Ruffed grouse...

A ruffed grouse, Appalachia’s second favorite woodland game bird. 

I like hardware stores. Walking the isles and looking at the vast array of different items you can always find something you need, even if you don’t. I see hardware stores as a much needed oasis in the never ending world of projects that we get ourselves into for plumbing, electrical, building, remodeling, repairing, and whatever. One of the things that has always baffled me is how those in the hardware business keep track of the infinite amount of stuff, three million different kinds of bolts, nuts, screws, fittings, wire, tools, pipe, pipe fittings, rope, chain, and who the heck knows what else.

I decided to take on another kind of inventory the other evening. We had some terribly hot days this past week and one evening when it began to cool down I took a little tour of the backwoods and see what was on the shelf. I will report on the items I check off the list myself as well as what I hear from different members of my staff as they observe what is on hand in the backwoods larder.

Squirrels seem to be in good supply, and have been for the past few years. The smaller ones from the spring litter are recognizable as they scurry across the woods road in front of me or bounce up on a tree. Another litter should be due in August to September and those are the little squirrels that you will see when the season comes in for your area in September and October. I look forward to the opening of squirrel season but in truth I won’t get after them too hard till after the deer buck season in November when most of the leaves have fallen.

I squirrel hunt more with a dog now more than still hunt and until most of the leaves come down it can be very hard to spot a squirrel when the dog trees one. The season runs through the end of February in most areas so weather permitting you have a lot of time to get the ingredients for squirrel gravy and biscuits. One a side note there seems to be a lot of rabbits right now, but I always wonder how many young rabbits will make it to hunting season in November, everything eats rabbits.

I have been watching the deer numbers in my area for a couple years and they seem to be up. All of my contacts agree that the number of fawns seem healthy this year and the deer numbers in general are up from a few years ago. How many of those fawns will fall prey to predators is always a question and I think differs widely in various areas. Wiley Coyote always gets most of the blame on fawns and in some areas he certainly deserves it.

One predator that most of us don’t consider on fawns is black bears and in some areas we have a lot of bears. The bear is a predator and he eats a lot other things besides blackberries and garbage can pizza scraps. The buck deer are busy growing antlers which are still in the velvet stage now and by September those antlers will have hardened and they will scraping them clean preparing for battle during the rut.

I am not as encouraged by what I see for the turkey and grouse numbers. I kind of gave up on the grouse population in this area some time ago, but there does seem to be just a few more around the past couple years. When I say I am skeptical about turkeys and grouse this year, I am referring to what kind of hatch situation we may have had this spring. While it was not overly cool during the critical time of late May and early June, there is no doubt we had a lot of rain. A wild turkey, for all of its hardiness is very vulnerable to wet weather and cold during the time right after they come out of the egg.

Not only do the conditions take a toll on little turkeys, but studies have shown the damp conditions help predators like raccoons, opossums, skunks, and foxes track the hen to the nest and destroy it. I put the grouse in the same boat with the turkeys, if it is a good year for turkeys hatching, then it will be good for grouse and I don’t think either one will have a banner year. I have been wrong a lot and I hope I am wrong about this.

Another thing that hunters take inventory on this time of year besides the animals is the natural food situation, known as mast. There is no doubt that this varies widely in different areas of the country and even locally as to elevation. The amount of acorns the oaks are producing, as well as the hickory, beech, wild grapes, and walnuts are usually not the same over a wide area. I have not seen a lot of acorns on the trees as of yet, there is a good bit of hickory nuts but I have l also seen a lot of them on the ground already and it seems early for that to me. Again, the amount of available mast can change a lot at different levels of elevation, if you find little down low in an area try climbing the hill and it may be different up there, a late frost can really affect this. I look for a typical spotty mast year, good in some places, not so much in others.

Well as usual the editors won’t let me go on for pages and pages about this and we must take our leave for now. Get out there and take your own inventory and let me know, especially if you find a bunch of turkeys.

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