"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Mother Nature Provides Healthy Snacks
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

With Labor Day closing in, we reluctantly bid summer adieu, but not without sampling its many wares after a session on the range with our feet planted squarely under the dinner table. With it comes many joys of preparing an consuming the many items nature has given us.

Two of the best products of nature are the nuts produced each year (this year they are somewhat spotty, but still available in many areas of the state). Finding them is a matter of scouting--or merely being observant.

At any rate, hickory nuts and black walnuts are staples for squirrels. Humans could take a page from Mr. Bushytail’s book for some real healthy snacking and cooking.

Hickory nuts, most important of the two, comes in many sizes (from shellbarks--those little, sweet-meated, thin-shelled dudes--to the larger river bottom nuts, with harder shells and coarser, nuttier-tasting meats). They are all Mother Nature’s gift to a people who scarcely know them.

Walnuts are equally tasty and are used by some for snacking and cooking in many dishes from salads to pies and other forms of baking. Their chief drawback, of course, being that to harvest and use them one must subject the hands to stains of the outer husk. Only time wears away the stain.

The former (hickory nuts) also have an outer hull, but it is divided into quarters (sometimes fifths) and the hard inner nut can easily be shucked from the outer husk (some nuts may require a knife blade). Still, removal of the outer, juicy hull of walnuts is almost as easy. Just get comfortable before a container of the nuts and hit each one with a solid object to flatten the husk, then flick out the hard inner nut to dry in the fall sun. Dry the walnuts in a matter that will thwart squirrel’s efforts to filch them. Hickory nuts are not dried in the sun because this causes them to check (develop cracks).

One of the great features of this outdoor activity lies in the fact that it is all free, and requires little expenditure for equipment. All one needs is buckets to hold the nuts, a hard surface on which the walnuts are placed for hulling, and a hard object to strike them. For hickory nuts, the shelling procedure is even more simple . . . and less messy.

I fashion walnut shelling paddles from one-foot long boards (can be longer if desired) that are thick enough to have some heft. I make a handle on one end with a hatchet, then rasp the handle smooth. Walnut hulling paddles rate right along with mushroom sticks.

Walnut leaves and the leaves of early maturing hickories are starting to fall of their own volition now. This indicates nuts are mature. Still, they must be dried to offer tasty goodness.

One precaution I take involves carrying Vise-Grip pliers in my pickup to “crack” nuts to verify their worth before I collect them. If I find a hickory tree that produces wormy nuts, I save them for fish bait. The little white grubs in walnut hulls also are good fish bait, but saving them inolves stain and their minuteness makes them difficult to put on a hook. Galls in goldenrod also provide good fish bait. Refrigeration keeps them from pupating until ice fishing arrives. 

FALL SQUIRRELS --  As September arrives, dryness in the woods often prohibits a great amount movement and creates ideal conditions for a sedentary hunt. Just find an area where squirrel activity is obvious (there are many signs) and have a seat in the forest. Soon you will find squirrels, or, more accurately, they will find you.

I like a wooded hillside near a creek or pond (water is always a drawing card for game at this time of year).

Squirrels often cut (feed) early and late in the day, but snooze (flattened out on big tree limbs) through the warmer hours. They may also use the middle of the day for burying food for winter in the ground. Fox and gray squirrels place one morsel of food at each dig. Pineys cache food supplies.

Fall, and the propensity for low shots at squirrels, brings stronger chances of hitting other hunters. So know what your shot may hit in case you miss the game. Shotguns are safer than rifles for low shots.

Standing field corn or corn stubble, adjacent to woodlands, are both big drawing cards for squirrels.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

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Hickory nut worms emerge from nut.
Goldenrod gall
Cracking hickory nuts provides great food.

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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