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"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Copyright ©  by Bill Scifres

Here are some questions readers have asked Bill and his answers. 

Can I hunt deer from a canoe in Indiana?

Question: Can I hunt deer from a canoe in Indiana? . . .  Are their any regulations on this? --Jordan

Answer: You can hunt any species of wild game or bird from a boat or canoe, so long as the craft involved is not under the influence of a motor . . . federal regulations permit a motor on the transom of a boat or canoe for hunting waterfowl so long as it (the motor) is used only to retrieve downed birds . . . Indiana game laws prohibit shooting at game birds or animals from a motorized vehicle . . . also shooting from or across a public road . . . handicapped persons can get a permit to hunt deer from a parked motorized vehicle.

It might be a good idea to check for greater detail with the Division of Fish and Wildlife (317/232-4080) . . .  --Bayou Bill

Are the Indiana Deer Seasons Too Long?

Question/Comment: Mr. Scifres, I believe that the Indiana deer seasons run too long. Archery, firearms, and muzzle loader collectively take up October through December (and into January). It seems that wherever two trees are growing together someone is in them hunting deer.

As a trapper, this really makes things difficult for my sport. Trapping season opens, as you know, on November 15th, which coincided with opening day of firearms deer hunting this year. I wasted two weeks of productive trapping time for safety reasons. Walking through a marsh with a hickory pack basket on your back can be hazardous to the health in gun season...even wearing a hunter orange cap.

Though I am not an upland game hunter, the prolonged deer harvest time is no more fair to these sportsmen. The state really needs to look at a one- week firearms season, and a one-week muzzle loader season. The archery season is not as big an issue because the hunter needs to let his quarry come within close range to ensure a clean kill (although I did encounter an irate archer this morning while setting my trap line...he threw a rock at me while walking down the creek!). Most deer are taken the opening weekend anyway.

Another deer issue is the use of high-powered rifle cartridges in pistols. A TC Contender can be chambered in a variety of caliber's including, .35 Remington, and 45-70. While the law is plain on the low end of pistol cartridges allowed (.357 Mag.) there is no ceiling on the high end. I would rather see rifles of pistol caliber such as .357 and .44 Magnum be legal than pistols with north woods big game loads being used.

Thanks for listening; any feedback would be appreciated. --S.S.

Answer: Thanks, SS, for your views on Hoosier deer hunting as related to other outdoor activities.

Let me say this about that: The days when wildlife was managed for the welfare of the resource being paramount appear to have disappeared soon after high-button shoes bit the dust.

Wildlife and resources management today is largely a sociological thing.  That is to say that our wildlife managers still are charged with the responsibility of protecting the resources for the use of future generations.  But they also must please all of the elements of the outdoor recreation fraternity, including trappers and deer hunters.

Sure it is dangerous just being out there when so-called hunters toting a variety of firearms that are capable of delivering missiles that weigh up to a full ounce 100 yards or more with a fair degree of accuracy. It is a chance we take, trying to offset the potential for a "wing fitting" by wearing blaze orange (in compliance with Indiana law).

Honest Abe has been credited with saying something like: "You can please all of the people part of the time and part of the people all of the time . . . but you can't please all of the people all of the time" . . . How true! How true! And the theory fits well in matters related to wildlife/resources management.

There was a time--about the time I broke into this business of writing about hunting, fishing, and other facets of this picture--that the welfare of natural and wildlife resources was a major factor in wildlife management. The desires and whims of hunters and others involved were secondary considerations. Since that time the wildlife/natural resources' managers' authority to do his/her job has been usurped by the mushrooming rationale that arm-chair biologists should have a say in such matters.

The advance of this thinking has not been fast, but it has been constant. As a result, wildlife managers today spend much time sampling the thoughts of people, many of whom would not know the difference in a wood duck and a woodchuck. But their thoughts are counted.  All they know is that goose droppings are squishy between bare toes when a sleepy condo resident steps out the front door to get the morning paper.

Then, of course, wildlife management becomes a horror show, as pressure groups toss their selfish little notions (plots) into the hopper. 

