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Snowshoeing - for hunting, fun and fitness



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February 01, 2009
A two day snow storm had left the world around me looking like a Currier and Ives painting. Last fall's dead grass and weeds were gone from sight and the pine trees, now decorated with white, were as pretty as any Christmas tree. A blanket of deep snow covered the frozen ruts left by the farmer's chisel plow, allowing me easy sailing across the open field to the woods a quarter mile away. Picking up the pace to a speed where my elevated pulse and deep breathing seemed to level off, I glided smoothly along on my morning walk. My snowshoes made a rhythmic "shush, shush" sound as I traveled. Entering the woods, I enjoyed walking among the trees with no underbrush to contend with. The summer birds had long since flown south. The winter birds, cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches, seemed more interested in finding their breakfast than in me as I passed nearby. Winter transforms even familiar woods into something wonderful and new. As I moved along the snow covered pines seemed to absorb all sounds. It was as if I was floating through a silent world. "No noise pollution," I thought. "And no exhaust fumes." I was burning calories not gasoline!

Leaving the woods, I faced the half mile trek back. Out in the open, I felt the cutting edge of the winter wind. Pulling my stocking hat down over my ears, I pushed for home. Facing a minor hardship, like a little wind, I marveled at the historic accounts I've read (Canadian Wilds, by Martin Hunter) about those tough Hudson's Bay Company men traveling hundreds of miles on snowshoes while carrying 90 pound bundles of furs on their backs.

Times have certainly changed. Blame it on modern transportation, changing lifestyles, lack of opportunity or just plain laziness, most people today seldom realize the benefits of snowshoe use.

I'm often questioned about my snowshoes. "Aren't they heavy" people ask.

My reply is, "I don't know, I never lift them off the ground."

"Doesn't it hurt to have to walk bowlegged?"

"Don't know, I've never tried it. It isn't necessary."

"Aren't they awkward?"

"They are if there isn't any snow! But, in deep snow they are a breeze to use."

It's been said that, "If you can walk, you can snowshoe." It can be done anywhere that there is enough snow. Usually 8 inches will suffice. In fact over 500 American school systems now offer snowshoe programs in their physical education classes to help combat obesity.

Snowshoeing
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Snowshoes can be an asset to hunters. John Shephard with a Michigan bobcat taken on a snowy midwinter hunt. Author photo
In addition to the benefits of physical activity, fresh air and beautiful winter scenery, I've often used snowshoes for hunting. My own rule of thumb is; if the snow is half way to my knees, I'd rather be on snowshoes.

Snowshoes were a necessity while bobcat hunting in northern Michigan during the months of January and February. With a couple of feet of snow on the ground, we could never have kept the hounds in hearing without them. I usually wore my Iverson modified bear paws. (Made in Shingleton, Michigan) They can be maneuvered through the thick stuff, where bobcats tend to run, easier than a longer snowshoe.

I've spent a lot of hours wearing those faithful old snowshoes. They were indispensable while running snowshoe hares with our beagles. My hunting buddy, Gary Larsen, and I used to run through the woods on our snowshoes while trying to get ahead of the circling rabbit. Occasionally, one of us tripped and plowed a furrow in the soft snow, much to the other's delight. After wearing our snowshoes all day we walked like drunken sailors when we removed them back at the truck.

One year, during the latter part of deer season in the UP, Wayne Kieselbach and I needed snowshoes just to access the remote area we intended to hunt. There was over 30 inches of snow on the high ground above the Lake Superior shoreline. The deer had all moved lower down to where there was less snow. Each morning, before daylight, I would strike out on snowshoes to climb over the divide and continue down until I got into fresh deer tracks. There I'd remove my snowshoes, stick them in the snow alongside the trail and go hunting. Each evening, after dark, I'd make the return trip over the bluff. It was hard hunting but I did pack a big 10 point buck out of there.

I've found shorter snowshoes, such as the modified bear paw style, better for negotiating in the woods and longer styles, such as the Alaskans, better for open country traveling. In deep, soft snow a turned up front on the snowshoe allows the front of the shoe to come up out of the snow and slide ahead easier. I prefer snowshoes with "tails" on the back because they balance better on the foot, slide ahead easier and don't throw as much snow up onto the back of my legs.

The exertion of a trek on snowshoes will cause perspiration, which will chill you after you stop. Therefore, it's best to layer clothing so it can removed or opened up while moving and closed or put back on when needed. A moisture wicking under layer, next to the skin, also helps in this regard.

It's also a good idea to carry several electrical zip ties for emergency snowshoe or binding repair.

Snowshoeing is a great way to access winter hunting or fishing opportunities or to provide some much needed exercise right near home. There is a whole world of adventure out there waiting for you. This year, don't let Michigan's winter weather prevent you from enjoying the great outdoors. Try snowshoeing for fun and fitness.

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