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 hummingbirds 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 this 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, as I grew up, 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. Good thing I didn’t have a real gun. That surprise caused me to 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 great 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 chasing a rabbit through the woods back to us.
For squirrel, he took me to a farm that my great-grandparents Tony and Sarah Mertle used to own at Tea, Mo., south of Rosebud. 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 my mother hunted squirrels at.
Grandpa and I brought would return home with several rabbits and squirrels. We skinned and cleaned them in his garage, then put them in saltwater. 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 goose down coat on his father’s favorite recliner. A few minutes later the coat exploded, destroying the coat as well as 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 ammunition 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.
(Note: this column ran two years ago. Connie and I spent Wednesday through Sunday in New Jersey with our new Grandson, so I did not have time to write a new column).