In the final analysis, the contents of the hopper boils down to the fact that wildlife and resources managers can't do their jobs because they are too busy trying to please people who, in reality, haven't the foggiest notion about what the whole scenario is about.

It also is sad to note that those who set seasons and formulate and implement regulations seem to hear the larger sportsmen's groups (and those who pay more for their licenses) more clearly than smaller groups like trappers, rabbit, squirrel, and bird (quail) hunters.

Then we must pull the curtain up to get a better view of political skullduggery in the Indiana General Assembly and elsewhere.

When you consider the fact that wildlife and natural resources are necessities of life, there is no room for political decisions in their management. That goes double for the feeble, flawed horse-trading (not to mention almost total ignorance) of most lawmakers of what is right and wrong for natural/wildlife resources. This is magnified by the fact that many lawmakers could care less about their lack of knowledge in such areas.

Yet, our wildlife managers--capable, well-meaning as most of them are--run scared on every issue. A case in point is the recent decision of the Department of Natural Resources to back off in its efforts for modest increases in hunting-fishing license fees. 

However coincidental it may have been, after Governor Frank O'Bannon's death and his successor decided that he might just try to be elected, the DNR suddenly decided that little brother DFW didn't really need that extra funding that increased license fees would produce. Hearing the explanations on that beats an afternoon of reading Joe Miller's Joke Book.

Frankly, SS, I am with you all the way. The only reason we are harvesting 100,000 deer each year revolves around the fact that 20 years or so ago farmers, auto insurers (and who knows who else) decided that we had too many deer in the state. We had to kill more to keep legislators (and their farm/ insurance constituency) happy.

So we went to the bonus deer permit system (kill more does), two bucks regulations, and other methods of keeping everyone happy (to hell with the deer). None of it worked--we probably have as many deer now as ever before, maybe more.

Wildlife managers will tell you that none of the regulations of the last 20 years would be detrimental to the deer herd, but they would be hard pressed to convince anyone that any of the regulations was adopted wit the welfare of the deer herd foremost in their minds.

There are those who believe the deer herd would remain in great shape if the total bag (of roughly 100,000 per year) would be cut in half. Such a herd would provide even more recreation than it does now because success ratios would improve.

If you need corroborating evidence for your notion that one-week of firearms hunting holds water, consider the fact that in the 2002 firearms season the first day bag of deer was 22,829, while the second day netted 11,727, and the seven day total was 47,149. That translates into almost 50 percent of the total harvest. Throw in the bow kill and you pass the 50 percent mark.--Bill Scifres


Question: Where can I purchase beechnuts? --FC

Answer: Dear FC: I do not now of anyone who harvests beechnuts for sale . . . I only wish I did know of such a person or business . . . this might be a good field to enter. 

The past summer was not great for beechnuts for some reason . . . I suspect that we had too much rain . . . but whatever the cause may have been, the kernels (meats) of beechnuts did not fully develop . . . Here in Indiana (and I suspect in other states that had a wet summer) there were good numbers of the outer husks . . . and squirrels and birds used them extensively . . . but the meats did not develop well.

In a year when the meats develop, at least one of the two inner nuts (outer husks normally house two of the pyramid-like inner nuts) and one of these inner nuts--possibly both--will be so well developed that the hard outer shells bulge . . . this is prime beechnut fare. 

In a good year I have a small bag of nuts for munching throughout the winter . . . In late September or early October I tried to get some nuts, but my efforts were hopeless and I tossed the ones I had. The meats did not develop.

The best way to enjoy beechnuts is to stand beneath the tree before they fall, pick them and munch them on the spot. The inner shells of beechnuts fall from the outer husks as they dry and spread, but as the inner shells dry they also get quite rigid, and difficult to remove. But I still like that minute kernels when they are crisp and dry.

I don't know your location so it is difficult to be more specific . . . I presume you refer to American beech which will be found east of the Mississippi River from Canada to Florida. We also have European beech and this tree produces similar nuts . . . the best stand of European beech I know is on the campus of Hanover College near Madison, Indiana, on the Ohio River. 

