October 2007
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

You can’t tell it from the weather and you’ve got to look at the calendar to know it, but food plot planting time is on us. Hunters from all over the South are plotting (pardon the pun) and planning what, how and when they are going to plant.

If it doesn’t rain here in Alabama, it ain’t going to get planted.

I have a feeling crummy food plots are going to be as productive as great food plots this year. There is a shortage of acorns in the woods; the natural browse has been grazed all summer with little or no rainfall for re-growth.

Typically, everyone assumes I have some of the best food plots around because I work at the Co-op. The truth is, mine are the worst if they even exist. By the time I get a chance to plant, I don’t want to see another seed or tote another bag of fertilizer. Usually I can come up with some sort of excuse for having the sorriest plots around.

One year, before I was a tractor owner, I had one weekend when things calmed down enough that I would plant what passed for food plots.

My implement was a riding lawn mower.

I would decide what I was going to plant and one Saturday afternoon I would bring the old lawn mower home from the store, fire it up and off we would go - me, my daughter and the dogs.

My usual approach was to mow my pasture as close as I could get it. I would start from the middle of the plot and run the mower so it would blow the clippings from the middle to the edge, removing it from the area I wanted to plant. I would then spread out my seed of choice (usually whatever we had left at the store after everyone else had planted their plots) and pray for rain. My theory was that I didn’t want to cut up the sod in my pasture, which now that I have a tractor at my command doesn’t seem to bother me as much.

One year on the way to work one morning, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. Instead of spending hours mowing the plots, I would let Mother Nature work for me. I would mow the perimeter of my food plots so close that the grass didn’t exist and then set the middle on fire. Brilliant!

I got home from work, fired up the lawn mower, grabbed my shovel and my daughter, and off we went to the back forty to get the food plots ready.

I mowed about a six to eight feet wide "fire break" and tossed a match into the twelve to eighteen inches of dry bahia grass. Just about the time it got too big to put out, I remembered we were having a dry period and I couldn’t remember the last time it had rained. Too late now. Of course, when the flames were really burning, the wind changed. Then I worried about my little girl getting burned up, so I told her to go sit on the lawn mower and not to move until I came and got her. Feverishly I fought the fire and then noticed it was heading toward the mower that was obscured by some of the thickest smoke I had ever seen. I ran around the flames, snatched her off of the mower, got her upwind of the fire and went back to my battle. My little fire lane would have worked had the flames not been two or three stories high. My daughter observed all this as calmly and coolly as a cucumber. Almost in a panic, I fought the fire thinking the whole time if I didn’t beat it, there was nothing but 40 acres of dry grass between it and about 100 acres of pine trees that didn’t belong to me! And my house was somewhere out there as well!

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the fire was out.

We moved on to the next one and, like an idiot, I did it again. This time, however, I mowed several of my "mini-fire breaks" through the plot and it didn’t get quite so out of hand and I never got close to panicking. Mercifully, my wife was not at home.

My daughter and I waited for a while to be sure that nothing flared back up and headed for the house. I looked and felt like a smoke jumper —- my eyes were red, I had a cough from all of the smoke, I smelled like a pile of burning leaves and I was very tired. We got back to the house, I got cleaned up, fed Savannah and collapsed into my chair just as my wife rolled up the driveway.

She came in and, as we were all settling down for some "family time," my daughter finally decided to comment on the day’s activities. She just had to brag on what a good firefighter her daddy was and had to tell mamma all about the fire, how smoky it was and how big the flames were. All the while, my wife’s eyes got bigger and bigger. When my daughter got to the point of describing the sound of the flames, I got "the look" from my wife. (Guys, you know what "the look" is!)

She asked my daughter if she was scared, Savannah calmly told Mom, in her best patronizing way, "Of course not, Daddy was there, so I wasn’t worried."

I saved myself by telling my daughter this afternoon’s activities were not the best example of her daddy using his best judgment, but it was good that everything turned out fine and sent her to bed. Now, after all these years, I just wish the knot on my head would go down.

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.