Finding an eagle for my beloved

My first glimpse of a bald eagle in Louisiana took place when I was just a kid and the one I saw was sitting on a nest made of a huge pile of sticks and branches high up in a big pine tree not far from my home in Goldonna. Someone had alerted my dad to the eagle nest and he took my brother, sister and me to the piney woods to see it. Unfortunately, too many other people knew about the nest and all the activity caused the birds to abandon the nest.

According to officials with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), the Goldonna eagle and just about all the others around the state disappeared. In the early 1970s, only seven nests were counted across the entire state. Not only had the birds disappeared in our state, the same thing was happening across the United States. The culprit responsible for the vanishing eagles was a pesticide we know as DDT.

The pesticide did a great job of controlling nuisance insects on crops. Many of the DDT-infested insects made their way into waterways where they were eaten by small fish, which were eaten by larger fish, which just happens to be a bald eagle’s main diet.

As eagles caught and ate fish, the DDT came with the eagle’s meal with the result being an increasing difficulty of the birds to absorb calcium, the absence of which made the eggs of nesting eagles thin. As a result, eggs were broken before they hatched.

Fortunately, the use of DDT was outlawed in the United States in 1972 and a slow but steady recovery began.

Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to spot eagles at inopportune times. I’m not looking for them but – BAM – there’s an eagle.

I was headed to my favorite fishing pond one morning several years ago. As I turned off the highway down the road to the pond, something caught my eye sitting in a tall pine. I saw the telltale white head of a bald eagle.

One of the most impressive sightings I ever had was one day a few years ago when James Ramsaur, director of Lincoln Parish Park, called me to bring my camera; he had something to show me. When I arrived at the park, I saw what looked like a feather pillow had exploded along the pond dam at the park. Sitting atop a tall tree nearby was a bald eagle. Ramsaur explained that an eagle had caught one of the white ducks making their home on the lake and enjoyed a meal on the pond dam.

More recently, I was driving home from town when I watched a bald eagle flying across a pasture toward a pond. The white head and tail feathers were dead giveaways.

While I have had the occasion to spot an eagle now and then, my wife has been denied that opportunity and I hoped she might be with me when I spotted one. Last week, I struck gold.

After a trip to town, I had noticed that the owner of a hay field across the road from my home had mowed hay that morning. Casting a glance onto the field of freshly cut hay, something caught my eye. There sitting in the field 100 yards from me was a bald eagle apparently enjoying a meal from a rat; snake; rabbit or something the mower had run over.

Since it was a few hundred yards from home, I hurried in, told my wife to jump in the car and come with me to see if it was still there. It was. We sat for several minutes observing the eagle which was being harassed by several crows. The eagle eventually flew to a branch on a tall tree across the field and having brought binoculars along with us, we enjoyed the scene for several minutes before the big bird grew tired of being harassed by crows and flew along the field giving us another spectacular view of the white head and tail as it flew.

If you really love your wife and she has never seen an eagle, be on the lookout for one to show her. I have a sneaking feeling I’ll be getting a chocolate pie out of the deal.

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Thinking about the moon

I’m already looking forward to when the next full moon makes its appearance. Out where we live in the country, there is something mesmerizing to drive east down our road at dusk and see the full moon pulling itself up from the wood line. If it’s a high pressure, low humidity day, the moon is so big and bright it’s easy to see features on the moon’s surface.

The moon has made its way into popular movies. For example, the movie Picnic, starring the stunning actress Kim Novak, features the song Moonglow. Then there is Moonstruck starring Nicolas Cage and Cher where the eccentric old grandfather gazes to the night skies with the phrase “la bella luna.” In English, in case you don’t know, that’s “beautiful moon.”

Then there are popular songs that mention the moon. It’s Only a Paper MoonButtermilk SkyMoon Over Memphis are some that come to mind but probably the most popular one in more recent times was Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival. This song contains a phrase that is often misunderstood and folks – including yours truly – scratch their heads trying to figure out how the heck it fits into the song. The mistaken phrase in the song is “there’s a bathroom on the right” when CCR was actually singing “there’s a bad moon on the rise.” Who knew?

As a fisherman, I love to be out on the lake at night during a full moon, casting along the shoreline for bass. When the moon is bright, you don’t need any other light other than what the moon provides to see where to cast.

The role the moon plays in the activity of fish was recognized a long time ago when in 1926, John Alden Knight came up with something serious anglers utilize today, the Solunar Table.

The table identifies four lunar periods each day, two major periods and two minor periods. Major periods last about two hours and begin when the moon is directly overhead as well as when it’s directly below. Minor periods last about an hour while the moon rises and sets. Knight’s idea is that fish become more active at these four times daily.

Following the Solunar Table, there are four lunar phases – new moon, first quarter, full moon and last quarter. Many anglers swear that 90 percent of catches come on a full or new moon. Additionally, some say you should only fish a full moon at night for best results and a new moon during the day.

All this technical stuff aside, a big bright full moon has always been special to me. Back in the day when I was in high school, there was nothing more romantic than to be courting my girlfriend under a full moon. It wouldn’t have been nearly as romantic if the night had been totally dark.

We didn’t know anything about a Solunar Table back when my brother, two cousins and I spent the night on the creek bank setting out hooks for catfish. It was more fun and our catches were better when we fished and camped under the light of a full moon. 

When I was a kid, I was exposed to a totally different kind of “moon” one summer Sunday morning in church. I was sitting with my first cousin, Doug, and in the pew directly in front of us sat one of the old patriarchs of Goldonna Baptist Church, an elderly gentleman everyone knew as “Mister Bud.”

As the song leader announced the song and asked everybody to stand, Mister Bud stood, bent forward to reach for a hymnal and when he did, the threadbare seersucker pants he wore silently ripped from waist to crotch exposing a bare bottom; he didn’t believe in wearing underwear in summer.

Even before CCR came up with the song, Doug and I were witnesses to a “bad moon on the rise.” We giggled so hard we probably needed to go find a “bathroom on the right.”

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A shot in the arm for Lake Claiborne and fishing in north Louisiana

She’s old, gotten fairly long in the tooth and like most of us, we tend to slow down once this happens to us. There is hope, however, for one of this area’s favorite lakes, Lake Claiborne.

I was fortunate to live in Homer when the lake was constructed and watched water begin trickling over the spillway half a century ago indicating that at long last the lake was finally what it was designed to be, a brand-new 6,400-acre body of water that would provide recreational opportunities not only for the folks living in Claiborne Parish but around north Louisiana as well.

I found a lot on the Beaver Creek branch of the lake, put my money down and purchased the lot so I could enjoy what this new lake had to offer, and boy, did it offer some good stuff.

After purchasing the lot, clearing it off, I did something then I couldn’t think of doing now. With the help of friends, I built a pier and boat house where I kept my ski boat and fishing boat and there weren’t many afternoons after work that I was not out there taking my kids skiing and searching for some of the best fishing holes.

One particular hot spot for bass was a row of green willows that grew in the middle of Beaver Creek just a long cast from my pier. This was one of the hottest spots on the lake to ease up early morning before the sun began to peak over the distant trees to the row of willows, then cast out a Tiny Torpedo next to the greenery. I’ve had successful fishing trips since but nothing to me was more fun than being close enough to be able to glance over my shoulder at my boat house, cast the lure and watch a bass explode on it. Man, that was some genuine fun.        

I eventually moved from Homer, sold my lot and my trips back to the lake became fewer and further between and it was just as well because the red-hot fishing Claiborne had offered was starting to wane. The lake began acting like most lakes with some age on them as vegetation died away and things just weren’t the same any longer.

Something has happened to this half-a-century-old lake over the past few years. First off, the Lake Commission arranged to purchase and release in the lake a species of bass that would hopefully add a shot in the arm to the lake, Tiger bass. Genetically, they’re a special combination of native largemouth and those of the Florida strain that, while not having the potential of growing as large as pure Florida’s, tend to be more aggressive and more likely to strike a lure.

I recently visited with Fisheries Manager for Northwest Louisiana for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Jeff Sibley, who is responsible for the management of Lake Claiborne.

“In addition to the Tiger bass that have been released in the lake over the past five years or so, our department is also releasing pure Florida bass which may not be as easy to catch but have the potential of growing quite big,” Sibley said.

Another shot in the arm for Claiborne took place a few weeks ago when the Major League Fishing circuit was in Louisiana fishing on Caney Lake and Bussey Brake. This group has a habitat project they fund on lakes in the states where their tournaments are held.

“They choose a lake not on the tournament circuit and this year they chose Claiborne and contributed some $25,000 to improve the fishing habitat. Special fish attracting structures were put together and placed in the lake in several locations, mainly around the State Park with coordinates available so anglers could locate the structures that should attract fish,” Sibley said.

