Late winter can foster the blues for the outdoor enthusiast. Most of the hunting seasons have ended, and the dormant plants, gray skies, and cold temperatures offer an often-bleak landscape. But the days are getting longer. Shortly, the first green buds will appear on the trees, and activity will increase in the finned and furred animals we love to pursue. Soon enough, we’ll enjoy a tug on the end of the line, a pulse racing as a turkey thunders and struts into range, and the sizzle and smell of fresh morels hitting hot oil.
Springtime in Missouri is a special time. We experience the resurrection of the prairies and deciduous forests, the raucous gobble of a mature tom proclaiming daybreak from a sycamore limb, and the emergence of black bears and groundhogs from their winter dens. Is there another time that colors seem more vibrant than those of the first pink redbud blossom or Indian paintbrush flower? Don’t we wish chilly mornings and warm afternoons were in the forecast all year long? Over thousands of years, Missouri’s climate has shaped her flora and fauna, resulting in a resplendent array of colors, textures, sounds and smells, many of which announce the arrival of spring and summer to come.
While hunting seasons may be for the most part closed, there still are plenty of activities for those who love the outdoors. Whether it be scouting to inform future hunting opportunities, managing habitats to better support the animals we love, or just taking a hike to enjoy and experience all nature has to offer, there’s lots to do for those willing and able to get outside. The following are some activities that hunters and outdoorspeople might consider as we come out of winter and into spring.
- Take advantage of nice days this month and go on a hike and look for shed antlers. Take a moment to explain to those not familiar that cervid antlers are the fastest growing bone in the animal kingdom.
- What to do on a frosty March morning? Set up a predator caller and see if you can coax in some coyotes. They’re smart and wary, so set up downwind and stay still. Late winter fur should be prime.
- Grab a cup of coffee and head outside at daybreak to listen for turkeys gobbling. Around midday, stroll down to where you heard them gobbling and look for feathers and scat to determine where they like to strut. Put a trail camera out to confirm your investigation.
- Get your wood duck boxes ready for nesting hens. Remove old nests and place 4 inches of wood shavings in the bottom of the boxes.
- Frost seed some clover now to provide nutritious forage later.
- Want to enjoy the sights and sounds of Missouri’s state bird? Go to short.mdc.mo.gov/4x8 for plans and materials list for building a bluebird house. Put them up this month.
- Beaver populations are thriving, and trapping season runs through the end of the month. Set some traps to catch a few of North America’s largest rodent
- Willow hooped beaver pelts make great decor for home or cabin. There are plenty of DIY videos online that will walk you through hooping a beaver hide.
- Running a chainsaw is a great way to stay warm on a cold day. Talk to your local forester about the benefits to woods and wildlife from timber stand improvement.
- Heavy sod grasses inhibit plant diversity necessary for many wildlife species to thrive. A few weeks after green up is a good time to spray or disk fescue to promote more plant diversity.
- Scout for turkeys. Large trees near streams are likely roost sites. J-shaped droppings indicate a gobbler or jake, while coiled scat come from a hen.
- Whether you plan to turkey hunt with gun or bow, early April is a great time to ready your gear. Archery hunters should dial in their bow sights for close shots and shotgun hunters should pattern their guns using the same loads and choke they’ll use during the season.
- Morel mushrooms should peak this month. Keep a sack in your pocket and keep your eyes open in the woods. Dead ash and elm trees are likely spots.
- Hunting isn’t just about the kill. Take a young person out to help look for turkey sign. Draw up a list of things to look for and make it a treasure hunt!
- Building a ground blind together can be just as fun as building a fort. It’s even more fun if they can shoot a turkey from the blind they helped build.
- Ticks will be in full force this month. Treat your clothes and check for these pesky arachnids when you come inside.
- Set a goal for the April trifecta — shoot a turkey, catch some crappie, and find some morels all on the same day.
- Want a great place to hunt doves in September? Now’s the time to plant sunflowers. Good site prep is critical.
- Now that we’re past the last frost, go ahead and plant those summer food plots that are sensitive to freezing temperatures.
- Take some soil tests for areas you plan to plant food plots. If your pH is low, apply lime and incorporate it now to bring it up in time for fall planting.
- Squirrel season opens right around Memorial Day. Stalking the woods builds hunting skills, and shooting bushytails with a .22 hones marksmanship.
