Aside from the fact that the coming of December
turns unheated garages into refrigerators of unlimited space, this twelfth,
and final, month of the year has much to offer outdoors folks who abhor
the thought of becoming couch potatoes.
Sure, it’s cold outdoors--miserable may describe
it better at times. But December is the beginning of things like floating
rivers at flood stage to collect the prime ingredients for squirrel and
duck dinners . . . watching a bobber the size of the nail on your little
finger dance in the light of a hissing lantern as snowflakes chill the
back of one’s neck . . . fried golden-brown bluegill, bass, or perch filets
with a green salad, cornbread, butter and honey (and don’t forget the coffee).
These, of course, are only the starters.
Watching a rabbit-wise beagle bring an unhurried
“dryshin” around for the second or third pass . . . following the trail
of a rabbit or fox in a good, dry tracking snow . . . watching a bird-wise
pointer or setter work a covey of quail, a cock pheasant, or a ruffed grouse
. . . having a good retriever bring in a duck you thought was lost . .
. these, and many other activities, belong to Hoosiers in December.
Although any one--or all --of the aforementioned
outdoor activities have occupied Decembers of the past for me (not to mention
numerous others), in recent years I have leaned toward waterfowl/squirrel
hunts, probably because they seem to produce more meat for the table.
Take, for example, a frigid, snow-filled morning
many years ago, when I used a flashlight to get half a dozen mallard decoys
on a riffle of White River’s East Fork in Jackson County.
As the sky pinked in the east, I was hunkered
down in a big logjam of driftwood less than 10 feet from my closest block,
and I heard the WHIZ of mallard wings (not daring to even blink) as six
fat mallards looked my set over on their first pass.
Two-hundred yards upstream, they banked as one
to soar high over the trees and circle downstream before turning upstream,
low over the misty water (into the wind) and zooming in to fill up with
gravel that would grind the corn they would pick up in adjacent fields
later in the day.
I have watched hundreds--even thousands--of mallards
work decoys, but I can’t remember a more exciting episode, because I knew
that if I played my cards right, those six birds would bring in dozens
of others if the mallard form sheet was reliable.
I didn’t raise my shotgun on these birds, waiting
instead for them to sit down and do their job as live decoys. That would
prove to be a tactical error when a pack of dogs moved into the area on
the far bank to spook the birds when I was not ready to shoot. But before
I would leave the spot I would bag a brace of fat fox squirrels from maple
tree dens that lined the bank of the river.
December offers many duck-hunting scenarios for
the hunter who is willing to do some scouting and can brave the elements.
One of my favorite methods of hunting ducks in
December hinges on having enough rain to bring rivers and streams to flood
stage--or at least several feet above normal levels. In such conditions,
a small boat can be turned into a floating blind, and the hunter, or hunters,
(two’s company, three’s a crowd) can float into large concentrations of
ducks (mostly mallards, but a smattering of other species) that rest through
a good part of the day in the inundated brush that infests most river/stream
A chicken wire screen on the bow or stern of the
boat (depending upon which end of the boat tends to ride downstream naturally)
will serve well to hide the hunters. The screen, of course, is covered
with weeds but peepholes will give the hunters a good view of the river
Rigged well, and with the weight of hunters and
their hunting paraphernalia well balanced, the hunter handling the oars
or paddle (it is unlawful to shoot any wild game from a boat under power)
will have little work to do in keeping slipping silently along water’s
edge of the bank most likely to be used by ducks.
Some hunters tend to keep the boat in the center
of a river where current probably is fastest and shots from either bank
are possible. I prefer to pick a bank and hug it, especially the inside
bank on bends of a river where ducks tend to congregate, or spots favored
by ducks as resting areas. Floating close to the bank cuts the distance
at which ducks are likely to be aware of the intruding hunters.
With one hunter (always ready to shoot) perched
behind the screen, and the other hunter keeping the boat close to the bank,
it is possible to float very close to ducks before they take flight. The
hunter behind the screen usually will have best shots, but the oarsman
will get his share of the action.