Time will tell if these “shots in the arm” will return Lake Claiborne to one that anglers will be hitting more frequently with the real possibility of bringing in bragging-sized fish.

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Bamboozled by a grebe

The pied-billed grebe is a rather nondescript water bird most of us have never heard of. However, when you mention “di-dipper,” heads nod in recognition. They’re one and the same.

Just about every country boy who spent any time around a lake while growing up has encountered these shy little critters that are there on the surface one minute; gone the next.

I see the little brown birds frequently on the surface of the lake at Lincoln Parish Park and they only let you see them for a short while. Try to get closer and they dive, popping up a few seconds later 10 feet from where they dived. 

According to George Lowery’s Louisiana Birds the most remarkable feature of these birds is their ability to submerge instantaneously, thus their French name of sac-a-plomb, which means “sack of lead”. Lowery also noted that it is virtually impossible to shoot a grebe because “at the flash from the muzzle, the bird submerges and is gone before the pellets arrive.” With all due respect, George, I beg to differ. Read on …

My first encounter with a grebe was down on Chee Chee Bay in Natchitoches Parish. I was in my early teens when I went to spend the night with a friend from school with the idea of going duck hunting the next morning. My friend, Arthur, lived near the lake, which made it convenient for us to be at the lakeside at first light, hoping to get some pass-shooting at a duck or two.

Arthur went one way; I went another as I waited in the cold dampness for a crack at a duck. While hunkering down behind some button willows next to the shoreline, I waited for what seemed an hour without a single duck flying my way. Then I spotted something moving on the water just up the lake from where I was. In my mind’s eye, it was a duck.

I formulated a plan to outsmart that duck and at least have something to show for my efforts that morning. By using the row of button willows as a shield, I belly-crawled through the cold mud for 100 yards until I had sneaked within shotgun range of the little brown “duck.”

When I’d gotten close enough, I eased to one knee, raised my gun, took aim, and fired. The “duck” rolled over, dead as a…..well, you know. Then I encountered a problem. The wind was blowing out and my prize was floating away toward the big lake.

Luck was on my side, though, because I spotted an old wooden boat somebody had beached just up from where I was. There was no paddle in the boat but I found a plank nearby that would serve as my paddle.

The boat was made of wood, it was big and very heavy. It took all the strength I could muster but I finally pushed and pulled; grunted and strained until I had the boat in the water. As you might expect, a boat such as this would never have been abandoned if it were still sea-worthy. It leaked; not too bad but enough that I figured I had to paddle fast to reach my duck and then get back to shore before it sank.

Flailing the water with the one-by-six plank, I was finally able to catch up with my “duck.” It was not until I had lifted it from the water that I realized my mistake. It was no duck; it was a di-dipper.

I had little time to browbeat myself because the boat was sinking. I had to fight the wind and paddle with all my might to get the boat back to shore. I just barely made it before the creaky old craft filled with water. I left it in the shallows and walked ashore, wet and muddy, with my di-dipper.

For the uninformed, the pied-billed grebe is described as a “ducklike water bird closely related to LOONS.”

After this hunt, I felt I may have been that grebe’s cousin.

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April 2023 provided mixture of aggravation and excitement

The month of May is here and I’m glad. It was with mixed feelings that I ripped April off my calendar and bid it good bye with good riddance mixed with a measure of thanks. Let me explain.

The month of April brought with it the bad temper Mother Nature can sometimes show. Some Aprils are sunny and warm; storm free and pleasant. Not this April, though. We had storms causing damage around the area. We had too much rain at times but the main thing that chapped my rear was the early-morning temperatures.

April is when I usually begin doing something I love to do and that’s take a basket of crickets, a comfortable chair and set up shop on the bank of a favorite pond. The bluegills are usually bedding by then and it takes a minimum of effort to fill a cooler with all the big fat bluegills and chinquapins I care to clean.

I keep a daily log of weather conditions and looking back over the log for April, I see 52, 48, 49, 51 et al as morning temperatures — and my favorite time to hit the pond is in the mornings. I’m not ready to have to have to wear a jacket to fish for bream so I’ll have to wait and see if May offers more comfortable conditions.

While April chilled us and didn’t let us take coffee cups comfortably to the porch to enjoy spring weather, something else took place that sort of made us forget about what a bad mood Mother Nature was in that month.

Every year around this time, song birds that have spent the winter in the tropics begin thinking about heading north where they’ll spend the summer and fall nesting and rearing offspring. During this time of time of year, they begin first gathering on the coast to restore their strength and energy from the exertion of winging their way across the Gulf. Birders from all over visit the coast to experience this spectacle, seeing birds they only see this time of year.

Once their stamina is replenished, the birds begin filtering north making their way through our part of the world, occasionally stopping by to sample our bird feeders that are usually visited by those native to north Louisiana – cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, titmice and such. Some that come through this time of year stay through the summer, rearing their young, while others bid us adieu after filling their stomachs before moving on.

Every year about this time, I start looking for one particular species of song bird, one that always stops by for a week or so before moving north. It’s the rose breasted grosbeak, a stunningly beautiful bird with eye-catching markings; a black back, white underside but what catches your attention is the crimson throat and upper breast the grosbeaks sport. The female has the appearance of a large brown sparrow. I’ll usually see a pair and sometimes two stop by to sample what’s on my feeder.

This year, something happened that made me forget that April robbed me of my chance to fish for bluegills. It was the sheer number of these beautiful birds that have converged on my feeder. I was thrilled when my first one showed up April 20. What I haven’t expected is the fact that the grosbeak flood gates opened and I’m filling my feeder several times a day because there have been so many.

One morning, I counted more than a dozen on the feeder, on the ground and on nearby branches. It’s not just me seeing them; reports have come in all around the area from folks seeing bunches of grosbeaks around their feeders. 

So April, I’m giving you a pass this year. Your weather stunk, but being inundated with so many rose breasted grosbeaks is a nice consolation prize.

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District attorney polishes off wild turkey grand slam

If I were to begin this column telling my readers how much I love to turkey hunt, you’d likely to be shaking your head and mumbling “there he goes again.” Okay, so turkey hunting is my absolutely favorite outdoor pursuit and forgive me if I mention my passion again.

Actually my purpose in writing this column focuses on someone else. The district attorney for Lincoln and Union Parishes, John Belton, is the focus, but first you’ll have to indulge me just a bit.

I started my turkey hunting career in 1992 when I downed my first wild turkey gobbler.

Something happened to me that day that totally redirected my interest in things to do outdoors. I fell for the sport of hunting wild turkeys like a bluegill for a cricket and for the next 25 years, I lived for spring and the opportunity to be in the woods somewhere to listen for the gobble of a wild turkey on the roost and take off through the woods to be setting up 100 yards from his roost tree before he flew down.

Facing reality, my birthdays seemed to occur more frequently than when I was younger and advancing age along with creaky joints have prevented me from taking off through the woods at daylight to be there when the gobbler flew down. I haven’t been able to hunt turkeys for the past few seasons but I have a storehouse of special exciting memories to polish off and recall special times and special gobblers I have run across over that quarter-century of chasing them.

Among my most favorite memories is one late afternoon among the tumbleweeds on a prairie in South Dakota when a long-bearded Merriam’s gobbler stopped just long enough, before flying up to roost, to allow me to draw a bead on his warty neck and squeeze the trigger. I ran out to claim a special bird. Why was this one such a prize? It was the fourth in the sub-species of wild turkeys I had taken to lay claim to a coveted feat. With him I had completed the wild turkey Grand Slam.

This brings me to my purpose in sharing today. I received a note from District Attorney John Belton last week sharing with me a photo of a magnificent Merriam’s gobbler he recently took, a bird that was the final step in his completing his wild turkey Grand Slam. I had to talk with him to hear his story, which was every bit as exciting to him as mine was to me.

“I started out with my first of four gobblers that I hoped would ultimately result in my completing a Grand Slam. I got a Rio Grande gobbler on a hunt in Texas,” Belton said.

“Then I had the chance to travel to south Florida where I was successful in downing a big Osceola. Next, I hunt property I own in Caldwell Parish and got my Eastern and this left just one more to go,” he said.

Last week, it all fell into place when Belton, sensing the completion of his mission was in sight, took advantage of traveling to Nebraska when a big Merriam’s gobbler fell to his gun.

Of these four gobblers Belton brought down, which one in his opinion gave him the most trouble?

“The toughest to hunt to me are those right here at home. Nothing is harder to fool than an Eastern gobbler, partly because the other three species usually hang out in more open country where you might see one 300 yards (away) while the Eastern makes its home in piney woods with thickets that are tough to see. Before I finally got my Eastern, I called a bird in within shotgun range but there was so much brush I couldn’t get a shot,” he said.

