bear print


Snow gives away the bears who prowl on winter.

The span of two weeks between New Year’s and Russian New Year’s on Jan. 14 has come to symbolize a period of transitions for me.

Jan. 1 still looms large in the rearview mirror as we approach yet another hallmark for new beginnings on Jan. 14.

I’ve come to regard it as a period of transition because I start to anticipate big changes in my routines as hunting seasons from the year past are closing and another year’s fishing approaches.

I’ve written recently about the final weeks of duck season, which closes at sundown on Jan. 22. Late season hunting is best on Kodiak, but January can be even better than December. In fact, if you have any vacation days remaining in your paltry collection, you should seriously consider devoting extra days to the closing days of duck season.

The array of ice on local waterways adds to the opportunity. Certainly more ducks are on hand due to conditions in outlying areas. But the current icy conditions improve the hunting even more.

I particularly enjoy jump shooting late in the season. Hiking and sneaking for ducks is always good on Kodiak when you know the waterways. But with ice closing lakes, ponds and creeks, it’s easier to find the birds when they aren’t scattered so widely.

But there’s another factor for me.

The vast majority of bears are safely tucked into dens, while those still roaming leave telltale footprints in the snow. I keep my eyes open for bears and bear sign in January, but it’s a lot more enjoyable with fewer bear worries.

All my excitement about the duck hunting in the next couple of weeks is tempered by the realization that the season is most certainly ending.

So what’s next? Ptarmigan season extends all the way through April 30 with a generous bag limit.

But in my experience late-season ptarmigan hunting on the road system involves investment in a snow machine or long slogs into the high country using skis or snowshoes. With rare exceptions, the willow ptarmigan and especially the rock ptarmigan simply don’t move down to lower elevations in winter. They’re perfectly happy in all that snow up high on the mountains.

Every year or two I stumble onto a flock here down low while hunting snowshoe, typically on the day immediately following a big wind storm up high. But my encounters are so scattered and barely predictable, I can’t stir myself to set out for ptarmigan in the final months of the season.

Did I mention snowshoe hare? Boy, is that ever an opportunity awaiting your attention! Snowshoe hare hunting in spring isn’t necessarily easy, but is it ever fun! Especially in a snow year.

The season never closes on Kodiak and there’s no bag limit, but that’s pretty academic. I quit hunting around the end of April when they start breeding, and no bag limit is meaningless when you’re working hard for your hares.

But oh, that snow on the ground.

I’ll write more about it in the near future, but suffice to say that the wonderland of tracks helping you find the hare concentrations is great fun. Sorting the tracks to find their source can be especially challenging until you make some sense of what the tracks are telling you.

The real fun starts when you get back into the hills far enough to appreciate those big, fat tracks scampering across the surface of the snow. The hares might be going about their business on top of the snow, but you’re certainly not going to walk after them in deep snow.

I’ll always remember my first hare adventure on cross-country skis. I was following a set of tracks through low alders when I tangled a ski.

No problem, I thought. I unsnapped skis and stepped off to rectify things.

And sank up to my armpits in snow!

I hadn’t recognized that the further inland I ventured, the deeper the snow was becoming. And those “low” alders were in fact more than head-high, but mostly buried by the deep stuff.

I’ll leave it to you to ponder how I ever managed to get back onto my skis to continue the hunt, but I’m proud to report that we enjoyed a fine rabbit stew that night.

If you need an excuse to ski or snowshoe, hare hunting in deep snow is perfect for you. Heck, it’s so much fun I’d drive out of my way looking for snow deep enough to require flotation under my feet.

It’s worth pointing out that if long distances are the order of the day, you’ll be lots happier on skis than snowshoes, while the snowshoes are much more maneuverable in tight places.

If hunting doesn’t stir you to venture outdoors, fishing opportunities grow in the next few months, and as the ice and snow melt you’ll enjoy more and more.

I grew up in the desert where water was for drinking and farming. Walking on it is beyond my comfort zone, no matter how thick the covering of ice.

But as ice conditions allow, it’s my understanding that ice fishing is lots of fun.

The rivers are pretty much devoid of fish right now, but there’s always that big ocean they drain into.

The nature of our ocean dictates that nearshore and surface waters are colder in winter while deep waters are warmer. As a result the fish move away from shore and deeper.

I doubt you’d catch much of anything from shore right now, but if you have access to a suitable boat and the weather allows, there’s great fishing potential out deep.

Halibut season is closed for January to cover their spawning period, but starting Feb. 1, the only things stopping you from fishing are the weather and a suitable boat to reach deeper water.

I have little experience with winter halibut fishing, mostly because our boat isn’t suitable for offshore ventures in cold weather. But in my limited attempts and the reports of friends, if you can reach water deeper than 600 feet, you’re in halibut country.

Of course, sending a hook so deep and retrieving it presents its own set of challenges.

Fortunately lots of other fish species are waiting down deep.

After a few months of pulling frozen fish from the freezer, almost any fresh fish is welcome on our table.

It will take a while, but especially as April turns into May the halibut and lots of other species start moving up shallow where they’re more accessible.

If you’re not of a mind to go deep for halibut and other deep species, there’s another option. As more and more people buy bigger boats, they’re discovering that king salmon haunt Kodiak waters year-round.

We don’t usually start fishing for kings until April, but that’s another reflection on our boat, rather than the salmon. I know people who’ve managed to catch king salmon around Kodiak 12 months a year.

Are you inspired yet?

Think about the transitions from winter to spring and it’s hard not to build a little enthusiasm. It’s may be months until the weather warms for good, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit indoors and wait for it!

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