Sunday, September 4, 2016

Dove Fields Versus Squirrel Woods

--> too cute to shoot?  no…  good meat to eat! 

                                  waiting for a dove or two
            It is a nice time to hunt squirrels because there are lots and lots of them, mornings are cooler, and the understory vegetation is thinning a great deal.  There are still plenty of ticks of course, and this time of year there is one thing a woodland wanderer has to deal with that drives me crazy… spider webs. Down in Arkansas there are those doggone timber rattlers. 

            In the big trees behind my porch up here on Lightnin’ Ridge, there are fox squirrels and grey squirrels alike, and they give away their presence by dropping pieces of hickory nuts and acorns from the boughs above in the mornings as I sit out there and drink coffee and watch birds.  

            For every fox squirrel, there are about 5 or 6 grey squirrels.  The woodland habitat of the two is comparable, but different.  Gray squirrels do not like to leave the confines of what we look at as brushy woodlands, lots of vines and small trees mixed among the bigger ones.  Fox squirrels prefer a more open woodland.  But then, if you ever hunted squirrels, you know that.

            This week, a great deal of attention will be given to dove hunting.  Comparing dove hunting and squirrel hunting isn’t often done, but I like the shade of the woods much better than the open sunlight of a sunflower patch where it gets hot in a hurry.  Early dove hunting always finds me itching and sweating because dove hunters usually are hiding in the weeds.  

            But if you have done much hunting, you know that in the cool of the evening as the sun sets, you can hunt water holes with barren banks where doves will come to water before going to roost. Doves like to alight several feet from the water’s edge and walk to get a drink. And they do not like to roost in trees filled with foliage if they can find the barren branches of a big dead tree close to the fields where they feed or small ponds where they water.

            Once years ago I was fishing Bull Shoals lake when I noticed that doves liked to come to a shallow point with bare or short grass ground behind it late in the evening, because some trees which had been killed by high water years before, stood just up the bank aways and were perfect roosts.  On opening day, about dusk, without another dove hunter within twenty miles, I killed a limit, and my Labrador got some great experience retrieving them, some from the water beside that point.  I didn’t go back there for two weeks, and then some new doves had moved down and I got a limit again.

            I have often written about hunting doves at a little pond north of Columbia Missouri when I was a student at M.U.  I took a rod and reel with my shotgun and caught several catfish while waiting for birds to come in, and finally just figured out I couldn’t do both at once.  A catfish seemed to always bite as I reached for the shotgun and doves wheeled over the pond when I was trying to land a fish.
            I have written about embarrassing times too, like the morning when I took Ol’ Rip, a black Labrador that a north Arkansas hunter had given me when I lived there.  She bolted at each shot, so I tied her leash around my boot.  Boy was that a mistake.  Imagine firing one shot and then being jerked into a milo field by one foot, trying to aim at another dove.  I never did get Rip to stay when she saw a bird, so she didn’t go hunting much, but she started me in a lifetime of raising hunting Labradors with a beautiful litter of puppies.

            Maybe the most embarrassing thing I remember is the very first dove hunt I was ever on.  Of course we never hunted doves on the Big Piney.  September was teal time, and smallmouth time and trotlining time and squirrel hunting time.  My dad thought dove hunters were right up there with fly fishermen and skeet shooters!

            So my first job was in Little Rock, Arkansas as the very first outdoor editor for the Arkansas Democrat newspaper.  I was only 21 at the time and when dove season opened, six months after I got there, a fellow who worked in the printing shop asked if I wanted to go dove hunting with him some evening after work.  I bought a box of dove loads and grabbed my old Model 12 Winchester, and off we went.  

            He took me to his favorite spot, a shallow little waterhole next to a junkyard and as I recall we hid behind a rusty old piece of farm equipment.  The doves were thick that evening and I was proud that I wasn’t missing many when I caught sight of a bird flying around behind me to my left.  I knew when I pulled that trigger that I had goofed up.  The bird I dropped behind me was a robin!

            The guy told me later he was a little surprised that I had done that, considering that I was an outdoorsman who had been published in Outdoor Life magazine.  But he said he was impressed by the fact that I cleaned the robin and counted it as one of my limit.  Truthfully, I didn’t much like the habitat we hunted that evening, but the company was good and Gloria and I made a good meal of the doves. When you are just starting out, any free meal is worth something. 

            I told her the robin was just a smaller dove!  She said it had a different flavor than the others.   Even today, I do not like those cut grainfields in early September, nearly as much as I like walking a wooded creek bottom with a .22 rifle watching for chewed up hickory hulls and falling acorn bits. You cannot beat a small-bore rifle when it comes to hunting squirrels.  

The light rifle is more of a challenge than hunting with a shotgun, as I always did as a boy, but I definitely cleaned more squirrels when I took my little 16 gauge Iver-Johnson. A squirrel, cut up and marinated and grilled over mesquite charcoal, is better eating than a dove. You can pressure cook the older ones for awhile to make the meat tender, but this time of year most of the squirrels are younger, probably 6 or 7 young to 1 old one.   

            It is best not to kill older females because they will produce lots of young squirrels.  Here are some tips to help you identify older female squirrels… 1. They are a lot fatter.  2. They really do a lot of barking and chattering.  3.  They watch TV all afternoon!   ---Just joking about that, a little humor there!
            Well, when these city folks go home after Labor Day, I think I will go fishing.  When it gets a little chilly later on, I may take ol’ Bolt and waste some shells on doves. Then I think I’ll go out and bag a squirrel or two amongst the yellowing leaves announcing the coming of the greatest of all months… October.  But shucks, I love the woods in September…except for those danged spider webs.

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