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"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Copyright ©  by Bill Scifres

Here are some questions readers have asked and his answers. 

How Do I Safely Catch And Clean Catfish?

Question: I catch a lot of catfish where I live and have always thrown them back because I do not really know how to clean them. I love eating them but always buy them in the store. To be honest I am a little afraid of them as I heard they can "sting" you or pierce your flesh. Sounds like a bad thing if you do not know what you are doing. I recently read your article called "More than one way to skin a catfish.” It left me with some questions.

1. How do you kill them prior to cleaning?
2. What do you avoid doing in order not to be stung or injured in any way?
3. Do you have any pictures of the cleaning procedure?

I plan on going fishing this Sunday and would like to try cleaning some if caught. Thanks for any help that you can provide. --Matt

Answer: Thanks for your interest in catfish, Matt. I can't imagine how I could have written reams about catching, cleaning and cooking catfish without getting the information on cleaning them on my web page . . . But, to answer your first question: if cats are not big (say bullheads or small channels--fiddlers), I rap them sharply on top of the head with a blunt instrument (I use the nose of pliers) . . . if the cat is larger, I use the method my dad used to kill them . . . with hammer and nail make a small opening in the top of the head and stick a broom straw or toothpick in the brain . . . 

Handling catfish (especially small cats) can be tricky business because their pectoral spines are sharper than the spines of larger fish. To remove the hook (often deep) from a smaller cat, I try to get the back of the body in the palm of my left hand (I am right handed) with the left pectoral spine between indeed and second fingers and the right pectoral spine behind the right pectoral spine; then, with the index of the right hand I follow the line down to the bend of the hook and curl my finger to bring it (the hook) out. Still another good method is to simply hold the fish wrapped in a damp cloth (a washcloth is ideal) . . . to skin the cat I hold it the same way, but with the fish’s head in the palm of my left hand. 

The skinning process is much the same for catfish of all sizes, the chief difference being that it is best to handhold fish of up to a pound or two. Larger fish probably should be nailed (through the head after they have been killed) to a solid object like a tree trunk. The skin of larger fish is much thicker and more difficult to remove. The job may require two hands. 
This is from a previous column:

To handhold and skin the smaller fish, I grasp the fish with my left hand, the top of the fish's head in the palm, and my thumb and index finger resting behind the pectoral spines on the two sides of the head. This leaves my right (dominant) hand free to alternately wield a sharp knife or a pair of blunt nosed pliers. 
Holding the fish in this manner, I make a crosswise cut (just through the skin) from one side of the fish to the other at the point where the head joins the body. This cut can be made before grasping the fish to avoid the possibility of cutting the hand. 
Then by grasping the loose skin with the pliers and pulling toward the tail of the fish, I work the skin off. This will require grasping the loose skin at several places from one side of the fish to the other. It also will leave a "V" of skin on the belly of the fish. This "V" of skin can be grasped with the thumb and knife blade (or with the pliers) and pulled forward. 
Sorry . . .no pictures . . .  --Bayou Bill

What Is The Best Way To Clean Snapping Turtles?

Question:  I read your first book when I was just a kid (about 10 or so), I still remember stories you told of your days on the Tippy and the Muscatatuck rivers. Any way my question is in regards to snapping turtles. What is the best way to clean them? I have heard of several ways but have not tried any yet. Any info you could provide would be welcome as I love turtle but just don’t know to clean one. Thanks Bill for your time, your stories and your expertise. –TR

Answer: Cleaning (dressing . . . or undressing, as the case may be) snapping turtles can turn into work, but the rewards of fried turtle or turtle soup are well worth the effort . . . I have cleaned a lot of turtles (18 in one afternoon when I was a kid) and I must say there is no easy way to clean a hard shell turtle.

However, Pete Johns, an old Tippecanoe River friend and a splendid outdoorsman, for many years, has a method that takes part of the work out of cleaning turtles. Pete cuts off the heads and hangs the turtles by their tails. This allows the turtles to lose most of their blood. Late in the day he places the turtles in a freezer, waiting until the next morning to finish the job.

Pete says this procedure renders the turtle only partially frozen and eliminates movement of the legs while the cleaning is in progress. With a sharp, strong knife Pete cuts away the hard belly shell (plastron), then goes to work extracting the four legs, tail and neck from the upper hard shell (carapace). The meat is then pulled and cut from the skin.

I use strong pruning shears to cut away the claws of the four legs before starting other parts of the procedure. –Bayou Bill

Winter Squirrel Hunting?

