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Milt’s First Turkey

March 28, 2007

By A. Sayward Lamb

Before the spring turkey-hunting season opened in Maine, I talked with Milt Inman. We agreed we would try to go turkey hunting together. This year (2004) both of us had our names drawn in the turkey lottery. My name was drawn for the “A” season, which means I could harvest a turkey during the first and fourth weeks of May, as well as the first week of June. Milt had the “B” season, which allowed him to harvest a turkey during the second and third weeks of May and the first week of June. Each of us was entitled to do the calling for the other person, so we planned to find time sometime during the season to do this.

Milt called me one day and said it would be awhile before we could go because he had an eye infection that prevented him from going hunting. He told me he had only been once, but he hoped to go again before the season was over. Several days later Milt contacted me and said he was ready to try hunting and invited me to go along to do the calling for him. We decided to go on Friday, May 21st. I told Milt I would be down to his house about four A.M. because I like to have the decoys set out and be in place well before daylight. I arrived at Milt’s house about ten minutes of four and found Milt was about ready. In a few minutes we had packed his shotgun, our decoys, a lunch and other gear into the back of his pickup and headed out.

We had a few miles to drive before we arrived at our chosen hunting area and after a short walk from where we parked the pickup, we were setting out our decoys and got settled in, ready to wait for the gobblers to start calling. On my way down to Milt’s house I realized I had forgotten to bring my hearing aid but I didn’t feel I had time to go back home and get it. I figured I could hear them gobble, if they were near enough, and also Milt’s hearing, while impaired, is still a whole lot better than mine.

We had been waiting for about a half-hour when Milt said to me, “Do you hear them gobbling?” As it happened they were near enough so that I did to hear the turkeys. We figured they were still on their roost. The birds seemed to be behind us, back in the woods from where we were sitting. We had been sitting behind a stone wall, looking out into the field where our decoys were placed. Now that we knew where the turkeys were located, we changed our locations. I stayed near the stonewall, only faced in the opposite direction, while Milt took up a station about twenty yards out in front, and slightly to the left of where I was sitting. When the turkeys would gobble, Milt would either look my way, or nod his head, and in this way I knew he heard a turkey gobble. When he did this I would use my box call and call back to the birds. This went on for more than an hour, with the Toms moving closer our way, but never close enough for us to get sight of them. Eventually, they moved farther away. As it turned out, we never were able to entice those Toms to come within shooting distance, so we eventually decided it was wasted time to stay there. We picked up our decoys and a short time later we did see a pretty good-sized Tom feeding in front of a house. He was about two hundred yards from where we had been waiting for them.

We decided to drive to another place and try our luck in new territory. By this time it was nearly 7:30 A.M., so we didn’t bother to take our decoys. We donned our facemasks and gloves, then Milt grabbed his shotgun, while I checked to be sure I had my two hen calls and the box call with me. In a short time we were looking over some fields, but at first saw nothing. I climbed up to the top of a knoll and looking down the hill I saw a fair sized gobbler standing perfectly still, about two hundred yards away. He apparently had spotted my movement and was frozen in place. I looked behind me and noted that Milt was heading my way. When he approached, I moved back and told him to look through my field glasses and see the turkey down over the hill. All this time that turkey never moved. He stood so still, in fact, that I began to wonder if it was a decoy. After Milt looked with the field glasses, we moved back out of sight to decide our next moves.

My suggestion was for us to move closer, where we would conceal ourselves and I would use my hen call and in that way perhaps we could entice that gobbler to move nearer. I found a good place to hide down behind a rock and a small evergreen tree, while Milt moved into the woods to keep concealed while he moved downhill to get even closer to the gobbler. I made a couple of calls, a few minutes apart, but saw nothing of the Tom. I was about ready to call again when I saw the Tom strutting and displaying out in the field. In a few minutes I called with the hen call again, and this time the Tom responded by gobbling back. He became more excited and soon he was not only displaying and strutting, but he did what I call his “mating dance” by making his feet stomp up and down very fast, while pivoting back and forth, and all the while remaining puffed out in full display.

About the time this was happening I noticed a hen turkey as she came flying into the field. Soon after the hen landed, she began to head up the hill in our direction. The Tom had spotted her and soon he was following a short distance behind her. They were out of shooting range, as well as out of our line of sight. I waited for a short time, but they did not appear, so I called quietly with the hen call once again. Soon I saw the hen go walking up the hill past me in a diagonal direction. I decided to crawl back into the woods a short distance to get more concealment. I had not been there only part of a minute when I saw the Tom, who now walked past, no more than ten yards from where I had been hiding, and now he was not over twenty yards from me, as he continued down the hill. Milt was only a few feet from me, so I motioned for him to get ready. He just stood there, so I said to Milt, “Shoot! Shoot!” Milt looked at me quizzically and never moved. I walked down beside him and asked: “Didn’t you seen that Tom?” Milt inquired, “Where?” Then I told him about that Tom moving by only about twenty yards away. Milt said, “Sorry, I didn’t see him.”

As I said before, I had previously seen the hen moving uphill, so I figured we had better take a circular route out through the woods to avoid being detected by the turkeys. I felt the Tom would soon be following along behind the hen that he was interested in. Milt and I headed out through the woods, and soon we were approaching another opening where we could look out to see where the turkeys had gone. Our timing was good, because I saw the Tom just cresting the top of the knoll. Milt was slightly behind me, so I motioned for him to follow another route through the woods to get ahead of the turkeys. We hurriedly headed up the hill and soon we came to a place where we could see out into the field. I was astonished to see a hen turkey standing on the top of a rock. She was about four feet above the ground, with her head stretched out, staring at us. There was no doubt that she had seen our movements. We froze in place and then I noticed three jakes standing right beside the rock. They all had their necks stretched up, looking our way. I knew those birds had also seen our movements, but I was glad we were fully camouflaged to help minimize our movements. The turkeys were about thirty yards from us, and I glanced at Milt, expecting to see him getting ready to shoot. He was only standing in place with his shotgun off from his shoulder. I quickly motioned to the turkeys and said: “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” Milt said, “I can’t shoot that hen!” It was apparent he was only looking at the hen turkey on the top of the rock and never noticed those jakes. By this time, which was actually only a few seconds, the turkeys must have heard me and they quickly disappeared down over a slight knoll. Milt and I moved out into the opening. I was slightly ahead of him, so I peeked over the top of the knoll, and be-darned if I didn’t see the Toms still standing on the other side of a small ravine. The hen turkey was nowhere to be seen. Again I moved back and motioned to Milt to let him know the turkeys were still in sight. I would estimate they were at least forty-five yards away. My thoughts at the time were that if Milt was ever going to shoot he had better be doing it soon! I was surprised to see Milt standing still looking towards where the turkeys were standing with his gun being held across in front of him. So again I said, “ Shoot! Shoot!” With those words Milt brought the shotgun to his shoulder, took aim, and fired.

One of the turkeys dropped to the ground with it wings flapping. I urged Milt to shoot his wounded bird because it was moving but was unable to run off. Milt told me later that he couldn’t see it. Another jake, that had been standing nearby to the right of the turkey that Milt shot, all of a sudden flew straight up into the air about eight feet. It came back down and then repeated that performance three more times before it finally ran off into the woods. I had kept close eye of the turkey that Milt shot and headed directly for it. Once I arrived up to the bird, I stepped on its neck, because it was still flapping its wings. I glanced around to see where Milt was, and was surprised to see he had walked up to the top of a knoll about twenty five yards to my left. Being curious, I inquired, “What are you doing over there?” Milt answered, “I’m looking for that bird that flew up into the trees over here. He crashed into a tree and down he came to the ground. He was getting tangled up in the brush and there was no room for him to fly. He did that about three times before he disappeared down over the bank.” Then I said, “Geez Milt, I’m standing on the bird that you shot!” All Milt said was, “Really?” Soon Milt came over and I congratulated him on getting his first turkey!

Later Milt said that the two of us were like “The deaf leading the blind”. He could hear them and I could see them. Whatever the case, we made a matched pair that carried out a successful hunt. It was a fun time for both of us, and no doubt, one that we will always remember.

North Texas Success

March 27, 2007

By Chris Cobbett

 

Northwoods Adventures TV

 

Sometimes I think Texas gets a bad rap. So many people assimilate Texas with the small bodied high fence deer of the southern part of the state. Those people are overlooking one of the best sleeper hunts in the nation. Myself, Nate and two of our friends Devon and Chris packed up last week and headed just north of Amarillo to hunt with Skillet Creek Outfitters. The owners Frank Sparling and James McClellan are great pals of ours and come up every year to chase fall bear. I discovers this jem a few years back and have been hooked ever since. The guys only take a few people a year, they don’t charge trophy fees (shoot the biggest badest mother you can find), and they are affordable at 1800 for a 4 day hunt meals and lodging included.

 

Day 1
Well as with any adventure there are bumps in the road. Due to bad weather and the airline being run by not smart people, we had made it to Amarillo by morning (cool pun), but our luggage (guns included) was touring the country looking for us. Never to waste a hunt, we begged and borrowed some rifles from the locals. The first morning proved fruitful for everybody but me. Nate saw 5 shooter bucks, but all out a bit further than
he wanted to shoot with an unfamiliar gun. Devon saw two 8 points and several does, Chris Calais shot a 250lb hog, and I saw nada.

That night was about the same. We all saw deer and some nice bucks in the mix, but we were reserved about shooting without our own guns.

Day 2
With our luggage back and guns in hand things were looking up. This day got started right off the bat. I got settled into the same morning spot as day one. James was sure the big boy would cruise by. As the sun started
coming up I noticed moment in the treeline about 140 yards out. I was in a cut wheat field and facing where the deer were. Two deer came out and it took only seconds to figure out it was a shooter. As soon as James said he had it on camera I let the Howa .300 win mag bark.

We loaded up the deer and headed to breakfast. Frank’s truck was outside and I noticed a huge buck in the back. Chris Calais had smoke a bruiser just after sun up as he tried to skirt though a creek bottom.

