On the Ridge: Cold weather hunting

Published: 1/19/2022 5:23:22 PM
Modified: 1/19/2022 5:22:18 PM

Even in these days of “climate change,” New England is still notorious for cold and snowy winters, often with below-zero temperatures, ice, and bone chilling winds. Of late, that’s exactly what we’ve been experiencing, as frigid blasts of arctic air, and dangerously low degree days have engulfed the region with no real end in sight. Exposure to cold temperatures can cause hypothermia, frostbite, and other real health problems. As the temperature drops, cold-related illnesses can keep hospital staffs all over the state on their toes and hopping as emergency teams, doctors, and nurses attempt to monitor the impact of these winter-related visits in real time. That’s all happening while COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc throughout the country. These professionals are stretched to the max in their efforts to take care of everyone who needs assistance with one form of illness or another, and we should sincerely thank them all for what they do!

That said, winter continues to march on, and people all over the Northeast are outside doing things they love to do no matter the conditions. Whether you’re an ice fisherman, skier, cross-country or otherwise, or into snowshoeing, ice skating, winter hiking, snowboarding, etc., there are countless things to do in the “Frozen North” when winter comes calling. However, you need to stay safe in these frigid conditions, and that means understanding how to dress correctly in the outdoors with sub-zero temperatures. Suitable clothing should leave you warm, comfortable, and dry no matter what you’re doing in extreme cold, and it will extend the amount of time you can stay outside safely.

For winter hunters, staying outside means either rabbit, hare, or brush wolf (coyote) hunting, which is where you’re apt to find me these bitter days, as often as possible. I need to quantify that statement a bit, as this time last year I wrote that my plan was to do LESS winter coyote hunting now that time was starting to creep up on me a little. While that may be the case, I found myself out and about recently, during this “ice blast” period, doing exactly that and loving every minute of it. So I guess I’m reneging on my comments of last year, at least for the time being.

But as it is in all winter sports, if you enjoy hunting, then part of that is hunting in these weather conditions, and that’s just the way it is, because you really don’t want to hunt only on windless, warm, ice and snow-free days. Here’s my theory on that: the colder it gets, the more nourishment predators need to stay warm and healthy. We shouldn’t focus our decision to hunt on a given day based on the weather alone. Instead, gauge the forecast, and trust your knowledge to determine when predators will be most active before and after a weather event. Stormy weather will encourage a coyote, or a fox, to grab a meal before a storm, and depending on the storm’s duration, also determine how hungry a predator will be, and how soon it will hunt again once the storm ends. These are hours you do not want to miss, especially if you really enjoy chasing predators.

A few years back, one such frosty morning found me shivering, and looking across a snow-covered basin that always held promise to me, as it did on this early January morning right after a storm. I was confident as I waited for the sun to rise that day, but about an hour into it the two-degree temperatures, along with a wind chill caressing my face and my “coon in distress call” failing to attract even a glimpse of a predator searching for breakfast, had the elements beating me into submission. About 20 minutes later, my fingers struggled as I started gathering up my gear. Standing up slowly, I promised myself I would never again waste time hunting in conditions like these.

I’d learned my lesson, I muttered softly to no one. Predators do not move in extreme weather, or so I thought. But just at that moment, I noticed something below me that seemed out of place. Suddenly, the unmistakable form of a large eastern brush wolf appeared, exiting the area at a carefully cautious, but rapid pace. Later, upon inspection, I found that the animal was no more than 40 yards from where I sat, yet I was too low to see him until I stood up, and by then, along with the frozen state I was in, I was no concern to him whatsoever. I just watched him move into heavy cover, and simply disappear. In the end, I focused so intently on my misery, convincing myself to get up and head home, that I had completely taken myself out of the hunt. As a result, my patience betrayed me, and I never gave the coyote an opportunity to step into plain view. So it goes sometimes in the world of hunting.

Nevertheless, just like so many others who have a passion for winter activities, this is what I love to do in January and February. Enough, I guess, to even re-evaluate doing it a little less often, despite my earlier ideas to the contrary. We will let you know how that all works out.

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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