Question: A buddy from work and I are going to try hunting squirrel mid-January. Neither of us has ever hunted them that late in the season.  Are there any tips you can give us first-timers? --Chris

Answer: I can tell you where to hunt better if I know where you live . . . I presume you live in Indiana . . . generally, though, the best place to hunt squirrels in January is along streams or rivers that are bordered by corn fields (stubble or standing corn) . . . look for leaf/twig nests in the trees to determine good spots good concentrations of nests translates into good squirrel populations . . . just have a seat . . . be quiet and wait for your shots . . . don’t try to stalk squirrels unless they are in trees  that do not have hollow limbs or trunks . . . squirrels detect movement very well at this time of year. Squirrels also are fat and tasty this time of year . . . look up "squirrel hunting" on my web page . . .  (www.bayoubill.com) . . . yell if you need more info. --bayou bill

P.S. From Lieber State Park you could head south on Ind. 67 and be in the White River flood plain in a short time (less than an hour) . . . White River is great . . .banks are wooded and lots of cornfields . . . I would highly recommend WR in Owen or Greene counties ... you don't need a boat . . . but if you wanted to float the river between Indiana 54 and the town of Newberry I would guarantee seeing squirrels. --bb

Hickory Jack?

Question: I loved your articles I found online. Nice job! I had been doing a search on fall morels, wishing I could go to the woods this week on a lark and find some. Morel hunters are always the optimists, aren't they? And I stumbled onto several of your articles. Hickory Jack?  Does it have a Latin name? I want to get to know this little fellow. --T.C., Fort Wayne

Answer: Scientifically, it is Pleurotus osteratus . . . it usually found on dead trees, stumps, logs, etc . . . it varies in color from gray to white to brown . . . and fruits in the fall . . . I think there are pix someplace on my web page, but I will try to find some in my files and send them later . . . it is very good . . . perhaps better than morels . . . if you will search hickory jack on my web page you will find info in several columns . . . it also is known as the oyster or tree mushroom . . . I find a sub-species in Marsh grocery store (veggie bins) . . . I occasionally find them in the dead of winter . . . .chip them (frozen solid) off the tree and find them just as good frozen as they are fresh . . . the true hic jack has almost no stem . . . back side of the "fan" grows into the tree . . . actually, it probably is reversed . . . the mushroom simply grows out of the tree without a stem . . . gills on underside run back to the point where the mushroom i attached to the tree . . .well-spaced white gills . . . I clean them up in cold running water . . . slice them in strips parallel to the gills, and fry hem just as I fry morels . . . but they are good in any application . . . when I am frying them, I think the stems look something like lizards jumping around in my skillet . . .bb

The brown hickory jacks in this picture were growing on an old log during the October duck season on a small Southern Indiana Creek. The hickory jack may show numerous color phases.

Persimmon Weather Forecasts?

Question: I have some persimmon trees, and I was told an old wives tale about predicting the weather with the fruit. If you cut one open and there may be a fork or spoon shape in it. One tells if it’s going to be a bad winter the other a mild winter, but I can't remember which is which. Have you heard anything about this? –C. H., KY

Answer: Hello, Connie: You are undoubtedly referring to splitting persimmon seeds and viewing their interior artistry to determine ensuing winter weather . . . I think this thinking can be as reliable as the color of wooly worms in predicting weather for the coming winter . . . That, of course is totally unreliable. But for what it is worth, the old timers at Crothersville, my old hometown, used to split persimmon seeds lengthwise (flat) to see what would be depicted by Mother’s Nature’s art department . . . if they saw an image in the shape of a spoon, the coming winter would be mild; if they saw a knife (like a table knife), it would be a cutting (raw) winter, and if they saw a fork, the weather would be unsettled (alternate periods of mild and cold). So I would say that persimmon seeds (and the artwork therein) are not the best indicators of winter weather. The worst TV weather prognosticator on earth probably is more reliable than persimmon seeds. But I am dead certain about one thing: In my book, persimmon pudding is here to stay . . . and stay . . . and stay . . . Positively YUMMY! --Bayou Bill

Catalpa Worm Lore 

Comments from a Paragon, Indiana reader--“I enjoyed your article on Catalpa worms. I always try to gather some every summer, one of the best all around baits there is! Just about every game fish in Indiana's waters will bite on them especially Bluegill and Catfish. 

“Any way, the reason I'm sending you this note is I have a good friend who has some very large catalpas surrounding his house just south of Martinsville. Being that they are huge trees, makes it impossible to gather them by picking off the leaves or shaking them down. Joe says that the worms come down on the ground after dark some time and if you go out before dawn you just have to reach down and pick them from the ground! 

This is not hearsay; he and his son Eli would collect catalpa worms and sell to a local bait shop some years in the past. I personally have not done this, but he has always invited me to come and get them whenever I felt inclined. 

“Just wanted to get you this tidbit of worm lore. I have never heard of this from any one else, but I guarantee Joe has done it and swears by it!”–SW

Response: Thanks, Scotty . . . When I was a kid, I overheard one of the old timers at Crothersville telling other older guys (on the liars’ bench) that catalpas could be picked up on the ground at night, but I never tested his theory . . . I always could climb and shake them down if the leaves were too high for picking them  . . . I have thought about this some in the past and found it plausible because the worms go into the earth before they pupate . . . However, at the point where they burrow into the earth, they may be rather ratty . . . but I don’t think fish would mind . . . Bayou Bill

Getting Outfitted for Bow Hunting?