His job as district attorney is important and involves controlling every criminal prosecution in his district. Should there be a brief lull in the courtroom, I can imagine his mind for a brief moment drifting back to images of those four gobblers that occupy a special niche in his memory.

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Springtime is bird watching time

I got a little excited this morning when I saw on Facebook that someone down around Alexandria had taken a photo of a special bird on his feeder. It’s a bird I start watching for about this time every spring.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak. I’ll start getting texts and calls from folks around this area who will send me a photo, asking what kind of bird this is. If you see one as they pass through and they stop for a bite on their way to their northern breeding grounds, I can guarantee it will get your attention because of the striking colors – black back, white under belly and a crimson patch on the upper chest.

As a novice birder, it all started for me as a youngster with my mom. She would hear an unfamiliar birdsong, pick up her tattered bird book as my brother, sister and I would follow her outside to find the bird she was interested in. This triggered something in me that has captivated my interest since those boyhood days.

I may be sitting on a deer stand and see a particular bird and for a moment would forget why I was on the deer hunt. I wanted to know what bird it was and I’d try to get a photo and dig out my bird book when I got home to try and identify it.

My wife and I keep our bird feeders filled with the anticipation that we just might see one that has alluded us for the past several years. In my opinion, the Painted Bunting is the most beautiful bird the Good Lord ever created. He must love birds a lot to have created one with red underparts, and a blue back with a bright chartreuse patch on the upper back. I can guarantee you, should you spot one, it’ll take your breath away.

Our introduction to Painted Buntings took place years ago when I spotted one on our feeder on a mid-April morning. Incredibly one would show up in our yard within a few days of the same time each spring, usually around April 15 for 10 years straight. For some reason, these handsome birds have shunned our feeder for the past several years but we have memories of those special times when they graced us with visits.

As beautiful as the male is, the female Painted Bunting has the distinction of being the only song bird we have with the coloration of a brilliant yellow-green. To see a pair on the feeder was a treat indeed.

This time of year, the cousin of the Painted Bunting, the Indigo Bunting is a frequent visitor to our feeders. Coloration is described in my bird book as an iridescent blue.

Another that is likely to show up is the Blue Grosbeak, slightly larger than the Indigo, blue but with rusty-colored wing bars.

During winter, folks in our part of the world have visitors that usually run in packs and they love to feed on bags of thistle seed we hang. They’re rather drab in color and you wonder how they get the name Gold Finch. However, these birds undergo a transition as they head north and if we’re fortunate, we get glimpses of them as the drab gray transitions to a brilliant bright yellow. Some of the birds wintering south of us are passing through now and I have seen a couple on my feeders showing off their bright yellow coloration.

There are some who can legitimately be called “birders” who are much more adept at bird identification than I am, making annual birding trips and keeping life lists of birds they identify.  For novices like me, I just enjoy trying the best I can to identify those I happen to see.

My old tattered “Birds of North America” is a constant companion as I flip through dog-eared pages to see if I can correctly identify the latest little bundle of flit and feathers I see in my yard. 

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Fundraising banquets key to having turkeys in north Louisiana

There have been a few things that have dictated the direction my life would take. First off, that 10-inch bass I caught down on Molido behind my boyhood home signaled the start of my love for chunking and winding a rod and reel after bass.

When the first wood duck came barreling down through the flooded timber intent on landing on the water and my old 12-gauge double barrel dropped him at my feet, I fell in love with duck hunting.

There was that time before the duck and the bass conquests happened, when our up-the-road neighbor, Bud Pennington, pointed out a lump on a limb where his squirrel dog was barking and bawling at the base of the tree. He explained that that lump was no knot; it was a fox squirrel. My aim was true and as my first-ever squirrel hit the ground, my lifetime love of the sport of chasing October squirrels began.

Continuing on my trek through my bank of memories, the yapping and howling of a pack of beagles signaled that a deer was headed in my direction. I was on my first deer hunt in Claiborne Parish near Summerfield when a 10-point buck burst from cover to the pipeline I was watching. Slinging buckshot in his direction, I watched him tumble and once again, I had found yet another sport that had me in its grip.

Bass, ducks, squirrels and bucks were all put on the back burner when I stumbled on the sport that has captivated me like no other. The date was April 13, 1992 when I accepted an invitation to chase turkeys in Alabama. To be honest, I really didn’t care about leaving the bream beds until my outdoor writer friend, John Phillips, tossed out nuggets — like free air fare, a shotgun, a guide and an array of camo clothing — that I decided the bream could wait a week or so while I took advantage of the opportunity to do something I had never tried, and that was to give spring turkey hunting a try.

When my guide, Skinny Hallmark, called to a gobbler on the roost and I heard him gobble, spit and drum as he strutted toward where I sat, no bass, duck, squirrel or deer could make my heart thump like mine was doing as the big gobbler stepped in front of my gun and I got him.

I decided then and there that I may never kill another one but I was determined to learn all I could about wild turkeys, how to call them and how to be sure there would be turkeys around when I wanted to hunt.

This led me to become a member of the North Central Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and to become involved in promoting the annual banquet our chapter had each year. I was impressed with the fact that the funds generated at the annual banquet are one of the main reasons we have wild turkeys to hunt in Louisiana today.

Last year I attended the banquet but attendance and involvement had been severely curtailed by the Covid pandemic that was successful in shutting down a host of worthy activities. The banquet our chapter held a couple of weeks ago was like a breath of fresh air. Whereas fewer than 100 were at the banquet a year ago, I scanned the crowd of some 250-275 enthusiastic hunters who bid on auction items to the tune of raising in the neighborhood of $50,000, funds that will go to activities favoring wild turkeys.  

“This was a building year for us, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout and interest shown this year,” said chapter president Mike Rainwater, “and we hope to be able to do even more in coming years.”

For the sake of these special birds, I sincerely hope so.

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Finding a bream bed can provide ‘lazy man fishing’

I saw something earlier this week that caused my pulse to quicken just a bit. Driving along the interstate, what I saw harkened back to this time last year. I saw a bunch of something red growing along the highway.

Crimson clover. When it starts to bloom, I have learned over the years that the red blossoms have a special meaning. Simply stated, it means that temperatures are climbing which signals the bream to gather on the shallow spawning beds or at least be headed that way.

There is something special about the spring bream spawn. When things get right, it produces what I have come to appreciate, and that’s “lazy man fishing” because there’s nothing quite as easy as filling an ice chest with all the bream you care to clean.

Why is it so easy to catch bream once you have located a spawning bed? Whereas bass and crappie pick out special spots to individually deposit their eggs, bream seem to love the company of other bream. Catch one and you could possibly limit out by tossing a baited hook, popping bug or small spinner into the same spot over and over until you’re done.

In addition to watching for the crimson clover bloom, you can watch the thermometer and when it hits and consistently hangs around the 68-72 degree mark, be assured that bream are on the verge of doing their spring thing.

The most popular sunfish is the bluegill, probably because there are so many of them and they’re easy to catch. Running a close second for sunfish is the redear, or shell cracker or as most of us know them, chinquapins. They typically spawn in water a little deeper than bluegills. One reason they’re so much fun to catch is that pound for pound, nothing pulls harder than a big fat chinquapin and they tend to be heavier than their bluegill cousins.

The state record for bluegills sits at 1.83 pounds, a fish caught by Tim Delaney in Iatt Lake in 2016 while the record chinquapin was caught in Caney Lake in 1998, a 2.87 pounder landed by Jerry Smelly. Incidentally, eight of the top ten redears listed in the state records were caught on Caney Lake.

Once the bream are on the beds, here’s how I practice the art of “lazy man fishing.” I have access to a private pond where I have fished for probably 30 years and I don’t think I ever came home from a trip to this pond without having all the bream I wanted to clean.

First, I’ll bring along a comfortable lawn chair and set it up under a big shade tree on the pond bank. Sitting on the ground beside me is a bucket of crickets along with a tackle box with a selection of small spinners. I’ll have an ultra-light spinning rod and reel prepared with a stout bream hook, a small lead weight a couple of inches above the hook and depending on the depth I want to fish, a Styrofoam float two to three feet above the hook.

It’s a simple matter of skewering a cricket on the hook and lobbing it into the spawning beds I know are there because that’s where they have been for all the years I have fished this pond. If things are right, the cork will bobble and then slip beneath the surface and here we go again. Often before trying the live bait method, I’ll pick up my other ultra-light rod that already has a small spinner attached and give it a chance first.

Once I’m back home, I’ll filet the whole lot of them save for a couple I’ll scale and fry whole. The first bite will be the crispy tail, sort of like eating a potato chip. Next I’ll “unzip” it by removing the top fin exposing the backbone I’ll carefully lift out to reveal all the goodness of whole fried bream has to offer.

Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is and I haven’t even made my first trip to the pond this spring.