For more information on beechnuts (and I believe pictures), I would suggest a search of my web page (www.bayoubill.com) . . . I presume you have found it previously . . . The search vehicle will be found at the bottom of the opening page. 

Please let me know if you find a source of beechnuts.

PS: It was a great year for other nuts (including hickory and black walnut) in Indiana. Just yell if I can be of further help. --bill scifres 

Hickory Nut Cracking Tips

Question: About a year and a half ago, my wife and I purchased our little nine-acre slice of Heaven down in south-central Missouri. Our property holds many walnut and hickory trees. I gathered up a bunch of hickory nuts and have tried, quite unsuccessfully, to harvest the nutmeat from the bank-vault like shells. Is there some special type of nutcracker used to force these little buggers to surrender their treasure?  I tried using a hammer and a vise, both of which had disastrous results-shrapnel everywhere and still, the remaining fragments were quite reluctant to give up the good stuff.

I have found a recipe for hickory nut pie, which I would like to try.  However, if it is going to take a week for me to get the required one cup of nut meats called for in the recipe, I think I shall just go to the market and buy a pecan pie. I don't care how much better the hickory nut pie is supposed to be, it can't be worth all that effort!  Any tips?

Answer: Dear anonymous hickory nut enthusiast:  Thank you very much for your interest in hickory nuts and my favorite dessert: namely hickory nut pie

For many years when my daughters were growing up, Patty (my youngest) and I traditionally baked a hickory nut pie on New Year's Day while others were watching silly football on the tube. This, quite naturally, entailed cracking and picking out the kernels of a good many hickory nuts. Fortunately, I had learned (thanks to the old-time life in Southern Indiana) how to crack and pick hickory nuts--not to mention black walnuts and many of the other nut-like products of the boondocks.

When I was a kid, our chief form of nighttime entertainment was gathering in the living room (around the old Parlour Furnace) to listen to the music of Renfro Valley and other country stuff . . . My dad (his nickname was hickory) would have several bushels of hickory nuts in the larder for winter. He would hold one of my mother's flat irons between his knees (while seated) and with his old claw hammer would crack several pie pans of hickory nuts. We would sit around the table--or with a pie pan of cracked nuts in our lap--and pick out the nut meats for snacks.

Here I painlessly learned that there are two general positions in which a hickory nut can be held for cracking. In his left hand, my dad would hold a hickory nut between thumb and index finger and seat it firmly on the flat bottom surface of the iron. He would then hit the nut with the claw hammer with his right hand. Note: my dad was ambidextrous. 

He said the best--but most difficult--way to hold a hut for cracking was on its most narrow edge. As you undoubtedly have learned, most hickory nuts are wider than tall. Cracking nuts in this manner often caused painful injury to the thumb and index finger if the "cracker" got reckless with the hammer. When the nuts would crack, there also could (can) be some kind of stinging sensation (enough to make one lick his finger and/or thumb).

But with most hickory nuts this will expose one good half-kernel and a big part of another to the pick. Incidentally a crochet needle may be the best implement for picking out hickory nut kernels (because of the little hook on its end).

Cracking nuts by striking the wide side is much easier--not to mention far less painful. And,  I must interject here that somebody forgot to tell those tiny pieces of kernel that they are not tasty, or that they do not fit well in a hickory nut pie or cookies. Their only foible lies in the fact that it takes more of them to fill a cup.

In any event, I am attaching a picture to illustrate the two positions a hickory nut may be held for cracking. If you are pondering the possibilities on how I got the nut on the left to stand in the "upright" position, I will only say that nature photographers, of whom I am one, use many wiles to achieve photographic goals. I call these phony pictures, but if they help me help somebody else it may be worth my subterfugeous (I think I invented a word) act.

PS: I am also attaching my Crothersville recipe for hickory nut pie . . . It is taken from my first book, Indiana Outdoors, published by the Indiana University Press in 1976, and long since out of print. That book is still kicking around many libraries in Indiana and occasionally crops up as an endangered species in used bookstores. 

