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Home From The Hill ...

Somewhere in the middle of August I start watching the average daily temperature on the evening weather forecast. After weeks of heat indexes well about 100, I'm thinking about September and the changes that will come over the countryside. I soon see a one-degree drop.

In following days, I cheer on the weather caster as the heat/humidity index begins to deflate, slowly losing the lung-searing burn that kept me indoors much of July and August. Fishing is good only before the sun strikes the water with full intensity, and hunting ... who wants to be in the woods when it is 97 degrees?

September signals the beginning of hunting seasons. Much of my free time is spent fly fishing, but about the same time I start watching the weather, the ads for smoothbores in the commercial outdoor magazines start to look especially interesting.

Figured walnut gunstocks, graceful forends and blued-steel barrels make me hanker for a new double-gun, something made in a little shop somewhere in Europe where they still know what craftsmanship is. This would be an ultralight 20- or 28-gauge gun that might weigh little more than a bag full of feathers. Snapping back to reality, I remember I will probably be using the 12-gauge autoloader that I always use. The choke is skeet and it throws a pattern the size of a patio table, making me actually look like a good shot -- which I am not.

This issue of the Conservationist salutes the arrival of September with articles on hunting squirrels with muzzleloading rifles, and hunting grouse. Squirrel hunters often slip into an accuracy mode by going to a scope sighted .22. Want more sport? Jim Low tells you how to do it with what he calls a soot-burner. I once tried bagging a squirrel with a friend's muzzleloading pistol. I was surprised by the noise and the smoke, and the squirrel learned a valuable lesson about watching for bipeds in the woods.

Joel Vance tells us about Missouri's most tenacious grouse hunter, Ted Cooper of Chesterfield. Cooper puts in long hours walking out wooded points and timber clearcuts grown brushy with new plants. Author Vance takes a grouse hunting trip up north each fall with a friend and a truck full of bird dogs. He has also spent time camping in the woods to be in position early in the morning to photograph a Missouri grouse drumming on a log.

We sometimes forget that grouse -- and other wildlife -- need openings in the woods in order to thrive. Grouse find food in openings in the kind of small clearcuts we see in Missouri, and other birds feed on insects in these openings. Forests are dynamic systems that are ever-changing, and woodland openings are part of the rotation, be they caused by wood cutting, tornadoes or fire. American Indians burned the land for thousands of years before Europeans arrived here; they knew the openings and new vegetation caused by fire attracted animals.

If you are hunting doves this month, you are looking for a different kind of an opening -- one in a corn, sunflower or milo field that has been harvested. Doves flock to the open ground and waste grain in fields that have been picked or cut. If you try squirrel hunting instead, look for bushytails on wooded hillsides above streams. If your muzzleloader isn't as accurate as you hope, take author Jim Low's advice and get ... closer. You can also look for a special issue of the Conservationist in October -- it includes articles on hunting for snow geese, deer, rabbits and squirrels.

JIM AUCKLEY

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