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Chasing turkeys is family tradition for the Parkmans

Donnie Parkman is a serious turkey hunter and with good reason; he learned from one of the best. His dad, V.E. “Blue” Parkman, was a turkey-hunting legend long before turkey hunting was “cool” in north Louisiana.

Blue Parkman died in 1995 at the age of 73 but before he passed away, he quietly and without fanfare was part of a handful of turkey hunters who went out morning after morning with dreams of finding a single turkey track or maybe even getting to hear the ringing gobble of a longbeard on the roost.

Today, there are thousands of turkey hunters new to the sport in north Louisiana and chances are good that today’s hunters will find turkey tracks, hear gobblers and have a chance to bring a strutting tom to the gun. I count myself as one of these late bloomers, having stumbled upon the sport I’ve come to love in 1992.

My introduction to turkey hunting, however, began 15 years earlier on an April morning in 1977 when I was coaxed to come along on a turkey hunt to the Jackson-Bienville wildlife management area by Blue Parkman. I admit I was curious about what hunting spring gobblers was all about but not curious enough to put on camo, pick up my shotgun and leave the bluegill beds.

As I followed Parkman through the woods that morning, listening to him coax sweet music from his old Lynch box call, I recall thinking that this might be a sport I’d get interested in somewhere down the line. Even though a gobbler answered the call and indicated he wanted to play before a real hen took him across the Jackson Parish hills, my interest soon returned to what I usually did on spring mornings, and that was set up on a hot bream bed. My turkey hunting trip to Alabama in 1992 and my first face-off with a strutting tom, however, changed all that.

Today, I chase turkeys anywhere I have the chance to go, and that included a trip to south Texas where one of our hunting party from Ruston included Blue Parkman’s son, Donnie. During that trip, I was able to take a Rio Grande gobbler while Parkman, following in his dad’s footsteps, took two. I sat down with Parkman to reflect on his dad’s legacy as one of north Louisiana’s pioneer turkey hunters.

“Dad was one of only a few turkey hunters in the area. L.W. Hamner, James Brooks and Levi McCullen and dad and very few others were just about all there were back then,” Parkman told me.

“If you heard a gobbler, it was a successful day and if one did sound off, every hunter in the woods took off after him. They ran more off than they killed but they had a good time trying,” he added, chuckling.

“I was in high school when dad talked me into going turkey hunting with him. We hunted at a game preserve over near Bastrop; they had a few more turkeys there than we did here,” Parkman continued.

“Getting to the woods early and getting as close to the roost tree as possible without spooking the bird were some early lessons I learned from my dad. One of the main things he taught me was the need to develop patience. Sometimes we’d sit for hours waiting for a gobbler to show up when I’d want to take off and find another one. I learned from dad just how important being patient is to being a successful turkey hunter.”

Donnie Parkman is continuing the turkey hunting tradition handed down to him by his dad.

“The times I enjoy most today are those times when I take my son, Jason, with me to the turkey woods. Dad passed his passion for turkey hunting down to me,” said Parkman, “and I owe it to my son to keep the legacy alive.”

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Silver fin may be the new ragondin

Remember ragondin? I didn’t think so.

Several years ago, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, in an effort to find a market for an exotic wildlife species threatening our coastal marsh, introduced a wild game food source that was readily available and virtually free for the taking. Add to that the fact that ragondin is delicious and nutritious and Louisiana residents should’ve jumped all over it and added it to their list of favorite wild game to eat.

It didn’t work; Louisiana folks, well-known for being willing to eat just about anything, turned their noses up at eating ragondin, which is actually a nice name for nutria, or nutria-rats. I have eaten nutria and to tell the truth, it’s good.

I admit, however, it wasn’t easy getting the image of those ugly creatures with big yellow buck teeth out of my mind. Thus, nutria continue to munch away at our coastline largely because Louisiana residents weren’t willing to munch on ragondin.

Today there is another creature threatening to do harm to Louisiana’s fisheries and the LDWF is once again attempting to get residents to give this new delicacy, “silver fin,” a try.

Silver fin, like ragondin, is the bow on the big. It’s a nice way of saying “carp” — not just any carp but two species of Asian carp, exotic species that are competing with our native fish.

These two, the bighead carp and the silver carp, are already in plentiful supply in the Mississippi River and all tributaries and distributaries of the river. Both species are filter feeders, competing with such species as paddlefish and shad and the young of all species of recreational and commercial fish.

The more popular of the two, the silver carp, is the fish you’ve seen on outdoor fishing shows jumping out of the water at the approach of an outboard engine and slamming into boats and boaters, sometimes inflicting injuries and damage to boat windshields and electronic equipment. They can weigh up to 60 pounds and a flying carp smashing into a boater going 50 mph can deliver a blow like a Mike Tyson haymaker.

On a writers’ trip to south Louisiana several years ago, I had a 30-pounder smash into the windshield of the boat I was riding in, just inches from my face. After recovering from the shock of nearly having to replace my dentures, I thanked the Lord for strong plexiglass.

In an effort to slow the spread of these fish – they can’t be eradicated –  the LDWF called on renowned Chef Philippe Parola to find ways these fish can be prepared so our residents will fill their freezers and frying pans with “silver fin.” Hopefully this experiment will work better than trying to get nutria into our crock pots.

I haven’t had the opportunity to taste silver fin but from the video clip I saw, the flesh is white and tender and can be prepared into tasty looking dishes. The only problem is that both the bighead and silver carp have “floating” bones that are not easily separated from the flesh.

This calls to mind a fish I used to catch and try to eat, the chain pickerel or better known to north Louisiana anglers as the jackfish. Jacks are delicious but the flesh is filled with small bones which meant we usually released them rather than have to wrestle with all the bones.

I recall watching Ruston’s super-chef, the late Mrs. Ethel Stone, taking jackfish filets, bones intact, and using her pressure cooker to virtually dissolve the bones and making some croquettes or fish cakes, much like those made with salmon or crab meat. They were delicious.

Chef Parola uses two methods of dealing with silver fin bones. One method, steaming the filets, leaves the bones in the flesh but makes them easier to remove. The other method, deboning, is more complicated but can be done.          

So Louisiana, are you ready to do your part in creating a new market for a troublesome fish? If so, give silver fin, the ragondin of the river, a try.

You go first; I’ll wait.

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Managing deer by the numbers

Deer season 2022-23 is in the history books and here’s hoping that you have something to hang on the wall to show for your efforts. Don’t have anything? Maybe you’ve been doing it all wrong.

Daniel Colvin has access to 1,300 acres of family property in Union Parish, land not really known for being able to produce trophy bucks. Even so, he has mounts of 18 bucks hanging on his wall scoring between 150 and 170 inches, bucks he has taken from his Union Parish property.           

Is he the luckiest deer hunter around or is he on to something that allows the growth of bucks that size on property not known for the production of trophy bucks?

“I’m serious about getting the best from the deer in my area,” said Colvin. “I work at it all year long and there are several things I have discovered that have helped me and will help anyone who is interested in growing bigger deer no matter what kind of property they hunt.”

Colvin is offering what he has learned to any property owner serious about improving the lot of deer they hunt.

“I’ll contract with property owners to assess their land, see what I think is not helping and offer assistance in getting the right things done. If anyone is serious about wanting to grow bigger deer, the most important thing right off the bat is to control the trigger finger. You shoot a 120-inch buck and he’s never going to make it to 140,” Colvin said.

Controlling what grows on the land as well as supplementing food sources to give deer the best and most nutritional foods is important, he said. Control burning and timber thinning is an easy tool to trigger growing of forage plants that deer prefer. In addition, the use of minerals is of utmost importance, he noted. The principle need for foraging animals is salt because as soon as a deer gets a belly full of browse materials, he’ll head for a salt lick which aids in water retention.

“Minerals such as salt supplemented with calcium phosphorus is important because during the growing season, minerals are pulled from the bone structure to grow antlers and minerals provide those that are depleted,” said Colvin.

The establishing of food plots is another matter that is often not done in the best possible method as a property owner is more likely to take advantage of a logging set to plant a food plot.

“If you plant it and fertilize a small area such as this, deer will eat it up in a month. My food plots are usually three to five acres each and it will draw the deer that are in the area. I’ll often see 25-30 deer a day on my plots. These will draw in the does and when you attract them, especially during the rut, the bucks will follow,” he said.

Colvin keeps records of the deer on his property and he feels this is very important so that he can know what is there. The use of remote cameras is another tool he feels is quite valuable in keeping up with individual deer and seeing what they’re doing from one year to the next.

“I try to get my deer to imprint on a particular spot and my food plots help me accomplish that and cameras help validate it. Several of the deer I have hanging on my wall I have kept up with them for several years from what I see on cameras as well as shed antlers I find,” he said.

Anyone interested in visiting further with Colvin to contract with him on their personal hunting woods can contact him by telephone at 501-554-2824 or searching for him on Facebook.

