25 surprising ideas from America’s most innovative sportsman Winter separates expert outdoorsmen from novices. When conditions turn harsh, you need a full arsenal of skills to keep warm, stay safe, and hunt and fish successfully. No one deserved the title of expert more than H.G. “Tap” Tapply. From 1950 to 1985, he wrote Tap’s Tips, the ultimate source for outdoor advice. We searched the archives for some of his best winter tips. They worked then, and they work now.
1 [BRACKET “Track Savvy”] Rabbit and squirrel tracks can look alike, but the squirrel plants his forefeet together, side by side, whereas the cottontail places one slightly ahead of the other. Or you can try the system my uncle taught me. If the rabbit tracks go to a tree and stop, chances are it’s a squirrel.
2 [BRACKET “Emergency Winch”]If your car gets stuck in ice or snow, you may be able to move it with a rope. String the rope taut from the bumper to a tree or post and pull sideways at the middle. The leverage may be enough to turn the wheels. Retie and repeat until the car inches out.
3 [BRACKET “Dog Den”]Use old hay bales to give your dog a place to get in out of the cold. Build a shelter one or two bales high, according to the dog’s size, with boards on top to support the roof bales. Spread loose hay inside. If the hay is slightly spoiled, it could even generate a little heat.
4 [BRACKET “Prevent Rust”]Be sure to let a gun warm to room temperature before you clean it and put it away. If you store it while it’s still cold, moisture is likely to condense and cause rusting.Never store the gun in a case. Instead, keep it in a rack or safe where air can circulate.
5 [BRACKET “Souped Up”] Try this the next time you “hot up” some soup or stew on a winter camping trip: Add an envelope of instant mashed potatoes and stir it in. It thickens the broth without making it lumpy. It also adds a little extra flavor and nourishment, and it makes a filling meal.
6 [BRACKET “Bass Habitat”] Now’s the time to improve next summer’s bass and panfish angling. Simply cut a pile of brush-with the landowner’s permission, of course-and pile it on the ice over your favorite fishing grounds. Put a couple of stones on top to make sure it sinks when the ice goes out.
7 [BRACKET “Bore Cover”] Mud or snow in the bore of a rifle or shotgun can be dangerous. To prevent this from happening, stick a square of electrician’s tape over the muzzle. It will keep the barrel free of obstructions while you’re hunting. The tape breaks easily when you fire, so there’s no danger.
8 [BRACKET “Paw Protection”] Snow collects between a dog’s toes and freezes into balls of ice that hurt him when he runs. That’s why he stops to chew his feet. You can prevent this, and keep melting snow off the rugs when he comes in, by trimming away the hair between his toes.
9 [BRACKET “Slight Strikes”] Keep ice-fishing holes skimmed free of ice at all times when fishing for walleyes during below-freezing weather. Walleyes are notoriously tender biters, and the least bit of resistance caused by ice holding the line will make them drop the bait.
10 [BRACKET “Running Rabbits”] Heavy snow at night makes it tough for a dog to start a rabbit the next morning. When he finally gets one going, let him drive it awhile, even if you have to pass up a shot. His clamor will move other rabbits and improve hunting for the rest of the day.
11 [BRACKET “Fire Starters”] There are several ways to waterproof wooden matches. Quickest is to dip them in nail polish, which dries almost instantly. Melted paraffin also forms a seal against moisture. Dipping the matches in spar varnish will create the most durable waterproof coating. 12 [BRACKET “Ice Safety”] As a rule of thumb, 2 inches of hard ice will support a man of average weight, 4 inches will hold you and your fishing buddies, and 8 inches will take the weight of an automobile. But don’t park it near another car unless the ice is at least a foot thick.
13 [BRACKET “Fog Eraser”] Driving home from hunting or fishing in wet clothes with the heater going full blast always steams up the car windows. If you keep a blackboard eraser in the glove compartment, you’ll find it easy to keep the glass clear and your car between the lines.
14 [BRACKET “Winter Chum”] Fish can often be enticed to a hole in the ice by feeding chum into it. Try mashed eggshells, cornmeal, rice, or chopped dead minnows. This works best with panfish, such as perch and bluegills, but larger fish may also be attracted to the area.
15 [BRACKET “Water Survival”] Be extra careful when you go boating in winter. Exposure to freezing water can cause loss of consciousness in about 15 minutes; to 40-degree water, in 30 minutes. Wear a life jacket! If you capsize, clasp your knees to your chest to preserve body heat.
16 [BRACKET “Brighter Beads”] You can make an ivory or gold front bead much easier to find when you’re shooting against a snowy background by coloring it with bright-red nail polish. When the snow melts, clean the bead with polish remover. You’ll probably find both on your wife’s dressing table.
17 [BRACKET “Inuit Style”] In freezing weather, do as the Eskimos do and wear loose clothing. This allows blood to circulate to all parts of the body and admits air to evaporate body moisture. As your hands and feet will get cold first, wear oversize mittens and lace boots loosely.
18 [BRACKET “Instant Traction”] Hunters who drive on back roads can avoid getting stuck in mud or ice by carrying a few strips of asphalt shingles in the car trunk. Put them in front of the wheels, rough side down. You’ll get traction that will take you out. 19 [BRACKET “Lively Bait”] There’s still time to stash away a boxful of worms for your winter fishing. Keep them in a cool cellar, bedded in rotted leaves, earth, and a bit of moss. Feed them sparingly with coffee grounds or cornmeal, and cull out dead worms regularly.
20 [BRACKET “Easy Live Well”] Although fish never spoil when left lying on the ice, they do become stiff and difficult to clean. With your ice chisel, chip out a basin in the ice 4 or 5 inches deep. At one corner of it, spud a small hole through to the water, which then bubbles in, and you have a live well.
21 [BRACKET “Ice Gaff”] You never know when you might hook a big pike or walleye under the ice and have trouble hoisting it out. Solution: a small gaff. To make one, take a large (about 4/0) debarbed hook and use a small wood screw to fasten it to a wooden dowel; then bind the shank to the dowel.
22 [BRACKET “Life Saver”] You might save your partner’s life if you can recognize the signs of hypothermia: violent shivering, awkward movement, drowsiness, lapse of memory, and slow, slurred speech. Get the victim inside, or at least out of the wind, and warm him with dry clothes and a fire.
23 [BRACKET “Fresh Feet”] When you plan an all-day hunt, take along a pair of extra socks-wool, preferably-rolled up in a plastic bag, and change into them when you stop for lunch. Fresh socks will put new life into tired feet. Dry out the others to wear on the drive home at night.
24 [BRACKET “Overnight Warmth”] Your insulated sleeping bag will keep you a little warmer on a cold night if you give it a good shaking before going to bed. This fluffs the insulating material and restores the dead air spaces that hold in the heat and keep out the cold.
25 [BRACKET “Frostbite Medicine”] An effective treatment for frostbite is usually in your Thermos bottle. It’s coffee. If skin becomes numb, pale, or firm, moisten a handkerchief with warm-not hot -coffee and place it on the whitened skin. Thaw the area slowly. he heat and keep out the cold.
25 [BRACKET “Frostbite Medicine”] An effective treatment for frostbite is usually in your Thermos bottle. It’s coffee. If skin becomes numb, pale, or firm, moisten a handkerchief with warm-not hot -coffee and place it on the whitened skin. Thaw the area slowly.