Nate and Devon had also seen some bucks but nothing close enough to shoot. That night I sat with Nate, we saw lots of deer but no shooters. Frank set the scouting cam before we left to see what would come during the night.

Day 3
The action was hot as soon as you could see. Devon and his new cameramen (Mr. Tagged out Calais) were in the deer from the word go. 9 does and one 8 point gave chase all morning but Devon elected to hold out for something a bit bigger. Nate and I were covered up in deer. However, we only saw one shooter and the encounter was over before it got started.

That night Devon and Chris were once again covered in bucks and does chasing all over the place. A slightly larger buck made and appearance and it did not take the guys long to capitalize. Devon fired and the deer was
dead before he hit the dirt.

As for Nate and I…… Well at 10 minutes to go on the game clock, here comes Mr. Big from the last night’s scouting cam photos. This 150 class El Whopper come down the hill side and is on a course to give us a 100 yard shot. I was rolling some great footage and Nate was locked in. If it sounds too good….. it was. At the last minute the deer got spooked by something and bolts for the hill. He stopped briefly at 240 yards and Nate
took a swing. The shot was high and the deer kept chugging. One more quick shot at 270 (also high) and the deer of a lifetime was gone. That night we all felt the lose of a missed opportunity. We have all been there and know how low it can be.

Day 4
Chris and Devon were left at camp this morning (bad idea) and we forgot to take their bullets. Unfortunately for them, a group of Rio Turkeys cam by camp. They are in season and can be shot with a rifle in Texas. Well you
guessed it, ole “whack and stack” chased um down.

Nate was still in the slumps. So when he noticed a group of wild hogs coming our way, I gave him the thumbs up to get back on the saddle and shoot one. It took about a milli second and he was gun up. The ham on legs
got to about 100 yards and caught our wind. Porky scrambled and Nate busted him up on the run at 240 yards. His spirit was lifted and the hunt for big bucks was back on.

That night we split up. Frank went with Nate to stalk draws and hunt for ole mossy. I “got” stuck guiding Armada (Frank’s wife). I know it is rough, but I am a team player and just trying to help out (insert sarcasm
here). Armada is a deer slayer. Her last buck score 156 and some change. Aside from being funny, and a hoot in the blind, she is a serious hunter and can drop the hammer when the pressure is on. Armada and I sat a piece of land I knew well from hunting with Frank in the past. We got set up on the high ground and spent most of the afternoon glassing the draw and a island of trees in the middle. with about 45 minute till dark, I noticed 2 does come from the island and work through the draw. I ran some tape and went back to glassing. I could see a bit better where I was, as I had poor Armada stuffed behind a big yucca bush. About 10 minutes later I saw a huge body coming from the island. The deer picked up its head and I just about had to change my diaper. The monster walked around for about 10 minutes and I rolled some of the best footage I have ever got. The deer was making scrapes and lip curling checking for hot does. What an experience. I told Armada to get ready, a shooter was coming. After a bit of confusion, we got our act straight and she got off a shot. The buck did a nose dive and only went a short way. The deer was the talk of the town that night and rough scores about 155.

 

The Green Mountain Buck

March 27, 2007

By Scott Seekins

It all started at 5:00 a.m.Thursday morning November 9th 2006. I stopped into Indian lake market to get a coffee. I got to my brothers house and I headed down to the tree stand with coffee in hand. It was still quite dark because it was a rainy, overcast day.


The first thing that happened to me was that I couldn’t find the tree stand. I had walked about 60 to 70 yards beyond it and had to turn around to find it. I found it after about 5 minutes and climbed up and got the seat dried off. I sat down and moved my gun to get ready and when I did, I knocked the 20 oz. coffee off of the stand and onto the ground. I thought to myself; what else is going to go wrong? And with the scent of the coffee in the air, what would come to the stand now? But I stayed there anyway.

 

I waited about 15 to 20 minutes and grunted with my grunt call; three short grunts. Then, about 15 minutes, two more short grunts, and in just a short amount of time, I saw movement in the fur thickets in front of me. Sure enough, it was a deer. He brought his head and neck out from behind the jack furs, and was swinging his head back and forth, as if he was looking for a fight. All of a sudden, he reared up and started sniffing the air. I couldn’t wait any longer, I had to shoot; he was getting ready to run. I fired the shot and he went down right where he was standing. It was over. I had shot my first buck in 32 years of hunting, and it was a nice one. A 190 lb, 12 point non-typical, 10 point typical.

 

The coffee was our blend; Green Mountain Coffee. Now you know why it’s called the Green Mountain Buck.


I can’t end this story with making mention of the people who I feel were instrumental in my success that morning: My dad and my brothers, for their placement of the tree stand, based upon their knowledge of how deer travel.


The other two individuals are registered Maine guides, both native to this great state. The first is Kevin Dunham, who is also owner and operator of Indian Lake Market in St. Albans, where I live. The other is Lee Schanz, Jr, who endorses the grunt call that I use. This wasn’t a guided hunt, but Kevin, just a few days prior, gave me instructions on how to call with the grunt call. Lee, whom I have known for years, has shared the stories of his successful hunts, and as I said, I was using the grunt that he endorses. I believe that it was because of these individuals that I was successful in harvesting this great deer, and I would recommend them to anyone looking for a guided hunt.

 

I would also like to thank Green Mountain Coffee. It was their coffee that played a part in one of the greatest days in my life.

 

Going Fishing

March 25, 2007

By A. Sayward Lamb
A. Sayward Lamb is an outdoor writer and published author. He writes for U.S. Hunting Today and Maine Fishing Today.

When it comes to fishing, the choice is yours. There are so many ways to enjoy fishing that we all have to make the decisions of where, when, and how, we are going to fish. I started fishing over seventy years ago when I was a young boy. We lived in a rural Maine community where the Little Androscoggin River flowed through town, only a short distance from Main Street. This also happened to be within view of where I lived, so it was easy to get there in only a few minutes.

Several boys from the neighborhood, including my brothers, and myself, spent many happy hours throughout the summer fishing for whatever we could catch in the river, including suckers, shiners, chubs, and once in awhile, we might even hook onto a trout. Sometimes when several of us were fishing together, we would catch many suckers and save them in pails to take to a blind man by the name of Kasper Pulkkinen. He was a farmer of Finnish extraction and would gladly accept all the suckers we caught so that he could salt them down and store them in containers for future consumption. I remember that he always wore a bandana that was rolled up and placed over his eyes and held in place with a knot tied behind his head. We were amazed at his dexterity as he cleaned the fish by himself and we would spend time talking with him and watched intently as he prepared them for salting down.

As I got older, I sometimes went fishing with my father at Sawyer Brook in Andover, Maine. At that time there was no bridge across the Androscoggin River at Rumford Point, so we had to take a ferry ride to get across the river. The ferry ride was a treat for me and I was amazed at the simplicity of the locomotion that propelled the ferry from one side of the river to the other. There was a cable that stretched across the river several feet above the water and at each end of the ferry were ropes and pulleys that attached to the cable. These were adjustable, so in order to cross, the ferry was angled slightly perpendicular to the current and the force of the water flowing against the side of the ferry caused it to move slowly across the river. If I remember correctly, the ferry was basically a flat floating raft large enough to accommodate a couple of vehicles; passengers had to stand, holding on to the railings. After ferrying across the river, we had to drive a few more miles to a point north of Andover, before we started fishing.

I looked forward to hiking upstream along the brook until we reached some quiet water, with large pools that were crystal clear. We had to use extreme care when approaching those pools. They were often full of nice fat trout, and if we managed to sneak up closely without shaking the embankment, and drop our worm-baited hook into the pool, the trout would bite very quickly. If we hurriedly approached the brook, the trout would feel the vibrations of our approach, and hide underneath the overhanging banking. When that happened, we had to wait quietly for several minutes to let things quiet down before dropping our fishing lines into the brook to begin fishing.

I never had such a thing as a fishing pole when I was young. I would cut a fairly straight small sapling long enough to use and tie on as much fishing line as I needed. Then I would wind the line around the tip of the pole for storage. When I got ready to fish I usually unwound enough line to equal the length of the pole that I fished with. I usually had a small metallic spinner and a sinker to place ahead of the hook. It was all I needed to go brook fishing. One year, my father invited a friend, Jim White, to go fishing at Sawyer Brook with him. I was talking with Jim prior to the trip and he happened to ask me what I was going to use to fish with? I told him I would take some fishing line, hooks, and sinkers, with me and cut a sapling to use for a fishing pole when I got there. Jim worked in a local woodworking mill, but he also sold fishing equipment from his home. He invited me to go up to his house with him because he said he might have a fishing pole I could use. Once we got to his house he gave me a steel telescoping fishing rod, a small fishing reel, some spinners, along with line, and sinkers. Talk about being an excited and happy boy! I never imagined he would be so kind to me. Jim was my hero and friend forever! I could hardly wait to get up to Sawyer Brook and try out my new fishing outfit. We always dug plenty of angleworms to take on these trips. The limit on brook trout at that time was twenty-five trout per person, with a minimum length of six inches. Of course, we never caught all the fish that bit the hook, and the smaller trout were “bait robbers”, so we took lots of worms on every fishing trip. Many of the neighbors had chicken or cattle, so we would go dig near their manure piles and found plenty of worms without too much effort. If I remember correctly, we most always came home with our limit of brook trout and we looked forward to having our mother fry up a good feed of brook trout fried to a golden brown. With eight of us in the family, they didn’t last long around our house.

We didn’t always have to ride several miles to go fishing, because all of us youngsters knew of several small nearby streams that had brook trout in them. I remember how anxious we would get in the spring of the year when the snow melted and the weather warmed. One of the old sayings that I heard from older fishermen was to wait for two things to enjoy good trout fishing. One was to wait for the leaf buds on the trees to be as big as a mouse’s ears, and the other was to wait until the black flies started biting. When these events happened it was time to go catch a mess of brook trout.

