Another hunting season has come and gone. The deer trails and human footprints and fallen apples lie erased or buried under banks of new snow.
You can see a great distance through the woods at this time of year. The trees are naked and the light reflecting off the snow is good to dazzling.
On the other hand, there is seldom anything to see in the woods at this time of the year.
The bear are hibernating and the deer, coyotes, bobcats and varying hares are most active during periods of very low light or at night.
This is partly because the night always affords greater protection from predators, particularly those that rely on their vision.
But it is also because the bitterly cold nights take a toll on the energy reserves of most animals, even those dressed in sumptuous fur.
To move is to create body heat, and doing so enables an animal to stay warm without squandering stores of fat accumulated during the more clement times of the year. Foraging is the most productive activity requiring motion. A creature lucky enough to find enough food may even be able to balance fuel ingested with fuel spent. The bottom line in this accounting ledger is survival.
Until the first sunny days of the late winter, when the icicles begin to run and carefree skiers eat their lunches outside, the daylight hours are a time of rest for many kinds of wildlife.
Wild turkeys are an exception and it is always comforting and slightly comical to see a flock of these large, hardy birds making their way across a snowy hay meadow, moving like so many punctuation marks across a blank white page.
The diehard hunter still has time to ambush the odd rabbit, but spending time in the woods these days is a little bit like police work. You may not see game, but you will see abundant signs of activity and plenty of tracks.
The ability to identify and interpret tracks expertly will yield a great deal of information, ranging from how long ago the track was made to the nature of the activity the animal was pursuing. In some cases, tracks can tell you the age and even the sex of the creature. Add a little imagination, and the art of tracking becomes every bit as absorbing and vital as reading literature.
But just as the very best of books make us hungry for the experiences they describe, hours spent amid the tracks in the stark, silent woods eventually make us long for the glint of sunlight on the bright white horn of a whitetail buck.
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