G. Sam Piatt
PDT Outdoors Writer
THANKSGIVING Day when I was a kid was kind of a traditional time for traipsing the woods and fields with rifle or shotgun in pursuit of squirrels and rabbits.
Instead of playing touch football, myself and a few young friends, along with our fathers, my brother and perhaps an uncle or two, would work up an appetite for the big meal to come later in the day with the excitement and anticipation of an early morning hunt.
And it really made me happy this Thanksgiving Day to learn that the tradition continues.
One of the 20 to 25 family members who gathered at my house Thursday was my 11-year-old grandson – whoops, great-grandson, – Isaiah. He lives in Cedarville, where his father, Pat Estepp, is head coach of the university’s boys’ varsity basketball team.
That morning Isaiah and his grandfather, Dale Estepp, along with his father, Pat, a cousin, Caiden, and uncle, Kyle, went into the woods behind Dale Estepp’s farm home at South Webster for the hunt.
It was Isaiah’s first hunt. He carried a single-shot .22 rifle.
“I kept the barrel pointed at the ground and carried three bullets in my pocket,” he said.
He soon spotted a squirrel in a tree, or what he thought was a squirrel.
“I missed, but anyway it turned out to be a piece of a stump sticking out on the tree,” he said.
A minute later, though, he spotted the real thing in the tree.
“It was trying to hide, but it was moving,” said Isaiah, who wants to be a policeman when he gets big. “I put another bullet in, threw the bolt, and pulled back on the lever to cock the gun.
“I kneeled down, aimed up in the tree, and pulled the trigger. It was a pretty long shot, but I hit it.”
The squirrel was dead before it hit the ground.
“It happened really fast. I was sort of surprised because I didn’t think I would get one on my first time,” Isaiah said, then added, “We’re going to cook it and have gravy on it.”
HUNT OF YESTERYEAR
My young friends and I used to squirrel hunt along the flats and the trail that wound along under the trees on the top of Dead Man’s Ridge, the high hill rising up on the right of South Portsmouth School House Hollow.
The ridge was a good place to hunt because of its abundance of hickory trees. If you followed the ridge along for a mile or two and happened to drop down into one of the deep hollows on the far side, you could find yourself in the backwoods, wandering around wondering which way to turn to find your way back to civilization and home.
That was kind of the situation Dale Bailey and I found ourselves in one hot, gnat-filled September day when we wandered over the ridge and down into a deep and narrow hollow. We stopped at a dilapidated farmhouse near the head of a hollow to ask for directions.
The woman who answered the door told us to just follow the little creek down to a dirt road and follow it left to the blacktop.
We were so thirsty we were spitting dust. When we asked her for a drink of water, she directed us to a bucket sitting on a sideboard in the kitchen. It had a long-handled, tin dipper wired to the side.
“Help yourself,” she said. “I don’t know whether its cold now or not, but it wuz whenever I drawed it.”
“Uh, when was that?” Dale asked.
“Un, let’s see…jest day ‘fore yesterday,” she answered.
It was warm but it was wet, and we drank our fill, uncomplaining.
She seemed real pleased to receive the three squirrels we had bagged.
RABBITS LOOK GOOD
Kentucky’s squirrel season runs through Feb. 28, while Ohio’s runs through Jan. 31.
Meanwhile, the chances for success on a rabbit hunt look good.
“Rabbit numbers are up, and that doesn’t surprise me, considering the ideal weather conditions we had in the spring and early summer,” said Ben Robinson, small game biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
He told state writer Art Lander Jr., “We’re already getting reports of good hunting.”
The statewide daily bag limit is four rabbits and eight quail.
“We had a mild winter and a good carryover of adult rabbits heading into the spring breeding season,” explained Robinson. Rabbits begin nesting in February, with the peak of nesting occurring by early summer, although rabbits can continue to nest into early fall, if conditions are right.
Annual surveys conducted by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, with the help of rabbit hunters and rural mail carriers, offer important details of population trends and hunting activity.
The 114 hunters that submitted information for the 2011-12 rabbit hunter log survey went on a combined 1,959 hunts in 105 counties, hunted a combined 7,393 hours, jumped 12,875 rabbits and harvested 5,702 (an average of three rabbits per hunt).
The rural mail carrier survey provides biologists with small game population trends, based on the number of rabbits and quail observed along roadways, per 100 miles driven. This survey has been conducted annually in July since 1960.
“The eastern region of the state continues to lead all regions in the number of rabbits observed,” said Robinson. “The mail carrier survey shows a 6 percent increase in the number of observed rabbits statewide between 2011 and 2012, which means there should be plenty of rabbits for harvest this fall.”
Kentucky’s profound drought, especially in the western third of the state (west of I-65), impacted both rabbit and quail breeding success from mid-to-late summer.
“Quail experienced good nesting conditions early on, but over time the effect of the drought likely had an impact,” Robinson told Lander. “The drought limited quail nesting cover and success, food availability (insects) and brood rearing cover.”
The peak of quail nesting in Kentucky is June and July, which is a bit later than some adjacent states. Rain throughout the summer is important to quail because it provides more cover and better food sources.
“Adult quail need seeds, especially as the season progresses,” said Robinson. “When chicks hatch they need insects, and in drier weather there are fewer insects.”
Hunters should expect quail season to be similar to last year.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.