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Perhaps I’m rushing the seasons just a hair, but it’s beginning to feel a lot like fall to me. It could just be wishful thinking, or the fact my wife made chili for supper one night this past week. Or maybe a little cooler weather of recent weeks ... whatever the cause, the fact is that I'm getting into the fall hunting state of mind.

It’s something I experience each year, usually about now, and it’s one of my favorite feelings.

My elementary teacher wife started back to school this week. Our daughter starts her senior year at the university she attends next week. The heat wave has seemingly broken and we’ve had some mornings in the 50s and days in the 80s. And all my close friends are starting to talk about fall turkey, deer, squirrel hunting ... all things that only feed the fire.

I’m no psychiatrist - although my wife has suggested on occasion that I could benefit from visiting with one - but over the past 40 years I’ve discovered my thoughts cycle in a predictable pattern. Here’s what I'm talking about.

For about 10 years, while our children were young, my wife and I went to church camp each July to work as lifeguard assistants and help transport the kids from our church to and from the distant camp. Our own kids were going to camp anyway, and it was an inexpensive vacation just to get away from work for a week and hang out beside a swimming pool. When we weren’t helping out during the day, the rest of the time was ours to explore the area, go out to supper, ride jet skis or do whatever.

But it never failed that when that late July week away was drawing to an end my mind would automatically turn to fall and winter activities. In my brain summer had come to an end, with the return trip back home we would be sliding back into our routine of the school year - up early, work hard all day, a few evening hours for chores, then to bed early to get some sleep and get up and repeat the next day. Pretty soon the days would start cooling down and we’d have some chilly mornings and some evenings when a small fire in the firepit in the backyard felt good.

Nowadays we don't end our summers working at church camp. But still, regardless of how our July, July and August unfold, about the last week of July or first week of August I start thinking "fall" thoughts ... firewood splitting, flannel shirt wearing, hunting, the smell of apple and pumpkin pies ... you get the picture.

This summer was an exceptionally busy one for us. From late May and through early June we did some home improvement projects. Then in mid June we spent weeks traveling to and preparing for wedding showers for our son and his bride-to-be Aleta. The Monday after the big wedding shower at our house my wife and I headed out on a vacation of our own (we flew to Vegas, visited the Grand Canyon for a day, drove through Death Valley, spent another day in Yosemite National Park, then took several days to slowly make a loop around southern California and hang out some at the beach, before driving back across the Mojave to Vegas and flying back home).

Then two weeks later we left home again, this time with 19 church acquaintances in tow, for a mission project in western Montana. Over the course of 12 days we drove through Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, spent a week doing several construction projects for a small congregation and community there, then hung out in Glacier National Park for a day, and headed back home through Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri (with stops at Mount Rushmore, Sturgis, the Badlands and more). 

Then less than two weeks after our return, this past weekend, we spent several days away for the joyous occasion of seeing our son get married. It's my first time being a "father-in-law," so I hope I do it right. But that brings us to early August.

This year I'm also attributing my fall hunting craze to all the wild game we spotted while in the West. We saw hundreds of antelope throughout Wyoming, along with whitetail and/or mule deer in nearly every state we passed through. In the small town in western Montana where we spent a week working the mule deer roamed the town like rats in New York City. It was nothing to be painting or cutting a board and look over and see a deer 20 yards away eating apples from a tree in the yard in the middle of the day. We also picnicked on the banks of the Clarks Fork River with a small herd of bighorn sheep feeding up the mountainside just a few hundred yards away, and saw elk, antelope and bighorn sheep feeding along the highways ... and the latter in numbers along the loop that passes through the Badlands in South Dakota. 

But back to the reality of living in Missouri. This time of the year my thoughts turn to one of my favorite Ozark outdoor pursuits ...  squirrel hunting. Then my squirrel trips transition into scouting sessions for deer sign, then deer hunting, then rabbit and late season squirrel hunts. Since I'm not into bow hunting the thought of bow season starting in mid September just doesn’t come naturally for me. But for those who do, you only have a few weeks before you can revisit that deer stand and start filling those tags.

Ironically, thoughts triggered by weather changes are not that far removed from what happens when deer are thrown into the fall rut by a sudden cold snap in October or November. All I know is that when this time of the year rolls around my thoughts quickly turn to fall hunting ... and it's about that time ... about!

Doug Smith lives in an old house, drives an old truck, tinkers with old tractors, is married to a young woman, hunts and fishes often, and can be found on any given day wearing his Buffalo plaid flannel jacket and matching Elmer Fudd hat (... and visited with an outfitter while in Montana about returning soon to hunt elk and bear.)

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