Hunter Preparations – Mixed Bag

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-Doves, Ducks and Deer are sure to be on hunters’ minds this week
-Missouri Hunters Smile and Say, “Whata’ We Hunting Today?”

We made it! The long dry spell for hunting is nearly over, and Show-Me State hunters once again will be savoring the piquant smell of burned gunpowder and the twang of bowstrings.  Some of you will have taken the hunting monkey off your back by pursuing squirrels or woodchucks for the past three months, but that’s cold comfort for those whose favorite pastimes involve winged game or deer.

Dove, snipe and rail seasons lead the way, opening September 1.  Waterfowl are next, with this year’s early teal season opening September 10.  Archery deer and turkey season launches Sept.  15, followed by rabbits, firearms turkey hunting and the early Canada goose season October 1.  One of my favorites, woodcock season, opens October 15 and duck season gets under way in the North Zone October 29.  Quail and pheasant seasons open November 1, and firearms deer season isn’t far behind.
Here are some random thoughts about this panoply of autumn excitement.

DOVES

I previously covered safety considerations and the abundance of hunting opportunities in hunting areas managed specifically for doves and dove hunters by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).  So here’s a tip to killing more doves: Go snake-eyed.  Nothing makes hitting a dove harder than not spotting the bird until it’s on top of you.  Because they can come from any compass point or elevation, our hunter natural tendency is to constantly swivel our head in all directions.  Don’t do it.  Motion registers in our brains when the image of an object moves across our retinas.  Putting your retina itself in motion by turning your head or cutting your eyes left, right, up and down only makes it harder to see the tiny motion of an approaching dove 200 yards out.

Instead, when waiting for a shot, pick a spot near the center of the horizon where doves are most likely to appear and settle your gaze there, as if you were a snake waiting to ambush its prey.  Don’t maintain focus on a particular spot.  Let your eyes drift apart, go a little walleyed.  Sitting with head and eyes still, you will be amazed at how easily you notice the movement of an incoming bird.  You won’t be able to see birds that are out of your peripheral vision, but that would be equally true if you were rubber-necking.

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TEAL

This works equally well for teal, which often fly low and fast and are on your decoys before you have time to blink, let alone raise a gun.  Speaking of teal and guns, these early migrating speedsters call for slightly different hardware and ammunition than full-sized ducks.  Teal – especially green wings – tend to fly in tight little flocks.  As a result, it’s easy to knock down more than one with a single shot.  I have killed as many as three with one trigger pull.  I was elated about that.  I did it deliberately and was over the moon at the result.  However, the intervening years have landed me in a place where I like to savor a hunt for hours, rather than end it in minutes.  Also, as you approach a limit, the possibility of killing more than one teal at a shot becomes a liability rather than an asset.

That’s why I now use a tighter choke during the early teal season than I do later in the year.  I use a full choke in my autoloader and choose an ancient Merkel side-by-side choked full and extra full or an Antonio Zoli over-under, choked full and modified.  Because maintaining adequate pattern density isn’t an issue with these chokes, I now use Number 4 steel instead of Number 6, as I once did.  The combination of tight choke and large shot size translates into many fewer birds crippled or lost.  If you hit a bird with a full choke and Number 4 shot, it’s going down for the count and the tight pattern allows you to target one bird out of a compact flock.

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BIG DUCKS

The regular waterfowl season is what I dream about the other nine months of the year.  To maximize my chances of getting some good hunts, I never miss a chance to apply for reservations at MDC’s 15 intensively managed wetland areas.  Throughout the season, I apply twice a week for reservations at Grand Pass, Eagle Bluffs or Otter Slough conservation areas through the Quick Draw system.  The first year I drew an astonishing four reservations.  For the past two years, I’ve come up with goose eggs.  Fortunately, I have friends who also use Quick Draw and since as many as four people can hunt on one QD reservation, I have gotten to hunt these areas every year.

The other opportunity I never miss is applying for a hunt under the regular waterfowl reservation system used to allocate hunting opportunities at MDC’s other 12 managed wetland areas.  MDC accepts applications for these areas from September 1 through 18.  Successful applicants receive notification October 1.  Finally, I take my chances at the slots allocated for hunters without reservations.  This involves arriving early at my chosen area and standing in the “Poor Line” with other reservation-less hunters in hopes of pulling a low number and getting to hunt.  When I strike out, I go to Plan B, driving to an open-hunting area with wetland habitat or taking my small boat to a sandbar on the Missouri River to hunt.

DEER

As Show-Me State deer hunters know, Missouri is in the early stages of a slow-moving epidemic.  Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a brain-wasting disease of deer, elk and moose caused by malformed proteins that are too primitive to even be called organisms.  That doesn’t prevent them from killing every deer they infect.

In an effort to slow the spread of the disease, MDC has instituted several measures to track the spread of the disease and reduce risk factors for spreading it.  In the past year, the number of counties where MDC is conducting CWD surveillance has increased to the point where it is no longer logistically feasible for the agency to cull deer for testing.  In order to continue surveillance, MDC is requiring hunters to submit for tissue sampling any deer taken in the 29-county CWD Management Zone during opening weekend of the November Portion of firearms deer season – November 12 and 13.  You can bring the whole deer or the head only, as long as you leave it attached to at least 6 inches of neck.
MDC will maintain 75 sampling stations in the 29 counties of the CWD Management Zone.  They will be open from 7:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.  November 12 and 13.  Their locations, including directions, are listed in the 2016 Missouri Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations booklet, which is available wherever hunting permits are sold or online.

I have already been fiddling with decoys and have inventoried my ammunition so I can fill any gaps during fall sales.  I even put on my muddy waders and climbed into the jet tub to pinpoint the source of last year’s wet crotch (I have a very patient wife).  The weather forecast shows high 70s for the dove opener, which means that teal will be filtering down from the Dakotas by September 10.  Lord, how I love this time of year!  At this point, it’s all promise.