For many, Christmastime ranks as one of the prime times to get out and enjoy the outdoors. The kids are enjoying Christmas vacation and a break from school or college while the folks have a three-day weekend to relish.
What can you do? There are many things.
Consider taking the family on an ice-fishing trip. Two of the favorite reservoirs near Sheridan, Healy and Tongue River, are frozen solidly and have ample populations of hungry fish. Tongue River Reservoir holds a large population of black and white crappies as well as good numbers of walleyes, northern pike and smallmouth bass, while Healy Reservoir holds a bumper crop of yellow perch.
You can catch the yellow perch with minimal equipment: a short spinning rod, a small jig and a wax worm will get you started. It pays to have a decent auger, but on the weekends there are usually plenty of anglers at Healy who seem to have a propensity to drill enough holes for the entire city of Buffalo, so just pick an empty one and fish.
If you don’t care for ice fishing, there are still some upland bird-hunting and waterfowl seasons that are open.
There are good numbers of ducks and geese along the Bighorn River around Thermopolis and between Fort Smith and St. Xavier. There are also sizable populations of ducks along some of the open-stream courses in Sheridan, Park and Big Horn counties. The upper Shoshone River harbors decent number of mallards, as do the small spring ponds and streams scattered about the region.
Cottontail rabbit hunting is another alternative. Though the population isn’t booming, there are enough rabbits out there to stock the family larder.
If you want a real mountain adventure, you could try hunting for snowshoe hares. The bunnies like spruce-fir groves and can be found throughout the Bighorn Mountains.
A snowshoe trek through the mountains would be another great family outing. Several sporting goods stores in the region sell snowshoes, but if you can’t afford to buy a pair for every family member, the stores also rent snowshoes.
One favorite winter adventure is a cross-country ski trip. There are plenty of maintained trails in the Bighorn Mountains — the one at Sibley Lake offers a variety of trails from expert to bunny. The one at Willow Park on Highway 16 is another well-maintained and diverse trail system.
Sheridan boasts an excellent ice-skating rink with plenty of open skate times. The rink even rents skates for those of you who don’t own a pair. The recent improvements made at the rink will enable it to be open longer in the spring.
Snowmobile opportunities in the region are diverse. The Bighorn Mountains have many miles of well-maintained trails. If you don’t own a snowmobile, there are lodges and outfits that do rent them.
Why not try to do your own Christmas bird count? It’s probably too late to sign up for one, so why not try to take the family on an outing where you see how many different species of birds you can view? Perhaps you can compare your list with the official bird count. You might even just observe the birds that come to your feeder and record species and numbers.
I do hope that your Christmas is blessed and full of love. Once the presents are opened and the Christmas meal is finished, I hope that your family will get out, enjoy the time off and recreate in the great outdoors.