It was the last day and the first day. How can that be? Let me explain.
Abby the Cur dog is barking pretty good around the hillside from me. I look at the Garmin locator and it tells me she is 286 yards away across some fairly rough terrain, steep, rocky, and hard to traverse. In truth it is like much of the land here in southeastern West Virginia. I takes longer to get there than I thought, (as always) and when I arrive on the scene Abby is of course treed on the biggest tree on the hillside, a towering pine tree. If we are squirrel hunting, why is this not good? First, the tree is huge, it is very tall which complicates locating the squirrel. Next, it is a pine tree for crying out loud. All the deciduous trees have no foliage here on the last day of February, not so for the pine tree. The thick growth of pine needles near the top is more than enough to hide a skinny little gray squirrel.
I fully expect a long session of looking for this squirrel with no luck. Finding them in the treetops when you are alone is sometimes impossible. Miraculously after I catch my breath, as soon as I put the binoculars on the tree I see part of the squirrel’s tail close to the main trunk. That is good but try as I might I can’t get in position to see anything more than a tail. Abbycontinues to tree and bark the whole time and is clearly getting impatient with my stalling. I finally try a shot with the little .410 shotgun at the tail, the squirrel moves up the tree into better concealment and I never see him again. That is squirrel hunting, it happens a lot, but I feel like I have let Abby down. She is easier to call off the tree than I expected, it is 65 degrees today and she is hot and tired from treeing so long on this squirrel. We try a few more areas in this place before we load up to head to another, Abby seems ready for a break as she hangs out the window as we ride through the countryside. It suddenly dawns on me that this is a great day to be alive.
We take a short cut on a road aptly named Turkey Creek Road. I just happen to look over in the bottom next to Turkey Creek itself and there, big as life, is three big turkey gobblers. They are tall and shiny and beautiful and their heads are so red you would think it is the middle of April not the end of February. They all have long, thick beards hanging down that any turkey hunter would lust after, me included. I watch them for half a minute and they do a wing flap and cross the creek and go on their merry way. Seeing them, I realize, has hit me like a spring tonic.
Seeing these turkeys made me understand we are on the cusp of the end and the beginning. It is the last day of squirrel and small game season here, but that marks the beginning of a new spring season. It is not spring yet officially, but with this pretty weatherthere is no doubt it has begun, the days are longer, the songbirds are singing a new tune, and ramps are starting to poke out of the leaves on the ground. I have no doubt those three amigos gobblers were rattling on a limb this morning with raucous gobbles.
A little farther down the road two nice bucks spring across in front of us and shoot up the bank on my left. It is a little remarkable to me they both still have their antlers. I know a lot of people are out now looking for sheds and I think maybe this is why they don’t find much. Are several of the bucks still carrying those horns? I don’t know, I figure there are several factors as to when a bucks loses his antlers. I will leave it to the biologists and the barber shop crowd as to why. I watch them bound up the hillside and disappear. I think about they have a long antler growing season and hot summer to get throughbefore fall comes and the whole scrape making, new antler polishing, and the rut starts again. I watch the white tails dissolve into the cover above me and I wish them well.
It is bittersweet that another fall and winter hunting season has passed, but I have to admit I look forward to all that spring brings us, including the spring gobbler season. Go out and take in this middle ground time, scout for turkeys, go catch a trout, or look for antler sheds. The bucks may still be holding on to them, but you can still look.