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Clues from the Subnivean Zone

The subnivean zone is the area under the snow where there is a lot of activity occupied by prey animals.  If you are hunting fox or coyotes watching the subnivean zone gives clues for predator food.  A vast network of running holes through the snow is occupied by shrews, voles, mice, possums and other rodents.

Many animals leave clues in the snow such as herbivores such as deer and moose, who paw through the snow to dig up roots and eat them.  Prior to hibernation, bears scratch at the snow to dig roots.    Turkey and grouse scratch up the snow to get anything under it.  During deep freezes, pheasants sometimes use abandoned larger coyote holes.

Carnivores such as bobcat, lynx, mountain lions, wolves, fox and coyote are particularly keen on chasing the moles, shrews and other rodents in the subnivean zone.  If you are hunting these predators, watch the subnivean zone since they repeatedly lay in wait to their favorite subnivean runs.

Fox tracks around the subnivean entrances.

The fox moves in circles around the entrances to wait for its prey.

Fox sitting in wait by hole

In this photo, a depression in the snow reveals where a fox was sitting close to a hole, waiting to grab a vole, shrew or mole.  The little hole in the photo is the entrance to the subvivean zone for a shrew.

Fox scat with ruler.

If you are not sure what animal has been around, the scat will surely point to the culprit.  Fox have small scat with wild animal fur in it;  it is generally  thin at the tips and much smaller than a coyote.  A wolf has a scat twice the size of coyote.  Bobcat, lynx and mountain lions leave scratch marks in the snow where they bury their scat.  Identifying scat can be the best way to determine what predator is frequenting the area.

Jumping Fox imprints

This photo shows where the fox was jumping in circles while he had the prey on the run.

Fox chasing vole in the middle of photo.

Fox chasing vole.  Look at the vole prints in the middle.

Meadow mouse (vole)

Voles are also known as meadow mice because they are so common.

Possum hole with tracks leading to it.

Other holes in the subnivean zone could be a possum or gopher.   This possum hole leads to a small culvert.  Notice that the distinguishing mark in the snow which is the possum tail dragging behind.

Possum tracks showing the tail dragging.

The possum drags a tail.  Don’t confuse it with the porcupine that drags its tail and entire body with toed-in claws.

Ruler shows length of Possum tracks. Photo of a possum

Possum’s will roll up and play dead if chased, but have sharp teeth to bite their attacker.

Shrew photo Photo of Mole
Close up of possum tracks Vole

Abandoned coyote hole is now used by freezing pheasants.

Coyotes leave abandoned holes all over their hunting grounds.  When it’s freezing out, pheasants will look for underground holes to keep warm in.  In this photo, you can see pheasant tracks leading into the hole, but no coyote tracks.  It has been abandoned by the coyote for a long enough time that the pheasants take up residence.

My dog Daisy (Springer) likes to walk the same trails as a coyote or fox.  Bring your dog to show you where the wild canines have been.


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Julia Heinz
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Kathy Russell

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Kim Hose
Rachel Baker
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Jo Rice
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