During the summer months, some of us would sometimes walk five miles from West Paris, to Greenwood City, to go fishing for pickerel at Hicks Pond. There was a hermit, by the name of Benjamin “Benny” Wells, who lived adjacent to the pond in a small camp. He happened to have a flat bottomed row boat that we could rent. We didn’t have any money to pay Benny, but he was willing to barter for food in exchange for the boat rental. Our father managed a grocery store, so we had access to items, such as moldy bread and over-ripe fruits and vegetables. Benny was a bit eccentric but still an interesting character who wasn’t too fussy when it came to his diet. He gladly accepted the food we offered for use of his boat, so we could enjoy fishing on Hicks Pond. Of course we had no outboard motor, so we either had to row the boat or still fish over the side of the boat

As I grew older, I was able to ride with my oldest brother, in his automobile, when we went fishing. Every spring we would go smelting in streams that ran into many of the several ponds and lakes that exist in the area. Smelts are an anadromous fish that run upstream from ponds and lakes to spawn in the streams soon after the ice goes out. Nets are usually used to dip them. They generally do not move upstream until after dark, so this means going smelting can mean getting home at a reasonable time, if the smelts run good. If not, then it sometimes means being out searching the brooks for those small fish until the wee hours of the morning. When I first started smelting the limit was four quarts per day per person. Now it is only two quarts per day per person. By the time I was in high school, World War II was on and gasoline and tires were rationed. Very few high school students were able to own their own automobiles, so we spent a lot of time walking to our fishing destinations, which naturally were quite close to home. Still, our fishing was fun, because our ponds and lakes held a great variety of fish. The cold water bodies of water held Trout; Lake Trout (Togue); Smelts; Whitefish; etc. The warm water lakes and ponds held Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass; Pickerel; Hornpout; White Perch; Yellow Perch; Suckers; Shiners; etc. If I was lucky enough to be invited to go fishing with someone who owned a boat, I was very appreciative. My father owned a Rangeley boat and once or twice a year he would take some of us boys to fish for Salmon on Rangeley Lake. The boat trailer was custom made and could be used as a regular box trailer or converted to hold the boat, which was transported right side up. If the weather was good, he would let a couple of us boys ride in the boat by sitting in the bottom, all the way to Rangeley. He did not own an outboard motor, so we all had to help by taking our turns rowing the boat, while we trolled our worms and spinners up and down the lake. Several years after I was married, I began to get interested in woodworking and my first attempt at woodworking began in the mid 1950′s when my wife and I purchased a camp lot on North Pond in Woodstock, Maine and I built us a camp. After that I decided I needed a boat, so I built a flat bottom rowboat out of wide pine boards for the sides, and used marine plywood for the bottom. I used that boat for fishing, and powered it with a 5 HP outboard motor. A few years later I sold the boat and purchased a “V” bottom aluminum boat and upgraded to a 9.9 HP outboard and a boat trailer. This broadened my fishing territories and ever since then I have enjoyed fishing many waters in Maine.

I enjoy all types of fishing, such as still fishing, trolling with spoons and other lures, and even “togue” fishing, which usually requires heavy sinkers and lead line. These were necessary in order to reach near the bottom of lakes where togues are usually found. As I grew older I broadened by woodworking and became interested in constructing myself a canoe. Ernest “Skip” Morris, formerly of Greenwood City, taught me how to build canoes in the traditional manner, using rib and plank construction. This entailed steaming the cedar ribs and planking and tacking it together with thousands of copper tacks (with each of them individually headed over) and covering the outside with some type of fabric and completed by applying a painted or varnished finish. I built a few canoes this way and later purchased an excellent book, written by Gil Gilpatrick that clearly shows how to build several designs of cedar strip canoes. I found this a much easier method of canoe construction because it entailed using narrow cedar strips that were formed over a special form. Then the outside and inside of the canoe is covered with fiberglass cloth and resin, making it a very pretty, strong, and durable canoe.

I built several of these craft and kept three different designs of canoes for my own personal use. One is a whitewater canoe, the second is a flat water canoe and the third is a “puddle jumper.” By this time I had already become “hooked” on fly fishing and this is one of the reasons I built three different types of canoes to use for specific purposes. I went to night school and learned how to cane the canoe seats and “Skip” Morris also taught me how to hand hew my own ash canoe paddles. I also learned how to tie my own flies, so now I get real satisfaction when I go out fishing and catch fish, using my own flies and other equipment that I have made. My favorite of the three canoes is the ten and a half foot “puddle jumper”, because it is light enough to be carried back into remote ponds, where access is only by foot power and can be done alone. Originally I made only one seat, but found that even though conditions are cramped, two persons can fish from it. Most of these remote ponds are restricted to fly fishing, so when two of us are casting flies, timing is of the essence, to prevent tangled fly lines. Many times I have strapped my canoe paddle and fly rod to the inside of the canoe, and then packed my knapsack with trout flies, folding landing net and lunch. With the pack on my back and the small canoe on my shoulders, I have hiked in to some remote pond to enjoy the solitude and quietness of a day of fly fishing. Someone once told me that trout only live in beautiful places. I have found this to be very true. All of us have our favorite places to fish and return to these places as often as we can to enjoy them for each of our own personal reasons. It may be for the good fishing, viewing wildlife, listening to the ripple of the water, or the wind blowing through the trees; maybe a beautiful sunset or sunrise. Whatever it is it will always remain your own personal favorite and very special fishing spot

I have caught my share of fish over the years and have been fortunate to have lived in the State of Maine where I have had the opportunity to fish for a great variety of fish, all the way from the rockbound coast, to many remote and undeveloped inland areas. I like to tell folks that I am a country boy and had much rather be fishing in the north Maine Woods than being confined in some big city. I have taken trips to Alaska and Canada, where I enjoyed excellent fishing. Many of these fishing experiences are being compiled in a manuscript that I hope to publish very soon. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy fishing with my friends, my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The memories of these wonderful experiences will remain with me for the rest of my lifetime. Remember, you will never get into much trouble when you tell someone that you are “Going fishing”!

By A. Sayward Lamb

Smelting

March 25, 2007

By A. Sayward Lamb

A. Sayward Lamb is an outdoor writer and published author. He writes for U.S. Hunting Today and Maine Fishing Today.

When I think of spring I think of smelting, because it is a ritual that I have participated in since I was a boy. I cannot remember when I did not go smelting, so I must have started at a very young age. Smelts are a small, anadromous fish, which travel in schools, and are found in both fresh and salt water. The spawning runs for salt-water smelts generally occur during the late winter along the coastal bays and tidal rivers. Fresh water smelts generally begin to make their spawning runs about the time the ice breaks away from the shorelines of inland waters, and can last from a few days in small bodies of water, to as long as two weeks or more in large inland lakes.

When I think of spring I think of smelting, because it is a ritual that I have participated in since I was a boy. I cannot remember when I did not go smelting, so I must have started at a very young age. Smelts are a small, anadromous fish, which travel in schools, and are found in both fresh and salt water. The spawning runs for salt-water smelts generally occur during the late winter along the coastal bays and tidal rivers. Fresh water smelts generally begin to make their spawning runs about the time the ice breaks away from the shorelines of inland waters, and can last from a few days in small bodies of water, to as long as two weeks or more in large inland lakes.

Smelting has been a family tradition of mine for many years. I have heard my father and uncle tell me that when they were young men in high school they would hitch up their father’s work horse to a two wheeled dump cart and then go down to smelt in Rangeley Lake, not too far from where they lived. Often times others would help them fill the small cart body with smelts. The following day they would drive all over town giving smelts to anyone that wanted them. Of course in those days, (during World War I) they told me they did not recall that there were any bag limits on smelts, so they always took what they wanted, but they were taught not to waste them. That is why they always went around town giving them away. When I first started smelting the bag limit was four quarts per person, per day. Now it is two quarts, per person, per day. As far as I can find out, there is no bag limit on taking salt water smelts on hand lines while fishing through the ice on tidal waters. I believe the limit on saltwater smelts is two quarts when fishing tidal waters during open water season.

Smelting can mean going fishing from late afternoon until well into the wee hours of the morning. How long the night will be depends upon several factors. Smelts run upstream from ponds and lakes, into inlet rivers and streams, in search of sandy or gravely bottoms that will serve as suitable spawning areas for the females to deposit their eggs, while the males fertilize them with milt. Smelting also means you have to play the “waiting game”, because smelts often do not run until after dark. Most smelters plan to arrive early enough to select a good spot, especially if it is a place where large crowds gather, and most prefer to use dip nets or swing nets to make their catches. Sometimes, in shallows, where smelts move upstream over rapids and gather in small pockets, using your hands can be productive if you can stand the cold water. If the crowds are orderly, most people will wait until the smelts have run upstream in sufficient numbers so that everyone will have an opportunity to get enough smelts for a meal, and better yet, get their two quart limit.

Many changes have been made in both regulations and methods, since I was a youngster. Back in my earlier years, the limit of smelts was four quarts per person per day. Lights were seldom used, other than an occasional use of flashlights to check to see if the smelts were running. At that time, most people felt the beam from flashlights would make the smelts stop running, which was often the case. So, when people waited for the smelts to run, they frequently stood in the darkness until smelts moved upstream in sufficient numbers and then it was time to start dipping them with their nets. Most streams run very high in the spring with icy cold waters from melting snow. A lot of people fish from shore, while others dress their feet with warm stockings and use hip boots or chest waders, in order to stand out in the cold water. Dipping was done by swinging the nets “with the flow”, starting upstream and moving the net rapidly downstream, near bottom, in order to catch the smelts. Often times they would make a swing with their nets and immediately repeat the process. This would continue until each person had enough smelts in the net to make it worthwhile. Some used small pails or some other convenient container to hold the fish. Some even kept their pails on shore and would swing their nets to a fellow fisherman waiting to empty the smelts into the containers. I always found it handier to have a gallon pail held around my waist with a rope or belt. That way I didn’t have to take the time to chase my pail or take a chance of losing my chosen spot while going ashore to remove my smelts from the net.

