For the first time in memory, I'm ready to hang up my ice fishing gear and transition to the soft water while there still remains plenty of ice on the lakes.
Sad, but true.
That spurt of unseasonably warmer-than-normal temps in early February got me dreaming about all the outdoor excursions that spring has to offer.
Any flood fighting or sandbagging aside, the next few months could be epic for several types of outdoor pursuits. Here's a quick rundown of what North Dakotan's can look forward to, in quasi-chronological order.
Spring light goose season
So, technically, the spring hunting season for snow geese began Feb. 19. And although any melting snow might make you tempted to hit the roads in search of early northbound migrators, your chances will be much better if you wait a bit.
I mean, I'm as antsy as the next bird hunter who hasn't touched his shotguns since fall. But with a season that runs basically through the entire spring migration, there's no reason to jump the gun and burn needless tanks of petrol, especially now with rising gas prices.
The ideal situation would be to follow the weather and watch the snowline. As it gets warmer, and the snow gradually melts from south to north, the birds will surely follow en route to their Arctic breeding grounds.
There are several online sources that can help out in this scenario. If you're not quite confident that the snow outside is indicative of the snow elsewhere, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a website that shows up-to-date snow cover maps of the continental U.S. Just go to http://www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/nsa/ and click on one of the maps, which range from snow depth to water equivalent to blowing snow.
As for the birds themselves, do a quick internet search for snow geese reports. There are several hunting- and outdoors-related websites that track the migration, and hunters usually report what they are seeing and where. While you likely won't get GPS coordinates, it still can give you a general idea if birds are, at the very least, in North Dakota.
Regulations for the spring light goose season are fairly lax. Unplugged guns are allowed, as are electronic calls. Bag limits also are scrapped for the spring season, meaning you can shoot to your heart's content, or until your shotgun barrel melts down to slag.
And while hunters are not required by law to ask permission to access un-posted land, consider it in your best interest to make sure the field you're about to rut up with ATV tracks isn't planted with winter wheat. A farmer might not take too kindly on a ruined crop.
Big, black birds
While a freezer full of snow goose breasts will keep the grill sizzling all summer long, a freezer full of this next critter might be best left for the dog.
The spring crow season kicks off this Saturday and runs until April 24. There is no daily or possession limit, and hunting hours are the standard half hour before sunrise to sunset.
Now, the big question I'm asked when it comes to crow hunting is simply: why? Why on God's green earth would anyone actually spend time to go after these obsidian-colored flying garbage disposals?
Well, fun, for one thing. When the thought of slogging through one more field of knee-high mud in pursuit of snow geese may have you green in the gills come April, a change of pace could be just what the doctor ordered.
And while crows may not be the best table fare - though I do know people who've eaten a few, with mixed results - they make excellent sport and are a great way to hone your scattergun skills, or get your young pup on some more bird retrieves.
That, and crows really have no natural predators. Think of them as the hyenas of the sky. While a murder of crows inside city limits may offer nothing more than a noise nuisance, they can cause a lot of havoc to farmers' crops. I'd reckon that getting permission to hunt crows might just be the easiest endeavor - behind coyotes, of course.
As far as equipment, there's nothing really special about hunting crows, either. A couple cheap black decoys and an e-caller with a crow calling CD is all that is required. Being well concealed also is a necessity, however, as these wily birds possess keen eyesight and can pick up on the slightest movement or discrepancies in the underbrush.
Gobblers: Not just for Thanksgiving any more
One of my favorite hunting T-shirts of all times has a saying that goes something along the lines of: "There's a place for all of God's creatures...right next to the mashed potatoes and gravy."
No creature fits this better than that of the wild turkey.
North Dakota, believe it or not, has a pretty darn good population of the butterballs. Though the largest concentrations reside in the state's southwest corner, there still are enough of the birds in its eastern reaches to make a daylong excursion worthwhile.
That said, there's one caveat to the spring season: if you didn't apply before the Feb. 16 deadline, you likely won't get a tag. I say likely, because some years there are extra tags available for certain zones once the drawing has been held if there weren't enough people to fill the assigned amount. To see if you can pick up one, visit the game and fish website at gf.nd.gov.
The season runs April 9 through May 15, and follows the standard daylight hunting schedule. Only one bearded turkey is allowed per tag, and only shotguns or bows and arrows are allowed.
I'd like to offer advice on how to bag your own tom, but my personal experience has been hit or miss. Well, mostly miss, as the only shot I've made was on a flushing bird that spooked me like a steroid-abusing pheasant.
Hopefully with the tag I pulled this year, things will change.
When the fish aren't biting, force feed them
If you're sick of waiting for the fish to bite this spring, consider trading in that fishing pole for a bow.
Bowfishing, the act of shooting rough fish with an arrow affixed by line to your bow, kicks off May 1 and runs for most of the year. Bowfishers are allowed only to shoot rough fish - carp, suckers, buffalo carp, gar, to name a few - and must follow guidelines for the discharge of a weapon if shooting inside city limits.
This is a sport that's near and dear to my heart. Look for a more in-depth view of it in a column this summer. Trust me: there's nothing quite like stalking fish that can push 30 pounds.