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Ahhhh, spring: There’s nothing like it

Are we about to have the wool pulled over our eyes? Have we been bamboozled by Mother Nature? Are these dogwood and wisteria blossoms figments of my imagination?

I mean it’s mid-March and already we’re seeing things we should be seeing a month from now. Even so, I’ll take what I can get and enjoy it while I can even if it all gets blistered by a cold snap a few days or weeks down the road.

Spring is the time of year I have always loved. Even as a lad, when green started showing up in the yard and flowers started showing, it was time to do something my mama frowned on. I’d slip off my shoes and socks and let the tender green grass tickle my yet tender toes.

Later in the year, I could walk down the gravel road in front of the house barefoot and never feel the rocks beneath my feet. I’ve even done the macho thing of striking a match on the bottom of my leather-tough bare foot in July but it’s the first shedding of shoes in spring I remember most.

Growing up, spring meant watching daddy plow up the garden spot behind the house. I can now close my eyes and smell the aroma of freshly turned earth where later peas, corn and potatoes would grow. If you grew up in the country like I did, I’ll bet you remember what that smelled like. The plow exposed the dark damp soil beneath the surface that gave up an aroma that’s hard to describe.

Spring also meant it was time to go out to the cowbarn with a shovel and tin can. You didn’t have to dig deep. It was a simple task to flip over the dried cow patties there to expose the hiding place of earthworms and it didn’t take long to uncover enough to handle the task that lay ahead.

Half a mile through the woods behind our home lay twin ribbons of steel where the old L&A steam locomotive pulling a string of box cars as it struggled and chugged up Oskosh Hill. Crossing the tracks and stepping down through a thicket to an enchanted place where beeches and oaks shaded Molido, a clear winding stream invited me, my brother and cousins to dangle hooks skewered with red wigglers to entice the interest of what lurked beneath these cool dark waters.

We didn’t catch bluegills or chinquapins or crappie in Molido’s dark holes. We caught goggle eyes, red perch, jackfish and an occasional mud cat. Bluegills and chinquapins lived in the lake but Molido was reserved for the “creek” fish we caught.

Once the weather warmed enough for us, but not for our mamas, we’d sneak off, strip down to bare skin and go swimming in one particular deep hole in the little creek. After a swim, it was necessary before we made the walk back home where we would feign innocence so our mamas wouldn’t know we had broken their rules about swimming too early, we made sure our hair had time to dry out. Otherwise, we knew we had been caught and a stern lecture, sometimes accompanied by a thin limber switch from the hedge outside the door, would be waiting.

That was yesterday. No more cow patties to overturn, cane fishing poles and earthworms and the aroma of freshly turned garden earth. Sneaking off to go barefoot on fresh green grass or swimming in the creek are obviously no longer part of my life but I would take absolutely nothing for the memories of these special things I experienced while growing up out on the rural route decades ago. 

Well darn — it looks like Mother Nature is sneaking another cold spell in on us. Thirties next week? C’mon now! We don’t need that.

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Bamboozled by a grebe

The pied-billed grebe is a rather nondescript water bird most of us have never heard of. However, when you mention “di-dipper,” heads nod in recognition. They’re one and the same. Just about every country boy who spent any time around a lake while growing up has encountered these shy little critters that are there on the surface one minute; gone the next.

I see the little brown birds frequently on the surface of the lake at Lincoln Parish Park and they only let you see them for a short while. Try to get closer and they dive, popping up a few seconds later 10 feet from where they went down.

According to George Lowery’s “Louisiana Birds,” the most remarkable feature of these birds is their ability to submerge instantaneously, thus their French name of sac-a-plomb, which means “sack of lead.” Lowery also noted that it is virtually impossible to shoot a grebe because “at the flash from the muzzle, the bird submerges and is gone before the pellets arrive.” With all due respect, George, I beg to differ. Read on….

My first encounter with a grebe was down on Chee Chee Bay in Natchitoches Parish. I was in my early teens when I went to spend the night with a friend from school with the idea of going duck hunting the next morning. My friend, Arthur, lived near the lake, which made it convenient for us to be at the lakeside at first light, hoping to get some pass-shooting at a duck or two.

Arthur went one way; I went another as I waited in the cold dampness for a crack at a duck. While hunkering down behind some button willows next to the shoreline, I waited for what seemed an hour without a single duck flying my way. Then I spotted something moving on the water just up the lake from where I was. In my mind’s eye, it was a duck.

I formulated a plan to outsmart that duck and at least have something to show for my efforts that morning. By using the row of button willows as a shield, I belly-crawled through the cold mud for 100 yards until I had sneaked within shotgun range of the little brown “duck.”

When I’d gotten close enough, I eased to one knee, raised my gun, took aim, and fired. The “duck” rolled over, dead as a … well, you know. Then I encountered a problem. The wind was blowing out and my prize was floating away toward the big lake.

Luck was on my side, though, because I spotted an old wooden boat somebody had beached just up from where I was. There was no paddle in the boat but I found a plank nearby that would serve as my paddle.

The boat was made of wood, it was big and very heavy. It took all the strength I could muster but I finally pushed and pulled; grunted and strained until I had the boat in the water. As you might expect, a boat such as this would never have been abandoned if it were still sea-worthy. It leaked; not too bad but enough that I figured I had to paddle fast to reach my duck and then get back to shore before it sank.

Flailing the water with the one-by-six plank, I was finally able to catch up with my “duck.” It was not until I had lifted it from the water that I realized my mistake. It was no duck; it was a di-dipper. I had little time to browbeat myself because the boat was sinking. I had to fight the wind and paddle with all my might to get the boat back to shore. I just barely made it before the creaky old craft filled with water. I left it in the shallows and walked ashore, wet and muddy, with my di-dipper.        

For the uninformed, the pied-billed grebe is described as a “ducklike water bird closely related to LOONS.”

After this hunt, I felt I may have been that grebe’s cousin.

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When talking deer hunting, opinions differ

Deer season for all practical purposes has come to an end, but opinions on deer hunting vary widely and run the gamut from “if it’s brown it’s down” to not shooting one unless it’s a trophy. 

For the past 10 years or so, I have had the privilege of writing about trophy bucks taken around the state for LA Sportsman magazine. I have come away with the firm belief that Louisiana rivals states like Kansas and Iowa where some genuine buster bucks are taken every season. 

For example, if a buck has antlers with measurements of at least 140 inches including number of points, tine length, overall mass and inside spread, it got written up as a trophy. As the season progressed, we had so many140-inch bucks it was necessary to move the cutoff point to 150 inches. Looking back over the bucks that earned a spot in the magazine, the top five bucks ranged from 177 inches to a whopping 192 inches. 

Some hunters work hard all year in providing nutritional feed for deer, scouting using trail cameras to locate and pin-point target bucks. Other hunters are not interested in what a buck scores but just want to put a deer or two in the freezer, buck or doe – it doesn’t matter. 

I ran across a page on Facebook that highlights just how far ranging opinions are on what is an acceptable deer to take. There has been some talk about wanting to change Louisiana’s deer hunting regulations say six, which currently includes three antlered and three antlerless deer. 

One respondent on the page I read wrote…”About changing Louisiana deer hunting regs, in my opinion, I say leave it like it is. I don’t care about horns; I’m a meat hunter and I would be happy with six doe tags.” 

This comment triggered the following rather heated response…”Meat hunter is what someone calls himself if he’s too lazy to scout and hunt for big deer, part of the ‘if it’s brown it’s down’ crowd. Ain’t a hunter in Louisiana would pass a good buck for a doe. Everyone wants to kill a good buck.” 

Deer hunting today is far different than it was back in the days when I began hunting. For the first few years I hunted, bucks were the only legal deer that could be taken. That included anything from two-inch spikes on up. I can remember when all I looked for was to see something sticking up on a deer’s head. Spike or four point; it didn’t matter because it was a buck. 

Later, there were mixed reactions when regulations allowed one “doe day.” Some were happy to see this happen while others had the belief that if you allowed hunters to shoot does, it would be the end of our deer herds in the state. This didn’t prove to be the case as a few years later more “doe days” were added until the current picture emerged where the tagging system was implemented allowing hunters to take deer of either sex up to the daily and season limit. 

Here is the response from another on the page I read that gives deer hunters something to think about…”I have no problem with anyone choosing to shoot any legal deer on their property. Sure, we let some deer go and our neighbors shoot them. So what…we don’t own the deer. If it makes them happy, so be it. People have different wants, needs and goals. Hope everyone can enjoy the hunt the way they see fit.” 

In this writer’s opinion, this respondent pretty much nailed it. 

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What’s it like to land a state-record bass?