Of course, both hunters must be aware of the dangers
of two loaded shotguns in a floating boat, and they must never allow a
hunting partner to see the inside of a shotgun muzzle. In times of high
water it is just as important to show the boat as much respect. A boat
with a hole in bottom or side can be a big problem on a flood-stage stream.
Although a floating duck/squirrel hunt of several
miles will not allow much time for stops, I like to have half a dozen decoys
in case ducks are found feeding in the shallow water of inundated farm
fields. It is, of course, warming to beach the boat and move about a bit
on dry land. And a metal bucket with two inches of sand or gravel offers
a fine base for a bed of hot charcoal that will be welcome on frigid days.
And since it is easy to get wet and cold on a
flood-stage river, it is a good idea to carry extra dry clothing, and to
have materials for starting a driftwood fire on dry land.
Another spectacular December hunt that happily
haunts me, occurred in the Salt Creek bottomlands of northwestern Jackson
I was in the hill country for a day of solo (no
dog) grouse hunting. But as I moved from one hunting area to another along
a back road that bordered large flooded fields of harvested corn, I could
see big flights of mallard and black ducks working corn stubble at the
end of a line of brush-infested pin oak trees.
That brought my old Jeep Wagoneer to a screeching
halt and on a slight rise in the gravel road.
In a matter of seconds, my binoculars were focused
on this hot spot, and my thoughts quickly changed from grouse to ducks.
There was, as always, a small bag of decoys in the back of my Jeep, and
the Browning Superposed 20-gaugebird gun (chambered for three-inch magnum
loads) would make the transition by simply changing shot size.
There were, however, inherent problems to my quickly-devised
plan. First off, I would have to cross a rain-swollen creek to reach this
hot feeding spot. Easy game, coach . . . the chest-high waders, also stashed
with the decoys, would keep me dry in that part of the scenario. And hip
boots would suffice for the rest of the plan unless I stepped in a flooded
sinkhole (par for the course in my adventures).
To shorten an otherwise long story, everything
went as planned. When I splashed to the end of the line of trees (obviously
an old fence row), the feeding ducks filled the sky . . . just out of range
for the little 20-gauge . . . even with the big, red three-inch firecrackers.
But that was no problem.
With the gun stashed high and dry in the fork
of a pin oak tree, the decoys were quickly tossed into the knee-deep water
and I took my stand in a cluster of trees that would hide my presence from
I didn’t have long to wait. When the first flight
returned in a swirling snowstorm, two shots brought down a mallard drake
and a big black. But as I waded out to collect the prime ingredients for
a duck dinner, that flooded pothole came into play, and filled both boots,
soaking me to the skin.
I figured to tough it out . . . and stay for two
more birds that would fill my limit. What the heck, body heat would heat
the water in my boots, I thought. But icy trousers have a way of changing
such plans. So, leaving the blocks out, I sloshed back to my Jeep and prepared
to build a fire to dry out and get warm, then returning.
Before starting the fire, an empty tummy changed
my thoughts to food, and I quickly motored to a little country store operated
by Arnold and Eva Fleetwood for many years in the town of Kurtz. I knew
there would be a burger (or two) to warm in one of those little quick-heating
Eva took one look at my well-soaked trousers,
and while fixing my food, handed me a pair of Arnold’s jeans and told me
to go in the back room and change. She added that she would put my wet
clothing in the dryer and I could be back in the hunting business in an
hour or so.
Warmer, dryer, and with a full tummy (including
some hot coffee from my thermos), the wheels started turning again in my
“Why not,” I thought aloud, “couldn’t I
just wear Arnold’s jeans out to the duck hot spot to finish out my limit,
and come back for my own duds later in the afternoon.”
Eva agreed, and I was off again to the flooded
cornfields, this time using a makeshift wading stick to warn me of the
As I motored out of those purple hills just before
dark, I had a very warm feeling--notwithstanding the fact that I had the
old Jeep’s heater turned to “high.”