Question: Mr Scifres, I hope this email reaches you. I read your column in the Kokomo Tribune each week and thoroughly enjoy it. I want to introduce a friend to a good source for buying his first bow for deer hunting. Do you have a suggestion of an individual or trustworthy shop owner to consult for help? Thanks, Vernon H

Answer: Hello, Vernon . . . thanks for your e-mail and for reading my column in the KT. In view of the fact that your friend has plenty of time to get outfitted for bow hunting, I would think it wise to have your friend spend some time at the Indiana Deer, Wild Turkey Exposition (February 18-20) at the Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel Show at the state fairgrounds . . . while there he can pick the brains of some of Indiana's best bow hunters to learn about bows and other equipment involved . . . I also would suggest getting in touch with Phil Hawkins, Franklin (317-736-5548) . . . Phil was one of the state's bow hunting pioneers . . . and he has owned an archery shop in the past. --Bill Scifres

Late Squirrel Hunting?

Question: Bill:  Just a brief note to say how much I enjoy your column in the Kokomo Tribune.  Would you happen to know any good places for late season squirrel hunting in the Kokomo area? Any advice that you might provide would be greatly appreciated. --AJ

Answer: AJ: Thanks for your interest in a wintertime squirrel hunt . . . You will have to hurry if you hunt north of US 40 (that is the east-west road across the central part of the state) . . . the season there ends December 31 . . . south of that highway the season will continue through next January 31 (2005).

I do not know of a specific spot in the Kokomo area . . . but you can easily find your own special place . . . just drive the back roads that are close to streams or rivers (even small drainage ditches) and look with binoculars for leaf nests of squirrels in trees bordering the water . . . look especially at stream banks bordered with corn stubble . . . corn missed by mechanical pickers are a chief source of wintertime food for squirrels . . . it is even more important this winter because the past summer was a bummer for mast (corn, nuts and other seeds) production . . . corn makes squirrels fatter than little pigs . . . you will love fat old fox squirrels on the table this time of year . . . take your hardest-shooting shotgun or .22 rifle and look for an area that has good concentrations of nests .. . . you can see them from a mile away . . . just go into the area, take a small piece of old carpeting to sit on, and plant your back against a tree . . . a waiting game will pay big dividends . . . just sit quietly . . . don't try to stalk . . . the squirrels are smarter than both of us . . . remember, too, that Indiana law requires that you have permission to hunt on private land . . . you also can float a mid-sized stream for both ducks and squirrels . . . hunting from a boat is legal so long as the boat is not under the influence of a mechanical device (motor) . . . but you may have a motor on the boat . . . if you are hunting ducks and squirrels at the same time, it is unlawful to have lead shot in your possession . . . you must use non-toxic shot if you are hunting waterfowl . . . It's crazy . . . but it is the law . . . both state and federal . . .

All of this can be checked further by searching this website for the subjects of interest. --Bayou Bill


Question:  Bill: I have a small farm in Dearborn county but unfortunately do not have any persimmons on the place. I think I have a few of the male variety and I have since planted a few new trees but currently have none that bear fruit. I would love the opportunity to pick some fresh persimmons or perhaps just explore some areas that have persimmons growing just to dream about what my trees may look like some day. Can you help? Thanks!-- Dan R

Answer:  Hello, Dan: Thanks for your interest in persimmons . . . Dearborn County--the southern third of the state--is persimmon country . . . you shouldn't have any trouble finding persimmon trees with fruit  . . . I like Jackson, Jennings, and Scott counties best for persimmons because I know the location of many trees there . . .  but you should have no trouble locating trees anywhere south of Ind. 46 (roughly the southern third of the state) . . . I even find them up here in central counties . . . take a good look at the bark of your trees . . . then just drive the back roads to check ‘em out . . . if you have trouble, call Jollie Gibson (1-812-569-5539) after 2 pm on week days . . . Jollie lives at Crothersville (on I-65 south of Seymour) . . . he has a grove of seedless trees and sells pulp . . . he would be glad to let you see his trees . . . Jollie also sells persimmon pulp and he says the crop is fairly good this year . . . his trees are ripe now . . . but if you find persimmon trees on your own,  DO NOT PICK THEM OFF OF THE TREE (PERSIMMONS CLINGING TO THE TREE WILL BE PUCKERY) PICK UP PERSIMMONS THAT ARE ON THE GROUND AND SOFT . . . persimmons must fall of their own volition when they are ripe . . . let me know if you need a pix of the bark . . . another source of info on persimmons is my first book, Indiana Outdoors, out of print now, but available in many libraries and some used book stores . . . bill scifres

Swamp/Cottontail Rabbit Subspecies?

