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Ain’t February Grand?

By Larry Dablemont


At my corn feeder here on my wooded ridge-top, a pair of deer fed while it snowed, and in the cedars around it, there was a covey of quail, nine birds.  In the cedars, about 20 mourning doves sought shelter and fox and grey squirrels were gorging themselves.  Out on my Panther Creek ranch about 30 miles to the northwest, I have three corn feeders, which would be illegal if it weren’t something the Conservation Department hadn’t told me I could do in order to kill a pair of deer between now and March15. 

They want to test them for TSE (I refuse to call it CWD).  If the deer are not diseased, I will give the venison to a family of seven that needs the meat, and that is the only way I would be agreeable to this.  It might ordinarily be strange to be hunting deer in February but with all the cold and snow this year, it isn’t as weird as it normally would be, when I might be making a trip to the White River to fish for post-spawn brown trout or fishing some local lake tributaries for pre-spawn walleye.

But if I can get out in the outdoors where I can be alone and not see or hear any people I am happy, regardless of what I am doing.  One of my late winter hobbies is exploring caves along the river I grew up on.  I am not so much interested in going back into the depths of such caves, but looking for signs of those bluff dwellers from an age gone by, or finding the artifacts of early Ozarkian settlers, left behind.

In a cave not far from the river which has a little creek flowing out of it, I found an old washtub a couple of years ago with holes punched in the sides of it, down the slope along the creek. What a thrill it was to realize I had found one of my grandfather’s live bait containers from my boyhood.  I could remember seeing that old washtub hanging on a nail behind his little cabin.  He used it to keep trotline bait alive in the spring, summer and fall. 

He would camp in the cave and catch chubs and sunfish from the creek, and put them in the tub with a screen cover over it.  Then he would take the bait out when he needed it for his trotlines.  With them he would catch big flathead catfish, which he also kept alive in a small inescapable pool in that creek.  It was one of his favorite places, and he might stay in that cave for several days, until he felt he had caught the biggest flathead in that eddy, up to 35 or 40 pounds.

I found a rusty old pistol frame in front of one such cave, no cylinder in it.  I would give a lot to know its history.  My grandfather never carried a pistol, ever.  He considered them useless.  A double-barreled shotgun or light .22 rifle was with him on all trips, and you can bet he never left much behind, except something like that old tub.

Most of today’s woods-walkers… probably 90 percent, will not be found in the deep wilderness where no trodden trails are found.  But places where you can follow a game trail fascinate me.  And I am absolutely ecstatic when I find a cave, because of the unknown history it holds.  Some that grandpa showed me are so hard to find you never see a human foot print in them.

I won’t enjoy hunting deer in the next week or so over a pile of corn.  When the weather warms, I will likely be doing something else. It is coming soon, the first buds of spring, migrating blue-winged teal, a little bit of warming below the shoals drawing fish from perhaps miles down the lake. It is something when you can walk out on your back porch in early March and hear a roosting Tom turkey gobble at the approaching sunlight in the east.  Once, from my porch you might hear 6 or 8.  Last year I never heard more than 2 on any morning.  I haven’t seen any at my feeder but my daughter gave me some encouragement when a month or so ago she saw 6 or 7 turkeys in the woods down below my home, but they were all hens and young of last year.  There were no gobblers.

That is worrisome, because you could regularly see 25 or 30 turkeys down in the woods here only 8 or 10 years ago.  Something bad is happening to wild turkeys in many many areas of the Midwest.  I am not looking forward to a spring with wild gobblers sounding off in all directions, there just aren’t that many now.  But I will be out there anyway… as I said, I find a peace and contentment far from the crowds that is just as good today as it was years and years ago.  Maybe more so now than ever, knowing there are not as many such days left as we all get older.

It is cold here today and a good day to build a nice fire in the fireplace and work on a book I am trying to finish.  But winter beckons too; different than any other time of the year for what an outdoorsman can do and see.  You can’t say it isn’t a good time.  Today is a day that the Lord has made… rejoice and be glad in it, if you have some warm boots and a heavy coat, gloves and fur-lined hat.

On Saturday the 23rd of February I will be speaking at a wild game banquet at the First Baptist Church in Newport Arkansas.  Church officials wanted me to tell readers that all are invited.

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