November 2009
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

Fall has finally arrived and although the calendar called it "autumn" weeks ago, the weather has not been cooperating. As most everyone knows, we have received tremendous amounts of rainfall both this summer and fall. Food plots are mud bogs and dirt roads look like castle moats from the Middle Ages. This rain has accumulated and, although cooler weather is here, there is still a lot of water in the woods and we here in Alabama know that means mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes in the winter are something I can never understand. Up north, where it gets cold, I would guess they don’t have to worry about coming back from the deer stand about two pints low in blood. I would like for someone to educate me. Just how cold does it need to get to kill ‘skeeters? I have been hunting many times where it was downright freezing and still had to put up with the buzzing and biting of these voracious insects.

One story has been told of a South Alabama deer hunter who was perched in a tree one cold afternoon and overheard two mosquitoes talking on a limb above him. One asked if they wanted to eat him right there or take him down near the swamp. The other replied they should eat him there because if they went into the swamp, the big ones would just take him away from them. My dad said he’d seen some on the Bon Secour River that could stand flatfooted and mate with a turkey.

All of this is in the dead of an Alabama winter!

I have walked through ice-covered creeks and puddles on my way to a stand and gotten drained dry by mosquitoes.

I killed my first deer on December 3, 1983, and it was freezing. I have told friends and family this had to be the stupidest deer ever born to have the unfortunate luck to fall to my rifle.

It was a cool afternoon after some really hard frosts and, according to my high school biology, most of the bugs should have been dead or at least in suspended animation like our future astronauts will be. Possibly, as my dad used to say, maybe they didn’t read the book or take high school biology and didn’t know it was too cold for them to be active. But no, as soon as I picked out what tree to sit under, the swarm descended like a plague of old. I sat there with virtually no cover on the edge of the woods near some oak trees and killed mosquitoes. You can count the number of deer I have killed on both hands and feet but I really don’t think there is a number high enough for both the many mosquitoes I have killed or for the number of curse words I have flung at them over the years. As I sat there slapping bugs and telling them exactly what I thought of them, I finally decided enough was enough and I was going home. I checked the edges of my hunting spot one last time before getting up and walking out, and there he stood. I pulled the trigger for the first time on a deer and he dropped. If deer have a heaven, I’m sure several thousand dead mosquitoes making the trip anyway carried him there.

A few years later I decided to reason with the critters. I pointed out to them the woods were full of many different animals they could prey upon; I even told them of a nearby herd of cattle that would never even notice if two or three points of blood went missing. Mosquitoes either have A.D.D., just didn’t hear me or they don’t speak English; I’m not sure which, but they never left. They even followed me out of the woods and rode home in a nice warm truck for a while.

I think we need some sort of government program to teach them proper insect ways. Most well-mannered bugs have the good taste to either go into hibernation or at least die when winter comes. Even grizzly bears give it a rest for a few months when the weather is really bad.

I would invest in one of these devices that is supposed to run them off from your area, but with my experience, I hope they have made the devices strong enough to repeatedly smack ‘em with because that seems to be the only thing that works.

One sure-fire way to get rid of them is to find a use for them. As with most pests, once someone finds a way to make money or at least a use that accomplishes something, the pest dies out or at least the population declines.

Just ask a weed scientist at Auburn. When I was in school, there was a legend about the way they tried to cultivate weeds in order to study them and, yep, you guessed it, they couldn’t get them to grow. I have had the same experience feeding kudzu to my chickens this summer. As soon as both they and I figured out they would eat the leaves and got into the habit, the kudzu started dying.

So, outdoor men and women, you have a topic for this deer season. While you are spending countless hours of boredom on your stand, help me figure out some way to make money from mosquitoes. Anything goes, from hair gel to sandwich spreads to bio-fuel, as long as we have a use and a way to harvest them, they will decline to the point where we aren’t bothered by them anymore.

Somehow, when we find a purpose for these and other pests, they manage to understand English pretty good and skeedaddle …….hmmmmm.

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