A change is coming...
By Luke Clayton
Feb 25, 2018
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The past few days’ rain has put a damper on a lot of outdoor activities but the moisture has also set the stage for a bountiful spring green up which will be of great benefit to wildlife and birds.

On an almost daily basis, I spend an hour or so during the early morning hours walking through a couple hundred acres near my home, I call these outings “scouting” trips and I do look closely and read the signs left by game but my primary goal is to get my daily dose of the natural world. On my most recent outing during a lull between rainstorms, it was easy to see that a change is already in process.

Elm trees are budding and although it might still be a bit early, wild plum trees have swelling buds also. I dearly love picking and eating wild plums in May but if the trees bud too early, the blossoms are subject to freezing which will cause a failure in this year’s plum crop.

Clearings in the woods already have a good stand of wild rye grass sprouting up and I noticed the dark green shoots of wild onions breaking through the ground in areas with lower elevations. I know where to concentrate my hog hunting efforts in a few weeks when the onions are thick; wild hogs love eating onions and many old time hog hunters swear they can taste the pungent tasting onion in the meat of spring harvested wild porkers. 

Rabbit numbers are at their yearly low; just about every predator in the wild from owls to coyotes and bobcats love a meal of fresh rabbit. But while kicking around in the woods, I “bounced” several cottontails out of cover and even a couple of big swamp rabbits which are about twice the size of a cottontail. These big rabbits are of the cottontail family but prefer to live in the heavy woods on the edge of clearings where they make nightly trips to feed on the tender young grass shoots this time of year. There will be plenty of surviving rabbits to restock the woodlands; they populate quickly when conditions are right.

The squirrel winter breeding season is in its later stages and I noticed a good number of “survivors” of the lean winter months in the tops of their old den trees. In about six weeks, the woods will be restocked with a fresh crop of baby squirrels and nature’s cycle will begin anew.

Deer are now in one of their stress periods of the year, the buck’s body weights are down because of the rigors of the rut and the majority of doe are pregnant. With plant growth at a seasonal low, deer have to work hard to get enough calories to sustain themselves. I noticed a low browse line where deer were feeding heavily on buds on low growing trees such as willow and elm. Wild privet hedge and honeysuckle are also being hit hard.

Deer are mostly browsers, but in the winter they rely heavily on winter crops of wild rye and domestic winter green crops of oats and domestic rye grass. I plan to crank the feeding time on my corn feeders up a few seconds for the next month or so. I know corn is not the best food for deer with its high carbohydrate content and low amount of protein. but it’s like candy to deer and I am a firm believer in feeding game year round. Besides, the corn will also pull the wild hogs in and my freezer is getting a bit low on pork!

While kicking around in the woods, I observed several flocks of northbound snow geese. The conservation season is still underway for light geese and the birds in the early stages of their spring migration are hitting green fields heavily, gobbling up the farmer’s wheat. Successfully hunting a big flock of snow geese is one of hunting’s biggest challenges. The birds have been hunted since they began their southern migration up in Canada and the Arctic last fall to the present but with big decoy spreads and electronic callers which are now legal, they do provide some exciting late season hunting.

Wild turkeys are still sticking pretty close to the sheltered creek and river bottoms where they spend much of the winter months but with the spring green up, the hens will soon be dispersing to the fields and more open country of the higher elevations and the breeding season will be underway.  It will soon be time to break out the old box call and again enjoy one of the outdoor’s most exciting challenges, calling in a big gobbler.

A change is underway in the outdoors. Winter is a tough time for wildlife and birds but the spring green up is underway. These turkeys are moving out of the protection of the creek bottoms to fields. The breeding season is just around the corner. photo by Luke Clayton

A change is underway for critters that live in the water as well. Crappie are already moving shallow to spawn, especially two or three days after a warming trend. Crappie can detect the slightest change in water temperature and are one of the first fish to move to spawn each spring. 

Female largemouth bass are heavy with eggs right now and the next few weeks is prime time to catch the biggest bass of your life.

The trophy blue catfish season will be coming to a close soon. During the dead of winter, blue catfishing is not a "numbers" game; trophy hunters often spend the day with only a few fish landed, but these fish will be whoppers. Soon, it will be common to catch an occasional trophy blue catfish on fresh cut bait but the action on “eater” fish weighing between two and ten pounds will get really good.

This is my favorite time to fish for catfish. I enjoy catching a big fish as much as anyone but I also love a big early spring fish fry and those smaller blues are some of the tastiest fish in fresh water.

Yes, a change is underway in the outdoors and just in time to help out with the severe case of cabin fever many of us are suffering from!

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