As winter gradually relinquishes its clammy hold, hunters and fishermen are experiencing 'tween time: that seemingly expansive nether-region until spring.
My outdoors OCD kicked into high gear last week with the stretch of above-freezing temperatures. What to do: Go ice fishing for the umpteenth time, or prepare for spring? I relented to my urge for the former - especially since now is the best time to target voracious panfish - but I could just have easily gotten ready for the next stretch of outdoor entertainment.
If you're like me and enjoy procrastinating, hit the lakes until ice-out and scramble at the last minute to ready your gear. But if you're a bit more motivated, here are some things to consider.
Snow goose season is here
Whether it seems like it or not, the spring light goose hunting season is in full force (it began Feb. 20). Of course, the multitudes of skycarp still are snuggled warmly in their southern migratory areas, but as the snow line gradually recedes north, rest assured that they will follow.
There really are only three ways to hunt snows in the spring: pass shoot, jump shoot, or decoy. The latter involves the most preparation, requiring blinds for concealment, ATVs for traversing muddy fields, electronic or hand calls, and thousands of decoys. If you're planning on decoying snow geese, get to work readying your supplies ASAP. Clean decoys of last year's mud, check the power supply and bring extra batteries for the e-caller, and double, triple, and quadruple check your four-wheeler, because the last place you want to break down is in the middle of a sloppy field.
If you lack the supplies or willpower necessary to set a gargantuan spread of decoys, jump shooting or pass shooting may be in order. Though jump shooting has gotten a bad rap in hunting circles during the last few years, its effectiveness can be great at times, if not inconsistent. Trying to sneak up on 100,000 sets of eyes and ears is easier said, than done.
Pass shooting, on the other hand, can give a hunter much better odds. Setting up on a specific flight path, such as from a roost to a feeding field, may put low-flying snows and blues well within range.
No kibble for these kitties
If there is any silver lining to the prospect of another flood in the valley, it's that cat fishing should be just as good if not better than last year when the water finally recedes. For you fisherpeople who were fortunate enough to tackle some sumo cats last spring, you know what I'm talking about.
Taking a quick glance through my gear, I realized it needed a bit of TLC. For starters, a layer of mud and grime from last summer still coated my rods, reels, and tackle. A quick wash with a damp cloth and bucket of soapy water should get everything looking good as new.
Another thing to check is your terminal tackle inventory. Fishing for cats may be the simplest type of fishing considering gear needed, but requires vast quantities when accounting for a river's ability to snag hooks faster than fleece does cockleburs.
Caw, caw ... bang!
If whiskered fish or waterfowl don't float your boat, take a crack at crow hunting, which opens Saturday, March 13.
I tried crow hunting for the first time last spring with Chris Lillehoff, a friend from Grand Forks. We tried in vain to call in crows using a half dozen decoys and an electronic caller emitting ear-splitting squawks and caws. Though our luck was lackluster at best, it was nice to enjoy a mild-weathered day, especially since our favorite honey hole on the Red opened up the night before, and any snowgeese worth hunting were still well south.
Though I've never heard of anyone hunting crows for food (the expression "eat crow" comes to mind), harvesting the abundant bird hardly dents the population. In fact, contacting a farmer bothered by the avian scavengers may help gain access to land.
Don't forget those licenses
Your 2009-10 hunting and fishing licenses expire March 31. Anyone wishing to hunt or fish after that date must purchase a new license. The exception is with the spring conservation season for snow geese. For that, residents must have either a 2009-10 or 2010-11 resident hunting license (fishing, hunting and furbearer certificate, and a combination license, or a small game, plus general game and habitat license).
To purchase a license, visit the North Dakota Game and Fish Web site at gf.nd.gov.