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October Memories

Ain’t October wonderful! It’s the best month of the year for fishing and hunting, except maybe for November and April, and possibly May and December. I once spent most of October in Canada, fishing for walleye, crappie and smallmouth, and hunting fruffed grouse and ducks and geese.

We would start on the Lake of the Woods in northwest Ontario and then move over into Manitoba’s prairie pothole country where ducks and geese numbered in the millions.  One October evening I caught a ten-pound walleye in Manitoba’s Red River after hunting geese all morning.

I recall a time in deep woods around Lake of the Woods when I shot a limit of four grouse late in the evening after catching two four-pound smallmouth out in the far reaches of that beautiful lake, and a limit of crappie and walleye before noon. That was three decades ago… in October.

That evening way back in the bush, a big beautiful grey timber wolf eyed up my Labrador and I from a gentle rise ahead of us, on a little-used wilderness trail.  Old Rambunctious and I covered more ground that evening than usual getting back to my pickup, miles away, and there wasn’t a hair on the neck of either one of us that wasn’t standing straight up.  You have no idea how big a timber wolf looks at dusk in the wilderness, pondering Labrador for dinner.

Several years back I got to spend the best of October in the mountains of Colorado, where I killed a bull elk.  We were camped so high and so deep in the Rockies that I felt like a Blackfoot Indian might be looking over my shoulder.  There might be a writer somewhere that could describe the lonely beauty of that distant peak, but I can’t.

A writer has to describe the way a place feels as much as how it looks.  You have to feel the way aspen leaves float down to the ground in a shower of yellow rain when there isn’t even a breeze.  You have to feel the first light of day where you are ten or eleven thousand feet closer to God, and feel the sound of a bull elk bugling in a stand of green fir trees along a cold mountain ridge above you.  It isn’t something you just entirely hear and see.

The sight and sound of ringneck ducks across your decoys in a little bay of wild rice, growing from dark water in the back of a Canadian bay, the sight and sound of a thousand geese on the horizon, winging low over a Manitoba cropfield, the sight and sound of a huge northern pike coming up from the edge of his lily pad domain to smash a topwater lure…   that’s something you also feel, and I wish I could pass on the feeling, because it is addictive.  It is something October is responsible for.  I don’t know where I would rather be.  I’d also like to go one more time to the Sand Hills of Nebraska and see those old ranchers where we once hunted ducks in little potholes where green reeds towered over your head, and there were widgeon and gadwall and teal and mallards and redheads, all in the last stages of summer plumage.  We stood out there in the reeds up to our waist on solid sand, and never, ever felt a soft mud bottom.

We’d put little leather boots on our Labradors about noon and head out into those Sand Hills to hunt prairie chickens and sharptail grouse, and from a distance it looked like there wasn’t enough cover there to hide a cottontail. But in those colored sand hills there was a hodgepodge of cactus and prairie grasses and little crevices filled with multi-colored shrubs and bushes.  There you found an occasional antelope and jackrabbits and mule deer as well as the flocks of grouse and chickens. What great beauty there was in that harsh land in October where nothing grew more than six feet high.  And believe me, I can still feel those little cactus balls, and I can still taste that sweet water at the lowland windmills, when the sand hill winds had you so dry you’d just about drink from a mudhole.

I long to be there in those sand hills again, but I know it is never to be. So this year, I guess I’ll go float an Ozark river and be just as happy.  As time goes on a man learns it is no longer yesterday, and he can’t make his legs do what they once did.  And why should they. The Ozark ridges and rivers are just as colorful and beckoning to me as anywhere else.

I could break out my old bow to see if I might be able to bring down a deer on the back of my place, where there are some persimmons and white oak acorns to attract them. But this year I will take my camera instead of my bow, and shoot everything I see.  Lord I love this camera and what it gives me to forever remember and pass on to others.

I will sit there in that tree stand waiting for a deer and I get to feeling those far-away places, every time I close my eyes.  How wonderful it was. Maybe next year I can afford the gas   to go to Canada again.  I can always paddle a canoe even if I can’t climb mountains as easily as I once did. But the Ozarks is a wonderful place in October too, if you get far enough away.  And in these October days, I know some great far-away places where no one will be, but me.

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