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Snowy woods lead to wildlife sightings

December 30, 2012
By Walt Young , The Altoona Mirror

Weather often determines or, at times, limits our choice of outdoor activities this time of year.

Snow is the weather factor that most often affects those choices throughout the winter. I've never been a big fan of snow, but I love nothing better than a few inches of snow during deer season.

Aside from that, you can keep the stuff. But I have also lived in this area all of my life and know that snow is just about inevitable in our part of the world until late February or even early March.

Given that certainty, complaining about it is mostly futile. Instead, I drive an SUV and own an assortment of boots and outerwear that adequately prepare me to cope with anything from a dusting to a full-fledged blizzard.

This past deer season offered up the type of schizophrenic weather that has been so typical of the past couple of decades.

A bit of snow the first two days of the season where I was hunting, followed by days in the 60s during the second week of the season.

How I would have enjoyed the batch of snow we received last week back during deer season.

A few inches of fresh snow always transforms the stark winter woods into an irresistible place as the blanket of white becomes the pages of an exclusive book, telling many wonderful stories to those who understand the language of the tracks and other clues left there.

There is also something special about being the first to walk a familiar snow-covered trail to see what critters might have recently passed that way as well, and I was compelled to do just that at several places last week.

My first adventure began before I even left my vehicle when I spotted a deer bedded in a thicket about 50 yards from the road. Knowing there were likely to be several more deer in that area, I drove past and parked well away from the spot.

My plan was to circle back with my camera in hopes of getting a picture or two. I was less than halfway there when I spied a small doe watching me from beneath a large pine tree. The young deer allowed me to grab a couple of shots before it trotted behind some heavy brush.

Energized by that encounter, I continued sneaking along, and shortly noticed almost a dozen deer calmly feeding near the spot where I had seen the bedded deer. Because of the proximity of the highway and several houses, hunting isn't permitted in this immediate area.

These deer were also somewhat accustomed to seeing humans, so as long as I moved slowly and quietly, they were willing to tolerate my presence rather than leave their little sanctuary. Those circumstances allowed me to capture some wonderful photos as the deer pawed about in the snow for something to eat.

The next day I had a similar chance meeting with a flock of wild turkeys while visiting the hunting camp of a friend in Huntingdon County. We had just come up a small hill when we surprised a flock of at least 12 to 15 turkeys less than 50 yards away. Wild turkeys, of course, will disappear like a puff of smoke on a windy day at the first sign of an intruder, so I was amazed to see the birds take their good old time getting away.

Maybe it was because the big birds were so easy to see for a long way through the open snow-covered woods, or perhaps the turkeys realized we posed no real threat and were content to conserve precious energy by making a peaceful retreat from the scene rather than the usual panicked exit.

Regardless of the reason, I always enjoy the opportunity to watch wild turkeys in the woods, and the big birds look even a little more magnificent with a snowy backdrop.

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