Day after Tomorrow: Animal behavior should change with incoming cold

Published 3:06 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2022

BROOKHAVEN — Cold, windy weather is forecast for this weekend and it is not a pleasant 40 degree weather best suited for deer hunting. Instead, NWS Jackson is forecasting arctic weather with forecasted lows below 15 degrees and highs below 32 degrees from Thursday night into Saturday night. 

Waterfowl could be the only game suitable for hunting this weekend. Cold weather increases the waterfowl’s energy output and thus their need for food. Ducks, geese and coots are likely to increase their daily movements to find food sources to meet their energy needs. 

Central and Southwest Mississippi are not forecast to have any snow or ice with these cold temperatures but states further north in the Mississippi Flyway are forecast to have ice and snow. MDWFP’s duck report last week said the ice, snow and cold temperatures could drive birds further south and biologists were hopeful bird numbers would increase this week. 

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Houston Havens and Darrin Hardesty of the MDWFP Waterfowl Program had good news for waterfowl hunters in their report on December 20. Waterfowl harvests, observations and habitat availability increased over the past week. 

This was helped in part due to cooling weather and heavy rainfall brought on by a line of severe storms which rolled through Mississippi last week. Rainfall allowed landowners, biologists and property managers to capture and hold more acreage of water providing additional wetland habitat options for birds. 

Havens and Hardesty said in their report that they encourage people to continue to hold water for waterfowl, shorebirds and other wildlife. They are expecting an influx of birds from up north as temperatures drop well below freezing in the Mississippi flyway. 

“Early reports this week indicate that waterfowl numbers are already beginning to increase ahead of the coming blast of cold air from the north,” the report said. “During periods of freezing temperatures, waterfowl tend to feed more actively on grains and other sources of carbohydrates to help sustain energy levels. When shallow, high-quality foraging habitats freeze over, waterfowl will often find deeper wetlands or flowing water systems to spend their time. When shallow wetlands begin to thaw, birds typically respond quickly to build up energy reserves again.”

Gadwall, green-winged teal, northern shovelers and wood ducks made up the majority of reported harvests last week. MDWFP reported an increase of mallard harvests towards the end of the week. Snow, blue, Ross’s and specklebelly geese have increased in numbers in the Mississippi Delta. Aerial survey results will be entered at some point this week after weather delayed the survey flights last week. 

What about small game?

Small game could be hit or miss in cold weather. Squirrels will be sluggish in the morning and might den up in tree hollows instead of using their warm weather nests. One tactic to use when hunting squirrels in cold weather is to look out for them sunbathing on outstretched limbs as they attempt to raise their internal temperature. 

It could be a good time to hunt rabbits on foot without a dog. Frost in the morning will render thorny plants fragile and easy to break. Icicles on the thorns will typically prevent them from poking a hunter if you are trying to walk through thick briars or brush. 

Rick Hamrick, MDWFP’s small game biologist, said squirrels and rabbits might be more likely to hunker down and conserve energy during the extreme lows. They will try to stay insulated in their dens or nests. 

“They might come out for some quick feeding activities before moving back to cover. They may still move around some but no more than they have to when it is bitterly cold,” Hamrick said. “After a few days of cold, really cold, temperatures they may get to a point where they have to get out and feed if they burn off some of their fat reserves to replace those calories. If a hunter was planning to take a couple of days off, it might be best to skip the coldest days and hunt the front or back ends around the coldest days.” 

Food should be accessible for rabbits, squirrels and birds unless Mississippi receives snow or ice for an extended period of time. Hamrick said squirrels and rabbits should be able to ride out the cold weather until it warms up.

Cold front good for deer?

Deer will seek thermal cover with these abnormal temperatures. Movement will be limited to necessity as deer might get up to eat and find water but deer will mostly stick to their core bedding areas. 

Deer might find a place protected from the wind such as a ridge or thick cover to bed down if you are looking for a place to hunt. Prolonged exposure to the cold causes deer to go into a stupor state. They pick a secure area with thermal cover such as brush or under evergreen trees, bed down and slow down their heart rate to conserve energy.

If you choose to tough it out and hunt deer later this week it is recommended you wear enough layers and tell someone your hunt plan. Strong winds could make hunting from a tree stand dangerous so remember to wear a safety harness.