Our Outdoors: 10 Ice Safety Tips

Beware of thin ice and suspect areas as the hard-water season gets underway.By Nick Simonson

It’s hard to believe that first ice is upon us already, and even I have set about readying my gear for a Thanksgiving trip up north for first-ice walleyes and crappies. Many friends have relayed that they plan to head out this weekend, with a solid four inches of ice in place throughout the upper Midwest.  It’s an exciting time, but that excitement needs to be tempered with discretion.  What follows are tips for first ice – and the entire ice season – for a safe and enjoyable time on hardwater.

10. Carry basic survival tools with you. A knife, a lighter, a whistle and ice picks are the bare bones basics you’ll need in case of trouble. A small first aid kit, a GPS unit, duct tape and a Ziploc bag are great to have too. Much of what you need to survive can be packed in a tacklebox or in an Altoids tin.  Use the Ziploc bag to keep it all waterproofed.

9. Be a “half-full” angler. Keep fuel levels on your truck, snowmobile and ATV at half or better when you’re headed to the lake. That way you’re guaranteed not to get stranded in the cold for lack of gasoline.

8. Keep it on the rocks, not on the ice. Save the celebration for after the outing. Alcohol impairs judgment, hinders mobility, results in faster body-heat loss and has been a contributing factor in many ice-related incidents in recent years.

7. Stay clear. A lesson passed on to me by a brother of mine, who will remain nameless, was learned the hard way.  The drawstrings of his hooded sweatshirt tangled in the gears of his power auger and the motor pulled his face flush with the housing.  Thankfully, he was able to hit the kill switch and cut himself free.  Lesson learned - keep loose clothing and limbs away from motorized ice equipment such as augers. 

6. Layer up and pack an extra set of clothes.
You can’t put on what you don’t bring with.  Wear multiple layers of clothes and keep an extra set packed in your truck or sled, just in case a boot – or your whole body – breaks through. 

5. Be thick-headed.
Know what thicknesses of good, clear ice can support you.  Four inches will hold a person.  Eight inches will hold an ATV or snowmobile.  12 Inches will hold a small automobile and 16 inches of clear ice will generally hold a pickup.  These are just guidelines, so adjust as needed based on ice conditions and formation in your area; gray, chunky or honeycombed ice is significantly weaker.

4. Watch the weather and the water. Warming trends and rain can have quick negative effects on ice quality.  Monitor what’s coming on the next front and what has happened recently in the areas you plan to fish, as recent rains or prolonged temperatures above freezing can weaken ice.  Additionally, late-departing waterfowl such as Canada geese and schooling fish like tullibee can impact areas of ice.  Where these birds spent their last day will have thinner ice than the surrounding area, and large schools of whitefish near the surface have been known to keep ice from forming too.

3. Know your water body.
Have a good understanding – and a map – of areas on your fishing waters which are known to have questionable ice.  Note areas of currents, springs, aerators, bridges, culverts or vegetation which make ice unstable and avoid traveling or fishing near them.

2. Let ‘em know before you go. Provide information to a non-angler back home as to what lake you’ll be on, what areas you’ll be fishing and when you’ll check in and return. Leave detailed directions on how to find you along with your contact information and that of the anglers you will be with.

1. No ice is safe ice. It’s not terra firma, there’s no safety net, and it just can’t be trusted.  No matter what month of the hardwater season, no matter how cold it has been, no ice is 100 percent safe.  Remember that with every step and have a plan in place if you break through.  Don’t drive on ice if you don’t have to. If you fall in, go back the way you came, using ice picks to pull yourself up. 

Follow these tips as you venture out this month on the first few inches of safe ice.  Being cautious and prepared is the first step toward a successful outing, whether you pursue pike, perch or other popular early-ice species…in our outdoors.


Christensen Promoted to W. Minn. Regional Rep

Matt Christensen, PF's new W. Minn. Regional RepPF Press Release

Pheasants Forever has named Matt Christensen as the organization’s Western Minnesota Regional Representative. Previously, Christensen served as a Pheasants Forever habitat specialist. In his new position, Christensen will support and promote the conservation work of Pheasants Forever chapters in southwest, west-central and northwest Minnesota.

“Christensen has been a strong addition to the Pheasants Forever team and we are excited about the direction he will take the organization in this new role,” stated Tom Fuller, Pheasants Forever’s north region director. “His passion and commitment to our mission is highlighted by his volunteerism with multiple chapters and the work he has accomplished thus far for Pheasants Forever.”

Originally from Elk River, Minn., Christensen has been employed with Pheasants Forever since 2007, having served as a habitat specialist working in the prairie region of the state. In addition to this role, he volunteers his time as an active committee member for both the Stevens County and Glacial Ridge Chapters of Pheasants Forever near his current residence of Kensington, Minn.