It was a cold 27-degree morning, February 12, 1994, when 40-year-old Greg Wiggins and fishing partner Mark Smith launched Wiggins’ boat into the chilly waters of Caney Lake in Jackson Parish. The duo had to have been thinking about the trophy bass that Caney had been producing, including a monster 15.54 pounder caught a year earlier by Tommy Foster.

We visited with Wiggins recently and asked him to relive and share the special moments that took place just before noon that morning.

“I liked to fish a jig and Mark wanted me to show him how the jig worked and how to fish it,” said Wiggins. “We went to a spot I thought might be good and fished there for several hours without getting a bump. We took a break, went to get us a bite to eat and returned to try again.

“Soon after we got back on the lake, Mark hooked and landed a nice 4-pounder. We weighed it, made a few more casts when Mark tied into a really big bass, one that weighed over eight pounds. We took it to what was then Brown’s Landing, weighed it and headed back to the lake,” Wiggins continued.

Wiggins was still sitting in the driver’s seat when Smith made a cast and the fight was on. A monster of a bass had taken Smith’s jig but before Wiggins could net it, the fish broke off; Smith had neglected to retie his jig after landing the 8-pounder.

“I made a cast and turned around to help Mark find the bait he was looking for in a tackle box. When I looked back I saw my line ‘wobble.’ I set the hook and assumed I was hooked on a stump but then the fish started moving,” he continued.

Wiggins was afraid the fish would turn and go into the stump field where Mark had hooked his big fish but fortunately, the fish Wiggins had on the line headed for deep water.

“The fish was stripping my drag and I got on the trolling motor and followed her out into the deeper water. She finally came to the top and appeared tired and worn out so I started reeling hard and brought her to the side of the boat. Thankfully,” Wiggins said, “Mark was able to get her in the net and in the boat on the first try.”

Wiggins said he was shaking so bad and was so rattled he stuffed the bass into the smaller of the two live wells with plans to head for Brown’s to weigh it. He was so nervous he had to ask Smith to start the engine.

“When we got to Brown’s I tried to lift her out of the small live well, knocking off several scales before being successful. We weighed her on Brown’s official scales at 15.97 pounds. I really believe if I hadn’t knocked those scales loose, she might have made 16 pounds,” he laughed.

Today, the 69-year-old Wiggins enjoys getting back to bass fishing with his son-in-law. He had given up bass fishing for several years and had switched to fishing for crappie but his son-in-law talked him into getting back to bass fishing.

Wiggins turned the bass over to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for samples to learn what strain of bass she was, with later confirmation she was a Florida strain largemouth bass. Interestingly, samples were also taken on two other Caney bass weighing over 15 pounds and both were native largemouths.

Today, Wiggins enjoys retirement from his work in maintenance in a plant in Winnfield and spends his spare time fishing with his son-in-law. There’s a good chance, though, that when he leaves home to head for the lake, he pauses to glance at the mount of his state-record bass hanging on the wall, one that has maintained the top spot for 29 years. 

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Hunting squealers: A blast from the past

I suppose it’s normal, when you get older, to revisit more frequently those special times and events that define who you are. One such activity that put an indelible mark on my life will seem insignificant to some who never experienced it, nor would they care to. I’ll explain.

When I was growing up on the rural route near Goldonna in Natchitoches Parish, hunting in fall and winter was as natural then as driving through the Burger Doodle for a burger and fries is today. There were neither deer nor turkeys to hunt in the woods where I grew up but beeches and oaks growing along the creek banks harbored plenty of squirrels. For real excitement, I knew I could head down to the slough and more than likely, I’d be able to get a shot at a few wood ducks.

I’m not sure if in the 1950s, I knew the proper name of wood ducks, the colorful little ducks that made their living in the sloughs and back waters down in Saline swamp. They were simply “squealers,” deriving their name, I assume, from the high-pitched call they made as they careened through the timber on their way to shallow areas in the swamp to feed.

From the time I was old enough to tag along with my dad, we hunted squealers practically every morning before school. In no way did our early morning squealer hunts resemble duck hunting today. There were no blinds; no decoys; no dogs; no calls. We gathered at dawn with other fathers and sons to pass-shoot squealers at the Sand Flats, a narrow spit of sand dotted with blackjack oaks that lay on the east side of Saline Bayou.

For as long as I can remember, wood ducks flew across the Sand Flats after leaving their roost on their way to a feeding area. I’d like to think that they still fly the same route today. I’m sure they flew across other areas along Saline, but since blackjack oaks don’t grow tall, the ducks generally flew lower over the Sand Flats.

I don’t recall killing very many squealers on these early morning forays, but the anticipation that I might was temptation enough to prod a teenager from a warm bed, morning after morning, for less than half an hour of wing-shooting action.

As I grew older, we took squealer hunting to another level. Instead of shooting for half an hour at the Sand Flats, we pulled on hip boots and drove as far as the old truck would take us down into the swamp, down to where Fordoche Creek spilled out of its banks across the lowlands under the hardwoods to create a shallow green-tree reservoir.

Just about every morning during Christmas vacation from college, I’d join my brother, my dad, and two cousins to wade out into an old brake where squealers came to feed. On rare occasions, a mallard or two would drop in but for the most part, wood ducks were all we saw.

A couple of years ago, I was privileged to relive this experience once again when I joined three other members of our hunting club before daylight for a squealer hunt. One member had seen ducks pouring into a particular portion of our flooded woods several days in a row while he sat on his deer stand.

On this particular morning, we gave the deer a rest, pulled on waders, laid aside deer rifles and picked up shotguns. We splashed our way to the flooded woods, spread out 75 yards or so apart and were waiting when the first “whee-o-wee” echoed through the flooded oaks.

The shooting was fast and furious and within 45 minutes, it was over. We collected seven squealers, one short of a two-bird-per-hunter limit and were back at camp by the time the sun broke over the horizon.

For a few fun-filled exciting minutes, I was down on the old brake with my brother and cousins, waiting in flooded timber at daybreak, listening for the first squealer to announce its arrival. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a hunting experience more. On second thought, maybe I do. Perhaps it was the last time I shot squealers down on the old brake back home. 

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For top-notch entertainment, go outdoors

I enjoy a good movie now and then. I’ll sometimes even go to a concert like the one I attended a couple of weeks ago when Tommy Emmanuel’s amazing guitar work made me want to head home and bust my guitar over a fence post.

These events serve as an avenue of entertainment; we need such occasionally to get us out of our rut and offer a measure of change from the daily grind.

For sheer entertainment, though, I’ll take what Mother Nature has to offer any day. Sitting and observing the things that happen naturally in the Great Outdoors offers entertainment that money can’t buy. It’s free; it’s relaxing; it’s exciting and I can’t seem to get enough of sitting and watching nature do what nature does.

One of the most entertaining events I ever witnessed was provided by a bobcat. I was sitting in my stand among the hardwoods on a hill one day several years ago, enjoying the peace and tranquility the setting offered.

It was obvious I had to have been hunting deer instead of squirrels because the woods seemed to be full of bushy-tails that morning; they never show up in such numbers when I have my shotgun loaded with No. 6s instead of the deer rifle I was packing that day.

In an instant, everything changed in the woods around me. Squirrels that had been leisurely scurrying around one moment all went on high alert the next. I watched at least half a dozen scoot up trees and start to chatter excitedly. I knew they had seen something I hadn’t detected yet. Scanning the woods, I saw movement of something brown and identified a bobcat walking slowly out in front of my stand.

I’ve never been one to let such opportunities go by without extending the excitement, so I dug through my pack and found a predator call which sounds like a rabbit in distress. When a predator hears it, the natural instinct is to cash in on a quick and easy meal.

Here the bobcat came in response to the call, sneaking up and sitting down beneath my box stand. I enjoyed the show until he looked up, our eyes met and he knew he’d been hoodwinked. If a bobcat can look embarrassed, that one did as he slunk back into the thicket.

On a later hunt, I attended another of nature’s productions as I sat on my stand under clear skies and cool temperatures. Two young bucks, identical in size both sporting six-inch spikes, entered my food plot to begin grazing on the grass I’d planted earlier. Our club rules prohibited the taking of spikes, so I sat back to enjoy the show. Soon I realized I’d been watching them for over an hour, darkness was approaching and the spikes seemed perfectly content to graze on the oats and clover.

I knew if I climbed down from my stand in full view of the deer, they’d see me and high-tail it into the brush and they’d key on my stand the next time they came to the plot.

Since it was almost dark and I needed to get off the stand and head home, I decided on a tactic that was sure to cause the two young spikes to bolt without identifying me. I pulled out my grunt call and rattle bag and began grunting and rattling horns like mature bucks fighting, expecting the two little guys I’d been watching for an hour to scoot.

Nothing doing. The aggressive sounds I made with the grunt tube and rattle bag only fired them up. Instead of dashing away in fright, they faced each other and I got to watch a serious head-butting, pushing and shoving match. Instead of turning them away, I apparently turned them on.

