Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

Dec. 20, 2004

Merry Christmas from the great outdoors

While pheasant hunting last week, I realized and understood, once again, what outdoor pursuits like hunting and fishing are all about.

The sun was shining, the temperature was 40 degrees, and I had made my way to the top of a small rise. In front of me and all around me was the prairie of northeast South Dakota.

Softly rolling hills etched with vast crop fields and grass lands, long lines of trees to break the wind, and even longer lines of barbed wire fence.

All of it dotted and marked with potholes, cattail-rimmed sloughs, and farmsteads. Amongst it all were fox, coyote, deer, and, of course, pheasants.

Across a large slough on the next rise was an old farmstead; by the looks of it, abandoned many years ago; and on the side of the old barn was a big cross made of wood beams.

The cross was either created accidentally by the falling lumber from the barn, or purposefully placed there many years ago by a farmer who wanted to share the true meaning of Christmas with his family and neighbors.

The cross made me think about Christmas, my family, and the new son that was given to my wife and I back in July.

I thought about how, someday, I would share the outdoors, fishing on the Crow River, or pheasant hunting in South Dakota with my son.

I also came to realize, and understand again, what the outdoors, hunting, fishing, bird watching, and other outdoor pursuits are all about.

Sharing the space with wildlife, and sharing the experience with others, and doing it with dignity, respect, and care for both.

From the great outdoors, I hope you have a happy holiday season, and a little story about a cross on the prairie helps you remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Ice fishing season underway

The ice fishing season on lakes in our area kicked off Dec. 15, with anglers out on the ice on Buffalo and Winsted lakes.

On Buffalo, anglers were likely after walleye, while crappies were probably the target on Winsted.

Reports from the area indicate 2 to 4 inches of ice on most lakes, and up to 6 inches on some shallow bays.

Joe’s Sport Shop and Hardware in Howard Lake reported Howard Lake froze over sometime during the evening Dec. 13, with 2 to 6 inches of ice on the lake as of Friday.

Joe’s noted anglers have been fishing the smaller bodies of water, like Dutch, Round, and Henry, since mid last week.

With another stretch of cold nights, the ice on our area lakes should be in pretty good shape by Christmas, and for the holiday week right after.

We all need to remember that no ice is ever completely safe, and that just because anglers or even an ATV, is out on the ice, that does not mean the ice is safe and ready for travel.

Ice conditions can vary greatly from lake to lake, and from one area on a particular lake to another.

Ice safety tips from the DNR

From the DNR

Recommended minimum ice thickness:

4” of new clear ice is the minimum thickness for travel on foot;

5” is minimum for snowmobiles and ATVs;

8”- 12” for cars or small trucks;

(Remember that these thicknesses are merely guidelines for new, clear, solid ice. Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.)

Check for known thin ice areas with a local resort or bait shop.

Test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel, ice auger or even a cordless 1/4 inch drill with a long bit.

Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible.

If you must drive a vehicle, be prepared to leave it in a hurry--keep windows down, unbuckle your seat belt and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers.

Stay away from alcoholic beverages.

Even “just a couple of beers” are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life. And contrary to common belief, alcohol actually makes you colder rather than warming you up.

Don’t “overdrive” your snowmobile’s headlight.

At even 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines.

Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was travelling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated the hole in the ice.

Wear a life vest under your winter gear.

Or wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits. And it’s a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be homemade or purchased from most well-stocked sporting goods stores that cater to winter anglers.

It’s amazing how difficult it can be to pull yourself back onto the surface of unbroken but wet and slippery ice while wearing a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 lbs of water.

The ice picks really help pulling yourself back onto solid ice.

CAUTION: Do NOT wear a flotation device when travelling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle!

Outdoor notes

• It takes four solid inches of ice on a lake for angler and foot traffic.

• The pheasant hunting season in Minnesota ends Dec. 31.

• Sharpen your auger blades, and change the line on your jiggle sticks.

• Now is the time to get your fish house ready for the season.

Don’t forget your shelter license, the required identification on the outside of your house and make sure your heater is clean and in good working order.

• Winter officially begins Tuesday, Dec. 21. It’s also the shortest day of the year.

• With most hunting seasons over for another year, make sure your firearms, and ammo, are stored in a safe, secure location.

Locked storage is the best, with ammo stored away from firearms.

• Sorry, I didn’t get my column on opossum done for this week. Look for the scoop on opossum in our area in upcoming weeks.

• The archery deer season in Minnesota closes Dec. 31.

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