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A well-spent $50

Like most people I know, I’ve cut back my travels with the increase of gas prices in recent years. But some activities are just worth the added cost.

For example, when I first started fishing for trout a dozen years ago I could make the drive to Meramec or Montauk trout parks for about $25. I usually fished with my buddy who introduced me to the hobby, Ray May of Desloge, and we’d split the cost of fuel and a parking pass to the park. For a few more dollars I could buy my daily trout tag. The small sum entitled me to five nice rainbow trout, or four rainbows and one brown. Either way, for about $20 each of us could spend a morning fishing in a magnificent stream and take home enough fillets or cleaned fish to make a meal for our individual families.

Regular readers know one of my favorite outdoor activities is hunting squirrels. A squirrel was the first animal I harvested as a kid. It was the first wild game I learned to field dress and clean for cooking. While I’ve hunted squirrels all over the Ozarks, the majority of my small game outings have been to my grandfather’s farm in Bollinger County. It’s where I shot my first squirrel with a .410 bolt action shotgun while hunting with my dad.

While I’ve since graduated to using a .22 rifle, I still hunt the same woodlots by way of the same log roads and access lanes. And even though many hunters advance past squirrels to turkey and deer or even larger game and never go back, some like me never lose the fun of a fall or winter morning targeting bushytails.

Difference is, back when I was 10 and hunting with dad he probably paid 75 cents or less a gallon for the fuel to make the 65 mile trip to grandpa’s farm a few times a year. Nowadays I pay $3.75 cents per gallon to drive the 35 miles each way to hunt the same squirrel woods on what is now my dad’s farm. Due to the higher cost I try to make each outing more productive and divide my trip between hunting and upkeep of the land.

Another outdoor activity many of us have enjoyed over the years has also fallen prey to the price at the pump in recent years. Leisure drives, sometimes called “going out for a Sunday afternoon drive”, seems to happen less frequent these days. Maybe it’s just that we’re busier with all of life’s expectations and draws on our time, or we stay so busy hauling the kids from one event to another that by the weekend we’re simply too tired to face getting back in the car.

But I suspect the price of gasoline plays into our trend of avoiding relaxing drives as often. It’s hard to relax and simply hit the road and soak in the scenery when you glance out the corner of your eye and watch the gas gauge dropping as you leave a trail of dollars behind in fumes from the exhaust pipe.

Still, fall is arriving in the Ozarks. Some trees have started dropping leaves, and others are beginning to turn yellow and red. Squirrels are on the move hauling hickory and walnuts to their dens. Deer can be spotted feeding in field edges as bucks are losing the velvet from their antlers and polishing the bone headgear to a high luster. Turkeys, traveling in flocks of jakes and toms or hens and poults, can be seen feeding on grasshoppers and seeds in fields.

With all the stress and aggravation of daily life these days, taking a leisurely drive for a couple hours is still inexpensive therapy. I’d suggest you consider planning a few fall drives in coming weeks. Sure, you’ll pay more for gas than you should. But you’ll also likely find that the relaxation a “Sunday afternoon drive” can provide is well worth the $4 a gallon, or whatever the price of fuel is this week.

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 plans to spend a little of his children’s inheritance to take a few fall drives this year.)

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