Never seen it better

What a strange October – the largest mast crop I have ever seen and the latest fall colors I can remember. Mast, for those of you who do not know, is a woodland term for a “variety of nuts.” So that means it can be used in place of “politicians.” A little humor there! At the end of this column I will tell you how you can use acorns as food this time of year.

As for the fishing, I have to say, “I ain’t never seen it better.” On recent float trips on small streams I float often, we have caught bass on top-water lures by the dozens and dozens. It was like they were starved half to death; smallmouth, largemouth and Kentuckies – even white bass. Trouble is, lately, it has become really hard to fish much of the best water because of the fallen leaves floating everywhere.

It is almost time to hunt ducks and here we are catching bunches of bass on top-water lures. What a great time to be outdoors. I have seen enough turkeys to know that in my hunting areas, there is no change much in the number of young birds, and those who tell you there is, probably do not take into account the fact that with all the acorns, turkeys do not have to spend as much time in open areas chasing fall grasshoppers. Most of the time, there is a big difference in wildlife numbers according to regions, and when a biologist in this day and time starts talking about a statewide “flock” or “herd,” that really sounds goofy. There is no such thing and never has been.

I can’t tell you about turkey numbers in north Missouri or southeast Missouri. Where I hunt, there is no shortage of wild turkeys. But as for tomatoes, they are really scarce. I would say that the statewide herd of tomatoes has dwindled badly due to weather conditions.

When I was in Canada early in the month, I picked up a copy of Outdoor Life magazine in an old cabin I stayed in one night. It was about half the size of the ones I read as a boy in the pool hall. Tons of advertising, poor reading.

One writer was telling about the areas where largemouth bass were native, and he completely left out large areas, like southern Canada. At one time there were nothing but largemouths in the area of northwest Ontario where I often fish. They introduced smallmouths from trains crossing that region, dumping them from a big boxcar here and there when they crossed various waters. Smallmouth there today seem to crowd out largemouth in a hurry when they get a foothold.

But still, you can fly in to some of the small lakes and find only largemouth. There are quite a few six-to seven-pounders there but I have never seen a bigger one. The writer, undoubtedly an expert living in some city suburb, wasn’t writing about what he had experienced, and seen.

I think the same guy wrote that red foxes didn’t exist in the Midwest 200 years ago, but expanded here from New England. We can probably look forward to that kind of thing from outdoor writers in the future as fewer of them have been there and done that. Writers who wrote for those magazines in the past wrote from experiences and a life spent outdoors, rather than the Internet. Not so much today.

Imagine what a St. Louis or Kansas City or Little Rock newspaper would do if their best baseball writer wrote that Babe Ruth was a third baseman for the Cubs in the 50s, or that Stan Musial was a switch-hitter. Few of them know foxes or fish.

There is no canine species so widespread or adaptable as the red fox. I know the species well and red foxes are fascinating creatures. You might read sometime that only gray foxes can climb trees, red foxes do not. Ask some old timer who has lived his life outdoors if that is true. If you have never seen a red fox climb a tree you haven’t been out there enough. He doesn’t like too much, but he can if he needs to, like a squirrel.

Most anything native to the Ozarks that has fur can climb a tree, except those creatures that swim, like beaver and muskrat. I still have never seen an armadillo in a tree, never once saw a rabbit or deer or coyote in a tree, but at one time or another, about everything else you can imagine, I have seen in the branches of a tree, seeking to escape something else. However, it is true that sometimes you will find something in a tree that absolutely cannot climb one – like a wood duck or a turkey.

A little more humor there!

When I was young, I believed almost everything I read about the outdoors. Now, I believe only what I have seen. As a writer who concentrates on the outdoors, I always try to never say never or always. And today’s outdoor writers can get away with about anything they want to write because while an editor or publisher doesn’t know the difference between a crawdad and a crayfish!

A note from a reader says he thinks that the Missouri Department of Conservation is incapable of putting a dent in the wild pig numbers. I think they know that. But yes, they are indeed right to ask that hunters do not pursue them in areas where they are trying to trap them in big baited pens. It is best to leave those wild pigs alone, because hunting them keeps them from being as easy to trap.

Unsuspecting wild hogs may be trapped in large numbers and that is what is needed. If the operations were big enough and covered enough of the Ozarks, we could drastically reduce the numbers of feral hogs. We need to; the critters do more damage to our woodlands and native wildlife than anything I can think of.

However, if there are no trapping efforts going on, if I were sitting in my tree stand hunting deer and had a good shot at some feral hogs, I would shoot all the young ones I could, and clean and eat them. It may be that someday no one will want to eat deer because of the Jacob-Kruetzfeldt disease. Hogs don’t have the disease.

There is one way to eliminate feral hogs, and that is the development of a poison to kill them with as little effect on other species of wildlife. That is a method no one has wanted to risk yet but it is a possibility.

Okay, here’s the acorn recipe, which I often give to those who ask why I am so healthy and good-looking at my advancing age! Get big, nice white oak acorns (with no worms in them) boil them and pour off the stained water, boil again and again until the boiling water full of acorns stays clear. If you do not boil all the tannin stain out of them, then the whole mix will be bitter. You can take whole boiled acorns and dip them in cinnamon and sugar, or…

Grind the acorns to a fine meal. Use one cup of acorn meal, half cup of wheat flour, half cup of cornmeal. Add one teaspoon of salt, one tablespoon of baking soda, then stir or mix until well blended. In another bowl, mix three tablespoons salad oil, half cup of honey, one egg and one cup of whole milk. Then mix up both concoctions until it is a big moist batter which you then pour into a pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 or 30 minutes.

Cut into slices, butter them well and maybe add some molasses or homemade mulberry jelly. If you don’t have molasses or mulberry jelly then don’t blame me if you don’t like it. I wouldn’t doubt a bit that some ground walnuts wouldn’t make it even better, but when I lived with the Indians they wouldn’t ever eat walnuts!

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