"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

I like October . . . but it’s so messy . . . not the month--it is beautiful. It’s my car. In October it would qualify as a disaster area.

You see, there are so many things to do on an October day in Hoosierland (I can’t stand to miss any of it) that my car looks like a hock shop on wheels when I exit the old homestead in the wee hours of the day.

In the back seat and trunk you will find several kinds of guns, my compound bow and enough arrows to miss six shots, at least two kinds of fishing poles and assortments or artificial lures for each, buckets, baskets, boxes, burlap bags, big grocery sacks, smaller plastic bags, and assorted other outdoor gear, including cameras, binoculars, and extra clothing (including footwear of many kinds).

I can’t remember ever using all of the aforementioned items on a single outing, but I seldom--if ever--go forth in October without using two, three or more of them. It is what makes October the best month of the year . . . which it is.

At this point, I probably should caution the neophyte outdoors person, that the trunk of a vehicle is the best place to store the gear you are not using. If those who would prey on your vehicle’s contents can’t see it, they won’t know it is there.

Boxes, buckets and bags are not a strong attraction for would-be vehicle burglars, but guns, cameras, binoculars and fishing tackle could be tempting.

The thing that makes October so attractive to me revolves around its great variety of recreational opportunity.

During all or part of this month seasons are open on squirrel, rabbit, grouse (in some counties of the south), doves, ducks and geese. That, alone, is enough to burgeon a golden day. But parlay that outdoor potential with the fact that crappies and several other species of fish are putting on the feed bag as they escape a lethargic, hot summer, and you double your pleasure in one fell swoop.

And those activities are only the begging.

As sure as God made little green apples, Mother Nature tilts her cornucopia about the time the perfect 10 of my calendar rolls around each year. The items that pour forth can be turned into gourmet foods, and decorations beyond description.

Then, of course, those sun-drenched days of October can be well used for just resting outdoors, watching and recording, on film, or mentally, the migration of birds, or the stunning array of colors that slip off Jack Frost’s palette.

Incidentally, if you find yourself in the hardwood hills county of Southern Indiana and rain foils your activities, stick around to see the day end. Just before being enveloped by darkness, those tree-covered hills turn to a purple hue I have never seen duplicated by the film of photographers or the colors of an artist. It will turn the inconvenience of a stormy day into a breathtaking view that is reward enough to charge against the day.

On the other hand, those who are dressed for all weather conditions will find many rewards for braving the elements. Dark, still days in the woods make wildlife less leery of the surroundings and permit outdoor folks to get closer for shots or pictures.

So what is my favorite outdoor activity in October?

That’s an easy question to answer. It’s unanimous. I like all of them.

Readers of my columns and friends over the years have often asked me to name my favorite outdoor activity. My answer is simple: It is the thing I happen to be doing.

Actually, if I had to single out one October activity from the aforementioned, I probably would opt for jump-shooting wood ducks by foot-stalking the banks of any one of dozens of mid-sized streams that are the laces of every major watershed of the state.

But these hunts, which include corn-fat fox squirrels and numerous bonus items, almost always leave time to do other things. At times, fishing creeps into my agenda, inadvertently or by design.

I call it “squirrel-duckishing.” It is a takeoff on my August-September activity of combining bank-walking fishing with squirrel hunting. For that activity, I don old duds and tennies, rig my little rifle to be carried (unloaded) on my back, and simply go about the business of catching fish. When a squirrel pops up, I pop it.

In my October version of the game, which is aimed primarily at wood ducks, I exchange the conventional spinning outfit for a short, telescoped rod and spinning reel that will fit in the game bag of my hunting coat. I stash the little rifle in favor of a long-barreled Remington Model 1100 20-gauge and three-inch Maggie loads of steel shot. The fishing rod is used most often for retrieving downed ducks that usually fall on the water (with a surface lure). 

I sneak the banks of mid-sized, tree-lined streams while looking for ducks. But squirrels often change my focus. Tree-lined stream banks are prime squirrel habitat, and field corn--Indiana’s most important farm product--is a favored food source for both  wood ducks and squirrels. Little wonder that I enjoy this form of hunting so much.

The important aspect of technique on such a hunt lies in the fact that wood ducks are extremely wary. If the hunter can see the water, wood ducks on the water can see the hunter. Furthermore, they will change their address fast.

