Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Unseasonable weather can be a blessing for wildlife in Pennsylvania

A flock of turkeys pick at the ground in a snow-covered field. (Contributed photo from Ron Steffe)

Although rain and rising temperatures can cause frustrating hunting conditions for deer and small game, it has its benefits.  

One day after the festivities and celebrations of a frigid Christmas had passed, I headed upstate to Tioga County with hopes of enjoying some successful flintlock hunting for deer. 

Record cold weather had locked into the northeastern portion of the country, but the forecast pointed toward milder weather arriving over the course of the remainder of the week I would be hunting. 

My first venture came on an afternoon after arrival. Hoping for fresh, fluffy and quiet snow cover, I was soon walking upon 4 inches of crunchy ice with about a quarter inch of fresh snow atop as I headed for woods over an open field. 

The quick drop in temperatures after an earlier storm that saw rain on snow had frozen most of the snow. The top layer was the storm’s ending with darn cold air. 

I broke through the covering with ease, sending loud grating noise to every wild creature nearby, and probably those farther away. But most deer and all the turkey tracks I came across proved staying atop the frozen covering was not a problem. At spots, some of the larger deer tracks broke through, but not near the depth of my heavy plodding. 

I’ve often complained about the weather conditions through the current license year for my deer hunting, which began this past October and now continues into January. Exceptional warmth, heavy fog and many rainy days were scattered across the calendar. 

That made for many times of staying home, wishing for clear and colder days. Yet, there is a flip side to those days that I considered non-perfect weather.

Certainly, wildlife experiencing mild weather during the “cold months” benefit by expending less energy that’s required to fight cold days and nights. Food sources on open ground remain for easy pickings, allowing for an increase of fat that helps during lean times. And when winter storms do come along with difficult conditions, the icy snow in which I hunted for four days is the best possible state of the “white stuff” they face, if there has to be snow covering their homes.

Those hours I spent hunting during my days at camp provided short glimpses of only three deer, all running because of my noisy steps moving through the woods. The turkeys I saw were numerous. But — much like the deer — they easily fled when I became visible to them, scooting along the top of the snow as if it was a groomed racetrack.  

I knew there were plenty of deer where I hunted. Their clear sign of different sized tracks along the edges of woods where the snow was softer from seeing more hours of sun were an abundant mix within the turkey tracks. At those spots, turkeys were feeding on seeds that grew on dormant plants, with the deer hitting the thin limbs of fallen trees and the patches of green briar that were scattered about.

By my last day of hunting, temperatures had been moderating to the point that deer were showing signs of digging for food in fields during darkness as they were now able to break through the warming icy covering. 

Deep, fluffy snow is hard on wildlife, especially turkeys. It’s no picnic for deer, either. But now, as mid-January nears, the recent periods of unexpected easy living along with an additional period of mild days and nights forecast in the near future, brings promise these game animals should be in good shape to face any harsh and brutal weather that may yet come their way. No heavy snows are expected in the next few weeks.

So, for hunters such as I who complain of hunting conditions not being just right to please our days afield, be thankful that Mother Nature calls the shots as to what each day will bring weather-wise, ignoring our piteous little objections.

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