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Anticipating the fall hunts

Admittedly the weather as of late doesn’t feel like deer season. But even though we’re four months away and 50 degrees too warm, my thoughts are already drifting in that direction. 

This past week we spent a day hanging out at Black River with some family members. My brother-in-law was changing the discs on his game cameras in the area and showed up with 1,150 pictures to look at including fawns, does, bucks, bigger bucks, one turkey and a few feral hogs. As much as I enjoy hunting a wild hog or turkey, it was seeing those big bucks that made me long for cold mid-November days. 

This year’s deer season promises to be very different for us.

For years I’ve hunted primarily rifle season only, with opening weekend being about a few family members (including my son) and a couple hunting buddies hanging out in the old farm house and hunting morning and evening. Last year we upgraded to a new cabin at the farm, but my son still drove across the state to hunt with me, and a good friend joined us. 

But a big change with last fall was that with the new cabin my wife was more favorable about spending some weekends with me at the farm. She would sleep in, read or quilt while I archery hunted on the other side of the property. It was nice to bow hunt for the first time in nearly two decades and get more time in the woods. And it was even better having her there to enjoy midday big breakfasts or after dark suppers and hanging out in the new cozy cabin. 

But this year promises even more changes. Our son and daughter-in-law relocated to the farm in May. They’re slowing carving out a homestead and life on one end of the property. Our cabin sits near the middle of the tract of land, and the best hunting ground lies on the other end. From the time he moved away from home to attend a university several years ago he’s always had to drive several hours each way to deer hunt on opening weekend with me. Now not only will he be able to simply walk out the front door and walk to his deer stand, but he’ll also have ample opportunity to bow hunt. And with my renewed interest in archery hunting, we hope to fill several of our farm tags and both our freezers starting in September. 

Even though deer hunting has become a big part of my life each fall, it wasn’t always the case. I grew up doing a lot of fishing and very little hunting. 

I grew up near Clearwater Lake, the second largest lake in the region and formed by the confluence of the Black River and Webb Creek near Piedmont, in Wayne and Reynolds counties. My dad had a 14-foot john boat with a 9.5-horse Mercury outboard and small trolling motor. While he worked hard and rarely took time off to enjoy a hobby, when he did relax it usually meant going fishing on Clearwater Lake.

We spent many a day trolling the upper reaches of the lake in search of bass, crappie, panfish, goggle eye, carp or any other fish that would bite a hook. After my older brothers had married (but not to each other) and moved away from home I became dad’s primary fishing partner. On his occasional day off we’d start early by loading and checking the boat — gas tank, trolling motor battery, life vests, tackle and other gear, stringers, live or other bait (livers, dough bait, cheese, hot dogs, etc.), lunch, and on and on — and then we’d head out on the 11 mile trip to the lake.

Lunch for dad was always sardines, crackers and a Dr. Pepper. My lunch was Vienna Sausages, crackers and a Mountain Dew. When we went fishing we would be on the water until dark, weather permitting. At the time it seemed like we were just fishing. But now I realize we were making memories for a lifetime (and shaping an interest I’ve used in the years since to make some decent dollars as an outdoor writer for magazines and websites).

While we fished fairly often, we rarely went hunting. Dad simply didn’t like to hunt. Still, he made a point to teach each of us kids how to properly handle firearms. And he took us out and taught us the basics of hunting rabbits and squirrels. I took up deer hunting as a teenager by going with friends and their hunting mentors, but wouldn’t start turkey hunting until nearly two decades later.

When my kids started getting old enough to enjoy outdoor sports I determined I was going to expose them to as many different outdoor hobbies as feasible. We started hunting deer and turkey during the newly-formed “youth only” hunts. Squirrel and rabbit hunting became a part of fall and winter life, and the bounty of those frequent hunts provided some healthy variety in our diet … and a welcomed break on the grocery bill for our young family.

While my fishing had waned once I moved away from home, we even bought a fish and ski boat and returned to Clearwater Lake to reel in our fair share of bass, crappie and panfish.

I’m glad to say the effort paid off. Both of our children can handle firearms safely and effectively. They both know the basics behind when and where to hunt and fish to have the best odds of catching supper. And they both know how to clean game and cook it as well. The tips and tricks of Ozark outdoor sports was handed down to yet another generation.

Looking ahead to coming months, I welcome getting to spend more time hunting this fall with my son. We both work jobs, and he’s trying to establish a farm operation, but we’ll still have some time to share hunts, stories of hunts, and maybe even a few meals together. Maybe I’ll stock the cabin pantry shelves with Vienna Sausages and sardines for lunches.

 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 really enjoys spending time outdoors with his family and friends).

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