Don’t discount ‘mud season’ as a great time to get outdoors/Inside the DNR

April can be such a finicky month in the Copper Country. One minute the sun’s rays are causing snow and ice to shrink away, the next we’re getting dumped on by a lake effect snow system.

With such unpredictable weather, April has earned an unfair reputation as the quiet “mud season.” But the truth is, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors at this time of year if you’re willing to put up with a bit of bipolar behavior from our friend Mother Nature.

Without a doubt, April is the month when turkey hunters begin preparing for the coming season by scouting for toms, patterning the shotgun, and perfecting those clucks, purrs and yelps on box and mouth calls, while trout anglers stay busy tying flies and keeping an eye on the spring melt at their secret brookie hotspots.

But for hunters, April is also the time to get serious about scouting for deer by doing some shed antler hunting. Looking for sheds in the woods is a great way to become more familiar with deer behavior patterns on the land where you hunt by taking the time to look not only for deer trails and bedding areas, but for the all-important buck rubs and scrapes.

This evidence, left over from the fall rut, can give hunters some pretty good clues about where to hang their tree stands next season, and finding these indicators of buck activity can also help you find a nice shed antler rack gleaming in the melting snow.

One question we frequently hear at DNR offices at this time of year is if there are any rules regulating whether shed hunters can possess these cast off antlers. Up until a couple of years ago, Michigan’s game regulations actually weren’t clear as to whether possessing shed antlers was legal, but that gray area was remedied by the state’s Natural Resources Commission, making the possession of shed antlers legal and legit.

However, shed hunters should keep in mind that the antlers must be naturally shed from the deer (snares or traps of any kind are prohibited, and antlers may not be cut off a dead buck found in the woods). Sheds also may not be taken from private property without permission of the landowner.

April is also prime time for birders to get out and potentially see some life birds as the spring migration gets underway and birds that winter in the southern states and summer in the Arctic will pass through the Upper Peninsula, stopping near the southern shore of Lake Superior to “gas up” before the long haul north across the lake. To find out what other birders have recently spotted in your area, check out www.ebird.org for maps, photos and detailed reports.

Reader question of the month:

Q: I saw that there will now be an off-road vehicle trails permit along with the ORV license. Can you explain when and where I would need one or both of these to ride my ORV?

A: As in the past, the ORV license is required to operate an ORV anywhere off of private property, including on the ice of public waters. In addition to the ORV license, riders will also need the new ORV trails permit to operate on any state-designated ORV trail, route or scramble area. Full details on the new ORV license structure can be found on the DNR website at www.michigan.gov/dnr, by clicking on “hunting and fishing license structure” under the In the Know section. Thanks for your question!

Mixed Bag for April:

Fisheries Division staff are hosting “Conversations and Coffee” public forums around the state this spring. The informal meetings provide a chance for anglers to talk with local fish biologists about management issues and regulations. Six meetings were scheduled for the U.P., with one in Houghton from 7-9 p.m., on April 16 at the Portage Lake District Library. For a full list of meeting dates and locations, visit www.michigan.gov/fishing.

The DNR is seeking more volunteer ORV safety instructors in the U.P. A three day training session will be held in Alger County this June in order to recruit more instructors from the region. To apply, call 517-284-6055 or visit www.michigan.gov/recreationalsafety.

Coyote season closes April 15; turkey season opens April 21; trout and salmon season opens April 26.

Debbie Munson Badini is the DNR’s Deputy Public Information Officer. Have suggestions for future column topics or questions about natural resource management in the UP? Contact her by phone at 906-226-1352, via email at munsonbadinid@michigan.gov, or on Twitter @MichiganDNR_UP.