A cold, pale sun shown through the still-chilled forest.
Out ahead ran Jenny Lynn and Berry, my two Labrador retrievers. They were sniffing for whatever scrap of scent they could find, either from a rabbit or a grouse.
The chances of finding either - especially that from grouse - was hardly encouraging.
But I wasn’t really here to bust caps from my .410-gauge over/under shotgun.
Nope. This was the last day of Ohio’s small-game hunting season. By that I mean it also was the final day of the 2008-2009 hunting season.
It was concluding on the same grounds from where the season started. Only at the beginning the weather was warm and the trees were draped in living green even as bugs did their best to spoil an outing.
The target was different, too. Instead of morning doves and Canada geese as the season’s starters, in February they were the aforementioned rabbits and grouse.
Then again, a lot had changed with the fishing as well. A few days ago fishing friend Paul Liikala and I put the finishing touches to the season’s angling.
We drilled a few holes into the ice that yielded an incredible abundance of sunfish and even one gargantuan yellow perch.
But now that season had ended also, with the requirement that beginning March 1st we’d need a new fishing license.
And hunting license.
That’s why March 1st. marks a dividing line of sorts from one season to the next, though a case can be made that the spring wild turkey hunting season is a continuation of the last season since its regulations were encoded into the previous year’s legal ledger.
Still, for that season I will need a new hunting license and a new turkey tag.
So in my mind, the hunting season and fishing concludes with the last day in February.
It had been a good year hunting-wise as well as fishing-wise. I made my mark on the Fish Ohio Master Angler list with enough qualifying species.
I even caught a muskie and one very nice largemouth bass (from the same pond I was ice fishing) along with one of the finest season’s ever for Lake Erie yellow perch.
Though I tried to find some fault with the hunting season I really had little to complain about. I arrowed three deer: All this year’s crop which translated means they were on the small side.
But you won’t find me complaining. Neither will you hear a peep from the landowner on whose property I hunted.
There’s too many deer that eat the landowner’s valuable plant stock. And with the property being close to an active roadway meant that the deer posed a threat in that regard, too.
I should have said all that to a reader who complained that I had killed a button buck but I didn't, not thinking along those lines until after I had hung up.)
The goose hunting was especially good this past season and I even managed to kill a couple of ducks.
Up also was the squirrel hunting with one very nice outing that not only provided game but was done on one of the nicest early autumn days you can tap.
Down, though, was the bird hunting with no pheasants bagged other than two taken on a game preserve.
I made only one out-of-state hunting trip and that was an unsuccessful duck outing to Michigan. No regrets here, either.
And this year Berry started to come into her own, relishing the opportunity to fetch resident Canada geese - including three birds each bearing a leg band that were Cracker Jack prizes unto themselves.
One downside was how Jenny Lynn had aged and slowed as her 11 years began to take their toll. I savored the few retrieves she made and smiled broadly as she returned with a goose firmly anchored in her jaws.
Jenny was satisfied just to be out and enjoy the experience with Berry and the farm pond owner’s two Labrador retrievers.
I didn’t mind that they joined in, not even when their run around the pond’s dam base spooked an in-coming flock of geese.
Now that chapter was finished. The 90-minute hunt ended with no game found and the dogs covered in ice, having broken through the thin shells of frozen water that covered the forest’s vernal pools.
Within several days I’ll start fishing again for steelhead. A little later when the pond’s ice has gone I’ll check up on the boat there and retrieve the decoys that I couldn’t tend to December last.
I know the pond’s panfish and bass will soon become active and I will enjoy fishing for them.
Also, I will begin the task of rummaging through the turkey vest to ensure that it is ready for the up-coming season.
And I’ll continue to work the dogs, tossing the training dummy to them with such repetition that I will tire before Berry does.
These were the end of days but with the continuity of more to come in a never-ending cycle that keeps me afield and on the stream.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn