DOGGONE GOOD PUP – Lightnin Ridge Bolt, the Labrador… In June of 2011 and today.
SQUIRREL HUNTER – Late summer squirrel hunting usually hinges around hickory trees and the sound of teeth cutting the hulls high in the branches.
Everyone knows that winter ended early and spring got a good jump on things back in March. Before June got started, we had a ripe tomato or two in the garden, and it was summer by the middle of May.
There seemed to be no end to the strange consequences of the early spring and summer season. Even fish noticed it, as did migrating birds. But one of the strangest things I saw happen was the early development of some hickory nuts, and by early in July you could sit out in the woods and hear squirrels gnawing away on hickories. By July 4, I had hickory nut cuttings in this area I jokingly refer to as a lawn. Usually, the squirrels go to work on the hickories in mid to late August, and as fall comes on you can slip through a hardwood forest and actually hunt them by watching for the cuttings beneath the trees, and listening for the rascals gnawing away on a nut high in the branches.
Ask any old squirrel hunter and he will tell you that there is no way that squirrels ought to be working the hickories in July when we are shooting off firecrackers. But it is happening, and maybe it is a new trend. I don’t know that I will complain if winter always ends before February gets here, but if we have to endure drought and intense heat, it is a poor trade-off. It is amazing to me that our rivers and creeks are at record low levels, remembering that last April, a year back, Bull Shoals Lake and the White River below it were at record high marks.
The Ozarks isn’t a sponge anymore, it is a brick. Water falls and quickly runs off and fills up the rivers quickly and then they drop out of sight because all the springs are drying up. I don’t think it is a cycle, I believe that generations of Ozarkians that are children today will battle a water problem 40 years from now that can’t be foreseen.
In 40 years, I doubt if anyone will be eating squirrels. And in 40 years I doubt there will be many miles of streams which are floatable… likely a quarter of what we have today. The upper reaches of rivers which we floated 40 years ago will be little creeks, or dried up completely, and there will be all kinds of turmoil about growing cities in the Ozarks using the water from ever-dropping reservoirs.
While I eat fewer and fewer squirrels as the years go by, my good friend Rich Abdoler from Clinton eats bunches of them. He wrote a really good article on October squirrel hunting for my magazine, The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal. In it, he talks about a time when a big hickory tree at a Truman Lake campground was filled with squirrels, and he says he counted 83 squirrels leaving that tree one or two at a time, when he bagged one with his .22.
I would be quick to doubt that if it was anyone but Rich. He is painfully honest, and I’ve never even seen him overguess the weight of a single fish. If he said there were 83 squirrels in one hickory, I have to believe there were, but I am assuming it was part of an occasional migration of squirrels. I have seen more than 100 squirrels in very small areas when they were migrating. In the early fall sometime in the 1980’s I saw several hundred squirrels swimming from the north shore of Bull Shoals lake to the south shore, and a good number of them drowned.
Abdoler’s story is mostly about hunting hickory trees, and he touches on the fact that Sheldon Lure Company, the makers of Mepp’s Spinners, pays 19 to 23 cents for squirrel tails. So if the two of us can kill a hundred squirrels this fall, we not only will have 50 squirrels to eat, but enough money to buy a good steak dinner with some chicken on the side.
There are six different hickory trees growing in Missouri. They are native trees, as are the junipers which we call cedars. I mention this because a couple of weeks ago a newspaper out of Springfield had an article about a James River landowner trying to stop erosion in his river bottom by planting trees and shrubs and grasses. The article stated that he was cutting the “non-native” cedars and hickories. I hope he wasn’t.
If you care a whit about wildlife, you need to know that cedars and hickories are invaluable parts of a wild and natural Ozarks. Both produce food, and while cedars can get thick, they also give cover to countless species of birds and small game when winter winds are cold and strong, and most other cover is gone. Today’s new breed of outdoor writers, who live in city suburbs and find their information in books, make a lot of mistakes like that, and the newspapers never know it. Glaring errors of that sort make little difference in the outdoor section, but they’d be noticed if they concerned other sports.
A Kansas City Star reporter came to our Common Sense Conservation meeting in early June, and that newspaper printed a brief piece he wrote which was far from what the entire thing was about. He never talked to me the entire day, and yet he quoted me in his story, saying things I didn’t say.
You can catch fish now if you concentrate on early morning and late evening fishing, or night fishing for bass. Late in the evening when the lake is still, both black bass and white bass chase schools of shad to the surface, and you can ease into the slashing, splashing fish and catch them with spoons, white jigs or rooster tails or even small spinners.
I like to find those schools of shad-attackers and fish Rapalas through them, jerking them and stopping them and repeating the process. But I would prefer to be fishing some kind of noisy topwater lure or maybe a Zara Spook around the backs of some coves at first light, or just before dark. I think a lunker bass might just fall for one of those. But a friend of mine says he caught a limit of keeper bass on Bull Shoals recently by drifting live crayfish across some points, out in 15 or 20 feet of water.
Fish don’t know its hot, and there are no droughts going on underwater. I guess what we ought to be doing at times like this is fishing from a submerged lawn chair in shady water, or squirrel hunting from the front porch just before sunrise.
My website is larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com and you can e-mail me at email@example.com or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.