A glance at the calendar informs us that it is officially fall, but for those that love spending time in the outdoors, other subtle changes cue us into what many of us consider ‘our’ time of the year.
While scouting for deer sign a week or so ago in a patch of hardwoods, I could ‘smell’ fall. Some of my friends that are not outdoors people look at me funny when I tell them I can actually smell fall, but I don’t take offense. They just haven’t had the pleasure of looking back on almost seven decades of living the outdoor lifestyle.
The blend of sweet aroma that smells like the fall woods indicates to me that cool weather is just ahead: that telltale smell of decaying summer vegetation and freshly fallen acorns shaken loose from the trees by squirrels.
Plants like sumac, hickory and sweetgum will soon be painting the woods and fields in a manner that would have put the best efforts of Van Gogh or Monet to shame. A famous outdoors writer of the past century once penned the words, “My health is always better in the fall.”
After a lifetime of hunting , fishing and spending time in the outdoors, I can relate. I’ll turn 70 this coming year and feel blessed to still enjoy good health. I can do just about anything I did as a 50-year-old, just a bit slower!
The steep mountain grades up in the Rockies have to be negotiated much slower than when I was a young man, and these days, I find myself much more cautions when climbing into tree stands or toting big game out of the woods. But I am still doing these tasks that I love, and for that I am eternally thankful. I think I now fully understand what the old writer meant when he said he felt better in the fall.
While some folks deem springtime as a time of new beginnings, I look to early fall as the start of everything that I have come to love about the outdoors.
Fish take a cue from Mother Nature and go on a feeding frenzy, feeding heavily on baitfish and packing in protein for the cold months that they miraculously somehow know are coming. With hardened antlers, whitetail bucks are doing mock battle with saplings, making rubs and strengthening their neck muscles for the inevitable fights with other bucks over breeding rights to receptive does when the rut begins.
The vast flocks of geese that spend their summers up on the tundra and fields in northern Canada are beginning to get a bit restless; probably on the next full moon, many of them will take to the air on the age-old migration that has been carrying them to warmer climes for eons.
The juvenile birds will fall into the rear of the flocks during migration and follow the wise old gander that has made the migration many times.
This is nature’s way, and man has only scratched the surface as to how these birds know their destinations each fall or exactly how they navigate mountains and vast stretches of featureless terrain to arrive at their wintering grounds.
Early fall is when many of us sharpen our shooting skills in preparation for upcoming hunts. Those of us that enjoy hunting with a bow should already be well-practiced and ready for the opener of bow season. Rifle hunters still have plenty of time to head to the rifle range and check the zero of their rifle and refresh themselves with proper shooting techniques.
It’s always a good idea to go early; by the end of October, most of the popular ranges begin to get crowded, especially on the weekends.
I always give my hunting pack a thorough ‘going over’ before hunting season. I am known for carrying way too much stuff in my pack, which is probably a result of the years I spent guiding in the Rocky Mountains for elk and bear. Nothing is worse than getting several miles from camp and discovering you forgot to pack raingear or, God forbid, that skinning knife when it comes time to field-dress a harvested animal.
I am a compulsive checker when it comes to what is in my hunting pack, and that includes always ensuring I have fresh batteries in two flashlights. A hand towel is another must-have item in a hunting pack for obvious reasons, and I always carry two, one for me and the other for my buddy that helps me quarter up an animal (and always forgets to bring his).
Waterfowl hunters will be checking their decoys, possibly touching up some of the older weathered ones with fresh paint, making sure the decoy anchor lines are untangled and in working order and giving their retriever some last minutes workouts to ensure he is ready for yet another season of lunging into those icy waters to retrieve downed ducks.
Duck blinds will probably require some ‘brushing in’ to ensure they look like part of the landscape to passing ducks. It’s not a bad idea to break out that lanyard of duck calls and make sure the reeds are properly set. Come opening morning you want to sound like a mallard or gadwall, not a barnyard rooster with laryngitis, right? Those batteries used on the spinning wing decoys probably also need recharging or more than likely, replacing. It’s time to get busy!
There are lots of fun things to do in the outdoors the next few months, and although I know of nothing more pleasurable than pursuing fish and game, not everyone shares my mindset. Outdoor photography has always been a big part of my job as an outdoors writer, but it is also something that I get a great deal of satisfaction from.
It doesn’t cost a great deal to get started with an entry-level Nikon or Cannon camera. Most come with a good lens for close-order pictures; all you really need to get started is a 70-300 mm zoom telephoto lens.
Contact Outdoors writer Luke Clayton via his website www.catfish radio.org.