- Take a kid or friend fishing for crappie or bluegill. Then fire up the cooker and fry up some filets.
- Missouri has more than 2,000 miles of floatable streams, including many that are nationally renowned. Grab some paddles and enjoy a few days on the water. Don’t forget your fishing pole!
By the end of May, both temperatures and humidity levels are usually high, prompting many Missourians to seek activities that help them keep cool. Although most hunting seasons are still months away, there are still plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. Dehydration is a very real threat for people and pets, so plan activities for the cooler mornings and evenings, and keep your water intake high. Watch the forecast for summertime cold fronts following a storm and take full advantage of the day or two of cooler weather that comes along in its wake. Venomous snakes and stinging insects are another summertime hazard, so learn what areas they inhabit and take care to watch where you step and walk. Know what to do if you or a friend is bitten or stung. Being well prepared and educated allows you to continue your outdoor recreation throughout the year.
Water activities are a great way to spend time outside during the dog days of summer. Many of our Ozark streams have substantial spring flows, which keeps the water cool. Floating or wade fishing these streams offers plenty of opportunity to enjoy nature, whether roll casting a streamer to a hungry trout, or chugging a Jitterbug across the surface at dusk in hopes of enticing a strike from a big bass. And after all the fun of catching these fish, you’ll get just as much enjoyment out of sharing them fried to a golden crust with family and friends.
- Summer days can be dangerously hot for your canine companion. Exercise your hunting dogs in the early morning or take them to the lake for a swim.
- Bobwhites can be heard calling in the early morning hours.
- Head out to an MDC shooting range for a round or two of skeet shooting or some practice with your hunting rifle.
- Looking for a new skill? Learn how to reload ammo. MDC’s range staff can help.
- Fawns are getting big enough to start feeding with their mothers. Bucks’ antlers are growing rapidly.
- Got bugs? Young birds, including turkey poults and quail chicks, rely heavily on insects for the protein necessary for rapid growth. Diverse habitats offer lots of food. Visit with a biologist or conservation agent to learn how to promote better brood habitat. Find yours using the phone numbers provided on Page 2.
Get back to the basics. Grab a cane pole and some crickets and drop a line up under a willow tree. You’ll be surprised how much fun this old-time fishing technique can be.
- Bullfrog season is open. Get out after dark and harvest some wild frog legs.
- Japanese millet can mature in 60 days. Sow millet on exposed mud flats now to provide seed to migrating ducks in a few months.
- Too stiflingly hot to do much outside? Sit down with a map of your property and sketch out some habitat improvements. Cost share may be available for your habitat projects.
- Celebrate the Fourth of July with some marinated and grilled wild game. Invite friends and family to shoot some clay pigeons after the feast, then settle in to watch the fireworks and celebrate our freedoms.
- Get out after some summer rains and look for edible mushrooms. Puffballs, chanterelles, and chicken of the woods are growing now.
- Looking to stay out of the sun? Set some trotlines or juglines at dusk, then enjoy the cooler night air pole and line fishing for blue cats, channel cats, and flatheads.
- Acorns should be big enough to see. Head to the woods with some binoculars and scout for those trees with lots of mast. White oaks heavy with acorns will attract lots of deer soon.
- Early August plantings of turnips and radishes usually allow these plants to grow and fill in well before deer season.
- Smartweed is in full bloom. Head out to your favorite wetland and take note of these patches for duck hunting success in a few more months
- Plan right now for backstraps later — hang your tree stands in anticipation of the upcoming archery season. Don’t forget your safety harness!
- Plan a clean-up day! Dump your decoy bag out in the yard and wash the dust and dirt off those decoys so they’re ready for teal season.
- Got plans to seed some native grasses and forbs this winter? Good site prep now will help them get off to a good start next year. Contact your private land conservationist for help.
- Dove and teal seasons are right around the corner. Practice busting clays now for a heavier bag next month.
While most outdoorspeople look forward to the months that end in “r,” there’s no reason to stay inside during those that don’t. For those new to hunting and fishing, as well as for those with decades of experience, Missouri offers plenty of opportunities to get out and enjoy its natural resources. With so many great activities available, it would be a shame not to take advantage of them. No one relives the excitement of an afternoon spent on the couch, so get outside. It’s good for your health and it’s good for your soul.
Also In This Issue
This Issue's Staff
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation - Laura Scheuler