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Published November 25, 2009, 12:00 AM

Opinion: An unexpected bonus while hunting

Don, one of my best friends, is a farmer. Like any great artist, he leaves his signature on any given field. It may be the well thought out planting of trees, or it may be a few rows of milo down the middle of a CRP field. Last Sunday while pheasant hunting, we learned that he had taken his personal touch to a new level. After harvesting a wheat field last August, Don planted a mix of turnips, radishes, peas and lentils over the stubble. This adds nitrogen to the soil. The deep-penetrating radishes also aerate the soil.

By: Roger Wiltz, The Daily Republic

Don, one of my best friends, is a farmer. Like any great artist, he leaves his signature on any given field. It may be the well thought out planting of trees, or it may be a few rows of milo down the middle of a CRP field. Last Sunday while pheasant hunting, we learned that he had taken his personal touch to a new level.

After harvesting a wheat field last August, Don planted a mix of turnips, radishes, peas and lentils over the stubble. This adds nitrogen to the soil. The deep-penetrating radishes also aerate the soil.

While pheasant hunting adjacent to this stubble field last week, South Carolina nimrods Bob and Dale discovered the juicy turnips. They were excited! Supper that night featured a mouth-waterin’ stew of cottontail rabbit, turnips and turnip greens. Those turnips don’t need tags, and I suspect they took a double bag of “fat of the land” home with them.

Sunday afternoon, Bob, Curt, Dave, Don, Jerry and I, along with chocolate labs Kate and Cocoa, drove our pickups onto the stubble field. We had just outsmarted some wily ringnecks that had made fools of us earlier in the season. This was done by placing a blocker and pickups with the radios turned up at strategic locations. We were feeling pretty darn smug. Radios can do an effective job at containing pheasants if you place the radios at their usual escape routes.

About this time the turnips were discovered. All thoughts of pheasants vanished as we busied ourselves with turnip pulling! In my wildest imagination, I never would have guessed that our bird hunt would turn into the re-enactment of Jean Francois Millet’s “The Gleaners.” We all brought home 10-pound bagfuls of turnips along with our roosters.

Betsy didn’t waste any time with the turnips. When I came in from my archery ground blind the other night, a new smell permeated our little house. Supper included pheasant ala king and turnips sautéed in butter with a touch of garlic. This morning I woke up to the aroma of chicken vegetable soup. The celery, onions, carrots, peas, and potatoes had a new partner in their mix.

* * * * * * * * * *

Friends and I hunted West River deer Nov. 11, 12 and 13 along the Grand River in Corson County. The general area, along with portions of Perkins and Harding counties, were hit hard last winter and spring by snow and rain. You might recall that last year’s hunt was hampered by blizzard conditions.

Our rancher friends were much stressed by the weather as it took a 180-mile round trip for them to, in effect, cross a bridge that was less than a mile from their ranch house. They went seven weeks without being able to cross the bridge, and they had livestock on both sides. Livestock losses, both cattle and sheep, were moderate.

In spite of the now-abundant grass, neither cattle nor deer have fully recovered from the stress of last winter and spring. Late last spring, our host rancher found 30 dead deer in one pasture. The fawns I saw last week were the smallest, by far, that I have ever seen. The stress on their mothers during pregnancy is one thing. Local ranchers also believe that many does were not bred the first time around because of the weather. The small fawns could be attributed in part to this.

Much like the fawn deer, the current calf crop in this country is 10 percent down in weight, which means the ranchers will suffer financially beyond their livestock losses. Another winter like the last one could be devastating. One pays dues to live in God’s country.

The issuing of triple deer tags in this unit by Game, Fish & Parks was ludicrous. Tag numbers should have been reduced. You might recall that GF&P also did this with the pronghorn antelope, and later more or less admitted that it was a mistake. Visits to ranchers, or phone calls at the least, could have prevented this error. On a positive note, most sportsmen recognized the problem and hunted accordingly.

How did we do? Dave took a trophy six-by-six mule deer buck. Jerry and Mike bagged very nice five-point whitetails. I missed a respectable buck, passed on some smaller bucks and had no desire to take a doe with the population down. I’m undecided about going back with my cross bow for deer and chasing pheasants and grouse around while I’m at it.

Next week’s column will feature a local archer, a trophy whitetail buck and how he put all the pieces together to gain success.

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