Question: Over the years of growing up down in the Paragon area, hunting and trapping, we have come upon, I guess you would call it, a sub-species of rabbit. Dad and all my uncles called it an "Old Brown Backed Woods Rabbit."

I talked to Mark Bennett, who at the time was our area biologist, and whom I had the pleasure of working with on several occasions, about this animal. His first comment was, "It is a Swamp rabbit?" My reply was "No!" In fact it is much larger than a cottontail or swamp rabbit. One of the unique characteristics of them, other than size, is when jumped and run by a dog he will run a straight country mile unlike a cottontail that will circle back on himself, usually to where he got up.

After explaining to Mark more of their characteristics, he thought he knew what I was talking about but couldn't answer my question. 

With the migration of the coyote and the loss of most, if not all, of our groundhogs, I hadn't seen "an ole woods rabbit" for years until Saturday (July 10). The wife, daughter and myself were in Spencer and stopped to have lunch at Canyon Inn at McCormicks Creek S.P. While sitting and looking out the window at the bird feeders, out saunters “an ole woods rabbit!” I about shrieked as I leaped out of my seat!  Mahalah my little girl, and Janet, my wife, both got to see him/her hopping around outside at the edge of the woods.

 Can you give me any insight to as of where or what rabbit this is? --J SW

Answer: Hello, JSW . . . and thank you for an interesting question . . . As you note, Martk Bennett, our mutual friend and highly-respected biologist, believes Indiana hosts two species of rabbits. They are the cottontail and the swamp rabbit.

Mark was at a loss to explain your "ole brown-backed woods rabbit." He believes, I am sure, that your mysterious rabbit is a swamp rabbit. This is the thinking of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, and other mammal experts of the state.

Having been exposed to areas that hosted both cottontails and woods rabbits as a boy in Southern Indiana, I agree (generally) with this thinking.

However, in my associations with wild critters in Hoosierland for well longer than half a century, I have learned "to never say never" about anything related to wild things. With this thought in mind, I would like to get some opinions of others in the scientific community on the possibility that swamp rabbits may have inbred with cottontails (or some other rabbit) to produce a subspecies, as you suggest. I will tell you more about that later.

I would also point out that the old folks in the country have generated many beliefs about wild things, and that over the years they tend to become facts. For example, for many years the wood duck to folks in my neck of the woods was known only as "the little black squealer." Imagine my surprise when I learned, thanks to Jack Cain, one of my outdoor mentors, that they were wood ducks. --Bayou Bill

Skinning and Cooking Squirrel?

Question: Thinking to scare away squirrels from the bird feeder like I have been running deer out of my garden with a pellet gun, I was chagrinned to find that a pellet through the neck is quickly deadly to a squirrel. Not wanting the animal to have died in vain, I determined to skin and eat it.

Google brought up your page first thing, and I did my best to follow it.  Here were the trouble spots for me:

“When making the strip cut along the back, avoid cutting the skin off by angling the knife blade towards the body.”

I had great difficulty making the diagonal cuts forward along the sides. The knife did not want to slide between skin and body. After opening up the abdominal cavity (ops), I found it best to use fingers to open up the pathway, then follow with the knife to make the cuts.

"Shucking" the back legs was a bit of a challenge. It took a lot of finger-thumb action, which you will not be surprised to hear left sprinkles of hair on the flesh.

Nonetheless, thanks to your instructions, I have a skinned squirrel in the fridge. Is there a "cooling" time with small game like there is for large? (I have slaughtered many goats, and it is customary to let them hang several days to "cool.")

Thank you again for offering your father's wisdom on skinning squirrels.  I was very relieved to find the directions, and look forward to my meal.

Finally, I thought I heard country folk neighbors speak of skinning a squirrel like peeling a sock off your foot. Does this ring a bell to you? --David F. 

Answer:  I am assuming that you bagged and skinned either a fox or gray squirrel, as opposed to a piney.

Yes, one needs a knife with a sharp-pointed blade to skin a squirrel with ease . . . and that means, inherently, that each cut must be made with care to avoid "botching" the job . . . I like a blade roughly two inches long and about a quarter of an inch wide at the wide part . .  . the blade should be very sharp . . . the big blade of one of my antique Old Time knives usually will qualify (it works very well to field dress a deer, too) . . . 

When making the quadrangular cut along the back (just in front of the tail), a see-saw motion is used and the cutting is done more on both sides while the tail is pulled forward . . . this technique keeps the blade from cutting the meat of the tenderloin along both sides of the backbones

Yes, while the skin is hanging loose on both ends if I hang the squirrel on nails for "gutting, the first short cut is made between the back legs, the index and second fingers of the free hand is inserted into the body cavity and they guide the knife blade from aft to fore to open the body cavity . . . The knife hand then is used to extract entrails and vital organs (kidneys remain in the squirrel and are cooked with the back piece).

