"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres
The thing I like best about September is the fact that it puts me in a happy quandary about what I should be doing outdoors. 

If one forgets that September probably offers the best possible weather conditions for outdoorsing, the oversight is negated by the multiplex of activities the ninth month serves up. Fishing, hunting, nature study, harvesting Mother Nature’s bounty, photography safaris, or just soaking up some out-of-doors, September has it  . . . it belongs to all of us . . . and much of it is free for the effort.

With my original thesis in mind, I find it difficult to journey forth in September without being prepared to play it by ear . . . to cash the many opportunities this early-fall month offers. That is to not to say that I have hopes of trying everything. But it is to say that if you mix it up you will love it. That’s what September was made for.

It never is easy for me to decide to fish for crappies, bluegills, or even bass, or to try my luck at dove, teal, or goose hunting. So I go equipped for both, and often wind up sitting in a small boat on some pond or small lake with fishing rod in my hands and a single-barrel (breakdown model) 20-gauge shotgun across my lap.

When the action comes, I am ready.

Fishing is to hunting as bacon is to eggs. But this former happy combination does not stop when breakfast is done. Doves, teal and Canada honkers view water as a thing that is right next to the importance fish attach to it. And you never know when the teal doves or geese will seek it out.

As a matter of fact, as the sun goes down doves (with craws full of seed) will head for water for that last drink, it seems, before going to the roost.

Thus, fishing is a good way to pass the time while waiting for the birds to come.

Combining fishing with wing shooting can be cumbersome--not to mention somewhat dangerous--if more than one person is involved. With this thought in mind, I do my thing as a loner, making sure that the muzzle of my loaded shotgun always is pointed at the sky when I am concentrating on fishing.

If I am interested in doves as targets, I do not have to worry about steel shot. Lead shot is legal for doves, or for squirrels for that matter. However, if teal or honkers are involved, lead shot is a no-no--federal and state regulations prohibit even having lead shot in your possession while hunting ducks or geese.

The regulations on steel shot are (as I have said from the outset) more than a tad goofy. The regs stress the importance of hunters shooting steel (or non-toxic) shot while jump shooting ducks and hunting squirrels on a river in the winter. So why is the use of lead shot for doves in harvested cornfields and over shallow water not an equal threat for waterfowl? The thinking behind non-toxic shot regulations is aimed at keeping lead shot out of farm fields and shallow waters where waterfowl may feed.

Having spent many wonderful days combining duck hunts with squirrel hunting on rivers and streams, and being aware of the importance of eliminating lead shot in areas where waterfowl might ingest it while feeding, I am a firm believer that non-toxic regulations are much needed. But the regulations should be more realistic. In my book lead shot spewed from scatterguns in the dove fields can be just as lethal as lead shot that missed a duck or honker in the same field.

Incidentally, non-toxic shot does not have the clean killing potential of lead shot, especially for squirrels. It hurts me deeply to think I have killed squirrels that I did not get because they were able to survive long enough to get to a den.

Although I often mix and match my outdoor activities in September, I like a cool, rainy day in the gray-squirrel woodlands of the southern hill county with nothing but a mess of gray squirrel on my mind--providing, of course, that I can keep my eyes skinned for groves of paw-paw underbrush where I may also harvest some Indiana bananas.

A cool, rainy day in the woods is a great experience for several reasons. True, it is difficult to get comfortable on such a day, even if you are dressed for the conditions. But any discomfort I experience on such a day is offset many times by the fact that all of God’s critters are less wary on such a day and that gets me closer to the action.

A hunter sitting quietly with back against a tree might see point-blank any bird or animal that lives in Indiana. I carry a 14-by-18-inch piece of carpeting in the game bag of my hunting coat to keep my fanny relatively dry, and wear foul weather gear top over a hunting vest or coat for the showers.

A hunt for grays--or even fox squirrels--on such a day also is made better than a hunt on a good day by the fact that a cool, rainy September day puts squirrels in a food storing mode. Such a day tells them it is fall--time to put away some food for the winter.

Unlike popular misconception, gray and fox squirrels do not cache nuts, acorns and other seeds of trees and underbrush in hollow trees and other winter lairs. The piney (red squirrel) and the ground squirrels make caches in this manner, but fox and gray squirrels “plant” each morsel of winter food an inch or so in the forest floor.

(To answer the obvious question, biologists say fox and gray squirrels do not remember where each morsel of food is stored in the forest floor. They simply locate the nuts with a keen sense of smell, and dig straight down to recover the winter snack. Thus, it is presumed that the hard-working squirrel that buries a morsel is not always the squirrel that later enjoys it.)

On a good day in the woods, gray and fox squirrels will take respite from the winter food storage chores to take a midday snooze (the gray in a den or nest and the fox squirrel high on a sun-bathed limb). But a cool, rainy day keeps both gray and fox squirrels at the storage task until almost dark, when they quit work to enjoy a snack before turning in for the night.

A cool, rainy day makes stalking game easy, but even under such conditions I spend a lot of time with my back firmly against a tree and my little rifle (or shotgun) across my lap. But before I sit, I find a hickory or oak tree from which squirrels are getting nuts or acorns for storage.

Finding such a tree is easy. Nutshells on the forest floor will tell this story. By this time hickory nuts will be falling--rain and wind will speed this process. If there are a lot of outer shells of hickory nuts on the forest floor below a tree, but few of the hard inner nuts, squirrels are carrying them to places close to their winter dens in the hollows of trees or large limbs. But most often, squirrels prefer to get nuts for storage--or even to eat-- that still cling to the tree. Outer husks of a hickory nut (in quarters) will most often be stripped from the hard inner nut high in the tree and the pieces can be heard falling for great distance on a quiet day.

Under these conditions, a squirrel usually will travel an established route, but it is not a game trail, as some writers have suggested. So if it is not possible to shoot on the first trip, just wait a bit. That squirrel will be back for another nut and will make the same moves on the same limbs.

Click on thumbnail photo to see enlarged image.

fishhunt.jpg (61344 bytes)
Combining dove hunting with fishing often provides mixed bags for me.

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

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