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Dog days of winter are here

March 11, 2011
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - Judging by the weather of the last couple days, it's hard to believe spring will begin in just nine days. This time of year we wait for that transition to warmer weather and spring activity.

We have seen the closing of northern pike and walleye on the Boundary Waters of Michigan and Wisconsin. Fishermen are now after whitefish with some good catches being experienced.

There have certainly been an increase of fishermen being fished out of the water or at least off the unstable lake ice, so please be careful as conditions continue to deteriorate.

All ice fishing shanties must be removed from all Upper Peninsula waters. It is important to remind users they are limited to have ice shanties removed from public landings within 24 hours, and all must have the owner's name and address both legible and permanently attached for identification.

Squirrel season closed March 1, as did trapping for fox, coyote and bobcat in Units A & B, badger in Zone 3, and bobcat hunting in units A, B and C.

Some non-game birds are beginning to appear, including Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, Evening Grosbeaks, Redwing Blackbirds, early migrant waterfowl and Sandhill Cranes. Great Blue Herons, Common Loons and Wood Frogs will start showing locally in the later part of the month.

The end of the month will also mark the close of most hunting/trapping for the year, reflecting the end of season for Rabbit/Hare, Crow (statewide), Beaver and Otter in Trap Unit C.

The biggest change in the month will be the expirations of all hunting/fishing licenses as well as the end period for watercraft registration. ATV/ORV licenses also expire March 31 and must be renewed before riding on any public land.

There will be no increase in the ATV/ORV license fee for 2011. An analysis is being performed through the Michigan Trail Advisory Council - ORV Work Group to see if an increase is warranted.

The Fund Balance from the restricted use revenues will zero out in fiscal year 2011 and will rely on license sales to determine what programs can meet maintenance needs as well as those areas of expansion that have been in the planning stages for a number of years.

The current fee, for now, will remain at $16.25.

All of this kind of gives one the idea why March may be considered as the "dog days" of winter. It's not so much the problem of tolerating weather as it is more that we seem limited on what we can do outdoors.

This may be the time to put up the ice fishing gear and take out the summer gear. One important task would be to start checking your boat and related components, such as safety equipment.

A checklist of what is essential can be obtained through your local Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The good news is that in just five weeks, hunting will resume as the Spring Turkey Hunting Season opens April 18 across the entire Upper Peninsula. The season will extend through May 31 and license holders may travel to hotspots as the UP was converted to a single zone several years ago.

Those wanting first opportunity at a spring tag, allowing the taking of a bearded bird (Jake or Tom) only, had to have submitted an application to be drawn for a license. The good news for all you procrastinators out there who didn't make an application (and yes, my hand is in the air), surplus tags went on sale March 8.

Michigan's Spring Turkey Hunting Season has remained under-subscribed ever since the original seasons were scheduled. Set as four separate hunts, three of which were a week long with the last over several weeks in May, hunters rolled the dice of which hunt to challenge as breeding begins with warmer spring weather.

It is then the turkey hunter uses acquired calling skills and/or decoy placement to lure a male bird within range.

Several years ago, members of several of the clubs affiliated with the National Wild Turkey Federation met to strategize with wildlife officials in combining the seasons into one long event, and perhaps spurring interest. Most indications are the idea is catching on.

With an initial surplus of licenses hovering around 9,000 for the spring in the UP wide hunt "M", the amount left over for 2011 is down to about 6,700. That is a significant change given that turkey populations are also down from previous years average.

There is also a broader dispersal of turkeys as clubs work toward natural sustainability and decrease supplemental feeding programs.

Fruit bearing trees that hold their mast into winter are being planted throughout the UP. Locally, the Bay de Noc Gobblers chapter of NWTF has been on a planting campaign that continues to grow in popularity with private land owners.

The reduction in overall turkey populations, while not extreme, has raised concern of those involved in management. With the mild winters we have seen in the three years, one would consider that predation may be playing a more significant role in the decline.

One resolve may be to eliminate the fall hunt, which had been open for both male and female birds.

While a decision will be forthcoming regarding the fall turkey hunt, the fact the Spring Turkey Hunting Season and other outdoor activities are nearing will serve to make the "dog days" of winter seemingly pass faster.

Tim Kobasic is outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet Saturday mornings.



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