ARKANSAS ATHLETE: Nuts on the ground hint at a fall

Hickory nuts are beginning to drop in Little Rock, suggesting the end of summer.

I noticed the dropped walnuts for the first time on Tuesday. The ones in the ground in mid-August are drought-stressed specimens abandoned by their hosts to free up resources for healthier nuts that are more likely to reach their potential.

Trees shed a portion of their nut crop for various reasons. One is related to the health of the trees, especially during a drought.

Conversely, heavy rains in the spring and early summer can also cause trees to drop nuts and fruit early. This is often the result of rainfall cleaning out the trees and preventing proper pollination. That could have happened during our wet spring.

I was very happy on Wednesday morning when I went outside and looked at the tree branches swaying in the wind. My eyes fastened on a branch that bounced out of time with the others. The difference was subtle but conspicuous enough to be registered by a hunter’s eye.

The movement ran to the end of one branch and continued to another. My eyes followed the movement until I saw a gray squirrel emerge from the foliage and jump onto another branch. The squirrel disappeared into the leaves, but I followed its path down another branch until it stopped in a thick spot near its junction with the tree trunk.

I was pleased with my visual acuity and my quickness to process and assimilate stimuli into a memory action plan.

When I hunted squirrels in the past, it took me a while on the first few outings to tune in to the surroundings. I have missed opportunities because I had rusted over the summer. There were times when I processed the asymmetric movement in the canopy too slowly or reacted too slowly and let my prey escape.

I considered this exercise as a drill.

A great duck hunting preview is in the latest episode of Duck Lore on YouTube. Entitled “The Duck Capital,” it features Clay Newcomb and Anne Marie Doramus. Newcomb, a native of Arkansan, is a noted bear hunter. Doramus, who works for the Arkansas Fish and Game Commission, is an avid duck hunter. Newcomb, who lives in the Ozarks, is not. Host Sean Weaver combined his dissonant perspectives into an entire montage of the Arkansas duck hunt.

Weaver’s videography is excellent. She captured all the nuances of a Grand Prairie winter. If you’ve only hunted duck once, the scrape of lures on the deck of an aluminum boat and the icy morning stab at your cheeks will grip your neck.

The first hunt is a mallard hunt in a cypress reservoir near Stuttgart. This vignette ends with the trio sitting on chairs plucking their ducks. This panel discussion includes a featured discussion on why so many hunters don’t like the taste of duck meat. Newcomb speculates that “obese chicken” has reprogrammed the American palate on what meat is supposed to taste like.

Newcomb, who said he can count his duck-hunting experiences on the fingers of one hand, projected another common bias. Until the mallard hunt, Newcomb said he had only hunted mallards. He obviously enjoyed shooting mallards, but couldn’t withdraw his mallard-centric bias.

Newcomb was content during the second hunt, a shot of mallard ducks in a flooded field. He impressed me that each hunter tracked what he shot and stopped shooting when they reached their personal limit of four mallards.

Finally, the group visited the Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area to fulfill Weaver’s dream of killing a mallard in the world’s most famous duck hunting destination. Despite difficult hunting conditions, he finally landed one in the end, during a walk-in hunt necessitated by the sudden death of Weaver’s surface outboard motor. This would have excited the late Joe Morgan, a former Arkansas Fish and Game Commissioner who hated surface engines.

In their final hunt, Weaver and Newcomb did not cast a lure. I often hunt that way, and killing just one mallard this way was very familiar to me. Weaver was satisfied.

People come from all over to experience the Bayou Meto and spend a lot of money to do so. It’s easy for us in Arkansas to take it for granted. A duck has often been enough for me too.