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Commentary: Taking the optimistic view of the outdoors in winter

I was talking to a fisheries manager the other day when I told him I thought this winter had become a bit of a grind.

And in many ways, it has. There's been relentless periods of cold, too much wind and, for skiers, snowmobilers and other snow sports enthusiasts, marginal snowfall, at least in the Red River Valley.

Except for a couple of trails in northeast North Dakota, there hasn't even been enough snow to groom snowmobile trails until you get farther east into Minnesota, where snowfall has been more abundant and ample wooded areas have kept it from blowing away.

Ski trails actually are pretty good, all things considered.

For me, the cold and wind make optimism hard to come by as I await more favorable conditions for heading outdoors.

"You know what though—February's here, temperatures are going to start warming up, and we've got hockey tournaments and all the good stuff of winter coming up yet," the fisheries manager said during our chat. "Good ice fishing, snowmobiling—all kinds of good stuff."

That's the optimistic view.

Best of all, he's right.

Getting creative, three friends and I found a good way to spend a cold winter day last Saturday, when we made about 35 pounds of sausage using a mixture of venison and other wild game, pork and a Cajun mix I picked up commercially.

Our host has all of the equipment for making sausage, including an electric grinder, a cast iron stuffer and a smoker, so his house was a good place to get together for an activity that at least had an outdoors connection.

There's a trick to making sausage, especially when it comes to stuffing the casings, so our host handled that part of the job while the rest of us tended the more menial tasks and got cold hands mixing the ground meat with the ingredients in the sausage kit.

And, of course, we had to do "quality control" and sample the goodies we made, washed down with a favorite beverage.

It was an enjoyable, productive way to spend a cold February afternoon before heading to the Ralph that night to watch the UND men's hockey team thump Colorado College 5-1.

We'll put the sausage to good use during any number of outdoors excursions on the calendar in the next few months, including an upcoming trip to the Northwest Angle of Lake of the Woods, our annual late-ice "pike party" on Devils Lake and the May 12 Minnesota walleye opener.

Taking the optimistic view, even that most distant event on the short-term outdoors calendar now is less than three months away—not that anyone's counting.

In the meantime, we're more than halfway through February, the days are getting noticeably longer, and prolonged stretches of subzero temperatures soon will be a thing of the past for the next several months.

March can offer some of the best ice fishing of the season, spring light goose and wild turkey hunting is on the horizon, and it won't be long before it's time to think about rounding up the open water tackle.

That's the optimistic view.

Almost certainly, there will be a weather setback or three as we make the transition from midwinter to late winter and move toward spring, but the brunt of the bone-chilling cold should be in the rear-view mirror.

Even for the most pessimistic winter-haters among us, that's cause for optimism.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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