I can remember when it was dangerous to even carry a propane lantern close to the water and allow it to shine into the water. There was always someone who would holler “Put out the light!” and if the person who had the lantern did not comply, threats of throwing him or her into the water would come forth, or even worse, rocks would start flying. Can you imagine how dangerous that was, especially in the dark? Fortunately, this did not happen very often and most of those along the streams got along very well and had a good time catching their smelts.

Eventually people discovered that the lights from a Coleman or propane lantern, would “call” the smelts. They used aluminum foil or metal to makes shields to go around the globes in order to control the amount of light they felt would bring the smelts in close enough to dip their large nets. Instead of smelting in the streams the smelters began to hang their lanterns just above the water on some type of holder, such as a metal rod, a short distance offshore. The dip nets, that can be as much as three or four feet in diameter with have very long handles, are generally placed in less than three feet of water. The light from the lantern is adjusted to provide light enough so the fishermen can see the smelts passing over their nets as they swim along the shoreline. The number of smelts that pass over their nets depends on location, and interference from other fishermen, who set up their lights nearby. Most smelters hope the schools will be so big that they cannot see the nets when they get ready to pick it up out of the water but more often this is not the case. In my own experience, I have seen as few as one or two smelts to as many as one or two quarts—it all depends!

Of course, people still smelt in the streams but with all the lanterns and dip nets set up along the shoreline, the smelts are seldom able to make their way to the streams in large numbers. The lanterns are so effective that fishermen can set up considerable distances from the inlet streams and still attract the smelts to their nets. This does serve the purpose of dispersing the crowds over a much larger area. I have seen times when I would decide the crowds were too much of a hassle and go in search of smelts after the crowds thinned out.

In recent years several bodies of water, as well as inlet streams, have been closed to smelting. Several years ago I was instrumental in getting Lake Christopher, in Woodstock and Greenwood, re-opened to the taking of smelts, by getting a petition signed by residents of those two towns, favoring the opening. One of the provisions agreed upon at a hearing with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife was to close Bowker Brook and Stone Cottage Brook. Not only were the two brooks closed, but also the perimeter around the mouth of the brooks, for a distance of two hundred feet. Doing this insured the propagation of enough smelts to provide adequate forage for the cold water species of fish in the lake, {i.e. trout and salmon}. Each body of water closed to smelting puts more pressure on those places that remain open. Once a body of water is closed to smelting, it is seldom ever re-opened to smelting. Supposedly, smelts are more valuable for food for cold water species of fish, than for human consumption. I never personally felt closing the waters to smelting resulted in any great improvement in the fishing of those particular bodies of water. Rangeley Lake was closed to smelting and in a few years the lake experienced a severe die off and thousands of dead smelts were seen floating on the surface of the water.

Another cause for closing some of the waters was due to the littering and vandalism caused by smelters. They would leave all kinds of bottles, cans and other trash alongside the streams and much of this was on private property. Smelters have been known to destroy private property and to start fires beside the streams. This sort of behavior is very detrimental to good public relations. Consequently, only the smelters themselves are to blame for some of the closures. Still, I have many fond memories of various smelting trips and I hope I convey a true meaning of what smelting is all about in the following stories.

We were fortunate to live in southwestern Maine where there are several lakes and ponds that contain smelts. I lived in West Paris when I was growing up and it was there that I first went smelting. I did not have any means of transportation but there were always friends who would invite me to go smelting with them. One of my earliest recollections was going with my brother, Newton, to Overset Pond, in Greenwood, which was about seven miles from home. The first five miles were on public roads but the remaining two miles were over logging roads owned by a local mill. A pick-up truck was the first choice for traveling into the pond but the older automobiles were built high up off from the ground, so if necessary we would ride in as far as we could safely go with a car, then walk in the rest of the way. The smelts ran at the northern end of the small pond but the road stopped on the south end. This meant a difficult walk over some very rocky terrain along the easterly side. The rocks were a result of fallen crag from a sheer cliff at least two hundred feet high immediately adjacent to the shoreline of the pond.

The small trickle that we intended to fish from was much too small to be called a brook. It was generally filled with leaves and other debris, so we always planned on the first trip in to take a spade and dig it out for a distance of fifty to sixty feet, so the smelts could run up it. No nets were necessary, because picking them up by hand was the only practical way to catch the smelts. We usually went up early in the day, in order to dig out the trickle. All the digging upset the soil, so we had to allow time enough for the silt to settle and clear the water before it was time for the smelts to run, because they do not like roiled water. While the water was clearing, we would spend our time fishing for trout in the pond. If our timing was right, the smelts would begin to run soon after dark and we generally caught enough smelts for a good feed or two and got home at a respectable hour.

Smelts generally run earlier in those ponds located in the southerly part of the state and as the season progresses, the smelt runs progressively move northward. This has the advantage of giving several weeks of smelting season, if you want to drive a few more miles. A few times each year I have traveled more than seventy-five miles, (one way), to go to the Rangeley Lakes area, or to other lakes and ponds in the Aziscohos area. Of course that is a long way to travel for only two quarts of smelts, but the enjoyment of watching all the wildlife while driving each way, makes it all worth while. When we go up north to smelt, we generally leave about four or five in the afternoon, so we get to see deer, partridges, moose, rabbits, foxes and on some rare occasions, even bobcats. On one trip up to Aziscohos Lake, I remember seeing eighteen deer and twenty-nine moose, as well as several smaller animals. This made for an interesting trip. One thing for sure, a driver has to be very careful after dark, especially late at night, when the moose are often standing beside or in the road. Their eyes do not reflect the light the same as deer and whoever is driving must be prepared to stop in a hurry to avoid a collision with those huge animals, which stand as much as seven feet high at the shoulders, and can weigh over a thousand pounds.

A couple of years ago, I was riding with Robert “Bob” Keniston, of Bethel, and we were returning home from a smelting trip to the Aziscohos area. It was nearly midnight when we came upon a bull and cow moose standing in the road. Bob saw them in time to slow down and stop. The bull left the highway while the cow moose continued to stand in the road blocking it. I suggested to Bob that he blow the horn as we approached very close to her. He blew the horn and this startled the cow moose so much that she lost her footing and fell down in the road. Of course this was not what we expected to happen. Luckily, she apparently was not hurt, and got right back up onto her feet and moved out of the way. That certainly taught me a lesson. I am sure if that ever happens again we will be more patient and not scare them. There are always several fatalities, as well as other injuries, caused each year with moose/auto collisions in the State of Maine, and we certainly do not want to become any part of those statistics.

Seldom have I come home from a smelting trip up into that North Country without any smelts. Most of the time I have managed to get my limit of smelts, without too much work. One thing I learned very early was to avoid the big crowds, so I usually do not plan to go smelting on Friday and Saturday nights. I find it much easier to get smelts by going during off-hours, such as very late at night, early morning, or during the week. Sometimes things can go wrong and that can spoil all the fun. One year, my friends Ivan & Edith Morey, of Greenwood and Harold and Alice Lothrop, of Gouldsboro, along with my wife Cynthia, all took our pick-up campers and headed for Aziscohos Lake to go smelting. The brook we planned to smelt on was fourteen miles off the main highway over paper company roads. We were about half way in on the gravel road when my truck stopped running. I had no idea what happened and when I tried to re-start the engine the starter would not work. Harold managed to get past my truck with his pick-up and towed me a short distance ahead to a place where I could back down a slight incline and get it turned around. Then he towed me back out the seven miles to the main highway and another three miles to an area beside Route 16, near Aziscohos Dam, where all three of us couples camped overnight in our respective campers. The next morning Harold towed me the rest of the way back to a garage in Errol, New Hampshire where I had the starter repaired. Needless to say, we got no smelts that night.

There are times when the smelts come easy. I remember several years ago when Eino and Waina Heikkinen and myself went smelting up to Mill Brook, located on the northerly end of Upper Richardson Lake. We arrived quite early, so we had the opportunity to find a good place to dip our smelts. While we were waiting for it to get dark, I got restless and told the other fellows that I was going to go across to the other side of the brook to see if any smelts were showing up over there. I left my net with Eino and Waina, then walked upstream a short distance and crossed over an old logging bridge to reach the other side of the brook. It was beginning to get dark but not dark enough to need a flashlight to see where I was walking. Once I left the bridge, I moved downstream along the bank of the brook to look for any smelts that might be straggling upstream. I had only gone a short distance when I could not believe my eyes. There was a line of smelts, at least a foot wide and twenty-five feet long, that had moved out of the rapids and were laying in shallow water very close to the banking of the brook. Everyone else on that side of the brook was some distance below that spot. I casually moved away from the brook and went back over to where Eino and Waina were waiting. I quietly told them to bring their nets and come with me. They asked why, but I did not want to let anyone else hear about the smelts, so I said, “You’ll see.” It was getting quite dusk by the time we got back to where the smelts were located and no one else had discovered them. We took our smelt nets and walked upstream at a fast pace, scooping up the line of smelts. By the time we reached the upper end our nets were overflowing, so we laid them on shore and filled the buckets with our limit and returned the rest of the smelts into the brook. Then we headed for home before anyone else had even started dipping smelts. We sure lucked out that night.

One year Ivan & Edith Morey, and my wife, Cynthia, and I, took our pick-up trucks and our truck campers up to Mill Brook, to try to get some smelts. We planned to dip our smelts, then camp out somewhere in the area overnight and come back home the following day. We sat around in our campers and occasionally checked the brook for smelts. I might have dipped a half dozen smelts by ten P.M., so it was apparent the smelts were not going to run hardly any that night. We finally gave up and went back to the campers. We decided to go to Sturtevant Pond, a few miles away, to see if any smelts were running there. We arrived a little before eleven p.m. and walked down a small brook almost all the way to the pond. We saw quite a few smelts in the brook so I said to Ivan, “Let’s go back and get our nets”. It may have taken us less than ten minutes to go back to the campers and get our smelt nets and pails, then return to where we had seen the smelts. We were very surprised when we arrived to find four people dipping smelts like crazy. They got their limit shortly after we arrived and then left the brook. It was very apparent they were standing in the dark when we looked in the brook and when they heard me say we should go get the nets they decided it was time for them to get to work. We did get our smelts that night on that brook but we had to wait until after midnight before enough smelts ran upstream for us to dip them. It was about two a.m. when we went back to our campers. We were sure glad to have our campers with us that night so we didn’t have a long drive home in the wee hours of the morning.

