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Print

George Little: Some outdoors stories are mostly true

October 24, 2013 at 04:00 AM

The State Journal-Registerr


Mark Twain is rumored to have observed, “The truth is the last resort of the unimaginative.”

Sometimes the outdoors knowledge we think we have is a mixture of fact, fiction and late nights in a deer cabin. Wisdom that is passed down from one generation to the next isn’t necessarily true. It might be based on limited observation, partial data, or be just plain made up.

Here are a few examples.

Purple martins don’t eat huge quantities of mosquitoes. They eat any bug that flies, including stink bugs.

Biting flies don’t forecast thunderstorms.

You can teach an old dog new tricks.

As the crow flies isn’t the shortest distance because crows don’t fly in a straight line.

Once in a blue moon isn’t all that long. A blue moon, two full moons in the same month, occurs about once every three years. If the Chicago Bears had an All-Pro quarterback once in a blue moon, fans wouldn’t be wondering whatever happened to Johnny Lujack.

“Smoke hugs the ground when it’s going to storm.”

Dad believed it. Many hunters do, too. The opposite is true. Smoke follows the ground when the barometric pressure is high. High pressure means fair weather. When smoke goes straight up, low pressure is in control and stormy weather is more likely.

“Poison oak leaves turn red in the fall before the other leaves change.”

That may be true, but we’ve never seen it happen in Illinois. Poison oak doesn’t grow here. I helped hundreds of people identify poison oak until I pointed it out to an Illinois Department of Natural Resources site interpreter who actually knew what he was looking at. The first red leaves of the fall may be poison ivy attached to trees. They are not poison oak and nowhere near as red as my face was that day.

“Half of all rattlesnake bites are harmless.”

Which half? No one knows. My guess is this originated from someone who didn’t want to suck out the poison. While it’s true that not all rattlesnake bites are lethal, none should be assumed to be harmless and medical attention should be received as soon as possible.

There is no such thing as “heat lightning.”

No matter what grandpa said, it is impossible for heat to generate lightning. When we see those orange lightning flashes in the distance on hot summer nights, there’s a thunderstorm down over the horizon. It’s so far away we don’t hear thunder.

Of course, a lot of the knowledge passed around campfire, on creek banks, or on the road at sunrise, is true.

If the first one hits the paper and the gun is secured, you can sight-in a rifle scope with just two shots. Seventy percent of all fish tales are made up. With a full moon, bucks move at noon. It is never too cold to snow. It really was that hot in the summer of 1936. Moss grows on the north side of trees, hummingbirds can fly backward …

… And nothing ruins a good story faster than true facts.

Contact George Little at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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