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Field Craft 101 - Reading sign in the snow

November 30, 2018 GMT

Our recent snow has received lots of comments! It seems you either love it or you hate it. I’m in the “love it” category. One of the things I love about a new snowfall is how quiet it seems in the timber and how quietly you can move. It is also a great time to teach someone new to the outdoors to see how life in the wilds goes on. In the old days, this was known as reading sign.

I really enjoy seeing what I can decipher from tracks and markings left in the snow. It is very easy to see where animals move. I was scout for deer this past weekend, getting ready for the muzzleloading season that opens on Saturday. I was following some deer through an old creek bed. Fresh snow makes determining the movement and routine of deer much easier.

Snow is a great medium for preserving an animal’s footprint. It is easy to see the tracks and study them. With a little practice you can tell a raccoon’s tracks from a skunk’s or a coyote. About midway through my morning’s scouting I spotted another predator’s track…a bobcat. The bobcat hunting season just reopened, so that track caught my attention.


The track was several hours old, probably from before dawn that morning, but it was interesting to see where the bobcat wandered and what it stopped to check out. The cat stay low in the creek bed and about every 20 yards would take a step or two up the back, probably to look across the adjacent field. I found no evidence of the cat making a move to dart out into the field to catch something. Eventually it left the creek bed and the trail disappeared into some thick brush.

Some years back I was mentoring a young man and we were tracking rabbits in thick timber after a snow. We found a spot where coyote tracks crossed the rabbit tracks and began paralleling the path of the rabbit. I could almost see the light bulb go off above my mentee’s head when he realized that the coyote was hunting the rabbit.

After a few more minutes we found where the coyote had launched its attack on the rabbit. Signs in the snow showed an explosive but brief footrace. The coyote was the victor and it was a good lesson.

Last year a friend of mine showed me a picture that told another story in the snow. A rabbit was crossing a meadow on my friend’s property. There was no sign of alarm or quickening of pace with the rabbit, but its trail was obliterated with a lot of displaced snow.

Examination of the marks in the snow told the story of a hawk dropping out of the sky and pouncing on the rabbit, then flying off. You could see the point of impact and marks of wing feathers as the hawk got airborne again. The rabbit’s trail ended and the rest of the snow was undisturbed. It was nature in its purest form. Enjoy the snow while it lasts.

Deer Harvest


Initial reports indicate that the deer harvest is down five percent in Nebraska from last year. Whitetail buck harvest is up slightly, with 26,525 adult whitetail bucks harvested compared to 25,489 in 2017. The average age of bucks also increased, with 41 percent of whitetail bucks estimated at age 3 or older.

Mule deer buck harvest decreased slightly, with 8,575 taken, compared to 8,609 in 2017. This is still the second highest recorded mule deer buck harvest on record bodes well for Nebraska. The average age of bucks is also very good, with 59 percent of bucks estimated at age 3 or older.

Final harvest numbers cannot be tallied until after the archery and muzzleloader seasons close December 31 and the late antlerless season wraps up January 15, 2019.

Well…I’ll be out in the timber again Friday morning, right after my radio show. I’ll be trying to add to the numbers with my muzzleloader. Who knows what an under hammer rifle is?