I believe my favorite place to go smelting has been up to Aziscohos Lake; mainly because I have always had good luck getting smelts around that lake. I also believe the smelts from those waters are the best tasting smelts that I have ever eaten. There are so many streams available to smelt on the lake that generally some brooks can be found where the smelts are running. For the past few years, the tributaries on the west side of the lake have been closed to taking of smelts. Prior to that, access to the west side was over paper company roads. The entrance to the logging road on that side of the lake was gated and a fellow whom I only knew as “Tom”, ran a roadside eatery at the entrance to the logging road, where you could get a cup of coffee and a hamburger, etc. Tom also tended the gate located in Wilson’s Mills. During smelting season, the gate was opened in late afternoon to allow smelters access to those streams on the west side of the lake. Sometimes, when the frost was just going out, the graveled road would have some very muddy places that seemed like bottomless pits. I have seen times when we would cut branches off evergreen trees to make a layer of boughs to help support the wheels of our vehicles, as we drove over the mud holes. The trick in making it through to terra firma was to “give her hell” and not let the wheels sink too deep in the mud. Most of the time the mud holes would not be more than the length of the vehicle, so it was imperative to keep moving when you drove over the soft spots. We never worried too much about getting stuck, because sooner or later, another vehicle would be coming along and help pull you out of a mud hole. We always considered those as a minor inconvenience and I don’t remember of anyone ever turning around and going home, rather than attempt to drive through the muddy places. I would say that the large percentage of vehicles that went over those roads were four wheel drive pick-ups and for a good reason. In recent years the tributaries on the westerly side of Aziscohos Lake have been closed to smelting, so now we have to do our smelting on the easterly side of the lake.

We were getting plenty of April showers the day that Milton Inman and I, his son Gary, and my son Ron, all went smelting up to Aziscohos Lake. We left West Paris, late in the afternoon, with threatening skies, and encountered several hard showers along the way. By the time we got to the brook it was nearly dark but surprisingly, on this week day night, there were no other smelters there.

We parked our car only a short distance from the brook and it didn’t take long before we had our hip boots and waders on. We untied our nets from the top of the station wagon and walked down to the brook to take a look. Milt and the boys had swing nets, so they planned to smelt in the brook. I had my large dip net and my propane lantern, which I intended to set up along the shoreline a short distance from the mouth of the brook We felt the smelts would be coming soon because several were beginning to straggle up stream into the rapids.

I went down and chose a spot along the shoreline, then set up my lantern on a metal stake so that it hung about a foot above the water. It was dark enough now so I lit the lantern, then adjusted the light and placed my dip net in position. I had hardly gotten myself settled into position when a large school of smelts passed over the net. I lifted it out of the water and must have had well over a pint of smelts with that one dip. I knew if this continued I wouldn’t be long getting my limit. It was misting a little bit but still very comfortable, so I continued to fill my pail with smelts. I didn’t have quite my limit when Milt appeared and said he and the boys all had their limits of smelts. I couldn’t believe it because we had not been there for even a half hour. I told him I would have my limit in another dip or two, so I might as well stay where I was and finish getting my smelts out of the lake. Milt said the brook was black with smelts when they finished getting theirs. I had my limit in only a few minutes, so I took my net, the lantern, and my smelts, and walked back up to our vehicle. I couldn’t believe there was still no one else after smelts. Maybe all the rainy weather was keeping them away.

I told Milt that I had my 35mm Minolta camera with me and would like to take some pictures of the smelts in the brook. I took my propane lantern and the camera, while Milt took his net and we went back down to the brook. This was the perfect time to see just how effective the propane light was on smelts. I placed the lantern so the light only shone a little bit on one side of the brook. Soon all the smelts in the brook worked themselves to that side of the banking. In a few minutes, I waded across the brook and placed the lantern so the light shone on the opposite side. Again, the smelts moved across the brook towards the light from the propane lantern. Not only that, but they built up in considerable numbers around the spot where the light was shining into the water. I took several photos and then I asked Milt to take one dip with his swing net. I wanted him to hold it up so that I could take a picture of the catch he had in his net. I knew then that he had well over a limit in his net. I took a picture of the smelts in his net and then Milt dumped them all back into the brook.

We went back to the station wagon and had sandwiches before we got ready to head for home. Shortly before we were ready to leave, a fellow drove down and parked nearby. When he got out of his vehicle he asked if the smelts were running. We told him he would need to take only one dip to get his limit. I think the man thought we were filling him full of “you know what”. He went down to the brook and was gone only a short time before he came back and said, “You guys were right. The brook is still black with smelts.” We had finished our lunches and got the nets tied back on to the top of our vehicle, so we headed home without even having to work up a sweat.

A few years ago a good friend, Harlan Abbott, and myself, rode up to Aziscohos Lake to go smelting. We arrived during early evening before anyone else was there. We walked a short distance downstream from where we parked our vehicle. Not long after we arrived at the shore of the lake, we decided to walk upstream and look around for a good place to wait for the smelts to run. Harlan was a short distance ahead of me when he hollered to me, “Sayward, bring the nets. This hole is full of smelts!” I had a big dip net, while Harlan had brought a smaller swing net. In this manner, we figured we had the right equipment for whatever type of smelting we would need to do to get our limits.

As soon as I arrived upstream to where Harlan was standing, we laid our plans to get our limit of smelts from that one pool which was absolutely black with smelts. I placed my dip net in the brook at the lower end of the pool, while Harlan used his swing net to dip smelts out of the pool. Of course, once he started dipping, the smelts scattered as best they could in all directions. Harlan scooped up his limit with only a couple of passes of his net. All I had to do was wait for the smelts do drift down into my net, which was blocking off the downstream end of the pool. It didn’t take long before we had our limit of smelts in our pails and were headed back to our vehicle just as it was beginning to get dark. Incidentally, we did not meet any other people coming down towards the stream until we were almost back to where our vehicle was parked. By that time, it was getting dark enough so the others could not see into our pails, so we doubted if they ever realized we already had our smelts and were headed home.

Smelting can also be a winter sport, both in fresh and salt water. I have friends Leon and Jim Baker. Their sister Marjorie and husband Francis Mailloux, live in Richmond. Francis always set up an ice-fishing shanty on the Pleasant River in Dresden. Occasionally, I would go down with one of the Baker brothers and go smelting for salt-water smelts. This was usually in the middle of February or early March. Salt water fishing for smelts was different because of the tides that effected the times when you could smelt. We would plan to be ready to fish when the ebb tide turned and began rising. We could fish until full tide. The smelt houses all had raceways cut through the ice the full length of the shanty. There was room for two men to sit comfortably and tend the twenty or so lines that were attached to a narrow board suspended over the raceway and supported by springs on each end. The fisherman could jig all the lines at once by simply taking hold of a line and pulling it down and letting the spring bring the lines back up. Each line was baited with a piece of bloodworm or a small piece of cut up smelt. Sometimes even a smelt eye on the hook, would catch smelts. Each respective fish line had a piece of white foam, about the size of a nickel, placed around the line, so it would float on the surface of the water. When the smelts bit the hook, the white foam made it a lot easier to detect the strikes. With the least bit of movement, the smelter had to give the line a quick jerk, and if the smelt was hooked the line was pulled in. Sometimes the action would be so fast that it was almost like playing the strings of a harp, only the smelts would be flopping all around your feet. There was hardly time to get the lines baited and back into the water. It was always a lot of fun when the action was that fast. I think the most I can ever remember two of us catching on one tide were a five-gallon pail full of saltwater smelts.

I also used to go down to fish in the saltwater bay near Brunswick, at a place we called the “Wrinkles”. I only went there a few times with J. Albert Jackson, of West Paris. It was a different kind of saltwater smelting because instead of fishing in water less then eight feet deep, we would be fishing by sitting outside on a bucket, with two holes chopped through the ice, that were about two to three feet apart. We used multiple lines by building a contraption out of coat hangers. We soldered five eyes made of wire, to the coat hanger, then we tied on five individual pieces of monofilament. These were about six or eight inches long. We tied our small smelt hooks to them. This made it possible to make multiple catches of the smelts on any of the five hooks that were tied on the hanger; then attached to the single line that was held with each hand. We fished in about twenty feet of water and it was easier to haul up several smelts at a time rather then one at a time.

On a couple of occasions I went with my Uncle Fred Jackson, and caught saltwater smelts by hand as they ran up some very small tributaries in the saltwater bays. I remember vividly how it felt; like grabbing onto a piece of sandpaper when we got hold of a male smelt. There was no danger of them slipping out of your hand.

It was always a lot easier to go fishing for fresh water smelts because of the close proximity of the lakes in the area where I lived. My two sons, Jim and Ron, and I, built ourselves an ice fishing house that was constructed with two by two framing, covered with aluminum sheeting, to keep it light. We also built it on skids so we could pull it on the frozen snow and ice on the lakes or pond. Our fish house had a small wood stove in one corner to help keep us warm in cold and windy weather. We would set it up on Lake Christopher in Woodstock and fish for smelts. Sometimes we would take it to South Pond where we could fish for smelts and also fish through the ice for Lake Trout , as well as Whitefish. The fresh water smelts are generally smaller than salt water smelts, so we had to use very small hooks and usually baited them with very tiny pieces of angleworms.

My son Ronald, had a commercial bait fishing license for a few years and went ice fishing for smelts in his ice fishing house on Lake Wassookeag, in Dexter, Maine. Milt Inman and I visited him one day to see what it was like. He fished in very shallow water, only six or eight feet deep and the water was very clear so we could watch the smelts that milled about in the water under his fish house. Occasionally, he would say to us, “Here comes a togue!” I asked Ron how he could tell, and he said, “By watching the smelts. They begin to move out of the way when they see the togue coming.” He went on to explain the togue do not try to catch individual smelts, but go charging through a school of smelts with tremendous speed and then return to eat the smelts that were stunned during their charge. I watched togue do this several times during the time I spent at his fishing shanty and I couldn’t believe how fast togue can swim. The smelts also did a pretty good job of moving out of the way because I did not see any stunned fish within the vision of the perimeter of the ice-fishing hole.

