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Vandiver: Braving winter weather can lead to memorable hunts
Russell Vandiver poses with a rainbow trout on a snowy winters' day.

Winter is a tough time to hunt and fish in any year, but this year it seems more difficult than I remember in the past 50 years. Perhaps it is because, as I get older, the cold seems colder, the rain and snow seem wetter and the wind seems to blow harder.

In spite of the tough conditions, there are still ample opportunities to hunt or fish and prepare for the upcoming turkey season, deer season and spring trout fishing; if you can withstand the frigid conditions. One such opportunity is our family’s annual squirrel rodeo. My grandchildren Jackson and Taylor, and son Josh and I look forward every year to hunting pesky squirrels that tormented us during deer season.

Many are the times that we were sure that a deer was approaching only to see a squirrel appear on a deer trail. Other opportunities include getting prepared for turkey season, which is rapidly approaching, as is the 27th annual Helen Trout Tournament. Cold and wet days are also a great time to start feeding protein and minerals for the deer that we will hunt this fall or catch some beautiful rainbow trout when the ground is covered in snow.

Our annual squirrel rodeo teams were Taylor and Josh versus Jackson and myself. We had a great time, even though we didn’t harvest many squirrels, as it turned out to be a windy, cold winter afternoon. The rodeo ended in a tie, but we all were winners as we were able to spend time together in the outdoors. Walking through the woods, taking time to look for deer and turkey sign with your son and grandchildren, is a great way to spend a winter’s day.

Squirrel season is open through Feb. 29, providing other opportunities, weather permitting, to hunt this season. I have often said that we are blessed in North Georgia to have four distinct seasons with each having its own intrinsic beauty.

Winter in the outdoors provides us with beauty not seen during the other seasons; whether it is frozen creeks with glistening icicles clinging to rocks, awesome sunrises or sunsets that cannot be seen in the woods when trees are in full foliage or the magic of finding deer antler sheds from last season’s bucks.

Trout fishing in the winter is challenging to say the least. Trout have very different feeding patterns in cold weather, as they bite best in the middle of the day as opposed to early morning and late afternoon in the spring. Their metabolism is very slow in the colder water, so it is necessary to slow retrieves down and be very patient in determining bites. Sounds very simple, except that slow retrieves on a sub-freezing day cause your rod eyelets to freeze much easier, especially in the wind.

However, when you catch a trout in the winter, it is most likely going to be a great fish with brilliant colors.
The next challenge is getting a good photo of your catch while trying to release the fish unharmed without getting your hands wet, which is rather painful in freezing temperatures. A good pair of forceps is a must for winter fishing as well as some good hand warmers for your vest, because you are going to get your hands wet.

We have been able to catch and release some great fish this winter with snow-covered banks along frozen edges of the river. Winter trout fishing is a lot of work, but that one bite that can produce a trophy fish makes it well worth it.

Preparing for turkey season includes taking inventory of your equipment including vest, calls, shells, decoys and of course your shotgun. Spending time in the woods and fields to pattern the travel activities is a must to assure a successful opening day. Trail cameras positioned correctly can help, but there is nothing like being there early in the morning to listen for gobbling and watch them fly down or late in the afternoon to see where they are roosting. Our trail cameras have provided some great pictures of mature gobblers this winter, but the turkey have yet to establish a consistent pattern. This is typical of turkey behavior this time of the year and should stabilize as fields start to green up in March.

Anticipation of the opportunity to harvest mature gobblers couldn’t be higher as we approach spring.
The 27th annual Helen Trout Tournament will be held on March 26 this year. Last year’s tournament was another record breaking event with 474 registered fisherman catching 29 trophy-sized tagged fish. Fisherman
catching tagged fish were awarded cash prizes totaling $2,250. Prizes were awarded based on weight and the first-place tagged fish weighed in at a whopping 6 pounds, 11.5 ounces and was awarded $500.

This year, another record-setting registration is anticipated, due to an increase in cash prizes. Based on weight, all tagged fish caught and presented at the weigh in on March 26 will be awarded cash prizes. Prizes awarded will be $1,000 first place, $500 for second place, $250 for third place and $50 each for the next 20 heaviest fish. All other tagged fish will be worth $25 each, regardless of weight. More than 400 pounds of trout, including 50 tagged, trophy rainbow trout weighing from 4-7 pounds will be stocked by the Helen Chamber of Commerce. In addition the state DNR will be stocking trout during the tournament. For more information and registration information go to The trout tournament promises to be the most fun you will find this year for a $20 registration fee.

Supplemental feeding for deer provides another opportunity to enjoy the winter. We think it is imperative to feed protein and provide mineral supplements from January through July every year to help improve the deer
herd on our deer hunting leases. The results have spoken for themselves the past several years, as we have seen antler growth and body weights increase dramatically. Three bucks harvested by my grandson Jackson and son Josh the past two seasons, with body weights exceeding 200 pounds each and antler scores of 140-150 inches, have convinced us that we are improving our deer herd.

There are a lot of deer feed supplements available that contain at least 20 percent protein, but our deer seem to prefer Whitetail Institutes’ Results Protein Pellets. Feeding deer in the winter is just one part of the puzzle for growing a quality deer herd for the upcoming season, but it is critical that deer get nutrition when they need it the most; during the winter.

Perhaps the best opportunity in winter for me is enjoying the wild game harvested from the past hunting season. Feasting on deer tenderloin, iron skillet baked doves or elk steak harvested the past year along with made-from-scratch biscuits and homemade cream corn with my family on a cold winter day is hard to beat, especially in front of a roaring open fireplace. We are blessed to have the winter hunting and fishing opportunities provided to us. Take time to enjoy the outdoors; winter style when “Every day is Saturday.”

Russell Vandiver, recently retired as president of Lanier Technical College, has been an avid fisherman and hunter for 50 years. His column appears monthly.   

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