When you have skinned a few thousand squirrels there will be no hairs on the meat . . . I scrape them off with a knife blade under cold running water.

Do my instructions include the technique of pounding two nails (six inches or so apart) into some woody structure (side of a barn or a tree) as holders for "gutting?" The nails are left protruding an inch or two, and the back feet of the squirrel are punched onto the nail heads, the back of the squirrel against the tree and head down . . . if someone holds the squirrel by both back legs (belly up) for gutting, there probably will be some hair on the meat, too . . . I prefer nails to having someone hold the squirrel for gutting.

I think it is well to let the meat cool a bit before cooking, but my game usually is cool enough for cooking when I arrive home from a hunt . . . When I was a kid, my mother and grandmother usually would be waiting to cook. 

On soaking: the old wives tales suggested soaking the meat (cut into pieces) in salt water . . . I do not want salt around my meat until it is being dredged and placed in the old iron skillet . . . likewise, I see no reason for soaking the meat in any water . . . just wash it to removed exterior blood and keep the moisture (blood) in the meat . . . that's what makes it tasty . . . if it is refrigerated, put it in airtight plastic bags, without water. If meat is to be frozen, remove air before freezing, and wrap frozen package in several thicknesses of newspaper to avoid freezer burn for several weeks  . . . this, incidentally, will justify publication of your newspaper (in case you do not have a pet canary).

I had never heard that skinning a squirrel was like removing a sock . . . this would indicate case skinning as fur-bearing animals are skinned . . . my dad's methods are considerably easier . . . but my dad could skin a mink (careful as he had to be) in a few minutes . . . I did not manage to get that good.

Thanks again, David . . . and enjoy some fried squirrel with trimmin's (fried potatoes "biled" beans, corn-on-the-cob, sliced tomatoes, and (last but not least) home made biscuits and gravy. --bayou bill

Water Moccasin?

Question: Hello Bill, great website. I grew up in Brown County and was wondering if you could tell me if the Cotton Mouth/Water Moccasin can live this far north. I've heard stories of sightings but I wonder if these are just common water snakes? Also could you tell me which is the most poisonous snake in Indiana. Thanks for any help.  --TP

Answer:  Hello, TP: Thanks for your interest in snakes and for your kind words on my web site. The Cottonmouth (Agistrodon piscivorus) is generally considered a snake of the South . . . but in recent years it has been discovered in southwestern Indiana in limited numbers. Generally, though, the cottonmouth is not considered an inhabitant of Indiana. Interestingly enough, when I was about 13 years old I was squirrel hunting in Jackson County (west of Crothersville), and was crossing a huge log jam in an old bed of the Muscatatuck River. I carried an old Remington, 12-gauge pump gun. As I walked across the logjam, I suddenly became aware that some unknown critter was very close (I attribute that to a sixth sense that is common among outdoor folks). I stopped in my tracks and soon saw a huge snake coiled on another log about a foot below my feet . . . I was carrying the shotgun with muzzle down and my right hand on the pistol grip of the gun. With my index finger I flipped off the safety, aligned the muzzle of the gun up on the snake without putting the stock to my shoulder, and squeezed the trigger. The snake fell into the stagnant, shallow water below and as it writhed in death its mouth opened and it looked very white inside. I considered wading into the shallow water and fishing the dead snake out for furthers observation, but my valor waned, and I left well enough alone. Since that day, however, I have regretted not getting a closer look at the snake. I find it easy to believe I killed a cottonmouth.

If we can count the cottonmouth, Indiana hosts at least four species of poisonous snakes. The others are the timber rattlesnake, most common in the hill county of the southern third of the state; the massasauga rattlesnake in the northeastern natural lake country; and the copperhead (range about the same as the timber rattler), The massasauga may not now be much more plentiful in the northeast than the cottonmouth is in the southwest . . . I would imagine the timber rattler is most poisonous of the four, but I am not an authority on toxicity. I would think the seriousness of the bite of any of the four snakes would depend upon how the chemistry of the victim reacts to the toxic qualities of the snake . . . For example, some fungi may react differently on different people. --Bill Scifres

Sassafras Tea

Question: I just read your article on sassafras tea and I just wanted to make sure that its ok to drink it. I have read that using too much sassafras can be toxic and cause vomiting. Just wanted to make sure its ok to drink because I really want to make some. --Ian

Answer: Hello, Ian:  Thanks for your interest in sassafras tea . . . I have been drinking it all my life and I am quite alive . . . though ancient . . . the roots, leaves, flowers, berries and bark of sassafras have been used for many medicinal purposes dating back to native Americans . . . when I was a kid in Southern Indiana, the old folks believed it thinned the blood in the spring . . . I recommend honey for a sweetener, but sugar will work fine . . . I have never heard of sassafras causing vomiting . . . --Bill Scifres

What happened to all of the ladybugs?

