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March is a great planning month

Folks who know me very well know I’m a list maker who likes a routine. I adhere to the basic verity that there is, in fact, a “place for everything, and everything in its place,” and “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun.” I prefer to live a fairly structured life with only a few occasional outbursts of creativity, spontaneity, or general “wildness”. In all honesty, I prefer my spontaneity be planned ahead of time and well mapped out if at all possible. Growing up I was the type of kid who would color outside the lines, but only if my colored pencil had an eraser so I could clean up the lines afterward.

Every job or career has its good and bad. Being a writer provides a lot of flexibility, as long as I meet all my deadlines. For instance, I can take off on a sunny afternoon and go fishing … as long as I don’t have any meetings to cover or appointments to keep. But likewise, I have occasional evening or weekend meetings that take priority over other more fun activities. While brushing off a city council meeting in favor of a float trip might sound like a fun trade, come tomorrow morning there’d be a hole on the front page of the paper for my story about the meeting and the editor would be calling to see why my story was not in the computer system. The fact of the matter is, I have several set-in-stone deadlines to make each week to fulfill my obligations to those kind folks who give me money for my words.

As for writing outdoor stories, I have deadlines to meet each week, as well as a few dozen contracted deadlines for freelanced stories to magazines and websites each year. Each weekend I try to provide time-sensitive, up-to-date outdoor news for these pages. Many of these stories either happened within the past few days or are yet to come. As example I’m thinking and writing about trout season right now because the season in the state’s four trout parks opened Thursday morning.

For more than a decade now I’ve also written for state, regional, national and international outdoor magazines. The larger, more popular magazines work up to six or eight months in advance. As a glimpse of how it works, I might pitch an idea to a magazine editor in March for a November deer hunting story. If he’s interested the editor will send me a contract in April, stating I have to have the story to him on a day in June, for which they’ll pay me in August, for the story they’ll print in early October and distribute as the November issue. As I sit in my office writing this commentary I’m thinking about trout fishing this Saturday. This evening I’ll be at home working on a spring turkey hunting story, or maybe a lawn care or spring checklists stories for websites in late March and early April. I’m also working on morel mushroom hunting, family camping and stream fishing stories for May, and river floating and slow grilling stories for June and July. I also have agreements for heating with wood and gardening stories, squirrel hunting and others for August and September, as well as winter preparations and heating with woodstove stories for late fall. I even have a story contracted that won’t appear on magazine racks until next February.

I started down this path because March is a great time for anyone to take a little time and plan future outdoor activities. By now the state’s Conservation Commission had announced the seasons for the year, including the few which change from year to year and the annual adjustments of start and end dates. We now know when to put in for vacation time in November to rifle hunt whitetail.

But March is also a great time to get a jump on more pressing outdoor adventures. The next few weeks will be the time to start hitting the logging roads, ridge tops and field edges in the mornings to listen for gobblers as your pre-scouting for the April hunt. If you own property and maintain food plots, March is a great time to fertilize or lime as needed. And if you haven’t established food plots on your land this month is a great time to work up the soil and get some seed in the ground.

With little more than trout season going on this month (until snagging for spoonbills opens March 15), it’s also a good time to dig out the rest of the fishing tackle and take inventory and load the reels with new monofilament. If the boat has any issues now is the time to have them addressed, long before that first “really” warm day in April or May gets you itching to head to the lake. One sunny afternoon last week I drove through the industrial park and spotted a half-dozen people fishing in Hager Lake. I’ve been tempted to ply the city lakes myself during sunny lunchtimes in recent weeks.

On a different note, if you’re a techno-redneck like myself and carry a smartphone, consider downloading a new app just made available by the Missouri Department of Conservation. While it is somewhat slow and “clunky” at this point, it features access to fishing docks and other cover and accesses, as well as species information on fish found in the state. Some of the links within the app will automatically redirect you to the correct page of the MD’s website. Still, it’s free and a potentially helpful tool for your upcoming summer activities … and I’m sure the creators will tweak it as time goes by to make it more user-friendly.

This week you’ll find I’ve started including some lake and river levels. This comes in response to a request late last week by a regular reader. The readings will be about 24 hours old at the time they’re printed because of our deadlines, but hopefully they’ll still offer some insight as you’re planning next week’s fishing outing or vacation.

And one last thing … I’ve have several responses to last week’s commentary about “prepping”. As I mentioned in that commentary, not all preppers are created equal. There are always some extremists in any hobby or sport. Prepping is no different. Still, better preparing you and your loved ones for a time when you might have to rely on your own resources for survival, even for a couple days, makes good sense. It wasn’t but a couple years ago that a severe ice storm left many of us living frontier style for a few days. Fortunately I had seen to it that my family had backup plans for heating and cooking, water and food. I know of other people who spent several days with family members or friends to share a fireplace or wood furnace, and rationed food stores because they couldn’t get to town.

To that end, in coming weeks I’ll add another small information block each week with prepping tips and suggestions I gather from experts on such matters. I’m not a hardcore prepper at this point, but I am a list maker with lots of camping gear on hand and I know how to use it. Some of the first “prepping” tips will focus on water storage and filtration, food storage, alternative sources of heat, electricity and fuel … you get the idea. I promise it won’t take up a lot of space, and if your plan for survival after a disaster is to stand on an overpass waving a “Rescue Me” sign at the television station helicopter then you can just skip over the information. I’ve learned in my short 40-something years that the person who cares the most about my family’s safety and well-being is me.

Until next week, get out and do something in this amazing early March weather. And if you can’t take time to do it this month, at least daydream and plan for when you can make it happen later in the year.

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 already has hunting and fishing outings planned for every month of this year.)

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