Jim Casada

October a great month for hunters

October ranks as one of my two favorite months (May being the other one) for a variety of reasons. For starters, it brings fall's first truly crisp days, with temperatures dipping low enough to make a hunter in a deer stand welcome a jacket at dawn and dusk. Most years it also sees the first frosts.

Then there are the glories of a hunter's moon. For sheer beauty, few things match a huge orb of golden orange peeking above the horizon as light yields to night. The moon looks three times larger then than it does high in the sky, and somehow magic seems to be in the air.

For the whitetail hunter, the latter part of October means the onset of the rut, which in turn translates to the best opportunity to come to meaningful grips with a fine, mature buck. Year in and year out you can pretty well figure on the peak of the rut in this part of the world falling between Oct. 20 and Nov. 5.

Another of October's many features is that weather-wise, except on those fairly infrequent occasions when a hurricane or at least the rains associated with one come our way, it tends to provide quite predictable days of bluebird skies. Mind you, right now I would welcome some clouds and rain, as is equally true of any reader who has not lost his last vestiges of common sense. Still, there is no denying the full measure of pleasure offered by brisk temperatures, azure heavens, or nights when the stars seem almost within reach.

October means opportunities for nutting expeditions, which in turn bear flavorful promise of winter goodies in forms such as oatmeal cookies laden with black walnuts or the inexpressible delights of a walnut cake. If you've never pursued the admittedly tedious task of gathering, hulling and cracking walnuts, you owe it to yourself.

October is also a great time for early season squirrel hunting. Some of my most memorable boyhood days involved rushing home from school, grabbing a hefty chunk of cold cornbread and either a raw turnip or onion as a snack, stuffing a Red Delicious apple in my Duxbak hunting coat, and taking shank's mare to nearby woods.

There were half a dozen fine squirrel hunting destinations within walking distance of my home, and even today I thoroughly enjoy this type of small game hunting. There is probably no better way to introduce a youngster to the joys of hunting -- just be sure you don't interfere with deer hunters, which you won't if you are on private property.

October also brings the simple pleasures connected with harvest time. Admittedly many of these largely belong to a world we have lost, but a visit to an apple orchard or a pumpkin patch can provide some feel for yesteryear. October always meant gathering and storing the apples from our small family orchard, and along with that went drying apples which would later be used in fried pies and that dessert straight from the table of the gods, apple stack cake.

There were the season's last green beans to be strung and dried for leather britches, persimmons to be gathered for puddings and 'simmon leather, October beans to be taken from the cornfields where they grew amidst stalks of Hickory King and shelled before storage, fodder to be put in shocks, and pigs to be fattened against the soon to arrive hog-killing day (usually after the first hard freeze in November).

Those dreams of days the better part of a half century removed sustain me, but they are joined by joys of the present.

October is a perfect time to deal with big brown trout in the high country, the beauty of fall leaves at their colorful peak sustains the soul even as it fills one with a bit of sadness, and I know of no better place to do some serious thinking than when perched on a deer stand listening for the tell-tale crunch of leaves or involuntarily shivering a bit when a barred owl lets loose with its eerie eight-note call as light fades fast. No wonder mountain boys of my youth used to sing or whistle when walking past a graveyard -- anything to keep the "haints" of October at a distance.

October means venison on the table and squirrel in the pot. It's a time of hearty pre-dawn breakfasts or a bracing walk in dawn's chill air. It's monarch butterflies migrating and hummingbirds heading south. It's brown trout making spawning runs and a farmer wiping his brow after a day of hard, satisfying work. It's another season of growth dying amidst rare beauty. It's fish feeding ravenously against the coming hard times of winter. It's a lonely campsite far removed from a hint of noise pollution. It's a hound dog hot on a bear's trail. Most of all, for those who love the outdoors, it's a great time to be alive.

Modern gun season for whitetails has arrived, and the first two or three weeks of that season are invariably a great time to be in the woods. They see the onset of the rut, find deer far less wary than will soon become the case, and this year, you can pattern them better thanks to a dearth of mast and their need for access to water. One other thought -- don't pass up a buck now that you would be tickled pink to take on the last day of the season.