"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres
December [written in 2005]

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 banks.

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 ahead.

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 County.

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 all directions. 

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 ovens.

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 faulty cerebellum. 

 “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 sinkhole.

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.”               


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: Scifres Family, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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