, and maybe even some coffee or hot chocolate to keep you going strong.

Watch for wildlife

Some animals migrate or hibernate, but many remain active throughout the winter here in Massachusetts. Tracks left in the snow or mud can reveal where birds or small mammals have been. Remember, melted snow will distort the size and shape of any animal track, so look for tracks in fresh snow or in mud. You may also consider setting up a game camera in the area where you see interesting tracks. Less foliage means more images of wildlife and fewer pictures of leaves blowing in the wind!

Birding in winter

For beginners or experts alike, winter can be a great time to become familiar with the sights and sounds of common resident birds such as cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, finches, blue jays, crows, various woodpeckers, red tailed hawks, and even bald eagles. With fewer leaves, it's easier to spot the silhouette of a hawk or eagle perched on a branch, or the darting movement of smaller birds in a thicket.

Enjoy the dark

Early sunsets in winter mean longer periods of darkness for stargazing. Bundle up and head to nearby fields and hills, or even your backyard, to watch the stars without having to stay up past your bedtime. The cold air holds less moisture which makes the stars appear bigger and brighter.

Try ice fishing

Ice fishing is a fun way to spend time outdoors with friends and family. Make a day of it by packing food, folding chairs, plenty of hot drinks, and even some sleds or ice skates for the kids or the young at heart. If you’ve never been ice fishing before, check out the MassWildlife monthly calendar and see what’s happening in that area while the ice still is good, or for a refresher course which will include a review of ice fishing safety information. And always, don’t forget your 2023 freshwater fishing license.

Finally, something to remember: providing wildlife with food at any time of year, especially in the winter months, teaches them to rely on humans for what they eat. That places them at a big disadvantage for survival and can lead to human/wildlife conflicts. Once this unnatural behavior is established, it can be almost impossible to change. The best way to help wildlife like deer and turkeys make it through the winter is to step back and allow the animals’ instincts to take over. To help wildlife near your home, focus on improving the wildlife habitat on or near your property by including natural food and cover. It is also important that wildlife populations are in balance with what the habitat can support. Supplemental feeding can alter this behavior and have detrimental and sometimes fatal effects, which is the last thing any of us would want. Yes, it’s great fun to watch, but feeding animals in the winter usually helps you more than it helps them.

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.


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