Such is the entertainment Mother Nature offers every time you head outdoors.

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It all started with cousin Doug

Back in the day — I’m talking eight decades or so ago — kids raised out on the rural route did it differently. When it came to entertaining yourself, there were no wi-fi gadgets; no cell phone; no video games. Why? It takes electricity for these things to work and it was years before the wires were strung and lights came on in Goldonna. 

I grew up in a four-room house my daddy built – a living room, kitchen and two bedrooms. Bathroom? Forget about it; it took water piped into the house to make it work. Our bored well, bucket, pulley and rope in the back yard was the water supply. Indoor plumbing consisted of what some folks called a thunder mug or slop jar. The serious stuff took place down a path out back that led to the outhouse.

My brother, Tom, was two years younger than me and we, just the two of us, would no doubt have run out of outdoorsy things to do had it not been for our first cousins, Doug and Sambo who lived on the next hill over from us. Doug and Sambo were like brothers to Tom and me and we did virtually everything together. I was the oldest, Doug a year younger than me, Tom a year younger than Doug and Sambo bringing up the rear, a year younger than Tom.

What did kids do for entertainment way back then before electricity and such came to us? If youngsters growing up today had been deprived of all the gadgets and widgets available now, chaos would no doubt ensue. Not for the four Harris boys; none of the other kids growing up in the community had anything modern either, so we didn’t miss what we never had.

What we did have was the tank pond lying adjacent to the L&A railroad track that furnished water for the steam engines that chugged and labored up Oshkosh Hill after filling tanks.  Just over the track was Molido (pronounced Molly-dough) Creek that coursed through the woods half a mile in back of our house. We learned to swim in the tank pond. Molido with its resident red perch, goggle eye, bass, jackfish and mud cat population was the perfect training ground for boys just learning to fish.

The passage of time has a way of changing things. We all grew up, married, had kids and lived in homes with electricity and indoor plumbing and all the amenities these afforded. Tom and I moved away while Doug and Sambo remained in the little town where we grew up. It’s sad but it’s true; when the realities of life separate you from those who were once so important to you, you grow apart, not because of problems but that’s just the reality of life.

Several years ago, I got a call from Doug. He had retired from a successful career in the petroleum industry, had purchased land and constructed a nice pond near his home and he stocked it with bluegills and bass. Like me, he had missed the times the four Harris boys had growing up and he suggested that we meet on his pond, catch, clean and cook fish and relive some of the special times we had growing up.

On June 29, 2007, the four of us met up on the pond, did those things he suggested, had so much fun and enjoyment we decided we would meet together every year and do it all over again. The Cuz’n Fish Fest was born on that day 15 years ago and has continued ever since.

Changes are inevitable with the passage of time and eight Aprils ago, my brother Tom passed away. That left the three of us to continue what Doug started in 2007. We continued to meet and it became obvious that Doug’s health was in a slow decline.

On January 11, I drove to Goldonna to attend the funeral of Doug, the one who started it all. This leaves just Sambo and me, the oldest and youngest of the four Harris boys, to pick up the pieces of our childhood. Will we continue the tradition? I suppose time will tell.  

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Nursing student follows hubby’s urging to tag big buck

A nursing student at Louisiana Tech, 20-year-old Jordyn Clayton followed her husband Zac’s advice to shoot the shoulder of a deer that had its head and massive antlers hidden from her by brush. She did as he instructed and ended up with a huge 12-point buck that scored 180 3/8 inches.

Jordyn and her husband live in Clayton in Catahoula Parish and they hunt on a 100-acre tract of land owned by her father, land that lies just across the highway from their home. On the afternoon of Dec. 26, the duo decided to walk across the road and head for their box stand located in an area overlooking an opening with heavy timber on each side.

“We left the house about 3 o’clock and walked to our stand. After about half an hour, we began hearing lots of noises coming from the thick woods and suddenly, a doe came out running across the clearing and she was followed by two bucks chasing her. I told my husband that if one of them came back out, I might try and shoot it as they were both nice bucks,” Jordyn said.

Zac suggested that she hold off because it was only 3 o’clock, leaving plenty of daylight to have a chance at an even bigger buck, should there be one in the area.

“Five minutes after the doe and two bucks came across, another deer came walking through the woods where the three had come from and it stopped before getting to the clearing. All I could see was a big body as its head was behind some trees. Zac could see the head and whispered to me to quickly get my gun out the window. I still had no idea what sex or size the deer was because all I was looking at was the shoulder,” she continued.

Following her husband’s urging, even though she had no idea what she might be looking at, she got her .270 out the window.

“At first I couldn’t find the deer in my scope but Zac pointed it out to me and told me to hurry up and shoot before the deer took off. He knew it was a fine buck but I still had no idea since I had only seen the shoulder. So,” she said, “I shot and the deer took off like it wasn’t hit.”

In order not to disturb her sister who was hunting on a nearby stand, Zac suggested that they wait until legal shooting time was over to begin the search.

“After sitting for an hour, my thought was that I had missed because the deer took off so fast. We walked down to where the deer was standing and could find no blood. Then Zac walked another 25 yards, found blood and we followed it to where the deer was piled up 15 yards further,” Jordyn said.

The buck was a fine one, weighing 285 pounds. It was about 5 ½ years old and carried a rack of 12 heavy points. Inside spread was 17 inches, main beams reached out some 25 and 26 inches each with bases approaching 6 inches each.

The buck was taken to Simmons Sporting Goods in Bastrop to be entered in that store’s big buck contest and the rack was measured at a whopping 180 3/8 inches.

Not a bad deal at all for a young lady who couldn’t tell what she was shooting at. Thankfully, her husband knew, she followed his command and ended up with a buck that could very well win the women’s division in Simmons Big Buck contest.

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When red wolves roamed north Louisiana

I felt extra special there in elementary school at Goldonna. My dad had the coolest job in the world and it made me one of the most popular kids in the sixth grade to tell my buddies gathered around all big eyed about my dad’s latest adventure.

My dad, T. E. “Doc” Harris, worked in predator control for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He was a “wolf trapper.”

It was especially neat when my brother, Tom, and I got to go along with him to run his traps and see what had been caught. Sometimes it was a possum; sometimes a coon; sometimes a skunk; sometimes a fox or bobcat but the real thrill came when we found the trap gone with a wolf track next to it.

When he set his traps – he used heavy-duty No. 4 Newhouse – he didn’t stake them down. Instead, he attached and buried a chain of about 8 feet in length to which he had attached what he called a “drag hook,” a two-pronged hook with one side pointing up and the other down. This enabled the trapped animal to take off dragging the chain and hook behind rather than jerking a foot out or losing a toe in the staked-down trap.

The trail left as the wolf took off with the trap dragging the hook behind was easy to follow. Usually, the animal would be found tangled up in a nearby thicket.

Finding a red wolf in a trap was especially exciting because of our exposure to these creatures on warm summer nights when dad would take us to a pipeline or power line somewhere over in Winn Parish to make them howl. He would let loose with a long mournful howl and if wolves were within earshot, they’d answer and I still get chills in thinking about those hauntingly deep-throated howls.

Dad taught me to howl and once when Tom and I accompanied him on a week-long trapping venture to Madison parish, I got to put my new-found howling skills to the test.

Dad had located a wolf den deep in the swamp and he and the caretaker of the hunting lodge where we stayed that week, a wiry little fellow named Drew Denton, came up with a plan. Dad would park his Jeep a couple hundred yards or so from the den’s location, he’d leave Tom and me at the Jeep while he and Drew would take shotguns and sneak half-way between the Jeep and the den. The plan was to waylay the wolves as they came in response to my howling. He left me his watch and told me to begin howling 20 minutes after they departed.

The plan worked to perfection. As soon as 20 minutes had passed, I tilted my head back, cupped my hands around my mouth and let out a howl that must have sounded sweet to the wolves at the den. They immediately answered and then all was quiet. I waited to hear the blast of a shotgun and when no shots were heard, I decided to howl again.

Something unplanned happened because instead of hearing shotguns blasting, I heard wolves howling 50 yards away as they had skirted dad and Drew and they were closing fast. In a matter of seconds, here came three loping wolves toward where two scared little boys were sitting on the hood of the Jeep.

Tom remembered dad’s pistol he kept under the seat, grabbed it and fired a shot, not trying to hit one but to let them know they needed to skee-daddle, which thankfully, they did in a hurry. 

Memories of my dad and his association with red wolves have become just that, distant memories. Red wolves are no longer running wild in Louisiana, having been hybridized out of existence with the burgeoning population of coyotes. Only a few captive pure blood red wolves remain in a protected area in North Carolina.

Eventually, the expense and sagging interest to try and save the few remaining will fade like the last mournful note of the howl I heard as a boy on a summer night in Winn Parish. 