Question: You being an outdoors writer, I thought maybe you could answer this question. What happened to all of the ladybugs or Asian beetles, whatever they are? I live in a wooded area West of Kokomo and a month ago I had beetles running out my ears, now they are gone. I don't miss them but would like to know where they went. Any idea? --Keith W.

Answer:  There are more than 400 species of lady bugs (a k a lady beetles) on the North American Continent, but my friends at the Department Of Natural Resources tell me the Asian Ladybug if the most common of the ilk in Indiana.

I, too, have wondered about what happens to all of those conventions of ladybugs I uncover when raking leaves in the spring (to finish the job I left unfinished in the preceding fall). Frankly, I have never developed a suitable answer to what happens to the massive accumulations that show up again in the fall (looking for a way to get into houses).

In the absence of some answer that is more detailed, I can only assume that the individuals strike out on their own to eat soft insects like spiders, and (since ladybugs are said to bring off several broods each year), it would be reasonable to assume that the male bugs and lady bugs of the species spend a lot of time looking for each other.

Incidentally, I also have found that you can't trust a ladybug any further than you can throw an elephant. For many years I thought they were cute little critters. That was before I learned they will bite, even though I still do not consider them a menace to my health.

I became enlightened on this nasty disposition of ladybugs while hunting squirrels on a beautiful, late-fall day several years ago. As I am wont to do, I curled up for a mid-afternoon nap on some dry leaves in the woods. My siesta was interrupted by the knowledge that something thought I was a tasty morsel.

It turned out that I had konked out smack on this aggregation of ladybugs that had settled under the leaves for their long winter's nap. 

However, that experience was not half as traumatic as the time I inadvertently started my siesta next to a yellow jackets nest. --Bayou Bill

Can you help me identify this fungi?

Question: I have just today, picked some hickory jack (looking) fungi from the base of a dead tree stump at my parents. I think the tree was an ash. The fungi grow there every spring and after picking them they grow again. I am SO badly wanting to try eating them. My dad--85 years old--says he is sure they are hickory jacks, but I am afraid to eat them without further identification.

They are very similar to what you have pictured in your "hickory jack" picture except mine are light brown on top with a few feather (or scale) looking particles (which are darker brown) and underneath looks very tight "porous" like a sponge. Over all size for the large one is about 9 inches. Can you help me identify these? Thanks. --Jim R., Ohio

Answer: Hello, Jim: Sorry to have taken so long to get back to you, but I stay pretty busy during the spring mushroom season . . . In any event, I went along with your thinking on hickory jacks until you got to the porous underside instead of nice, white lacy gills. Then your hickory jacks turned into dryad's saddle (Polyporus squamosus) . . . and although dryad's saddle does not approach the gastronomic qualities of hickory jacks, it still can be quite edible if handled and cooked right.

I will send you some pix of hickory jacks, but right now I will attach a couple of shots of dryad's saddle . . . one is a pix of a typical saddle on my cutting board in the kitchen . . . the other is a cross section, which tends to show how the sponge like under side is attached to the white meat of the mushroom.

I slice the saddle (looks a lot like the old-time tractor seat) about 1/8-inch (one-eighth) thick, cut away the spongy underside and sauté it in olive oil . . . it is good either chewy or well browned and crisp . . . It is a lot like hen-of-the-woods . . . but not quite so tasty.

I recently put it to the garlic test (see my April 5, 2004 column on my web page-- www.bayoubill.com). In so doing I cooked (boiled) some strips of saddle, then sauteed them  . . . they were excellent.

Although dryad's saddle grows to great size, I find the smaller dryad's best for eating. --Bayou Bill

Canning Suckers

Question: Do you have a recipe for canning suckers, which taste like salmon when opened? I had a recipe for this but lost it over the years. Thank you. --DF

Answer: Hello, DF: If you will do a search on "preserving suckers" on my web page, you will find my procedure for canning suckers and other species of fish. Let me know if you can't find it. ---Bayou Bill

Young Hunter in Training

Question:  Hello, I am interested in hunting for squirrel. What are the different ways to catch a squirrel and can I shoot a squirrel? What squirrels should you hunt for?  Please respond [to a] young hunter in training. --TWK

Answer:  Thanks, TWK. It is good to know of a young hunter's interest in hunting squirrels . . . You do not mention your geographic location. But squirrels are hunted in many parts of the country. Much of my writing is based on conditions in Indiana because I am a native Hoosier (Crothersville in Jackson County) and that is where I learned to hunt.

Generally, there are two species of squirrels that are hunted for food. They are the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) and the gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinesis). A third species, the red (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) resembles the gray and fox species, but is hunted little and consumed as food even less. The red squirrel (a k a piney) is much smaller--perhaps half as large as the gray which is roughly one-third smaller than the fox. As for table qualities, I consider the fox squirrel downright edible, the gray even better.

