Life is cyclical in many ways. Farmers work hard in the spring to get the soil prepared and seed in the ground, then spend their summers going nonstop making hay. Then come fall, they’re harvesting crops and readying their buildings and equipment for winter. Come the deep part of winter, many farmers finally have a little bit of slack time. That’s when they might take a vacation or turn their attention to a shop project like restoring an antique tractor or rebuilding a piece of equipment.
In that respect being an outdoor enthusiast is a lot like farming ... except it’s a hobby so it doesn’t pay as well and the winter slack time is shorter.
There’s not a time of the year when a person can’t find something to do in the woods or on the water in the Ozarks. That said, the time from early January to early April is one of the slowest times of the year. Seasons are ending for deer and turkey archery hunters, squirrel and rabbit hunters have to stop by Feb. 15. Coyote hunters are done by the end of March for a couple months. Paddlefish snaggers and trout anglers are about the only folks stirring throughout March.
But come April ... that’s when things really start popping. This month brings with it spring turkey hunting opportunities and crappie fishing, as well as several other species of fish starting to be more active as the water begins to warm and the days grow noticeably longer. Before we know it we’ll be into May and thoughts will turn to hunting morel mushrooms, pulling big slab crappie from area lakes, and visiting farm ponds and streams to go after hand-sized bluegill and other panfish in the gravely- and sandy-bottomed shallows where they'll be nesting.
Youth turkey hunters will get a head start next weekend during the “youth-only” spring turkey season April 6-7. Then us older hunters will get our chance at a big gobbler from April 15 to May 5. There’s been some talk of fewer birds this year due to poor production in the hatches starting in 2015 through last year. But I’ve been seeing a few birds in field edges in recent weeks and have heard reports of increased early morning gobbling.
I’ve also seen a few photos of some decent crappie being pulled from southern Missouri impoundments. If you have a good day at the lake, or you or a child harvests a turkey this next month don’t forget to send me a picture and I’ll be glad to include it here on the Outdoor Page.
You can email it to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop it off at either the Daily Journal office in Park Hills, the Daily Journal/Farmington Press office in Farmington, or the Democrat News office in Fredericktown. If you drop off a photo just mark it “Attention Doug Smith” and include the names of the people, the date the game was taken, and a general location (as specific as you care to be ... for example county, region, or “grandpa’s farm pond”). Include a contact phone number in case I have any questions. I'll get it printed in an upcoming edition.
And if you're not into fishing or spring turkey hunting but you still want to get outdoors, consider a walk through deer territory in search of shed antlers. I always talk about "hunting sheds" in January, because that's when bucks (and the occasional antlered doe) will start shedding their annual headgear. The reason you're supposed to hunt sheds during the time they're being dropped is because the calcium and other minerals in the bone-like antlers are a delicacy for squirrels and other rodents. They'll quickly start gnawing on dropped antlers to get the much-needed minerals, leaving those perfect antlers with tines either deeply scarred or completely chewed off.
That doesn't mean you won't still find a near perfect antler specimen this time of year or even later. Last week my son's dog dragged in a 10-point rack which has nary a blemish on it. Yes, I said a rack (meaning both antlers). In this case, the antlers were still attached to a portion of the skull plate. This happened at our farm, and since we didn't miss any shots during fall rifle season, it makes me wonder what happened to that big buck that he died prior to shedding his antlers. The dog dropped the rack near one of the barns, so we have no idea where on the property (or on neighboring properties) that he found it.
The other thing this time of year is good for is getting done what you didn't get finished in the winter, and getting the lawn mower and garden tiller tuned up for the pending mowing and gardening seasons.
I had a list of things to get done during late winter and early spring to ready myself for summer. I needed to remove the remains of a couple fallen-down old barns while I could work without concern of stumbling upon a copperhead. There was a plan to expand all the food plots and add one or two new ones. I need to relocate my elevated blind I built this past fall ... the "Tenderloin Taj Mahal". And the old Farmall tractor we use for brushy fields we're taming back into pasture needs a tuneup and some routine maintenance, as does the flatbed farm truck and the UTV we use to run around and do chores on the farm. And I hoped to add a deck to the hunting cabin this winter.
None of those projects were totally completed as of yet. My plan is to spend this rainy Saturday finishing up the maintenance on the UTV, ordering parts for the farm truck, and repairing a couple leaks in the radiator of the old Farmall. The grass in the fields will be growing like a weed, literally, in the next few weeks and once it's up we'll be running two or three tractors pulling brush mowers just to stay ahead of it all summer long.
And then there's fruit trees to prune, a garden to plant, a lawn mower to get tuned up, and spring home improvement projects. But come April 15 the world will need to stand still for a time while I go in search of a big gobbler.
On a side note: This last Saturday evening I had a chance to visit briefly with a very nice longtime reader of this outdoor page. The gentleman was from the Fredericktown area and was a pleasure to chat with for a time. The church I attend was hosting a trivia night fundraiser for an upcoming mission trip my wife and I will be leading to Ecuador.
Not only did he (I'm not mentioning his name because I didn't think to ask his permission to use it here) and some family members and friends come out to help support our trip and play some rounds of trivia with us, but he also brought me a supply of toiletries to be delivered to the orphanage where we'll be doing some maintenance and other work, and a DVD copy of "End of the Spear," the movie made several years ago about five young missionaries to the region where we'll be going who were murdered by locals while trying to spread the gospel there.
I'm happy to report that region is much more hospitable now than back in 1956 when the five young missionaries were speared to death by a jungle tribe. I had heard of the situation and the subsequent documentary, but had never seen the movie until now. Thanks again!