To compensate, I use a technique my dad and other hunting mentors taught me. I creep into a position where I can see up and down the stream without getting any closer to the water than necessary. There--often flat on my tummy--I look up and down the stream for disturbances (ripples) on the water.

If I see a disturbance on the water, I know something caused it. It could be wind, fish, muskrats, or many other things. But it also could be wood ducks. Further observation through my little shirt-pocket Bausch & Lomb Custom Compact binocular may confirm woodies. But even if I can’t be sure there are ducks there, I take a circuitous route and try to come back to the creek at the spot were I noted the disturbance.

It is a slow process, but often when I follow the muzzle of my shotgun up through the weeds and brush, I am rewarded by the explosion of ducks from the water and the same from my shotgun.

Now, the thing to remember is that wood ducks are strange critters. They may flee when they catch movement of a hunter’s head through the weeds from a great distance. But they also may temporarily freeze when a hunter is very close, to explode a few seconds later when the hunter has let down his guard.

In short, wood ducks are predictably unpredictable. But hunting them by jump-shooting streams is as interesting as anything I do outdoors, not to mention being as tasty as anything I bring in for the table.

Incidentally, Indiana’s squirrel season is open statewide in October. The first segments of our split seasons on waterfowl open from mid to late October (these dates listed on another page of this web site).

Hunters who will try this interesting and productive hunt should know, however, that federal and state laws require the use of steel shot when hunting waterfowl. It is unlawful to even have shotgun shells loaded with lead shot in possession while hunting waterfowl. 

Steel shot is not nearly as effective in killing squirrels as lead shot, but our experiments over the years have left little doubt that steel shot of larger sizes--say BB or larger-- is more effective for squirrels. However, the larger sizes of shot translate into fewer pellets per load, and eventually to holes in shotgun patterns, and misses. Still, it is not a pleasant thought to know that you hit a squirrel that runs off and probably will die  . . . to be wasted.

To illustrate the versatility of “squirrel-duckishing,” let me tell fragments of a couple of stories.

One day a few years back, I was returning to my car to try something else.

It was mid-afternoon, a bright and warm day, but as I looked far ahead--probably two or three hundred yards--I could see patches of fog half the size of a table top suspended in the brush six to eight feet above the earth.

They stopped me in my tracks, not to mention causing me to question my eyes and sanity. Patches of fog with a bright sun posting temperatures in the 70s? Impossible!

The mystery was solved when I found these matchstick-sized vines growing up in the low brush--a thing I had never before seen in more than half a century of roaming Hoosierland’s wilds.

Later the leaves and white fuzzy seed pods of this plant revealed that I had discovered a vine known as Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana) which is said to grow in brush along the damp edges of roads and river banks. The beautiful flowers (roughly an inch or so wide, white with a tinge of yellow) turn into a seed pods and white plumage, which created an illusion of fog at a distance.

The shutter of my camera clicked merrily as I entered on my find. And after reference books at home unraveled the mystery, I found it difficult to be believe my limit of two woodies, a beautiful fat fox squirrel, and the discovery of a walnut tree with nuts larger than baseballs could top it. 

On another occasion I stalked a big flock of  woodies in the bend of a creek and got into shooting position as the sun was sinking fast.

I put them up and dropped two birds. The first bird was easily retrieved with a long stick, but the second fell behind the tops of an old maple tree that had fallen into the deep, dark and cold water. Ordinarily I would have shucked my clothing and skinny dipped for the bird, but this was too scary for that.

Remembering that there was a spinning outfit and some artificial lures in my car, I hurried to get them and hurried back to get my duck. I had to climb far out on the treetop (three or feet above the deep water), but tied on a plastic worm with three hooks and swung it pendulum style over the duck some eight feet away. 

I don’t recall how many times I flipped the worm over the duck without hooking it, but soon the lure sank below the surface and was attacked by a nice crappie.

I must have smiled as I placed that fish, another nice crappie and a nice bass in the game bag of my hunting vest before finally hooking my duck. I probably smiled even more as I drove home, realizing that I had found the best retriever I would ever own . . . and that it would not awaken me at 2 a.m. wanting to go outside.

