A great way to spend a winter day

Feb. 01, 2014 @ 07:24 PM

The desire to shoot ducks overpowered my sense of reason and comfort. I knew there would be ice where I wanted to hunt, but I reasoned that, if I could find a little patch of open water, I might have a great duck hunt. It was the last day of the season, and it would be three quarters of a year before I could shoot at ducks again. It didn’t seem important when the weather was this cold to be out there at the first moments of light, and besides, I was going to have to find a place where the few decoys I planned to carry would float and not just sit on top of thick ice.

With my trusty red dog, we slipped into the woods on the trail leading to my honey hole, a beaver pond, and my favorite place to duck hunt. If there are no ducks here, there are no ducks to be shot. As we crunched through the woods, I heard a mallard hen doing her highball call, and then saw a couple of ducks circling high overhead. There were ducks around. The problem was that everywhere we went, there was ice so thick I could walk on top of it and no place to float the decoys. Eventually, we found a spot where the ice was thin enough for me to stomp out a large circle and slide the ice panels under the other ice, effectively freeing up a twenty foot circle of water. True, the trusty red dog was covered in ice balls, but he was happy. I was freezing cold, and had to walk out and break the ice from around the decoys every twenty minutes, but we did manage to bag two mallard drakes, and I was happy. It was a tough morning, but it was productive.
Before you start thinking that I’m one tough old man to have braved the weather last week for one more duck hunt, be advised this hunt happened almost 15 years ago. I’m far too smart (or lazy) to brave this kind of weather for a couple of ducks for the pot. This has been a tough winter with periods of hospitable weather and periods of simply miserable weather that isn’t fit for man or beast. True, you can spend these miserable days about your normal activities or you can hunker down beside the fire and stay warm. I’m blessed with a flexible schedule, so I plan outdoor activities when the weather is good and catch up on my writing and reading when it’s bad.
Maybe now is a great time to review a couple of books. I’m blessed with knowing some of the nicest people as a result of my late-blooming writing career, and one of my favorites is Otha Barham. Otha is an outdoor writer from Mississippi, who is an avid turkey hunter. He’s also a great musician and part of the grand finale of each annual meeting of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association, the picking and grinning session. At the end of each annual conference, all who appreciate music gather in a large room with the pickers on one end and the grinners on the other. As a picker, I’ve enjoyed sitting beside Otha in several sessions, and I love to hear his soft voice and guitar, crooning ballads and love songs.
He’s also a great writer and I recently got a copy of his book of turkey hunting stories, Spring Beckonings. It’s a collection of turkey hunting experiences that will transport you from a droll winter day to a warm spring morning in the turkey woods. Like Otha’s guitar and vocals, Spring Beckonings is a relaxing and warm read. There are stories of 37 different turkey hunts, and while they’re entertaining, they also are informative. Otha is an accomplished turkey hunter and reading about his adventures and conquests also provides a lot of knowledge about turkey behavior and wood lore. Some provide a little insight into Otha as well.
Jim Casada has taken more turkeys than I have ever seen, I really believe this. His lifelong passion has been the pursuit of the wild turkey and he’s hunted turkeys all over the United States, His book,  Remembering the Greats: Profiles of Turkey Hunting’s Old Masters, is a tribute to the great turkey hunters of the past. Jim is one of the most respected writers on turkey hunting in the South. With more than a dozen books written, many more edited, and thousands of magazine articles and newspaper columns, Casada is one of the South’s top turkey hunting experts.
The stories are historical glimpses into the iconic turkey hunters who have now passed on to the spring fields of the next life. They include  not only the most well-known, like Archibald Rutledge, Tom Turpin, Henry Edwards Davis, and Neil Cost but also some more obscure turkey men like Larry Hearn, Parker Whedon, and Doug Camp. In the classic style of old time writers, Casada chronicles their lives as turkey hunters and relates personal glimpses into their lives through his personal time spent with many of them.
The wealth of knowledge Casada brings to the pages of Remembering the Greats shows just how knowledgeable he is in the sport and art of turkey hunting. Had someone else written this book, and had that book included those still with us, Jim Casada would surely have been included as an iconic turkey hunter of our time.
Maybe the worst of our weather has broken, but there will be some more and we always have the spring rain to look forward to. I think there’s still some time for winter reading.
Order signed, inscribed copies of Spring Beckonings from Old Ben Publications, Otha Barham, 3100 38th Street, Meridian, MS 39305. Send check or money order for $15.95 plus $5 shipping and handling. Mississippi residents include $1.12 sales tax. Hard cover versions of Spring Beckonings with dust jackets are available, as well.
Remembering the Greats: Profiles of Turkey Hunting’s Old Masters is priced at $39.95 plus $5 shipping and handling through jimcasadaoutdoors.com or mail a check/money order to 1250 Yorkdale Drive, Rock Hill, S.C. 29730.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several N.C. newspapers as well as national magazines and websites.  If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at offtheporch52@yahoo.com or offtheporchmedia.com