It was the last day and the first day.
How can that be? Let me explain.
Abby the cur dog is barking pretty good around the hillside from me. I look at the Garmin locator, and it tells me she is 286 yards away across some fairly rough terrain — steep, rocky and hard to traverse. In truth, it is like much of the land here in southeastern West Virginia. It takes longer to get there than I thought it would (as always), and when I arrive on the scene, Abby is, of course, treed on the biggest tree on the hillside, a towering pine.
If we are squirrel hunting, why is this not good?
First, the tree is huge, very tall, which complicates locating the squirrel. Next, it is a pine tree, for crying out loud. All the deciduous trees have no foliage here on the last day of February; not so for the pine tree. The thick growth of pine needles near the top is more than enough to hide a skinny little gray squirrel.
I fully expect a long session of looking for this squirrel with no luck. Finding them in the treetops when you are alone is sometimes impossible. Miraculously, after I catch my breath, as soon as I put the binoculars on the tree, I see part of the squirrel's tail close to the main trunk. That is good, but try as I might, I can't get in position to see anything more than a tail. Abby continues to tree and bark the whole time and is clearly getting impatient with my stalling.
I finally try a shot with the little .410 shotgun at the tail, the squirrel moves up the tree into better concealment and I never see him again. That is squirrel hunting, it happens a lot, but I feel like I have let Abby down.
She is easier to call off the tree than I expected. It is 65 degrees today, and she is hot and tired from treeing so long on this squirrel. We try a few more areas in this place before we load up to head to another, and Abby seems ready for a break as she hangs out the window as we ride through the countryside.
It suddenly dawns on me that this is a great day to be alive.
We take a shortcut down the aptly named Turkey Creek Road. I just happen to look over in the bottom next to Turkey Creek itself, and there, big as life, are three big turkey gobblers. They are tall and shiny and beautiful, and their heads are so red you would think it is the middle of April, not the end of February. They all have long, thick beards hanging down that any turkey hunter would lust after, me included.
I watch them for half a minute, and they do a wing flap and cross the creek and go on their merry way. Seeing them, I realize, has hit me like a spring tonic.
These turkeys made me understand we are on the cusp of both the end and the beginning. It is the last day of squirrel and small game season here, but that marks the beginning of a new spring season. It is not spring yet officially (March 20 is the date on this year's calendar), but with this pretty weather, there is no doubt it has already begun. The days are longer, the songbirds are singing a new tune and ramps are starting to poke out of the leaves on the ground. I have no doubt those three amigos I saw over at Turkey Creek were rattling on a limb this morning with raucous gobbles.
A little farther down the road, two nice bucks spring across in front of us and shoot up the bank on my left. It is a little remarkable to me that both of these deer still have their antlers. I know a lot of people are out now looking for sheds, and I think maybe this is why they don't find much.
Are several of the bucks still carrying those horns? I don't know; I figure there are several factors as to when a buck loses his antlers. I will leave it to the biologists and the barber shop crowd as to why.
I watch them bound up the hillside and disappear. I think about how they have a long antler-growing season and hot summer to get through before fall comes with the whole scrape making, new antler polishing and the rut starting again. I watch the white tails dissolve into the cover above me, and I wish them well.
It is bittersweet that another fall and winter hunting season has passed, but I have to admit I look forward to all that this time of year brings us, including the spring gobbler season.
Go out and take in this middle ground time. Scout for turkeys, go catch a trout or look for antler sheds. The bucks may still be holding on to them, but you can still look.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.