Smelting can be a year ‘round sport, because there are places where it is possible to jig for smelts from a boat anchored over a smelt hole during the open-water fishing season. This can be from soon after ice out until late fall. I recall one year when my sister, Elaine, was visiting over the Fourth of July holidays. One of the old Maine traditions is to have fresh garden peas and landlocked salmon for the holiday feast. We had the fresh peas and my sister remarked how nice it would be to have a salmon to go with them. I told her I would go up to Lake Christopher and see if I could catch a salmon. I went up and anchored my boat over a smelt hole and threw out a hand line weighted with a small sinker and below that was a small smelt hook baited with a small piece of angleworm. I jigged the line up and down while holding my arm over the side of the boat and before long I felt a bite on the line. I hooked the smelt and had it almost ready to bring into the boat when a salmon tore by the bait at a furious pace. It must have missed the smelt because it came jumping right out of the water. I pulled in the rest of the line and the smelt as quickly as I could and then tossed the smelt, still hooked to the line, as far as I could in the direction where the salmon had surfaced. I let the smelt sink for a couple of minutes and then started hauling in the line, hand over hand. I had only taken in a few feet of line when the salmon slammed the smelt with such force that it almost pulled the line out of my hand. I had quite a tug-of-war with the salmon, and found it quite difficult to keep the line taut while trying to play the salmon by using only my hands. How I wished the line was attached to a fishing pole. After a few minutes the salmon tired and eventually I was able to boat it. It was a pretty fish and weighed almost three pounds. I was happy to go home and tell my sister that we would be having fresh peas and salmon for our Fourth of July feed. She found it hard to believe how I had caught it, but the proof was in the eating and we certainly did enjoy our holiday meal.

I have fished for smelts on Aziscohos Lake in the summer and on a few occasions have brought back enough smelts for a good feed. Mostly though I have kept them for sewing bait for togue fishing, because they are large smelts and have good action when used for trolling. Some people who go up there smelting in the summer, take their fish poles and as soon as they catch smelts, they put one on a hook and throw the baited fish lines over the side of their boats and let them sink to the bottom the lake. Often they will catch trout or salmon, which pick up the smelts off from the bottom. I have never gone there very often to do this type of summer smelt fishing, mainly because I guess I am too busy doing other things and doing other types of fishing in lakes and ponds that are nearer to my home.

As I write this another smelting season is fast approaching and with good luck I hope to enjoy the experiences of another year of smelting. I am over seventy-six years old right now and have no idea how old I will be before I hang up my smelt nets. One thing for sure, a feed of smelts, fried up to a crispy golden brown, along with some dandelion greens, and a few french-fries, sure make a wonderful springtime meal.

By A. Sayward Lamb

Two Jakes and Them Darn “Skeeters”

March 24, 2007

 

It was Good Friday, April 18, 2003. It was overcast and muggy in South Carolina. My brother, a friend of ours, our friends boy (age 6 or so) and I, were off to turkey hunt. The “skeeters” were so loud it sounded like the recent NASCAR race at Bristol with all of the buzzing around our heads. We could barely hear the owl hoots. I almost couldn’t see any of the camouflage on my brother’s “Hat” because of the “skeeters”. I mean there were at least 40 plus just on his hat. After applying bug spray a second time, we headed off.At the first place we stopped, we were only greeted by the skeeters and a couple of barred owls that commenced at a few fly-bys in perfect wing-tip to wing-tip formation. Since we didn’t hear any birds gobble, our friend suggested that we move to a different spot and give it a try. We decided to set up a few yards off a dirt road where we had seen a lot of fresh tracks. We placed a pair of hen decoys on our side of the road and a Jake decoy on the other side. All of the decoys were arranged so any birds walking down the road would have to be within 50– 60 yards before they could see them. We didn’t want a bird to hang-up more than 100 yards and not come in.

With the decoys placed, my brother gave a series of clucks and purrs on his Lynch Jet slate call. No answers. Then he gave a few series of yelps on his Gaskins Box call. We sat there and nothing showed up. We waited for almost an hour. At 8:30AM there was neither a sight nor sound of any turkeys, so my brother asked me to ease out into the road with my gun and see if anything was up or down it. I was very quiet when I made my way to the edge of the road but there was nothing up the road and nothing down the road. So I turned and walked back to pack up my stuff.

My brother passed me on his way to get the decoys. Our friend and his son were 15-20 yards diagonally behind us over our left shoulder packing up. Nobody had spoken a word. I get my seat in my pack and turned to look at my brother. He’s frozen hunkered beside the first decoy. He stuck up two fingers and motions up the road. He then motions for us to quickly sit back down. I motioned to our friend and his boy to sit back down. By this time my brother was back to the tree motioning to our friend that two birds were coming down the road. My brother had seen one bird standing at attention in the road at 100 plus yards. Also, there was another bird feeding that had a white head; so we knew that there was at least one gobbler out there. I think my brother called a few times more; a few series of clucks, purrs & soft yelps. My heart was racing. I shifted a little more in their direction and waited.

At 8:50AM there was no sign of them. So my brother does a low crawl slowly out to the edge of the road to take a look. Peering from behind one of the hen decoys, he sees a head rise up at about 60 – 70 yards in the middle of the road. They were still making their way down to us; apparently they weren’t close enough to see the decoys yet. My brother was using his binoculars to try to see them working down toward us. At 9:15AM, he decided to low crawl back out and see if they were still coming toward us. He had picked up his binoculars and was crawling back out to see if they were on the way or if they had turned off the road into some scrub oaks.

He didn’t have a chance. Four seconds later a dog barked three times about 200 yards behind us and a long beard gobbled 50 – 75 yards in front of us. My heart stopped and the “Ol Shakes” kicked in. I turned a little more towards the sound. My brother grabbed his Gaskins Box and gave a series of soft yelps and clucks. We waited and waited with no answer. About 9:27AM my brother said, “Don’t move!! There they are!! Don’t move!! Breathe!! Don’t move!!” Two birds were making a beeline down the road right at the decoys. We were shoulder to shoulder and I couldn’t see anything. We were looking in the same direction but I couldn’t see what he was seeing.

An oak tree about 10 inches in diameter that was about four yards in front of us blocked my vision. My brother’s breathing changed and I knew it was on!! At eleven steps, he could see two solid red heads twisting and turning in the roadbed. The gobblers were looking at the decoys trying to decide what to do. My brother could see their heads in plain view but I could not see anything. He saw the birds turn around and start to walk back in the direction that they had come from. With my peripheral vision, I caught movement to my right. I rolled my eyes as far as I could. I saw the black body of a turkey and the head on that bird was so red it should have been on fire. That was the first gobbler I’d ever seen while hunting. Over the other five hunts/days this year, it was just hens.

So I watched him take two steps and he was out of my sight. I still couldn’t see what my brother was seeing. So I shifted my body as quickly as I could, and got the thunder stick pointed on the spot where he had been and there goes another bird through. I didn’t know what it was, so I did nothing. “Ooh!! Wait!! There’s more movement coming into the opening from the left side”. As he stepped into the small opening my brother said, “Can you see him?” I said, “Yes!” My brother “putted” once to stop the bird. He said, “Take him!!”
I didn’t hear my gun go off at all. I remember seeing smoke and that big black dot rolling over away from me. The Super Black Eagle 3 ½” thunder stick roared to life. I paused. I was in disbelief when I saw that. He said, “Run!!” So I flipped on my safety and I was running before I even stood up. I got over to him and he’s graveyard; stone cold dead. Wait a minute! What is that behind him? There’s a wing bouncing 10 feet behind him. “Uh oh,” I thought to myself. “I didn’t see that hen there.” Just then my brother came running by me and grabbed it up. He looked at my bird that was still flopping just a little and says, “Pick him up by the neck”. So I grabbed it up and his neck was warm and bloody. My brother reached around and took the bird from me with his right hand. He didn’t say anything about the second bird; nothing. Soon as he turned and started out towards the road the second bird spun towards me and WWAAAAHOOOO!!!!!!!!! It had a BEARD too!!

We got out into the road and started walking back towards our gear and our friend was walking up the road toward us just a grinnin’. His son was all smiles too. I’m all over the place. I’m shaking, and grinning. I’m pacing backwards and forwards. I was in shock. Since I couldn’t control the “Shakes” long enough to unload it, I gave my brother my gun to unload. I got my first turkey and second turkey with the same shot. I went over to get my pack and find my spent shell. I looked back to where they were standing when I shot. I still can’t believe it. I walked it off, toe to heal with my boots. I don’t remember running through all the brush and small trees that I had shot beside. It was about 25 yards to the first one & the second was less than 5 yards past him. Man oh man!!!

Thanks to our friend for being a great guide. Thanks to my brother for calling them. Thanks to our friend’s son, “The Lucky Leprechaun”, for being on my hunt. My day was made even before I made the kill. It was great to see that little guy all decked out and ready for action. The Legend of the “Little Debbie’s Oatmeal Crème Pies” continues. It is alive and well in 2003 here in South Carolina. First Bird- 14lb., 5 1/2in beard, 1/2in spurs Second Bird- 16lb., 5in beard, 1/2in spurs.

By, Anonymous

I Hope it Rains in Heaven

March 24, 2007

By Terry Higginbotham
www.HuntStats.com

 

I’ve been hunting for as long as I can remember. The first hunt I ever went on with my dad, he had to change my diapers. My first real hunting memory is sitting on a tree stand and snuggling under my dad’s coat. To this day, I can still smell the musky scent of that old coat.My brother and I were raised on hunting, fishing, and trapping. Our lives were truly like the Hank Jr. song, “A Country Boy will Survive”, we can “skin a buck and run a trot line”. We have had many memorable hunts. I still remember our first deer, riding out a flood, eating Twinkies and sardines, and even being used as dogs when the real ones didn’t want to run anymore.

