"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

With three days of the 2008-09 squirrel season under our belts, an addendum to my first report on the mast crop is in order. Spotty is the best way to describe this year’s mast crop, but that doesn’t fill the bill.

Having observed the most important producer of mast since last spring’s bloom, I had more or less accepted a so-so mast year statewide, but that is not the case.

It does hold true for the hickory trees I have checked in the central part of the state, but it now appears that there will be some mast – especially for hickories and oak. Some contacts even speak of good crops. There are plenty of seedpods (those green-bean-type things) and other minor seed producers. But in areas I have checked and been told about this form of mast does not appear good, nor do the hickories.

Black walnut, on the other hand, appears to be doing well. Some are falling prior to maturity, but this always happens. I think squirrels often cut walnuts for moisture at this time of summer. The walnut species nuts are full of moisture, and it stains. In hand, squirrels cutting on black walnuts are easily identified by their brown-stained mouths and faces.

Incidentally, in yesteryear, it was easy to tell which pupils collected and hulled walnuts with a cursory view of the hands. Some were even expelled for such wonderful activities.

Walnuts and butternuts were hulled of the moist, green outer hulls before the dark, hard inner nuts were allowed to dry and cure in the fall sun. 

Incidentally, there seems to be a scarcity of tulip tree seedpods (this is the state tree). Hunting squirrels on yellow poplar is an interestingly tricky thing because the little whirligig seeds make almost no noise as they descend through the leaves. However, swaths of sunlight highlight the whirling seeds as they are stripped from the elongated bud. Each bud houses dozens of seeds (even hundreds) and leaves no doubt that Mother Nature is a past master at packaging. This, of course, becomes obvious in many other neat, little seed species. There is little unused space.

Beechnuts also will be spotty and will not ripen until September is upon us. But this too is a marvelous experience, especially when several squirrels converge on the same tree and produce a facsimile of a rainstorm as the empty hulls and shells fall through the leaves. Little wonder that man places such a high snack value on the solid little pyramid kernels.

Incidentally, a good thumbnail is an invaluable implement for shucking out a treat of beechnuts in the woods.

In conclusion, I would have to say (as I always say) that there is no substitute for scouting for mast. Find it, and you have a great shot at finding squirrels.

Likewise, my pre-season mast scouting tours, also point to a good crop of paw-paws, the elongated fruit that ripens in the fall, to provide a sweet, custard-like bait, if one can slurp through those big black seeds--and if the squirrels and raccoons don’t beat us to them. 

Incidentally, paw-paws make a fairly good wine, and a cream pie of like qualities, not to mention cookies and other goodies.

ANOTHER BAIT – Scotty Wilson, of Paragon, reminds me of yet another fish bait.

Here’s Scotty’s message: “Remembering your article on wasp larva, I thought I'd drop you a line about using what was at hand when fishing. My daughter Mahalah and I had a chance to go bluegill fishing last Friday evening. With just a few crawlers left in the fridge, we went digging and found but a few worms. On the way back to the house Mahalah spotted the tent caterpillars' in a walnut tree in the barn lot. “What about using them?” was her thought. I had never used them but it was worth a try, since our shortage of worms. Other than being small and having to use 2-3 at a baiting, they helped us catch enough for a mess.”

All columns, essays, 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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