Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Smiling Like A Butcher's Dog

I lit the first fire of the season tonight after scoring some seasoned oak from a friend. Feels good on these old bones after 10 days of rain and cold here on SoCal. I'm tempted to curl up on the hearth like a good dog and enjoy the new found warmth. I missed the loud wood crackling and burning wood smell from the chimney when outside. The fireplace smell takes me back to the Ozark hills where I deer hunt, every cabin has a fire lit 24 hours. It's their source of heat and cooking and where everyone gathers each night to share their tales from the day. Some whittle, others chew and spit their tabaccky.

The seasoned oak below in the pic was even split when I picked it up. Can't beat that with a stick. Chopping and splitting wood is one chore I do enjoy. Nothing more manly than that and it's great exercise. There was a time when I was younger and helped a friend run his wood for sale business and I'd knock out 20 to 30 cords of wood a year. Now I'm lucky to cut 1 to 2 cords a year. The wood usage here in the warmer valley of Redlands isn't nothing compared to the mountains above me or back home in Missouri where temps dip down to 0F almost every year.

I don't know if it's me getting old or it was the move to sunny southern California but I used to be able to tolerate the cold better. I'd even take out the trash in the snow in my bare feet in Missouri with my mom hollering at me that I would catch my death of cold the whole time. Now I'm like the rest of of the native Kali-Fornyans, I'm lighting a fire when it hits 60F. 

At 50F the rabbit fur muff is coming out of the back of the closet. 

At 40F I'm stove up. 

At 30F I think we die out here. 

Trying to find a windshield ice scraper in SoCal is like looking for Bigfoot, the trusty old credit card is what I usually end up using when heading into the higher elevations.

The coming of fall also means a wardrobe change around the house when lounging. Gone are the flip flops, t-shirt and fishing shorts worn during the hot summer here. Now it's the fleece lined shoes from Weber's Camo Leather Goods and camo sweatpants from Mossy Oak. When it gets real cold I break out an old Woolrich wool long sleeve shirt I've had forever. I've worn that wool shirt in some nasty weather and never been cold in it. It's my blankie.

Now to finish the mood I need some bourbon or hot hard apple cider with a cinnamon stick in it. Here's Mom from Mom's Country Orchards stand in Oak Glen CA showing how to swig the hard stuff. Mom reminds me of Granny Clampett, they both are firecrackers and fun to talk to.

Who's burning wood already? Who'd doing the bonfires out back in the yard? Who's got their cider and is sitting by a glowing fire tonight? 

P.S. Chimney Safety. Make sure you or a hired Chimney Sweep check and clean your chimney every fall before you light your first fire. Climb up in your attic and roof to look for signs of vapor leakage where chimney sections join, signs of heat damage to the chimney itself, and signs of heat damage to any trusses, sheeting, or other wood anywhere near the chimney.  If you're pretty handy you can buy a chimney brush at the hardware store and make a pole for it out of two10 foot pieces of 3 quarter inch schedule 40 PVC. Put it together to do the job, take it apart to store it. Takes about 30 minutes start to finish to clean out a 20 foot chimney.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sniping Tree Rats

I guess most country boy learn to shoot from hunting rabbits and squirrels as a child, I know I did. Dad liked to hunt them with a shotgun but I learned real fast that can cause some problems when you bust up the smelly guts with the shotgun pellets. Pop had me stand downwind while we field dressed my first gut shot squirrel and I about blew lunch when I pulled his jammies off.

Our neighbor Thadell used a bolt action .22 and shot every one of his squirrels in the head. This caught my attention and turned me into a rimfire fan for taking sneaky tree rats. To me there's nothing more fun they doing the Mohican Sneak up on a wary squirrel. Once in range you still have to get a clear sight picture to snipe the head and drop it clean to the forest floor without hanging up in a tree canopy or fork in the trunk. Precison work for sure along with a heck of a lot of patience. Some of these dedicated squirrel assassins are known to gather each October near Plato Mo. This is their mark.

The first trick to finding squirrels is to find places where they hang out, den trees are the easiest to spot. The dark circles in oak tree trunks are signs that Mr. Squirrel is close by. Your biggest heartbreak will come if they spot you first as you ease into their back yard and race to their safe hole, leaving you with no easy shot.

This year I was able to enjoy a warm evening hunt with Doc and his young son T-Bone. T-Bone has the eyes of an eagle so us old dudes let him find the grays and reds for us. Doc was using a H&R 12 gauge signel shot shotgun and I had my trusty Marlin 25MN .22 WMR bolt rifle out for a walk in the timber. The leaves were late in turning colors and dropping so it was tough to see anything low in the dense ground cover. The evil wind also fought against us, blowing the huge oak and hickory treetops around all afternoon. I've found on windy noisy days like this that most animals lay up, they just don't like keeping track of all the motion and commotion.

The population also seemed a bit low in the area where we normally hunt around Plato MO with Doc ending up with one gray for the pot at camp.Try as I might with den trees all around me I never even saw a squirrel.

Here in SoCal we're not allowed to hunt tree squirrels, something that just made me scratch my head when I moved here. Some "Save The Squirrel Society" always blocks any attempt to start a season for them here. I could travel a few hours north to be able to hunt them in the next county and I may do so again this year, it would just be so much more convenient to hunt them here. I can't imagine being a kid here in this county and not being able to get home from school and head out for an evening squirrel hunt.

How's your squirrel season going so far?