Some Tips on the Others:

Persimmons: Never pick them from low limbs of the tree, or shake a tree to make more persimmons fall (even though they may look ripe and sweet) . . . Persimmons must fall of their own volition . . . otherwise they probably will be puckery . . . before running persimmons through the colander to separate pulp from seeds, remove the stem from the top and a little black needle-point like appendage on the bottom . . . Persimmon pulp can be frozen (I use pint containers) for use many years in the future . . . share with 'possums . . . when necessary.

Paw-Paws: If they hang on the tree (green with black splotches) it is all right (and pretty easy) to shake them down . . . Allow green paw-paws to ripen in the sun (indoors to keep critters from getting them) . .  . Remove skin when yellowish with black splotches or totally black (like an over ripe banana) and run them through a colander to separate pulp from big black seeds (try to scatter seeds in a cool, shady, damp area and you may someday have your own paw-paw patch . . . then again, you may not).

Hickory Nuts: Collect nuts with outer hulls still intact in boxes, baskets, bags or buckets . . . At home remove outer hulls and store inner nuts in mesh bags (onion or citrus sacks) and store them at room temperature by placing the mesh bags in a wastebasket or large grocery sack. The warmth will activate most of the worms in the nuts and they will chew their way out to be trapped in the waste basket . . . pick up the worms each day and refrigerate them in small containers with a little cornmeal. Do not freeze them . . . the frig temp will keep most of them from turning into hard pupa shells and keep them in good shape for ice-fishing bait later. . . Do not allow hickory nuts to dry in sun . . . this will check and crack the outer shells.

Black Walnuts: Collect walnuts with green outer husks intact. . . . At home, get comfortable in a sitting position and whack each nut with a wood paddle or some flat object to shuck out the black inner nut which will be covered by a juicy stain which folks do not like to have on their hands . . . use rubber or plastic gloves to avoid stain . . . When inner nuts are separated from outer green hulls, wash the nuts with a strong stream of water to eliminate stain and hull particles that may remain . . . dry nuts in the sun in a manner that will thwart the efforts of squirrels to steal away with them and store them for winter. Those little white maggots between inner nuts and outer shells are pretty small, but if two or three are impaled on a very small wire hook, bluegills will think they have just died and gone to a smorgasbord in heaven. 

For the Future

If you have your sights set on a mess of wild asparagus next spring--about the time morels pop--now is the time to act.

By now wild asparagus is turning cream colored and is sporting those little red berries (seeds) about the size of a BB (.18 of an inch). Collect the berries and scatter them where you would like your own wild asparagus patch. In a few years, you may have all of this natural food you want at home. 

If you are only concerned with finding established wild asparagus patches along the fencerows of back roads next spring, you also can further that cause with a little effort now, too.

By next spring harsh winter weather will have eliminated this year’s old growth, and without it the fresh, green spring spears are difficult to see in green weeds. But if you make maps on the location of your favorite patches--right down to the foot or inch from recognizable objects like fence posts, utility poles, etc.--you will have no trouble finding the patch next spring. 

So there, now! That should keep you busy this month . . . me, too!

The October Photo Gallery

Here are captions to some of my October-related photos. Click on the individual links to view them.

T-I-M-B-E-R-R-R-R!  Sooner or later the flat-tail boys are gonna get this elm tree in the creek . . . one of many entertaining features of jump shooting woodies in October . . . 

My big Remington 1100 rests while I take a picture of the results . . . a bag of fat fox squirrels and a male woodie.

In the fall, I make maps on the location of asparagus patches like this one, to make it easier to find fresh sprouts in the spring . . . 

Corn nubbins (even whole ears) of field corn in trees tell me to keep an eye skinned for squirrels when I am hunting wood ducks . . . Corn shucks in wooded areas adjacent to corn fields also indicate the presence of squirrels . . .

The Virgin's Bower with foliage still on as the vine climbs into a small ash sapling . . . 

The Virgin's Bower without foliage creates an illusion of fog patches at a distance . . .

This close-up of the seed pod and plume of the Virgin's Bower helps to explain this natural phenomenon . . . 

The Virginia Creeper sets a walnut tree ablaze when its leaves turn scarlet red in the fall.

Our camera catches the Virginia Creeper as the leaves start turning from green to red. Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper, a brace of opposites in the eyes of outdoors folks, take on common red coats in the fall.


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All columns and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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