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George Little: Upcoming hunting season sparks a look back

October 27, 2012 at 01:00 AM

The State Journal-Register

The Upland Hunting season begins at sunrise Nov. 3.

When my cousin Lloyd and I were boys, the season didn’t open until noon. We were primed and ready to go, chores done, boots waterproofed, and guns cleaned at least twice by 10:30 a.m. We’d sit out on the back step, planning our hunt, and waiting to hear the blast of the noon whistle from La Harpe. We were headed through the corn stubble before the echo died down.

My family lived at the end of the road, on the edge of the timber. Nobody would ever know if we went hunting 10 minutes or two days early.

Uncle Stanley was the only person we knew who had ever seen the game warden, and that was in the Riverview in Dallas City. Even if Mr. Game Warden was waiting out there behind that big brush pile along La Harpe Crik, he surely wouldn’t pinch two 13-year-old boys. Still, sneaking out early wasn’t a blip on our radar.

Next Saturday, when I meet up with Big John, Tony and Buckwheat to turn the dogs loose, I will thank my lucky stars that we’re not sitting around waiting for the noon whistle. Big John simply could not stand the wait. He already tries to push the sun up in the sky 15 minutes sooner. Tony would spend the entire trip to the hunting grounds questioning the reasoning behind a noon start. No matter what time we could legally go afield, Buckwheat would be half an hour late and show up with his stuff in a paper sack.

The upland game outlook might be more encouraging this year, and it might not.

Some people are seeing more pheasants and quail. Others aren’t seeing any at all. If my back lot is any indication, the rabbits have been reproducing … well … like rabbits.
It seems upland bird populations drop or barely sustain each year. Even if this year’s outlook is promising, quail and pheasant populations might never return to the numbers we saw in the 1980s.

Opening Day is a good time to be optimistic. Warm and dry weather during the nesting season might have increased survival rates. Under ideal conditions, pheasants and quail don’t live very long … two, maybe three years at the most. One university study concluded that every year, two thirds of the quail population doesn’t make it through the winter, whether they are hunted or not.

I’d be glad to see the numbers shoot up and keep rising, but I’d go hunting if the forecast said there was no upland game at all. Sure, I hope to see Toby hit a point once in a while and maybe bring home some birds for the grill. But, mostly I enjoy the company, and walking the ground. As they say, it beats the alternative. After all, it’s Opening Day. How many chances do you get to be 13 again?

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

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