If you would like to send me (snail mail address is on my home page) half a dozen or so of your hickory nuts, I will try my hand at them . . . I think the interior configuration of nuts can vary from one tree to another . . . I hope the nuts  on your trees will pass the test. --bayou bill 

Woodchuck (Whistle Pig) Cookery

Question: Bayou Bill: I got to your site looking for hickory nut recipes...there is a fantastic OLD shagbark on my property. This year was a bumper nut crop and I've had three generations of the family cracking them.

Anyway, after perusing your site it occurred to me that you might also have some suggestions for me regarding woodchuck. Any recipes? I've got a good one using red wine, rosemary, shallots and green olives. I'd love to have another. Anything? Thanks. --Johnny

Answer: Hello, Johnny: Thanks for your interest in hickory nuts, woodchuck cooking, and my web page.

I trust that you found plenty on hickory nuts on my web page already . . . but I don't think there is anything on woodchuck cookery. But that should be no problem. Incidentally, if you can stick half a dozen or so of those shellbarks in a little box and mail them to me, I would compare them to those of my favorite shellbark hickory . . . I think shellbarks are the class of all hickory nuts.

Now, about cooking that whistle pig . . . I would imagine that all self-respecting woodchucks are now snoozing away the winter in cozy subterranean dens . . . I haven't seen a chuck in more than a week around my front yard jungle. 

Frankly, I haven't cooked a 'chuck in several years . . . but I would say you should shoot for a half to two-thirds grown in early to mid-summer . . . Once skinned, get as much of the fat off the animal as possible.

As for cooking, you can cut the animal up just as you would cut up a squirrel if you intend to fry it . . . That would be two front legs, two back legs, and two or three pieces of the back.

I would look for any deposits of gray matter and remove them as you cut up the animal.

Fry some jowl bacon in your iron skillet (one with a top, if you have it). To the bacon fryings (take out the bacon), add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Dredge the pieces of 'chuck in flour and sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper.

Over medium heat--a mild sizzle--turn the pieces of meat with tongs until they are browned on all sides.

Turn down heat, 1/4 cup of wine and an equal amount of water, and cover the skillet to allow it to cook in steam for 15 or 20 minutes.

Remove cover, turn up heat and re-brown the meat, turning the pieces often.

This chuck should be tender, and if you make a big pan of milk gravy, you will have a main dish fit for a king . . . even a country boy.

The cavity of whole chucks can also be stuffed with the same sage stuffing you would use with your T-Day turkey, and baked until tender (legs will twist off easily when done). --Bayou Bill

Indiana Outdoors

Question: Bill, I was looking for a copy of your old book Indiana Outdoors: A Guide to Wild Crops, Hunting and Fishing.  I found the 1976 copy, but there was listed a 1980 copy with a different ISBN on it.  Is this the same book or is it just a mistake in the listing?  By the way, you should re-release this book.  I read it probably 3 - 4 times about 12 - 13 years ago and have never seen a copy of it since, but it was what really got me started in the outdoors.  Thanks a lot for passing on some of your knowledge! --JW

Answer: Hello, JW: Thanks for your note concerning my book, Indiana Outdoors. The only edition of that book was published in 1976 by the IU Press at Bloomington [first in a hardcover printing and then in a paperback printing--different ISBNs]. I did a later book, Bayou Bill's Best Stories, and it is still in print, but the Press has fewer than 200 copies now, I hear, and does not plan another edition. I have wanted to update Outdoor Indiana, but have been so busy I could not get to it. I am currently working on a cook book, Just Add Heat: Bayou Bill's Simple Little Cook Book, but it is a piece in the future, too . . . not enough hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the year, years in the . . . etc. 

You apparently have found my web page (www.bayoubill.com). That and my weekly columns for newspapers, magazines keep me hopping. Almost everything I write (and photograph) appears on my web page, including many of my recipes on wild game, fish and natural foods. 