“I am excited to be starting in my new role as regional representative and supporting the great chapters we have in the state of Minnesota,” explained Christensen. “With the upcoming Pheasant Summit being hosted in December as well as the numerous habitat programs available in the state, I look forward to working with chapters to make habitat conservation a continued priority for Minnesota.”

Christensen earned a B.S. in Wildlife Management in 2005 from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point. Prior to joining Pheasants Forever in 2007, Christensen was a research technician for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, responsible for monitoring the movements of sage grouse in western Colorado and maintaining landowner relationships in the area. Supporting him during this transition is his wife, Erin, and their two children, Jake and Avery. Christensen will officially start as the Western Minnesota Regional Representative on November 18, 2014.

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever in Minnesota

Minnesota is home to 75 Pheasants Forever chapters, two Quail Forever chapters, and more than 24,400 Pheasants Forever members. For more information about Pheasants Forever in Minnesota, to join a chapter or inquire about starting a chapter, contact Matt Christensen, Pheasants Forever Western Minnesota Regional Representative, at (320) 431-9245 / This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



Late Season Comes Early

Late season roosters require some stealth, but winter gives hunters a few advantages too!By Nick Simonson

Almost overnight the local population of pheasants has had to adjust to conditions which turned the season from a warm indian-summer-type autumn into what seems to be the dead of winter. Where we were seeing birds two weeks ago - in light grasses along just-harvested fields - is not where they are going to be now, thanks to three inches of fresh snow (or more in other stretches of pheasant country), and a very cold shift in the weather pattern.  So, even though it's just early November, you may want to shift your tactics to adjust to where the birds are located, and hunt like its the end of the season using winter tactics to fill the pouches in your game vest.

It is not uncommon as the end of the season approaches to have pheasants flush wildly, sometimes over one hundred yards away.  Having been on the receiving end of the autumn chase has made birds wise The slightest sound – be it a truck door slamming, a command to a dog, or the crunch of snow underfoot – sends pheasants skyward.  Many times, there is nothing a hunter can do about it; that’s just the nature of winter birds.

However, being as stealthy as possible can up the odds in your favor.  Start by being ready when you pull up to your hunting spot.  Remove the keys from the ignition before opening the door, and be sure the radio is off.  When closing vehicle doors, don’t slam them; gently close them and press them shut.  Quietly let your hunting buddy out of his kennel, and if you can direct him with hand signals or slight whistles, that will help your chances. As you begin your pursuit, try to step on soft snow, as opposed to wind-hardened or melted and refrozen snow, which is crunchier and louder underfoot.  Even the slight sound of snow can set birds off at a distance.  Limit in-field conversations as well.  The human voice is a big red panic button for roosters at this time of year.

Tracks in the snow help tell you where to go for winter pheasantsThick Cover

Just as you may add blankets on your bed as winter sets in, birds look for cover that will help keep them warm as cold temperatures become the norm, and as snow accumulations push them from lighter grasses.  Brush and willow thickets, along with evergreen trees like spruce, juniper and cedar provide excellent buffers against the wind.  With a good amount of grass around the bases and lower limbs, these windrows form perfect pockets where birds can bunker down, and walking these areas can help you identify staging spots for wily winter roosters. 

Thick cattails also provide thermal cover, and the snow gives hunters an advantage in locating where the birds are in winter sloughs.  Cold weather by this point has started to freeze the water in these areas of cover, opening up more space for birds to run through, but also giving hunters the opportunity to access places that were too waterlogged to walk earlier in the season. It’s a great chance to see what portions of a slough are being used frequently by pheasants, just make sure the ice you're walking on is solid and provides firm footing.

Eyes on the Ground

By walking the edge of thick cattail cover and keeping an eye out for tracks and wing or tail marks along the perimeter, you’ll know exactly where the birds have been entering or exiting the slough and where to start your dog on the search.  Tracking bird movements, thanks to recent snowfall, is a hunter’s greatest advantage at this time of the year.  The sign proves birds are around, shows where they are moving and gives insight into the daily habits of the local pheasant population. Key in on places where you find a number of tracks and areas where the birds are holing up or scratching for food. From season to season, these areas of cover with super-highways of four-toed tracks will be places to check out on each hunt, whether early in the year or later on. 

Just because the weather is colder and the birds are spookier, doesn’t mean hunting is done.  Until the last light of the season’s final day, even the wariest rooster can be had with a few modifications to your hunting style, and awareness to their seasonal needs.  Try these tips to find success as late season hunting takes flight!

Last Updated ( Friday, 14 November 2014 08:39 )


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