The big difference in gray and fox squirrels in terms of characteristics and habits lies in the fact that the former is more wild and thrives in a more wild environment--large tracts of hardwoods in hill country are prime gray squirrel habitat. On the other hand, the fox squirrel will live in sparse timber, even wooded fencerows, or perhaps even individual trees far from a woodland.

The long-barreled, tightly-choked shotgun (with powerful loads of No. 5 or 6 shot) probably is the most used gun for squirrel hunting, but I grew up hunting squirrels with a single-shot .22 caliber rifle and still prefer this kind of hunting although the iron sights on one of my rifles has been replaced by a scope. I also hunt squirrels occasionally with a long-barreled .22 caliber revolver, with bow and arrow, and with slingshot.

You will find a number of my columns from the past useful in learning to hunt squirrels. Just search my website for "squirrel hunting." If you have more specific questions, just let me know. --Bill Scifres

Night Crawlers

Question/Comment:  Hello again Mr. Scifres,  . . . I was looking through your site and read your article on night crawlers, it sure brings back memories of my childhood when the family would take the annual vacation to the northern Wisconsin area and a few days before the departure we would always catch a boat load of crawlers from the backyard (west side of Indy) it brought the family together and was great fun to boot. 

Now for the important part, one day mom was cleaning walnuts in the backyard (so it had to be early fall) and she had taken the hulls of the black walnuts and was soaking them in water to help remove some of the brown membrane that comes along with the shell. Well, when she got done she turned the water bucket over and within a few minutes the crawlers that had come in contact with the acidy mixture were COMPLETELY out of the ground (easy pickins). Needless to say, from then on we always kept a big jar of walnut juice just for that purpose--for those spur of the moment fishing trips to Eagle Creek Res. Just thought I'd share this bit of info with ya. Have A Great Spring. –Andy

Answer: Thanks, Andy. You are dead right about the walnut hull juice . . . I discovered that method of bringing up crawlers (garden worms, too) as a kid after hulling walnuts, washing them with a garden hose and pouring the black-stained water on the earth. Another method (if you have crawlers or garden worms concentrated in small area of good, loamy, damp soil) is to shock them up with electricity (two metal poles punched into the earth about three or four feet apart) . . . but you have to be careful with that.

I also have heard that causing the earth to vibrate will bring crawlers up, but I don't recall having tried this, or knowing anyone who has . . . like driving some kind of stake into the earth, then causing vibrations to enter the earth though the stake. --Bayou Bill

Fried Poke Shoots

Question/Comment: I have fond memories of picking poke along the White River right about at 10th St. downtown.  My Kentucky born and raised father would fry up poke in his mother's cast iron skillets for us and we would beg for more until he would often barely get a taste himself. Yours is the first recipe I've seen for frying the shoots and not the poke greens. Thanks for bringing back a sweet time in my childhood. –Deanna

Answer: Thanks, Deanna: Good to hear from you and know of your interest in poke, especially fried . . . I like poke in mixed greens, too (with jowl bacon), but I like it even better fried--"The Poor Man's Morel."

I have poke along my driveway. It pays its rent every spring in my old iron skillet, and again in the fall when it's deep purple berries ferment and get the birds drunk. You are welcome to come and get some poke shoots when they come up . . . won't be long now . . . --Bill

Where can I find Hoosier Record Buck information?

Question: Bill: I don't know where else to look and seeing that you are so great about answering questions, I thought I would give you a try. My dad killed a 16 point buck (per Boone & Crocket) in 1976 in Indiana. He used a 12 gauge pump shotgun. He says he killed it just north of the Jasper Pulaski Game Reserve. I have searched and searched for more information on this but I keep coming to a dead end. I noticed you wrote a book in 1976 Indiana Outdoors. Do you have any information regarding this even or do you have an idea of where else I could look? --Sherry

Answer Hello, Sherry: I have just finished reading two pages (including a picture of your dad with "Big Mo") in Larry Lawson's book, "Volume 1 . . . Records 1951-83." If you will send me your address I will put the book in the mail (it is yours) in a day or two. I believe your dad's deer rated about 76th all-time in the Hoosier Record Buck Program book, 1999-2000 edition (you can get that book from John Bogucki, 66603 Pine Road, North Liberty, IN 46554 . . . phone 574-656-4271). Your dad's deer will be listed in all editions of the Hoosier Record Buck Program after 1976. For information on Boone & Crockett, the address is 250 Station Drive, Missoula, MT 59801 (telephone: 406-542-1888). A letter or call will make info available on your dad's deer if he registered it there.--Bill Scifres

Can you give me some advice on locating Hickory Jacks?

