By Connor Liess | IDFG – A lot of hunters and anglers see the cold, bitter months of January and February as the so-called “off-season.” It’s easy to see why — you step foot outside and instantly need a defroster for your lungs.
But with a little bit of mental preparation, the right gear and (most importantly) an up-to-date hunting and/or fishing license, you can take advantage of every day the calendar gives you and beat that cabin fever, with nearly a dozen hook-and-bullet opportunities around the state.
It’s quick, painless, and above all else gives you peace of mind that all is squared away when your favorite season later in the year sneaks up on you. Here, in no particular order, are 9 reasons to buy your 2023 licenses and ensure a full year of hunting and fishing.
Fancy up those winter meals with small game
Whether or not you’re still recovering from a long, fall big game hunt, going after small game with a .22 long rifle or shotgun is an excellent way to stay active and fill your freezer or saucepot with some tasty mountain critter morsels.
Getting that 2023 hunting license allows you to keep targeting red (pine) squirrels, cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares all the way through March 31. The best part is it doesn’t require long packouts, is relatively inexpensive and keeps those legs limber for when spring rolls around.
Up your upland game late into the season
If squirrels or hares don’t excite you, there’s still plenty of time and reason to go after some of Idaho’s upland birds, specifically chukar, Hungarian partridge, California quail and (in some places) forest grouse. If your dogs are itching to get out into the foothills and flush some birds this winter, you, your shotgun and your 2023 hunting license can expect little traffic and potentially good success.
Just be mindful of where you’re hunting. This time of year is critical big game wintering time, and many of the same lowland places you might drum up upland birds are also the temporary wintering grounds of deer and elk.
No matter where you live in the state, chances are good you’re no more than a quick car ride from a prime ice fishing destination. Ice fishing can be a hoot, whether solo, with friends, with kids, or all of the above. At this point in the year, many of Idaho’s ice fisheries have been hardening up from long periods of cold temperatures. Those cold temps can definitely deter some folks from walking out onto a frozen lake and drilling a 10-inch hole to fish through. But with the right gear and relatively inexpensive equipment, you can be taking part in one of the most leisurely activities of the entire year.
Before you load up the station wagon with family and fishing gear, be sure to check your destination’s ice fishing conditions.
Stay Price Locked
Fish and Game has a unique opportunity for hunters and anglers to ensure they only pay what they paid back in 2017. Purchasing an annual hunting, fishing or combo license consecutively since 2017 guarantees your rate is locked in. And right now, there’s no better time to keep that streak alive.
If you’re not Price Locked, you can still get 2017 prices by buying a 3-year license.
Steelhead fans rejoice
Idaho’s spring steelhead season kicked off Jan. 1, and no, we’re not talking about hockey. If you’re into standing on (or in) a frigid river bank during winter in hopes of landing one of the most sought-after fish in the state, you’re in luck. Steelhead fishing is a fun and challenging way to keep your angling prowess sharpened when the mercury plummets. Be sure to check out the current steelhead fishing rules and regulations before you go out.
The waterfowl season’s only at halftime
You don’t need to have a big, extravagant holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas on the horizon to goad you into goose or duck hunting. In fact, Idaho’s waterfowl season is merely half over (or half beginning, depending on how you look at it).
Most duck and Canada geese seasons are open during at least part of January, while white-fronted geese run into February, and as late as March for light geese in parts of the state. See the migratory game bird hunting seasons and rules booklet, as closure dates vary depending on species and location.
Don’t rule out winter stream fishing
Sure, the passerby and maybe even fellow anglers might look at you crazy for standing out on a river, risking frostbite, just to catch a few rainbow trout. But truth is, winter can be an amazing time to hook fish and observe some incredible natural scenery on quiet waters.
Winter is when many fly anglers sneak out to a popular rivers to catch fish in the same stretches of water that are filled with anglers during peak season. They know the fish are still there and willing to take a fly, or lure if you’re not a fly angler, and have a whole stretch of the river to yourself.
Burbot. That’s right. Burbot.
What’s a burbot, you might ask? It might not be the coverfish of Field and Stream magazine, but the experience and prized table fare make burbot the Kootenai River’s a beloved celebrity.
There’s a whole history to these deep-water creatures, but the burbot are not your average sportfish. When you hit up your buddy to fish the Kootenai River in mid-winter, you might get a resounding “no” before you can even finish your sentence. But the moment you tell them there’s a freshwater member of the cod family that tastes like lobster living down there, prepare for their tune to change.
Hunting large predators
Mountain lion and wolf hunting seasons are open during winter depending on location. Be sure to check out the big game hunting seasons and rules before heading out. Many hunters also enjoy the challenges of predator hunting during winter, and coyotes pelts are in prime condition.
Get it all (almost) with a Sportsman’s Package
If you’re someone that likes to have their bases covered, than the resident Sportsman’s Package option is the way to go. At only $124.25 at Price Locked — or $144.60 if you’re not — you get nearly all the hunting and fishing opportunities Idaho has to offer on one consolidated ticket.
The Sportsman’s Package includes a resident adult hunting and fishing license, plus tags for deer, elk, bear, mountain lion, wolf, turkey, salmon and steelhead. Archery and muzzleloader are validated on the license. (You still need a federal migratory bird permit and waterfowl stamp for those species).