I have whiteoak acorn meats in the oven now for testing . . . along with turkey wings. Turkey wings and drumsticks are the best part of the big bird, and the least expensive, although there is a lot of bone. I rub them with olive oil, dust with salt and pepper, stick 'em in an iron skillet covered in the oven at 350 degrees for 90 to 120 minutes (turning them occasionally) and think I am sitting on a throne. Wings are white meat, drums are dark, both are great snackin' and they help me stay relatively unfat (wish I could say slim). 

Thanks a bunch for your kind words about my first book. I am pleased to know that I had a hand (pen) in your outdoor fun. --Bayou Bill

Trapper Education

Question: Hello Bill:  I just found your website and I'm impressed! I have your outdoor Indiana book and I love it. I'm a trapper and hunter and fisherman but mostly a trapper! I have 4 kids from 12 down to 8 who trap with me. I just returned from the national trappers convention in Bloomington, Ind. There were about 6,000 people there. I'm also on the governing board of the Furtakers of America. I was wondering is if you would list the trapper education courses we hold around the state on your website? I’m a trapper ed instructor, and I was recently put in charge of the southern half of Indiana. The 2005 National trappers convention is going to be in Indiana also. The Indiana Trappers Associations convention is going to be at Peru, Ind., Sept. 19th and 20th. I live in Perry County near the town of Rome. Thanks for a great website and let me know about trapper ed . . .  --Chuck

Answer: Thanks, Chuck: For your kind words on my web site and books, and the job you are doing to help Hoosier youngsters learn about the values of trapping and fur-bearing animals . . . You can mortgage the old homestead and bet the proceeds that my web page will support your programs to enlighten our youngsters in matters related to technique and values of trapping as surely as mink enter tile drains looking for crawdads and frogs when all else is snowbound. It is a wonderful activity. --Bayou Bill


Question: Dear Mr. Scifres: My name is XXXXXX XXXXXXX and I am 45 yrs old. I have read your articles as long as I can remember, since I learned to read. Sometime in the mid to late 70's you published a book and I immediately purchased it at the next Renfros' Boat, Sport & Travel show in Indy. I'm not sure of the year but you were present.  The reason I'm emailing you is is it possible I could get my (early copy) of this book personally signed by you? If so, could you let me know the procedure? 

I have enjoyed this book many times and shared it with friends and family. I especially want to tell you I have a son who is an avid outdoorsman. I taught him the simple things in life and how to enjoy them. When he was old enough to read and comprehend one of the first outdoor books he read was yours. For that I thank you! He is now a dad himself for 2 years and it is most likely my granddaughter will enjoy and learn from your works. That makes "PAP" (me) very happy! 

So if you could let me know how to get my copy autographed by you I would appreciate it very much. --Your Outdoor Brother, Rev. D. P. 

Answer: Hello Rev. D.P. (a.k.a. Pap): Thank you very much for your kind words on my book. I am honored to have been a part of your outdoor pleasures and those of your son . . . Ladies are spending more and more time enjoying the outdoors, so we can hope your granddaughter will follow the footsteps of you and your son.

Getting one of my books signed is as easy as falling off a log backwards when you are crossing a river on a log. Just let me know when and where . . . I will be there . . . Signing books is one of the great joys of an author . . . mainly, I think, because the situation is a graphic indication that the principles in the scene are of the same ilk. –Bayou Bill

Cricket Trap

Question: I have a cricket in my house which is really bugging me. (No pun intended.) I know you don't like to kill bugs but can you suggest some way I can get rid of this cricket? --Rinkidink

Answer: Thanks very much for your e-mail reply to this week's column on "bug watching."  I can appreciate your desire for peace and quiet or the lack thereof .  . . the "chirp" of a cricket can be downright deafening at times. One of my old friends in Southern Indiana once complained that a cricket in his house would drown out his grandfather clock at midnight . . . Having never been present at midnight to hear it first hand, I thought that might be a big-cricket chirp tale.

Frankly, I don't think you need my blessing to dispatch this critter as humanely as possible. However, if you do this friendly little fellow in, you may miss him.

