Saturday, April 9, 2016

Wild Babies and Windy Days - 3/28/16

            I saw a mother fox and her mate this week in the woods.  What a great time… wildlife babies everywhere and more to come.
            Spring has its rough edges though.  There’s not much we Ozarkians hate worse this time of year than high winds, but if you realize the benefit of that wind, it is really remarkable how some greater power seems to be behind it.  The sap will automatically rise in trees in the spring, but slowly.  Wind causes them to bend back and forth, and swaying limbs seem to rapidly pump the sap up the tree. It is a system that is an important part of spring, and it works.

            It is a problem for a strutting gobbler. His display of fanned tail feathers and puffed up chest is a real turn on for the hens. He thrusts his wings down to drag on the ground so much he actually wears off the tips of his wing feathers.  Lots of birds do the same thing, male ruffed grouse, and prairie chickens did it first and the wild gobblers learned it from them. 

            Men have learned from that display too.  Trying to impress a girl often requires throwing the chest forward and firming up the arm muscles, and I knew some guys whose knuckles darn near dragged the ground.  A deep voice, similar to the booming sound made by male game birds, is also of value.

            But getting back to the turkey, if the wind is blowing hard and he fans out his tail he can really look ridiculous trying to keep his balance.  This year with the early warm weather and a calming of the wind, mating of wild turkeys will make spring hunting a little better. It is simple really… the hens who want to nest and lay eggs, (and that is usually less than half of them) may be setting on eggs earlier than in recent years.  That leaves a higher percentage of romantic gobblers by themselves while hunters roam the woods.  A gobbler with a bunch of hens is hard to move, no matter how seductive a call might be.  By comparison, you can imagine if you were having dinner with Goldie Hawn and Sondra Bullock how hard it would be for Ruth Buzzi to lure you over to her table no matter how seductive her voice is.

            It is amazing how many turkey-hunting experts and professionals there are today. But anyone who takes the route of calling himself a pro is a little bit comical.  Nothing is easier to hunt than a wild gobbler when you have the numbers of them we have today.  I myself prefer to refer to me as a ‘professional boat paddler”.  That takes a great deal more ability than calling in a wild gobbler.
            The reason it is such a challenge and so much fun is; you never know what is going to happen while you are drinking a cup of coffee before dawn, waiting for the sun to come up and the gobblers to start off gobbling from the roost.  I wrote a book about just that kind of thing better than fifteen years ago.  It occurs to me I need to add about fifteen chapters to that book with things I have seen and experienced since.  I will be doing lots of fishing during the turkey season, and I won’t be getting up before dawn too often.  That’s because today I don’t have to dedicate the time to calling a gobbler and putting two or three in the freezer.  Sometimes I fish and hunt turkeys at the same time and it is just as easy to bag a big old ground-raker at noon as it is to Twenty years ago I was intent on hunting turkeys in three or four states, but now a half dozen gobblers roost about a hundred yards from my cabin.  Nothing takes less effort or involves less of an investment and equipment than a wild gobbler and you can take that to the bank. 
            Now it wasn’t always that way… but it is now.  When you hear someone talking about a professional turkey hunter or an expert caller, have a good laugh.  Tell them you know a professional boat paddler that can call up barred owls and pileated woodpeckers!!  But I don’t want to act as if turkey hunting isn’t one of the greatest pastimes you can engage in each spring.  There is nothing comparable.  It is a great challenge because no matter how long you have hunted them, there are those gobblers you just cannot seem to fool.  And you always know that when you are in the woods, hunting gobblers, you are going to see and experience something entirely new, something you’ve never seen before, even if you have done it for fifty years. 

            It is turkey hunting that allows me to see new woods, explore places I have never been, and come across mushrooms thicker than tadpoles in a new pond.  It is turkey gobblers that make me tie my boat to a sycamore root, right in the middle of a white bass run, or a half hour after I have landed a hefty walleye, and dash off into the bottomland timber with my shotgun.  There is only one thing about it that I don’t like, and that is the realization that sometime in May, I will have one less turkey season to enjoy.

            As I did last year I want to warn turkey hunters about buying Federal ‘turkey thug’ shells.  I have found many boxes of them leaking shot due to improper crimping.  I also should point out that copperheads might be out a little earlier this spring if we have some 80-degree days.  I think mushrooms will be out earlier too.  I think we will perhaps find a few this coming Saturday, April 2, on our outdoor excursion and fish fry on Truman Lake.  Still have room for you if you want to join us; just call me.

            The swap meet last Saturday was a great day to meet and talk with readers of this column and a big success.  I thank those vendors who came and the folks at the Brighton Assembly of God Church who make it all possible.  In a couple of weeks we will have our Pomme de Terre River float, trash cleanup and gravel bar fish fry.  I hope to do that on April 9 if the conditions are right.

            I got off by myself on Easter Sunday, and thought about what an awful death Jesus went through, and the miracle of his resurrection and what it for all of us.  Probably you don’t expect some grizzled old outdoorsman like me to talk about Jesus.  But the fact that he lives today makes my life worth living and it can make yours worth living too.  It is surprising to me that if you consider what Easter Sunday means to so many millions, there is such a hesitancy to mention His name during the week, in the workplace and where numbers of people gather.  Where his name should be mentioned more often is in Police stations, lawyers offices and courtrooms!  It does little good to have an Easter Sunday if you forget what that day amounts to in June, July or August.

            You would think I am crazy if you see how many times I sit down in the woods, or pause along some river shoal and just say “Thank you God, for such a life as I have been given.”  I find it easy to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus and what he taught, when I am alone in those places.  It is harder around masses of people in this new world situation where all my flaws really show up.  What all of us need to do I guess is to get out of bed each day pretending it is Easter Sunday.


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