"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Snow Tracks
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

The first big snow of the year has been an exciting miracle for as long as I can remember, if for no other reason than the fact that it gives the land an entirely new look. In the eyes of outdoors folks, there is much more than beauty to the first big snow, especially if it stays for a spell.

Arrival of the first big snow always tilts my thinking toward tracking a host of animals (even birds at times), but a snow that remains can even change ice-fishing patterns and techniques because it creates a permanent darkness situation under the ice.

Many species of fish--notably those of the sunfish family--are photosensitive (they become more active as the light of day dims). Members of the sunfish family that ordinarily feed most heavily before the sun rises, just before it sets, and at night, tend to go on feeding binges during the bright part of the day because a blanket of snow has turned the dimmer switch to low.

Thus, I never feel that I am spinning my wheels when I take to snow-covered ice at the brightest, warmest part of the day.

A blanket of snow does have its “weak” effects on ice, especially if it comes on thin ice. Snow is a great insulation. As such, it can keep thin ice thin, or cause thick ice to become rotten and weak, especially if ground water (or the water of inundated springs) is coming into a small pond or lake. For this reason, ice anglers--and others using ice-covered waters for other forms of recreation--should view snow-covered ice with jaundiced eyes. 

In my book, one of the greatest features of the first big snow lies in the fact that it turns subsequent lighter snows into beautiful tracking snows. Those who enjoy tracking animals in hunting--or non-hunting situations--think of a four to six-inch dry (fluffy) snow as best for tracking. But after such a snow is heated by sunlight and refrozen, it is not ideal for tracking because small animals leave few (or no) no tracks on crusted snow.

However, a one-inch snow (even less) on crusted snow creates ideal tracking conditions.

Such conditions played an important role in a successful tracking adventure for me many years ago when I was in the hardwood hills country of northwestern Jackson County. I was there to track--and perhaps bag--rabbits, or to just track animals for the love of the activity.

As I slipped through dense underbrush, I kept hearing strange, low whirring sounds and seeing strange little imprints in the thin, fluffy snow that had fallen the previous night on a bed of older snow.

I was baffled by the prints in the snow. They did not resemble animal tracks in any way, but as I studied them more carefully, and connected them to the whirring sounds, I realized I was trailing grouse that were taking to a fluttery flight just above the snow as they moved well ahead of me from one area of heavy cover (downed tree tops) to another. It didn’t hurt my head too much to think the tips of their wings were hit skipping on the snow to leave the strange prints, often ten feet or more apart. Still, I could follow them. 

Once I realized what was happening, collecting the prime ingredients for a ruffed grouse dinner came easy. I had been moving briskly, and my movement had spooked the birds well before I was in shotgun range. They were not spooking badly, just enough to stay well ahead of my position. I slowed my pace and the next treetop gave me a double on grouse, the first and only time I have been so lucky.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

The snow trail told me some animal had taken refuge in this small brush heap and the droppings confirmed it was a rabbit. (Bayou Bill Photo)
rabbittracks.JPG (23335 bytes)

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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