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Thread: Cold weather birds

  1. #1
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    Default Cold weather birds

    Obviously the weather is brutally cold with temperatures here in Meadow Lakes at -20F this morning and they were a frigid -33F when I left Fairbanks noon yesterday. I don't hunt much in weather colder than -20F, guess I'll have to learn how to when living in Fairbanks. Cold weather of this magnitude can be hard on game birds if conditions aren't right. It looks like there is enough snow for the birds to snow roost, an important way for grouse and ptarmigan to stay cozy warm and protected from the wind and cold.

    On my trip north Saturday, I spied a jaunty ruffed grouse in the south bound center lane of the Parks Highway about MP 318 picking grit. My favorite forest fowl gave me the eyeball as I bombed on by in the right lane headed north. The bird had its feathers up and looked quite fluffy in it's feathered garb. I looked for it on my way back but saw no sign so assume it escaped autos and diving hawks. I'd of picked it up for sure as a training aid at least for my pup.

    Has anyone been doing any cold weather bird hunting? Any stories to tell??

    I'll be reading Jim McCann's book; Upland Hunting in Alaska again for tips on cold weather hunting. A quick review helps when loading up the truck for a day of cold weather bird hunting.

    Another great book for cold gear technique when it is REALLY cold out is Rick Kinmon's Hunting the Hunters about predator hunting in Alaska. This fellow has excellent techniques for staying warm in brutally cold weather.

    Fact is this time of year begs some good books and a warm place to hole up...just like the grouse.

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    Member TMCKEE's Avatar
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    I'm glad you started this thread. The same issues had been weighing on my mind, just a little more focused on the dogs though. I don't mind getting out down to about -15, but I leave the dog home for anything below +5 (not to mention the discussion of snow depth and consistency). I believe in layering and making sure that you adjust as you warm up (climbing out of draws or up steep slopes) or adjust as you cool down when your pace slows. This is the obvious stuff though.

    As far as bird behavior, I don't do anything differently.

    I hope you get some good feedback for this thread...this is the type of information that I think is most valuable to share.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alaskan Woodsman View Post
    I'll be reading Jim McCann's book; Upland Hunting in Alaska again for tips on cold weather hunting. A quick review helps when loading up the truck for a day of cold weather bird hunting.
    Forum Member PG13 lent me this book and I found it to be fine reading. I picked up a handful of excellent tips that have made me a much more efficient bird hunter. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Alaskan non-fiction, my favorite reading. Now, if only I could find a book that could make me a better shotÖ

    I hunted Hatcher Pass on Sunday with great results. I didnít make it out until later in the day because of a lazy hunting buddy (no not PG13 ), but the afternoon conditions were wind free and the cool clear skies provided lots of light. I followed a large 50Ē+ bull moose around the hillsides while he flushed coveys of Willow ptarmigan around and used old snow machine trails to get into small coveys of White-Tailed ptarmigan.

    They were filming 'The Frozen Ground' on the road up to the hills. They had crashed large U-Haul trailers and SUVís into the ditch and were re-covering up sections of the road with snow for filming. I almost got stuck in their mess but the olí Dodge pulled through as usual.

    What can I say, no matter the cold temperatures, it was just another day in paradise.

    Quote Originally Posted by TMCKEE View Post
    I don't mind getting out down to about -15, but I leave the dog home for anything below +5
    I would agree that right around 0*F the dogs stay home. Mine stays home at about 10*F but she is a lazy bulldog.

    As for snow conditions I found them too soft for snowshoes to be effective so I rely on ski/sled trails when possible. Pressure and wind will do their part and in time that will change.
    "When the time comes for a man to look his Maker in the eye, where better could the meeting be held than in the wilderness?"

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    Member Hoyt's Avatar
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    I run my dog a little colder, but he is a big boy with a nice coat. I just adjust the amount of time I have him out hunting, make sure he is offered plenty of water, and watch him for any sign of issues. Dogs generate a tremendous amount of body heat while they are working hard...think sled dogs. I donít like hunting in really cold weather, so if itís too cold, Iíll just stay home. I also donít really like hunting without my dog (although I have, and will). I give the birds time off, and let them focus on surviving when itís too cold anyway. I watched a ruffed grouse loading up with willow buds from my living room window the other night. It was fun watching it stuff its beak. My wife had a fun time wiping all of the giant nose prints off the window.
    "If I could shoot a game bird and still not hurt it, the way I can take a trout on a fly and release it, I doubt if I would kill another one." George Bird Evans

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    Glad some of you folks found some useful information in my book.

    I don't generally go out when it drops below 0, and then I'll only hunt ptarmigan during these frigid months. I leave the grouse alone during winter, but I do go out and watch ruffs as they sit all balled up on branches or feeding high up in aspens. Every once in a while I'm treated to seeing a ruff, just before dark and after 15 or so minutes of frenetic feeding way up in an Aspen tree, just drop down and plunge into the snow where it will spend the icey cold night. I carry cameras for this sorts of hunting. But once it warms up I'll be back out with the dogs after ptarmigan!

