The annual migration has begun

Dennis Warden

Being a keen observer of nature I have noticed an annual migration that occurs the second weekend of each November. 

This is not the migration of the Monarch butterfly, which can travel up to 2,500 miles to winter in Mexico. I am not talking about the humming -birds that have left the feeder on my front porch for a warmer climate in Mexico, or geese which we frequently hear encouraging each other on their southern trip for the winter.

The odd thing about this migration is this animal moves from relative comfort and warmth to an often colder climate. 

The movement I have observed is a short migration, usually, but not always, performed by the male of the species. The animal in question travels only 60 to 80 miles. 

It’s easiest to spot on Friday as deer hunters migrate from the St. Louis area, moving east to west.

They leave their warm, dry homes for cold and damp deer camps here in mid Missouri.

This exodus can be observed on Interstate 44, Highway 50 and 28. They’re usually traveling in a pickup with an ATV, or UTV, in the bed of the truck or sometimes on a trailer.

Although every one of the friends I grew up with — Ray, Steve, Rickey and Richard — were deer hunters, I never had the urge to join them. 

I suppose I can blame it on my father. He wasn’t a deer hunter. It’s not unheard of, but I would guess most deer hunters inherit the deer-hunting instinct from their fathers.

My maternal grandfather, Ed Koepke, taught me to hunt. But, he hunted squirrel, rabbit and quail. My first memory of hunting with grandpa was for quail. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old at the time.

I didn’t carry a real gun. I carried my favorite toy gun — a Johnny Eagle Red River rifle (which I still have today). As we were following the dogs,waiting for them to flush some quail, I remember stepping on a rabbit, causing me to practically jump out of my skin.

A few years later it was grandpa Koepke who gave me a single shot 20-gauge shotgun for Christmas. 

He took me hunting several times a year. For rabbit and squirrel he also used a single shot 20-gauge shotgun. Grandpa felt that if you couldn’t hit a rabbit or squirrel with the first shot you shouldn’t be hunting.

For quail, grandpa used a Browning 12-gauge semi-automatic. His brother, my uncle Vic, would visit us from St. Louis. He brought his two English Setters. One was good at pointing, the other good at retrieving the quail.

Although grandpa didn’t have any farmland to hunt on, he knew everyone who did. Some of my favorite memories as a child were listening to a beagle chase a rabbit through the woods back to us.

For squirrel, we went to a farm he used to own at Tea, Mo., south of Rosebud. This is the farm where my mother grew up. He sat me down on a stump to wait for squirrels to come out and work on some hickory nuts. 

This was the same tree he took my mother squirrel hunting. 

Grandpa and I brought back lots of rabbit and squirrel. We skinned and cleaned them in his garage, then put them in salt water. Grandma Alice would fry them for dinner, with homemade gravy and real mashed potatoes. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

One of my aforementioned friends had some unusual adventures hunting deer as a teenager. One incident he was lucky to live to tell about.

Returning home after hunting one morning, when the mercury had dipped well below freezing, he placed his down coat on his father’s favorite recliner. A few minutes later the coat exploded, destroying the coat and ruining the recliner.

My friend (unnamed to protect his reputation) had left a small lighter-fluid hand warmer on in his coat pocket. This was the same pocket he had placed several of his unused rifle shells in. Thank goodness no one was hurt.

Although I don’t have a deer head mounted on my wall, I still have that 20-gauge shotgun I opened on Christmas eve close to 50 years ago. I also have grandpa’s 20-gauge right next to it, along with all the memories.