Let me suggest that you invest in a fine-mesh butterfly net with a handle three or four feet long . . . when the house is dark at night, try to get a fix on his (boy crickets are said to be the chirpers) location . . . get as close as you can and turn on the light and try to catch the culprit  . . . this could turn into some fine recreation . . . even a lasting friendship . . . depending upon the longevity of crickets, which I would doubt is Methuselahistic.

It has only been a couple of centuries since Ralph Waldo Emerson advanced the notion that if one builds a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to his door. The difference between the squeak of a mouse and the chirp of a cricket is only a few decibels . . . I would suggest dry cow pie for bait . . . crickets like to live under dry cow pies even better than in houses. Therefore, it would seem to me that a dry cow pie would be a "strong lure" in any old cricket trap.

However, should the lady of the house demur violently on your bringing a dried cow pie into the house, do not under any circumstances implicate me . . . I will steadfastly deny ever writing this note, and/or having any knowledge of dry cow pies, even though this is an area in which I have excelled while catching fish bait. --Bayou Bill 

Star of Bethlehem

Question/Comment:  Bill, I was looking at your site and saw that you found a Star of Bethlehem in your front yard. These are a beautiful flower but thought you might like to know that they can spread and take over your yard if you aren't careful. My backyard is full of them and when they bloom it is very pretty but they will eventually crowd out the grass around them. --Tom

Answer:  Thanks, Tom: I was so excited at finding this one (seeing it for the first time ever) that it seemed worth saving  . . . my lawn is a mess, anyhow (more weeds than grass) . . . nature’s misfits rule at our house. When we lived on a pond, I couldn't mow the grass until the little toads were safely gone . . . I don't know where they went . . . probably back in the pond or eaten by birds. Anyhow . . . thanks . . . I am happy to have your thoughts on the Star, and I am sure other readers will be glad to know of the possible consequences of befriending this plant.

Incidentally, I had an interesting experience with a nest of ants in my front yard this spring . . . This ant hill was very active and was making a bald spot more than a foot in diameter. I allowed the lawn mower to run over the nest for some time, but that didn’t spook the ants . . . So I poured on the grass seed and watered it a couple of times.The results: More grass . . . ants disappeared. --Bayou Bill 

How Do You Preserve Bait Minnows?

Question:  Found your site while I was searching for a way to preserve bait minnows. I did not find the answer on your site. Could you tell if there is a practical solution? --VH

Answer:  Hello, V: Thanks for your note on keeping minnows in good shape . . . it comes at a good time for two reasons: First, I had planned a column soon on "Getting The Bait Is Half The Fun Of Fishing." Secondly, with the hot part of summer ahead, keeping bait (especially minnows) alive can be a problem.

So here's a start. If you can arrange your minnow catching operation to coincide with early-morning and late-afternoon hours the task of keeping minnows alive is consierably easier. However, some minnow species are more susceptible to heat problems than others.

Generally, it is good, I think, to handle a minnow with a small (hand-size) cloth net rather than with the hands . . . if you pick them up with the hands, be sure your hands are wet.

I like the modern plastic minnow containers that float, but if the bait is to be transported from minnow-gathering site to fishing site the container should be floated (these containers float) in a clean five-gallon pail that is at least half full of water . . . Some ice cubes, or chips of ice, in the water will help in terms of offering some additional oxygen as well as lower water temperature. . . but not too much ice.

The little gadgets that pump oxygen into buckets and tanks of water are a good bet for transporting minnows, but when on the fishing grounds it is best to keep your bait (in the floating container) back in river or lake water . . . or change the water often in the larger container in which you will keep the bait.

Keeping minnows lively on the hook can also be a problem . . . I think hook size is important. I like wire hooks better than steel and I try to use smaller hooks with smaller minnows . . . I hook minnows under the dorsal fin or in the tail, avoiding the bones . . . however, minnows seem to stay lively when hooked through the eye openings . . . if hooked through the lips, I go in the lower lip (shallow) and out the upper . . . larger minnows seem to handle lip hooking better than smaller baits.

This is rather generalized info . . . if you have more specific questions, fire away . . . I'm always here. --Bayou Bill

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