Once again I feel I have no choice but to start out my blog by talking briefly about our weather. Last Tuesday, February 12th, we were the “lucky” recipients of another 9″ of snow. Where most of the snow we’d received from previous storms was of the light and fluffy type, our latest storm produced a much heavier snow. Thankfully, there wasn’t much in the way of blowing and drifting associated with this storm.
All that being said, however, after factoring in the 9″ that fell last week, we ended up setting a new all-time record for snowfall amount for the month of February. The old record, set way back in 1936, was 28.2″. As of last Wednesday, February 13th, we had received 28.7″ of snow for the month. Unfortunately, it sounds like we’ll be adding to our record February snowfall amount, as there’s another 3″-6″ of snow predicted for later this week. And so it goes…
Of course, our recent snowy week has pretty much put an end to my ice fishing endeavors. A few days ago I made a trip to one of my favorite local lakes to check on fishing conditions. I knew exactly what those conditions were as soon as I arrived at my usual drive-on spot. Normally there would be dozens of vehicles and a bunch of fishermen out on the ice. But there were zero vehicles and only two fishermen on the entire lake that day. Apparently the two men had walked on, as snow depths are now at the point where vehicular and even ATV travel on our frozen lakes has become a virtual impossibility.
While ice fishing is pretty much out of the question at the present time, coyote hunting certainly isn’t. In fact, conditions are pretty much perfect right now for running coyotes with hounds. The snow is just deep enough that the coyotes can’t get too far ahead of the dogs. But it isn’t so deep that the coyotes don’t want to run at all. What’s more, it’s currently mating time for coyotes; which means they’re a bit more active than normal. So there are always plenty of fresh tracks to be found.
As is the case across much of the country, the coyote population here in northern Wisconsin has done nothing but increase over the past 15-20 years. Interestingly, during that same time frame our red fox population has steadily decreased. Truth is, it was because of a very healthy fox population that my family first got interested in hound hunting. My uncle Clayton Boese started it when he purchased his first fox hound way back in the late 1940’s.
Clayton’s interests in becoming a “houndsman” were piqued by a friend whose family had been involved in the sport for some time. Interestingly, within just a few years of Clayton getting his first hound our family became totally infatuated with the sport. As luck would have it, my dad had the foresight to document some of their early hound-hunting exploits via 35mm photographs. Even luckier, Dad got me involved in the sport at a very young age. I honestly remember accompanying him on some fox hunts when I was just four years-old.
Those very first fox hunts with my dad instilled a deep passion within me. In fact, there was a time many years ago when I was far more infatuated with chasing after fox than hunting for whitetail deer. But this was back in the days when it was an honest to goodness target rich environment when it came to red fox. Though some might find this hard to believe, there were many winters when our group would kill over 60 fox. And there was one winter when we actually killed 89!
Remember now, this all happened back in the days before we had things like cell phones, two-way radios, tracking collars, modern day weaponry and four wheel drive vehicles. Truth is, other than my uncle Clayton’s two wheel drive Studebaker farm pickup, everyone in our fox hunting group drove cars. And the hounds often were hauled around in the trunks of those cars.
During winters when snow depths prevented us from using our hounds we’d strap on snowshoes and track fox ourselves. Now while I grew up in a family of hound hunters, there’s something very spiritually relaxing about “swooshing” along on snowshoes while following a fresh fox track in the snow. And I can personally attest that spending an entire day on snowshoes also can provide an excellent cardio workout.
Like I stated previously, as our red fox population continued to decrease, our coyote population steadily increased. While a lot of us aren’t real thrilled about having an abundance of those furry little “poachers” , coyotes do provide us with a whole lot of entertainment during our long northern winters. Also, it had gotten to the point where red fox would seldom pass up an opportunity to dive into a burro or any other safe hiding place to escape from pursuing hounds. Coyotes on the other hand seem much more willing to attempt to outrun whatever’s chasing them. Which of course makes them the perfect quarry for hound hunters.
To help put things in perspective regarding how much our coyote population has increased over the past 10-15 years, I’d like to quote some figures I put together about five years ago. During that particular winter three local hound hunting groups killed a total of 165 coyotes. What makes this most interesting is that all those coyotes were killed within a 15 mile radius of my hometown!
My brother Mike is a member of one those local hound hunting groups, and I remember talking to him later about how many coyotes had been killed in the surrounding area. While I was surprised at the number, Mike wasn’t. “We killed a lot of coyotes because there were a lot of coyotes out there,” he said. “In fact, I remember that we got a fresh snowfall in late March that year, after we’d quit running our hounds. But I decided to drive around anyway just to see how many fresh coyote tracks I could find. I ended up finding as many or maybe even more tracks as there had been when we first started hunting coyotes in early winter. So it appears we didn’t even make a dent in the population.”
Of course, this is all good news for those who love to hunt coyotes. At the same time, however, it’s more than a little concerning when you realize that this dramatic change in certain small predator populations, namely fox and coyotes, has to be a direct result of some unknown phenomenon. While I’ve heard a number of various theories regarding why red fox numbers have decreased while coyote numbers have increased, I have yet to see or hear a scientifically substantiated explanation. But of course, I could be missing something.
As I was rounding up photos and doing my final proof-reading for this week’s blog, it dawned on me just how fortunate I’ve been. Though I gained a reputation in the outdoor industry as a deer hunting “expert”, I’ve actually had a very well-rounded career as a hunter. Throughout my lifetime in Wisconsin I’ve hunted black bears, fox and coyotes, waterfowl, grouse and pheasants. And for a number of years my brother Mike and I had the pleasure of hunting cottontail rabbits ahead of a beagle that was an absolute bunny chasing fool. Oh, and you can also throw in a couple high school years I spent night hunting for raccoons with two silent trailing, killer airedale dogs as well.
Yup, it’s been one helluva ride. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything! More later…