My favorite hunt of all, unfortunately, turned out to be the last for my dad, Lil’ brother, and me. It was the last hunting day of the season, and by the next season I was in Omaha Nebraska, Lil’ brother was in Florida, and Dad was back home in Louisiana. We always made plans to come home and go hunting, but something always seemed to get in the way. Five years later my dad passed away.

As our family gathered for his funeral, the talk, as it always seemed to, turned to hunting. We all sat around telling lies and big stories. Each story was bigger than the last and all of them larger than they truly were. Lil’ brother and I started thinking about the last time we had went hunting together. It had been 6 years earlier.

It was cold, and rainy. Dad had brought his favorite snack, Sardines and Twinkies. You have not lived, until you have tried this tasty treat. I kid; I don’t know a single soul, except for my dad that could even stomach this combination. But it was his favorite, when he was hunting. They were like a good luck charm. As we stopped the truck at the trailhead the rain started to come down harder. It was still a couple of hours before daylight, so we stayed in the warmth and relative dryness of Dad’s truck. Dad had put a moon roof in his old truck with a jig saw and some plexi-glass, so keeping dry could be a real sport some times.

To pass the time we talked about all our passed hunting trips. We recounted the time I shot the truck, a real life lesson in gun safety. The time my brother got lost in the woods and had to be rescued by game wardens in a helicopter. The time my dad shot a goat and tried to convince my brother and I, it was a spike. We told story after story. We finally noticed that it was raining harder, the roof was leaking more, and the Twinkies were getting wet. You can’t let good Twinkies and Sardines go to waste. We washed them all down with what was left of the Stop n’ Go Coffee. We spent the rest of the day telling tall tales and laughing. We never loaded a gun, nor got on a stand, but it was the best hunt I ever had.

It’s been seven years since my dad died. Lil’ Brother and I have not missed a year hunting together, since. We made a pact and we are sticking to it. We bring our sons along, now. We are teaching them what we were taught. Dad use to tell us the greatest gift you can give your child is your time. He forgot to tell us, as a father, the greatest gift you can give yourself is time with your kids. I miss him so much, especially during hunting season. But I know I will see him again. If Heaven is perfect, and I know it is, there will be a Stop n’ Go with bad weak coffee, sardines and Twinkies, and it will always rain the last day of hunting season.

(c) Copyright 2004 OuachitaGroup All Rights Reserved

Owner of HuntStats.com and The OuachitaGroup, Terry Higginbotham, is an avid hunter, fisherman, and outdoorsman. He runs a research project studying the Whitetail Deer and the American Wild Turkey. Information from this study is available online at HuntStats.com or by email at: articles@HuntStats.com

 

Tips for Late-Season Squirrels

March 23, 2007

by Keith Sutton

Keith Sutton
15601 Mountain Dr.
Alexander, AR 72002
501-847-9643
catfishdude@sbcglobal.net

If you’re among the large group of sportsmen that hunts squirrels from opening day till the end of the season, you know that hunting during the harsh winter months is tough. Early in the season, squirrels often seem to be everywhere. Prime food supplies are abundant, squirrels are less wary, and leafy branches restrict the game’s vision, allowing for closer, easier stalks. The solution for bagging squirrels during this time is simple—just find a patch of hardwoods and start hunting.


As the season progresses, however, hunting squirrels gets increasingly difficult. Hunters have taken a toll on the game, and Mother Nature has sorted through those remaining and claimed the weakest through reduced food supplies, predators, disease and inclement weather. Those that survive are savvy, battlewise veterans that can easily elude the casual hunter.

Add to this the fact that during severe weather, squirrels may be almost totally inactive and seldom seen. Leaves have fallen, making the hunter more visible to the game he stalks. Nuts no longer cling to the branches, so squirrels are moving more on the ground, making them harder to see at a distance.


Despite all these negatives, however, late-season squirrel hunting can be productive and fun. Winter hunts are more challenging, to be sure, but squirrels are still available and the knowledgeable last-minute hunter can enjoy some of the year’s best gunning.


I enjoy the challenge of late-season squirrel hunting. And with more than 30 years of experience under my belt, I’ve learned a few tricks that help me bag several dozen squirrels each winter. Here are a few you can try.


Good Things in Small Packages
Be flexible when selecting hunting areas. Large stretches of timber can be very productive for savvy hunters, but in country with a mix of small woodlots and big woods, you may do better working smaller patches during later weeks of the season. Small tracts are often overlooked by other hunters, and although they may not hold large numbers of squirrels, the restricted environment makes bushytails easier to find. Move from one small tract to another, taking care not to overhunt any single area.


Plan Your Stalk
While squirrels are sometimes easier to locate in winter when leaves have dropped, the bushytail, from its vantage point high in a tree, still has a tremendous advantage. Its super sharp eyes and ears make winter stalking a very tough sport.


To overcome the squirrel’s keen senses, you should select your stalking route carefully and shouldn’t attempt to stalk and hunt at the same time. Concentrate on moving noiselessly with your eyes to the ground, pausing frequently to study your surroundings for game. Extend your surveillance to the point that you’re searching the woods a couple hundred yards ahead. If you don’t, squirrels will see you and be hidden before you’re even aware of them.


When you spot a squirrel, move in waltz time. The slower you go, the better your chances are apt to be. If you can swing it, do your traveling at the same time the squirrel is in motion. For instance, move forward when he’s reaching for another nut and freeze when he’s eating it. The single most important thing a squirrel stalker can learn is that patience is a golden virtue.


Remember, too, that you should never stalk with the sun over off either shoulder (to your right or to your left). Doing so makes your shadow sweep across the ground perpendicular to your movements, increasing your chances of being seen. When leaves are still on, most smart hunters stalk into the sun if possible. It’s easier to spot moving squirrels in leafy branches if they’re outlined against the sun. Later in the season, though, when squirrels forage more on the ground, it may be best to hunt with the sun at your back to put the glare in your quarry’s eyes. Either way, use a tree shadow to hide your own when stalking in for the kill.


Keep to the Low Ground
If you have a choice between hunting a ridge and a creek bottom, stick to the creek bottom. The leaves will be wetter and the going quieter. You’ll also be keeping a lower profile so squirrels won’t be as likely to spot you. For short distances, you can keep a large tree between you and the squirrel as you move slowly into range, employing the stalking tactics described above.


Watch for Sign
Acorns and other nuts are the most important winter foods of squirrels. To pinpoint squirrel concentrations, watch for nuts and fresh cuttings (fragments of nutshells) on the ground. Fresh cuttings have brightly colored edges, a sign squirrels have been feeding in the area, and it should be good for hunting.


Another sign of winter squirrel activity is the scratching left when buried nuts have been dug up and eaten. These are usually small mounds of dirt and rotting leaves where squirrels have done their excavating. They’re easy to spot when there’s snow on the ground, but you’ll have to look a little harder to spot the telltale mounds when there’s no snow cover.


Scouting for active tree dens and leaf nests is another way to zero in on a good patch of squirrel woods, and for this, binoculars are a great aid. Use the binoculars to scan each likely home site. Active den holes are usually worn smooth and shiny around the entrance, and often have little tufts of fur stuck in the rough edges. Leaf nests are rarely used in winter unless tree dens are scarce, but where that is the case, watch for big, full balls of leaves with no open patches where light can shine through. These are most likely to harbor squirrels. Squirrels make regular repairs to winter nests; thus, nests that look threadbare and unkempt are probably inactive.


Binoculars also can help you find the squirrels, especially during still, sunny days when they like to stretch out on a limb or in a fork during midday hours. Move slowly through the woods, using binoculars to peruse such spots for an ear, a patch of fur, a tail or other bits and pieces that reveal basking bushytails.


Additional Tips
1. During mast-poor years in hilly terrain, center your search for squirrels on north-facing slopes. The north slopes are more protected from sunlight and tend to retain moisture better. Consequently, they usually have more hardwoods, better mast crops and more squirrels.


2. Winter squirrels are usually reluctant to leave a reliable food source, even after hearing gunfire. If you locate several squirrels feeding in a small area, mark the location of your first kill, satisfy yourself that the squirrel is dead, then stay put. Within five to 10 minutes, the remaining squirrels are likely to be moving again, and you’ll get another shot.


3. If possible, hunt mountains or hilly areas when wind conditions are unfavorable. Scouting will often reveal a few hollows where calmer conditions prevail and squirrels are more active.


4. Keep your ears tuned for even the slightest sound made by a squirrel. Rustling leaves often give a squirrel away. So can the sound of the rodent’s sharp teeth gnawing a nut, or cuttings falling to the forest floor like the pitter-patter of rainfall. Also listen for barking or chattering squirrels. These are often rutting squirrels that pay more attention to potential mates and competitors than to the hunter who quietly stalks them.


5. Clothing with bark-pattern camouflage does wonders to conceal you from wary winter squirrels, but safety aspects should also be considered. When you’re leaning against a tree, another hunter could mistake any slight movement for a squirrel. It happens with tragic regularity, and in many states, “victim mistaken for squirrel” is one of the leading causes of hunting accidents. Be cautious, and wear fluorescent orange clothing whenever appropriate.


These techniques and tips aren’t the final answer to late-season squirrel hunting success. But if what you’ve been doing so far hasn’t produced the desired results, give them a try. Ol’ Bushytail’s brain may not be any bigger than a hickory nut, but he’s got plenty of smarts tucked away inside. To outwit him, you have to be better at playing his games than he is.

Get Keith’s new book:

Out There Fishing

 

 

Catching Catfish for the Table

March 23, 2007

by Keith “Catfish” Sutton

 

Keith Sutton
15601 Mountain Dr.
Alexander, AR 72002
501-847-9643
catfishdude@sbcglobal.net
www.catfishsutton.com

Some catfishing enthusiasts target trophy-class fish almost exclusively. For them, nothing makes a trip better than landing a huge blue cat, flathead or channel cat.


