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Open Season: Random ramblings as weather turns wintry

Winter is the perfect time to target panfish like these bluegills. Tyler Shoberg/The Pioneer

Like so many outdoor-loving folks in the northland, I'm met with a dilemma once winter hits: How best do I spend my time?

I consider early December a 'tween time, when many outdoor pursuits are winding down, while others are just kicking off. This makes it especially tough to decide what to do on those oh-so-precious weekends between family socials and holiday travels.

Take, for example, pheasant hunting. According to the regulations set forth by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, we have until Jan. 2 to get our fill of the wily ringneck. Heck, that's more than a month if you put your nose to the grindstone and hit it hard.

And there's still ample opportunity to bag some late-season ruffed grouse in Minnesota or North Dakota's Pembina Hills. Heck, put sharptailed grouse and Hungarian partridge in the same boat; waterfowl, too.

But at the same token, now can be some of the best coyote hunting of the year. Just as winter makes itself known - and it made it very plain with the foot of snow last Monday - the coats of many furbearers are at or near prime. While many predator hunters nowadays don't care much about the quality of furs, it does pay to get after them when the getting is good (i.e. before they're pressured by months of hunting) if you're out to make a buck or two.

Note: this made a lot more sense when the market for furs was better, but right now a seller likely will only get a few more dollars for a prime pelt in the green, or so I've been told.

In any case, that chance at a nice trophy male 'yote with a thick coat is more than enough temptation for people like me to break out our varmint calls.

But just when I've taken my white camouflage out of storage and dusted off the trusty .223 rifle, I get that nagging twitch in my jigging hand.

Ah yes, ice fishing; that quintessential Midwestern pursuit. Even though there are some "sportsmen" who spend more time fishing cold beer out of the cooler than actually trying to raise something scaly from the depths of a lake, there are just as many who tend to take the pastime a tad more seriously.

In fact, I recently just purchased a used Clam 5600 ice house at a bargain price from an online classified ad. That got the juices flowing, and my first instinct was to dig out all my ice fishing poles and gear to make sure it's ready by the time the ice is thick enough to walk on.

But once I thought about it, we still have several weeks before any lakes I want to fish will be safely passable. There are many months to spend a weekend on the lake - no sense being foolish and walking out too early.

That means any of the aforementioned opportunities are ripe for the taking before I hit full stride into ice-fishing mode.

Then again, it also gives me some time to finish a project I started last winter.

One of my earliest memories fishing on ice actually was in my Grandpa Vern's dark house. Watching through the large hole as the decoy sucker lazily circled it was loads better than going bug-eyed in front of the boob-tube. And when I actually got to see grandpa spear a northern, I was hooked.

For some reason, I haven't been out much since that winter long ago, but recently I started monkeying around with carving my own spearing decoys. It's not something that comes easily, what with getting the balance just right and actually making the creation resemble something like a fish.

It does, however, make for some fun when the mercury drops to levels unbearable by even Canadian hockey fans.

Why rush into ice fishing and decoy carving, though? There is only a measly month of bird hunting before we have to wait until another fall rolls around.

And therein lies my problem. Even when everything is laid out on the table, I still come full circle: How do I best spend my weekends when there's so much to do and so little time?