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Things are beginning to pop

The Easter lilies are showing themselves and the grass is starting to push up through the brown left behind last fall. Last night while feeding the livestock I had mosquitoes buzzing my ankles and forearms.

It won’t be long before the garden is planted, the lawnmower needs a spring tune up, and (most importantly) spring turkey season opens and along with it comes morel mushrooms.

I’ve never been one to hate winter, but the older I grow the less I embrace the bitter cold, especially in the mornings, and the ongoing mess created by freeze and thaw or the ground.

I still enjoy a picturesque Ozarks snowfall. And I don’t really mind feeding the animals in the winter … and two kinds that I raise, pigs and rabbits, can thrive in cold temps. And cleaning out the barn or chicken house is much more pleasant without the summer’s heat.

But the most joy I derive from winter these days, especially late winter, is that spring can’t be too far away.

April 16 will be opening day of spring turkey season in Missouri. The season runs until Monday, May 6. The gobblers and hens are already getting more active, I suspect in part because with the start of the warmup the worms, grubs and other small ground dwellers are making their way to the surface. One day this past week while doing some clearing of access lanes on the farm I saw a lot of sign of turkeys – more than the normal scratching and foraging found in the winter.

Last year brought a welcomed sign in that I captured more images of turkeys on my game cameras than ever before. Our property has always had a few resident turkeys, but a handful of factors including a healthy coyote population seemed to keep the numbers lower than they should have been. Even more rare to find on the property was a rabbit. But this past week’s mowing of an overgrown field showed evidence that the bunny population is making a comeback as well.

Today I’ll be back at the property and check my game cameras. I suspect I’ll see several turkeys passing by the food plots and ponds. I’ll be spending at least one night there this weekend, so I’ll get up early and do some listening as well. But I’ll hold off on calling at this point. My turkey calling is far from where it could be, and I don’t want to be educating them of my presence just yet.

And we’re getting some much-needed rain in recent weeks. While the old saying states “April showers bring May flowers,” those of us who enjoy a good fungi are more interested in those April and early May rains bringing a bloom of morel mushrooms. When the mycelium (the hair-like root system of the mushroom) finally warms to the correct temperature and receives the ideal amount of moisture it bursts forth with the above ground portion we commonly call the “mushroom”.

Morels, like all mushrooms, can be elusive. You have to hunt and harvest them on their timeline, not on yours. When conditions are right and edible portions push through the soil you have to be there within a matter of hours to harvest them before they begin to wither and spoil. You might have a day at the most from the time they pop until they’re too far gone.

But, man oh man, when all conditions are right and you find them soon after they’ve popped – generally shortly after a warm, damp day – and especially if it’s a new location for you, well, it’s as if the stars have all aligned and the creator of the universe is smiling directly down on you. And the beauty of discovering a morel mushroom is that most often you’ll find anywhere from a few to a few hundred more in the same area.

If you stumble onto a new morel patch inspect the entire area until you’ve seemingly found the edges and no more beyond that point. Then mark that location in your mind for future reference. Unless some catastrophic happens and the soil is disturbed, that mycelium will continue to produce new “fruit” (or mushrooms) each time conditions are right – which in our region can normally range from April into late May.

And that area will produce mushrooms each year.

(Here’s a helpful tip: When collecting morels use a mesh bag to carry them in. The portion we harvest and eat is actually the reproductive portion of the fungi, and it produces spores which can go back into the ground and foster new growth in the future. It’s good that when you pick a mushroom – or better yet slice it off just above the ground with a knife – that you gently tap it before placing it in the bag. That will cause any loose spores to drop onto soil which is obviously ideal for growing that type of mushroom. And carrying them in a mesh bag also allows any loose spores to fall onto the soil as you’re moving about. And the mesh bag, or at a minimum a paper sack, allows the mushrooms to have some air and helps with premature spoilage.)

But back to other spring activities. Catch-and-keep fishing in the state’s four dedicated trout parks opened March 1. While season runs through Oct. 31, the spring is the best time (in my humble opinion) to fish for trout. By early- to mid-summer the vegetation in those clear spring-fed streams begins to grow like crazy and the fishing becomes more about not getting tangled and finding the fish in and around the underwater brush than it is about relaxing fishing.

Reports I’ve received so far this month have been of some really nice-sized trout coming out of the parks.

Another fishing activity on the horizon this time of year is panfish angling in gravely streams, ponds and shallow lake edges. Usually about late April or early May the bluegill and perch will begin spawning and the female will lay the eggs in “nests” – bowl-shaped indentions made in shallow gravely areas by the fish to create a pocket to hold future offspring.

Then the male fish will guard the nest by floating, or hovering, over it protecting the developing eggs. When a predator – or a lure or manmade fly which mimics a predator – nears the nest the male will strike out in defense. If that mimicking predator just happens to be a lure on the other end of you monofilament then you’ve just caught yourself a good start on a fried fish supper. Work your way over to the next protected nest and cast past it and work your fly or lure past that big male and you’ll most likely have another one for the frying pan.

As I see it, we have a window of opportunity here in coming weeks. We can focus on spring gobblers, trout and early morels and panfish before we all get too busy with grass mowing chores to get too far from the house.

To borrow another phrase, let’s “make hay while the sun shines”.

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 starting this time of year a good film of bug spray).

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