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Spider bites can be serious, so here’s a couple hints to avoid them

A couple of hours after working in her flower bed at her home near Dodson, Lori Boyett noticed a small red spot on her finger, an area that was somewhat painful to touch.

“I went to bed and woke up two hours later with lots of pain, and some swelling. I took some Ibuprofen, went back to bed and woke up at three in the morning with extreme pain and a huge raised blister that appeared black,” Boyett explained.

The following day, she noticed that the pain and swelling had become worse with red streaks beginning to spread up her arm.

Lori Boyett had experienced the bite of a brown recluse spider, later confirmed by her doctor when she went for treatment. She didn’t see the spider nor did she feel the bite.

I had a similar experience several years ago when I was bitten on the forearm by what my doctor assumed was a brown recluse spider. After treatment, the painful site returned to normal and today, there is a barely detectible scar on my arm.

My experience and that of Boyett prompted me to do some research on these nasty creatures and find out what I could about their modus operandi. While neither Boyett nor I suffered serious consequences from being bitten, others have not been so fortunate.

“While the majority of brown recluse spider bites do not result in any symptoms, cutaneous symptoms (affecting the skin) occur more frequently than systemic symptoms,” according to Wikipedia.

“In such instances, the bite forms an ulcer that destroys soft tissue and may take months to heal, leaving deep scars.”

I’ve seen photos of some of these more serious bites that can literally turn your stomach with the damage an untreated bite can cause.

Where do these nasty rascals hang out and what is the best way to avoid coming in contact with a brown recluse spider?

“They frequently build their webs in woodpiles and sheds, closets, garages, cellars and other places that are dry and generally undisturbed,” according to the site I visited.

When dwelling in human residences, they seem to favor cardboard, says Wikipedia, possibly because it mimics the rotting tree bark when they inhabit naturally.

Here’s one site that invites these spiders, one I have to be careful about. Sometime during hunting season, rather than hang each article of clothing, I’ll place them on the floor in the bottom of my closet. That, I’m learning, is a no-no; brown recluse spiders love to hang out in stacked or piled clothes as well as inside dressers, in bed sheets of infrequently used beds and inside work gloves.

If I persist on leaving my hunting clothes on the closet floor, I hope I’ll have enough gumption to give them a good close exam and shake before putting them on.

How do you know a brown recluse when you see one? They’re relatively small – a photo I observed showed a penny next to a brown recluse and the spider was just a tad larger. The most telling mark is to examine one closely if you dare and note the outline of a fiddle on the back.

Brown recluse spiders are shy creatures and scurry away when disturbed. However, as Boyett and I can attest, make one feel threatened and that sucker can and often will bite.

OK, gotta run and hang up my hunting clothes. Just in case.

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The evolution of the deer hunter

On November 24, 1967, I went deer hunting for the first time. My venture with friends to Summerfield in Claiborne Parish resulted in my downing the biggest buck, antler points wise, I have ever taken. Bill Bailey’s hounds pushed a 10-point buck past me and I got him. I have killed bigger deer since but none with more points.

So much has changed since that day more than half a century ago when I was introduced to hunting deer. Back then, it was “bucks only” hunting and it mattered not if the buck had a nice rack or sported a pair of spikes on its head; to down a deer with any headgear, no matter how small, was quite an accomplishment. Sometime later, a “doe day” was added which allowed hunters to take a doe on that one day.

There were few if any hunting leases back then and all you had to do was receive permission from a property owner to hunt his land or hunt one of our wildlife management areas. Still later, owners of large parcels of land, mainly timber companies, were paid by groups interested in having exclusive rights to the property.

My first experience with a hunting lease was a sweet deal. The owner of 500 acres was a friend and he approached me with an offer I couldn’t pass up. Get a group of my hunting buddies together to help him keep an eye on his property that had been abused by having fences cut and trash dumped in exchange for exclusive hunting rights free of charge. We enjoyed several years of hunting, taking quite a few deer, including my personal-best 140-inch 8-point.

After the property owner’s death that eventually led to us losing our hunting rights, I joined another club. After having rather loose restrictions at the outset, as to what deer we could take on that club, we eventually adapted a minimum size for bucks; it had to have at least 6 points with a 12-inch inside spread.

By allowing bucks to get more age on them before being targeted, our club of roughly 1,000 acres evolved into one with a growing number of mature bucks above the “6-12” limit.

Gordon Whittington, retiring editor of North American Whitetail, one of this nation’s highest rated deer hunting magazines, recently shed some light on what he has noted among the deer hunting populace across the country.

“Back in the early 1980s, deer hunters had the ‘if it’s brown, it’s down’ philosophy, sort of a meat hunter mentality,” said Whittington. “People might want to down a big buck but nobody was managing for them and they weren’t being very selective. Today, there has been so much of an evolution of being more selective, realizing what the potential is for growing big deer.”

Whittington noted that the increased use of trail cameras has allowed hunters to gain knowledge of just what is out there on their club, allowing them to be more selective, letting young bucks that are showing potential be bypassed with the aim of their becoming trophies.

“A problem may be that some are getting heavy-handed when somebody shoots a young buck, especially when it’s a kid or new hunter, with criticism that has the potential of turning off these hunters and driving them away from the sport,” said Whittington.

No doubt, today’s deer hunter is a far cry from the hunter of half a century ago, one who was dressed in jeans and flannel shirt, wearing an Army surplus jacket and sporting a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot with an eye out for a deer — any deer.

Thinking back, I think it may have more exciting and enjoyable back then.

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Like father, like son, 36 years later

I had the privilege of writing a story 36 years ago of an impressive buck taken by the late Tommy Simmons of Ruston. On November 13, 1986, Simmons was hunting in northern Lincoln Parish when a buster of a buck stepped out and he dropped the 12-point. I still recall the emotion Simmons shared with me as he told his story. Although this was before antler score and measurements were in vogue, his buck was likely in the 160-inch class.

Tommy’s son, Joe, not yet born when his dad nailed the big buck, took up where his dad left off.

After an extended illness, Tommy passed away in 2020. Joe, age 29, encountered another big Lincoln Parish buck this season and was successful in bringing the big 13-point trophy to the ground on November 27.

“When you write the story of my buck,” Joe Simmons said, “please include the fact that my dad set the stage for my success. In fact, he got his big buck within a couple of miles of where I currently live in the Pea Ridge community of Lincoln Parish.”

Joe Simmons was hunting on a 53-acre tract north of Choudrant in Lincoln Parish. The day before his encounter with his buck, he was bow hunting from his lock-on stand when he heard a fierce fight between two bucks.

“They were fighting in a thicket next to my stand and it went on for five or six minutes. I’d hear antlers clashing, brush breaking and deer running when finally a small 8-point stepped out. I felt the other buck was likely the big one several of us had been after, but he didn’t show. I decided that tomorrow, I’d be in my box stand with my rifle because I felt like he was in the area and I might have a chance at him,” Simmons said.

It had rained the day he was bow hunting but the rain had stopped and the morning of November 27 dawned cool and damp. Simmons’ stand overlooks two shooting lanes where wheat, oats and rye are planted. The woods were previously a mixture of pines and hardwoods that had been cut some 15 years ago, leaving the area a dense thicket — perfect habitat for a big buck.

“I got out early and had to walk through corn I had scattered on one of my lanes. I used an Ever Calm scent cover on my boots and every 50 yards or so, I put out some Code Blue estrous doe scent before climbing into my stand,” he recalled.

After not seeing any action the first hour or so after daylight, a buddy hunting nearby texted him about a nice buck he had just shot with his bow.

“Since I wasn’t seeing anything and my buddy was excited about his bow kill, I shut the windows on my stand, called him to hear his story and we talked for maybe 15 minutes. After we finished talking, I opened the windows again and half an hour later, I looked up to see a big buck walking across my lane at 65 yards. I couldn’t be sure if it was the big one I was after, but since it was bigger than any others I knew about in this area, I put my Browning BAR .270 short mag on the window, grunted to make the deer stop and I took the shot. The buck crumpled but then disappeared into the woods,” said Simmons.

Walking to the site of the shot, there was no blood and Simmons considered going to get his blood-tracking dog. There was no need for a tracking dog because he took two steps into the woods and saw antlers. The big buck had only run 15 yards before collapsing.

The buck sported 13 points with an inside spread of 17 5/8 inches, bases around 5 inches each with main beams stretching to near 27 inches each. The buck, which was rutted down, weighed 170 pounds and was determined to be around 5 ½ years old. Simmons took the buck to Greg Hicks, official scorer for Buck Masters, and the rack measured 174 3/8 inches.

“It’s hard to express what I feel,” Simmons said, “about getting another Lincoln Parish trophy buck 36 years after my dad got his.”

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