Question:  Hello Bill, great website and neat stuff. I began searching for Hickory Jacks as fond memories of my grandfather came to mind. Unfortunately, this treasure was a secret that he took to his grave. I have longed to hunt, pick and eat Hickory Jacks and wondered if you could give me any advice on locating them. I live in New England, more specifically Rhode Island. My grandpa lived in Ohio so I wondered if we even have them. Any information you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Best wishes. --Brad P

Answer:  Hello, Brad: Thanks for your kind words on my website and your interest in hickory jacks . . . I would bet my favorite fly rod that you have hickory jacks (Pleurotus ostreatus) in Rhode Island . . . I think of HJs as a fall mushroom, but I have found them in the spring--even during the spring morel season. 
. .
Toward the end of the morel season last year I found a cluster of HJs at earth level, growing on the trunk of a little (six or eight-inch) dead yellow poplar tree. I wanted a picture of the cluster, and on focusing my camera noticed a huge morel in the background . . . I most often find HJs on dead wood (logs and stumps), but they will occur on live trees, especially willows. I also find them now and then on the dead wood part of trees that are still live. HJ caps may come in varying colors--even a bluish gray--but cream or tan is the norm with light (even dark) brown. The lacy, white gills of the HJ runs from the outer perimeter of the cap to a central point where the cap grows out of the wood or to the stem (if present . . . most of the HJs I find are without stems). However, HJs will grow occasionally from masses of varied materials resting on the earth. If I can find the picture of the HJs and big morel from last spring, I will attach it in a day or two. Search this web page for "Hickory Jacks" and you will find numerous other references to this tasty mushroom. Picture mentioned above is attached. --Bill Scifres

Where can I get current updates on fishing conditions?

Question: Bill, Where is a good place to get current updates on fishing conditions around the state, especially the dams like Oakdale, Norway, Miss., Salamonie, etc.? --A faithful reader of many years, MG 

Answer:Hello, MG: Thanks for your e-mail . . . and your interest in fishing. This is something I have been thinking of for some time, as a service to Hoosier anglers, on my web page. As you know, for many years I tried to do weekly fishing reports in Friday columns in the Star. They worked out pretty well but I never had the feeling they were really current. 

I think the way I will go for my web page is to do some checking by phone to get contacts that are very close to potential fishing sites and let those who want really up-to-date information do their own checking by phone or e-mail. My web page will list the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of the contacts. Such a system will give the individual an opportunity to be in touch with someone really close to the situation at the last moment before starting the fishing trip.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife has offered this kind of service for many years, but while it is a great effort, I do not see how it can be current. I think a do-it-yourself plan activated the night before the fishing trip is the best way to get the latest information on fishing conditions.

My web page list will lean heavily on bait shops, state properties, reservoir offices, and boat/canoe liveries. But if there are individuals who are willing to share their knowledge to help others find good fishing, they will be listed and welcome to participate.

Potential informants wishing to participate can join the project by sending me their name, telephone number, e-mail address (if they have online computers), and names of waters on which they will have information. 

Informants will be welcome from Indiana and other states, especially those adjacent to Indiana. --Bill Scifres

What is the importance of sodium in a rabbit's diet?

Question:  This is not a tablefare question, I'm thinking that I had read an article of yours a few years back about the importance of sodium in a rabbit's diet to ward off sickness in bunnies as the first frost approaches. Can you help me out on this one? --AJW

Answer: Hello, AJ: Thanks for your e-mail and your interest in the importance of salt in keeping rabbit healthy . . . I lost your e-mail address (my computer is a bigger basket case than I am) . . . so I will try to answer your question on my web page with the hope that you will see it. 

Over the years I have written numerous columns items and magazine stories about the use of salt to combat intestinal parasites in rabbits.

Dr. Harmon P. Weeks, the Purdue University wildlife biology professor, and a team of Purdue students conducted studies on sodium at Atterbury State Fish and Wildlife Area some 30 years ago. Those studies indicated that a lack of sodium in rabbits could well be affecting rabbit populations adversely.

Although the studies were rather costly, and indicated administering sodium artificially could help rabbit populations, the reports sat idle, and unused in the Division of Fish and Wildlife for many years.

So far as I could determine, DFW brass had no answer for not putting the research to use.

Eventually, biologists and managers of some of the northern reservoir properties started making salt available to rabbits and other species of wildlife by simply driving a pickup truck through good habitat while a second person in the truck bed beat salt blocks into chunks and tossed them into the brush.

You guessed it: Rabbit bags increased almost overnight. 

I do not know how many state properties now distribute salt for rabbits and other wildlife species.

I am told that the delay in usage of salt was at least partially due to the theory that this practice could be construed as "baiting," a no-no in the Fish and Wildlife Code. I understand that those who administer salt on state properties distribute it at this time of year. The thinking is that salt administered now will help rabbits through the crucial summer months, but will be dissipated long before fall hunting seasons and could not be considered baiting. 

I keep salt available for critters of my front-yard jungle most of the year. But nobody hunts in my jungle. --Bayou Bill 

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