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December 13, 2013

Winter is great, but always be prepared for the worst

The Daily Star

---- — Winter is one of my favorite times of the year.

It’s not just that I love to ski, but it’s a great time to be out in the woods. There’s very little snow on the ground right now, so hiking can be a lot of fun.

As a deer hunter, I feel that now is the time to scout for next year’s deer. Sure there are a few hardy hunters that still have tags to fill, but I like to just wander the woods and see where the deer are traveling.

The other day, I followed a nice buck that I played with all season. I jumped him several times in the same general area and easily could have shot him once. But I was just meat hunting and hoped my grandson would get a chance to take him. After all, how many times have you sat at the dinner table when someone asked, “Will you pass the antlers please?” Heck, you can’t even chew them, and they don’t make good soup.

Other than scouting, just taking a nice hike can be invigorating. There’s so much to see in the woods. I watched a gray fox the other day hunting through the brush and around an old log. Besides that, I have followed bobcat tracks all over my hill. I saw a large cat last year, but there were just tracks this year. Turkeys are plentiful, too; they’re scratching for beechnuts under every tree.

The other day, someone asked me to suggest a spot for a nice hike. The trails at Gilbert Lake are wonderful. You can just walk around the lake or take the trail from the upper parking lot. It will take you to Lake of the Twin Fawns or even Ice Pond. It’s a leisurely walk through the woods on a gentle Jeep path.

For the more adventurous souls, head to the Catskills and climb one of the many peaks. The leaves have fallen and the views can be breathtaking.

When hiking in the winter, you must be prepared. As you know here in the northeast, the weather can change rather rapidly. Wear several layers of clothing. If you get warm, it’s easy to remove a layer so you don’t sweat. Wear a hat and bring sunglasses. The bright sun reflecting off the snow can be very unpleasant. If you get too warm, you might just remove your hat. After all, there is tremendous heat loss through the top of your head. Removing your hat can cool your whole body.

When the snow starts to get deep, use snowshoes or cross-country skis. It’s far easier than walking in deep snow anyway. Besides that, the people who ski or snowshoe the trails don’t like to work around post holes left by inconsiderate hikers. Snowshoes or skis are required on the Adirondack trails if the snow is more than eight inches deep.

Drink plenty of water when you hike, too. Even in the winter, you easily can become dehydrated. I also like to carry plenty of snacks. Some quick energy always helps after hiking for a couple of hours.

A few years ago, a couple of friends and I decided to hike the Bennett, Middle and Murphy Lakes Trail in the southern Adirondacks. It was an early winter day with a good forecast. With only a couple of inches of snow on the ground, there would be no snowmobiles to contend with.

We left Creek Road for the 7-mile hike to Pumpkin Hollow, where a friend from Wells would meet us and take us back to our car. By the time we got to Middle Lake, there was a total white out. Snow and cold blew in from the north.

It took an hour longer than planned, but it goes to show that you must always be prepared. Weather can change in a heartbeat. Let people know where you’re going and have everything you need, just in case.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at