Many anglers have a different goal in mind. On most of their outings, they hope to catch enough eating-size cats, what we call “fiddlers” in the South, to provide the makings for a fish fry. If a trophy cat takes the bait now and then, so much the better; that just adds to the fun and excitement. But the main objective is catching fish for the table.
If you’re among this latter group, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your catfishing excursions this season.


Where to Go


Begin by calling the freshwater fisheries department of your state wildlife agency. Ask for the names of some waters in your area that receive regular stockings of eating-size cats. State and federal agencies stock millions of 1- to 2-pound catfish every year, and most will gladly send you a stocking list that shows where the fish were released. Most agencies also list good catfishing waters on their Web sites. Either way, you’ll probably turn up several potential honeyholes, including perhaps some small lakes with good bank fishing areas or fishing piers, or a little stream where you can sit in a lawn chair on shore and wait for a bite.

 

Tackle Tips


A small spinning or spincast outfit is ideal for this type of fishing. I keep mine spooled with 6- to 10-pound-test monofilament.


The other tackle you’ll need can be carried in a small tackle box—a few hooks, sinkers and bobbers, some extra line, a stringer and some pliers for removing hooks from the catfish’s tough mouth.


Any catfishing rig can be used, but the simplest usually work best. A slip-sinker rig, my favorite, is easily made by placing a small egg sinker on your main line above a barrel swivel tied at the line’s end. Add an 18-inch leader to the swivel’s other eye, and tie a hook (1/0 to 3/0 bait-holder, octopus or Kahle) to the end of that.

Another easy rig that works well is just a bobber above a small hook, with a split shot pinched on the line between the two to sink the bait.


Bait Choices


Unlike heavyweight cats, which rarely eat anything but fish, eating-size whiskers aren’t the least bit finicky when it comes to food. Buy some worms or minnows at the bait shop, or pick up some fresh chicken liver, hot dogs, bacon, cheese or shrimp at the supermarket.


Commercial dip baits and doughbaits also work great, and usually can be found in the sporting goods departments of discount stores. When using these, you might want to pick up a few of the specialty items often used to fish these soft baits, including some catfish “worms” (ribbed, soft-plastic lures used for fishing dip bait) or some spring-wound doughbait treble hooks.


Night or Day?


The biggest catfish often prowl more night, but eating-size cats are active day or night, so go fishing whenever you can. My favorite fishing period is around daybreak, 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. There’s nothing magic about this time, but on many waters, peak feeding activity occurs just as the sun is cracking the horizon. Fish then, and you’re almost guaranteed to increase your catch.


Seasons


Despite what many anglers think, catfishing is not just a summertime sport. In fact, you can fish year-round and expect to do well.


My favorite months for catching eating-size cats are January and February. Many ponds and small lakes in my area are stocked with channel cats and bullheads, and when the water temperature is between 40 and 55 degrees, these fish move to the deepest water where they gather in huge schools. I drop a rig baited with chicken liver into the hole, let it reach the bottom, then crank the reel handle a few times so the bait is a foot or so above the substrate. The cats usually strike quickly, and in a couple hours, it’s not unusual to catch 15 to 20 weighing 1 to 7 pounds. It’s a great way to liven up a dreary winter day, and catfish never taste better than when fresh-caught from icy cold water.


Practice Selective Harvest


Release cats 5 pounds and up, and keep only those that are smaller for your fish fry. The smaller fish are much more abundant and better to eat. By releasing larger cats, you help maintain better trophy fishing opportunities for those who enjoy that pursuit.


Have Fun


If you’re like me, there are times when you’re happiest sitting under a shade tree and catching a few small cats for dinner. For many of us, catfishing is a way to relax or to enjoy a few hours fishing with the kids. If a big cat is caught now and then, so much the better. But catching big fish is secondary to just being there, enjoying the outdoors and tussling with a decent fish now and them.


Zero in on some fiddlers this season. Take your children along or some kids from the neighborhood. It’s fun. It’s relaxing. It’s enjoyable. And as soon as you smell the aroma of those catfish fillets frying up golden delicious, you’ll be ready to do it again.

Editor’s note: Keith Sutton is the author of two catfishing books: “Fishing for Catfish” and “Catfishing: Beyond the Basics.” For additional information, visit www.catfishsutton.com .

 

 

10 Reasons I Love Dove Hunting

March 23, 2007

By Keith “Catfish” Sutton

Keith Sutton
15601 Mountain Drive
Alexander, AR 72002
501-847-9643
catfishdude@sbcglobal.net

 

 

10 Reasons I Love Dove Hunting
By Keith “Catfish” Sutton


Headline: The author, an experienced upland hunter, tells why mourning doves are, for him, the most favored of all game animals.

“Behind you! Look behind you!”


The muffled shout came from our hunting companion Lewis Peeler. My son Zach and I looked around just in time to see a low-flying mourning dove streaking into the field of cut sunflowers.


“Get him, Zach!” I said.


Zach swung his single-shot 20 gauge behind the bird, pulled the trigger and grinned a big grin when the dove tumbled in a puff of feathers.


“Nice shot, Zach,” Lew called out.


Seconds later, we found three more doves nearly on top of us, dodging and dipping like bantam kamikazes. As they passed us, we shouldered our shotguns and fired. Zach bagged his bird, but by some strange quirk, I missed mine.


It was my turn to play retriever, but before I could reach the bird, Zach called “Here come some more, Dad.” I dropped to a squat as a tight group of five or six doves winged by out of range. Lewis was ready and downed two as the cluster broke up. Gray streaks skedaddled for safer air space in all directions.

 

Two of the streaks veered my way. I shot twice and missed. Zach lowered the boom on one dove; the other hugged the ground as it rocketed across the field.


When I returned to our hiding spot at the edge of the field, I realized I was down to my last three shotshells. I had started with three boxes.


“How many shells you got left, Zach?” I asked.


“I still have a whole box,” he replied.


“How many doves have you killed?” I asked.

 

“Eleven,” he shot back. “How many have you killed?”


“That’s not important, son,” I replied. “What’s important is, we’re having fun.”


Chances are, I’ll never live down the fact that 13-year-old Zach, on his first dove hunt, managed to bag almost three times as many doves as his dad using half as many shells. When I tell my friends that this clearly illustrates the fact that I am such a good shooting instructor, they cover their mouths and make funny chuckling sounds.


Zach and I certainly did have fun on that opening day hunt, however, and I’m here to tell you this is one youngster who’s now thoroughly hooked on hunting. We’ve hunted many types of game since Zach was big enough to safely carry a gun, but he’s never shown the enthusiasm I saw that day when our hunt was over.


“When can we go again, Dad?” he asked. “This is FUN!”


I started hunting doves when I was about Zach’s age, and I suppose in many ways, the fine wingshooting I enjoyed back then is responsible for my lifelong love of hunting. Dove hunting was then, and still is, my favorite type of hunting. Here’s why.


Reason 1: Lots of shooting going on. What I like most about dove hunting is the shooting. An exceptional wingshot might pop off no more than 15 rounds and have a limit of doves. As you’ve already discovered, however, I’m below average in the marksmanship department, totally missing 90 percent of the doves that fly by. As a consequence, I shoot more than most folks—an average of 75-100 shells per outing. I love shooting, and a good dove hunt lets me bang away until my shoulder’s totally black and blue.


Reason 2: Hunting season begins. By the time opening day of dove season arrives, several “huntless” months have passed and I’m eager to go afield. Dove hunting is a way to celebrate the end of the long hunting drought.


Reason 3: Camaraderie abounds. Some hunting sports are, in their execution, solo sports. Not so dove hunting. It’s not unusual for 20 or more hunters to gather for a shoot in a sunflower or milo field, and often as not, before and after the hunt everyone has a chance to visit and enjoy a good meal. Dove hunts are social events, and being the socialite I am, I thoroughly enjoy these get-togethers.


Reason 4: Silence is not a prerequisite for success. Folks who know me will tell you I never was much good at being quiet. A bull in a china shop exhibits more stealth than Senor Catfish. When I’m dove hunting, however, I don’t have to worry about sneaking up on the game or waiting quietly for an animal to appear. I can talk incessantly if my partners will put up with it, and there’s even occasion to do a little shouting when my buddies don’t see birds winging their way. A blabbermouth like me feels right at home.


Reason 5: Dove hunting is a sedentary sport. In other words, I don’t have to climb mountains or trees, trek through swamps or walk miles into the backcountry to enjoy good hunting. I drive right up beside the field, walk a short distance, sit my fat, lazy butt on a bucket and enjoy all the shooting I can stand.


Reason 6: No need to be an early bird. Yes, dove hunting probably is a bit better at dawn. But experience shows an 8 a.m. start time can be almost as productive, and afternoon shooting can be pretty good, too. I can get some much-needed beauty rest and still not miss the action.


Reason 7: Even cheapskates can be dove hunters. You don’t need a boat, 4×4 pickup, decoys, dogs, expensive firearms or fancy accessories for dove hunting. Even the shotshells are cheap. For a low-income hack like me, this is good news.


Reason 8: It’s warm outside. Dove season gets started long before winter weather turns sour. This means the mosquitoes may be bad at times, but I won’t be suffering from frozen toes or frostbitten ears. Wimps, rejoice!


Reason 9: Dove breasts are gourmet fixings. Granted, they’re small. But dove breasts wrapped in bacon and slow-cooked over charcoal are to die for.


Reason 10: Family fun is guaranteed. There’s no better way to enjoy a day with a beginning hunter than sitting in a dove field together, laughing, talking and shooting for hours on end. Take your kids. Take your wife. Take your friends and relatives. There’s no better way to get someone hooked on hunting.


So there you have it—some of the “pros” of dove hunting.


And the cons? Well, for the moment, I can only think of one. My 13-year-old son has been out shooting me by a substantial margin, and I’ll never hear the end of it.


Come to think of it, though, that’s one of the pros. A well-earned smile on Zach’s face makes every dove hunt unforgettable, and that, too, gives me reason to love this sport.

 

 


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