    Alaskan Woodsman, You will come to see how when it's really cold down here in our valley that it's often much warmer up above treelike due to temperature inversion. A hunter just needs to be ready to go when all of a sudden it warms up.

    Hoyt, I'm jealous of you having that ruff in your yard. I believe a goshawk got the one that used to come into my yard. I'd love to have one nearby to photograph on a regular basis.

    Jim

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    I see them often feeding in the Aspen near my house in the winter. Last year I saw 4 or 5 birds sitting high in the Aspens eating away just before night fall. I said willows in my earlier post, but I meant Aspen. Jim, what is your temp cut off for ptarmigan? What type of temperatures can your britts handle?
    "If I could shoot a game bird and still not hurt it, the way I can take a trout on a fly and release it, I doubt if I would kill another one." George Bird Evans

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    Hoyt,

    I'm not really sure what the cutoff is for my Brittanys? Many years ago Buddy and I would find ourselves out there at -5 or more, but we were both young and stayed hard at it right up to the end of a hunt. Nowadays there cutoff is my cutoff, but the whole pile of my miscreants have found a gate left open at home by the women that rule my life, and I've had to search for them for several hours in -15 and when I arrested them they were happy and fine.

    As to the ruffs you saw feeding...how many? And was it in the same tree? Were you able to see them when they dispersed? Did each bird go it's separate way, off in a different direction?

    Jim

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    Member Burke's Avatar
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    I definitely keep an eye on the temperature, but more than that it is the snow conditions that I monitor for the dogs sake. I had hunted my Weimaraner in pretty cold temps (near zero) and he was fine as long as he was moving. Just like hunting the heat, we could not hunt as long as we could under more ideal temps.
    The snow depths and conditions are usually more influential on my ventures out. My Brittany will swim thru some pretty deep snow to find birds but it wears her out pretty fast and I have seen dogs blow out their knees in that snow...so I tend to be pretty selective with snow conditions. I can slap on the snowshoes, but still have not found any that fit the dogs...

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    Snow conditions for the dogs is indeed a very important consideration. Here in the interior region we have entirely different snow conditions than south of the range where snow is so deep and soft, not to mention avalanche conditions. In the north country we have had pretty much a snow drought for many years, and we tend to hunt windswept open ridges and domes, unlike down south. Our snow is dry and much easier to push through. My Brittanys, although kept in good shape and are relatively tough and hard charging, actually have it much better than dogs hunting south of the Alaska Range in winter and spend a lot of time walking on top of crusted snow rather than pushing through it. We dolmen and women must be watchful of our dogs needs at all times. The heat worries me a lot more than the cold. Working a dog hard, too hard, in high temperatures is quite dangerous and can kill a dog quickly.

    Jim

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    I am going to set my springer up with booties. Ice balls have proven to be a problem for him in south-central.

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    I've hunted with drake until -20, he's done great. Of course around those temps I'm just a wimp and the hunts get shorter and shorter as the temps fall. I hunt with an auto-loader and around -15 it turns into a single shot. I just try to make sure Drake has plenty of water while we are hunting, whether it be cold or warm.

    The "ice balls" he has problems with aren't on his feet rather it's the 2 inches that seems accumulate on his "go-nads" that seems painful to me, although he doesn't seem to care less.

    Good luck to everyone this weekend.

    -KH

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    Jim,
    The bird I saw the othe day was a loner. I didn't see where he went/ The group I saw last year was 4-5 birds, all in the same tree. Iwatched them for awhile, but bot long eough to see where they went.
    "If I could shoot a game bird and still not hurt it, the way I can take a trout on a fly and release it, I doubt if I would kill another one." George Bird Evans

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    Deeper snow accumulations throughout the area are making it great for game birds in this cold. Friend of mine hunted the Paxson side and got a nice fox. He reported seeing good numbers of ptarmigan in small flocks. Check the regs in that country before you hunt birds (I sure would) because the seasons or limits or both are different.

    This weather is too cold for me and the dog. I'm not hunting predators right now either.... I got a pup....

    I caught my puppy sitting bolt upright on the couch the other day watching National Geographic Migrations...ears forward head tilting and all...pretty funny...gives me hope...

    I need to get another bird feeder, one for up here...the puppy and cat will watch the bird feeder for hours...

    I need some warmer temps... its (warmed up to?) -20F here now...will get the Red Map Book out and see where the White Mountains are...might head to Fox...might mall walk Sportsmans...might check out the ADF&G range...might set up the tying table.

    Lots to do. Fun stuff...but not as fun as warmer temperatures will be... !!!

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