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It is time for the questions and there are many, so no fooling around this time — right to work.

Actually, the first one is not really a question but an interesting story. A nice lady (I will protect her identity by calling her Sue) wrote in response to the picture of the ruffed grouse in Sightings. She is apparently responsible for interpreting Internet magic and finding my columns for one of my fellow DEC Lieutenants. I think the last ticket Charlie wrote was made out in runes inscribed on clay tablets, so this duty is likely quite taxing.

In any event, she relayed a story from her childhood near Plattsburgh. One of her chores was to uncover and feed the canary every morning. One weekend morning, when her parents were trying to sleep in, she got up early, went to the canary cage and found another bird sitting on the nearby window ledge. She rushed upstairs and roused her father, who told her to “put salt on its tail” and went back to sleep. I can relate to this as I was once advised that robins could be captured by putting salt on their tails. When I asked how to do this, the instructions were to lay motionless in the backyard until one came close enough. I spent many hours over several days stretched out in the grass clutching a saltshaker but never got my chance. I suspect this was the intended result.

Sue made out much better. She got the big container of salt, opened the spout and gave the bird a good dosing on its tail before hollering back up the stairs to report this and ask for further instructions. Roused for a second time, the sleepy father advised she should put it in a paper bag and take it outdoors. He was amazed to look out the window and see her release a full-grown ruffed grouse with a particularly salty tail. Apparently, the bird was stunned enough by crashing through a window pane to sit still for the salinization and bagging but headed for parts unknown as soon as the bag was opened. Sue’s capture of a grouse by putting salt on its tail is still a frequently invoked bit of family lore. Speaking of these sorts of tales, here is another.

It is correct, isn’t it, that if you pick up a skunk by its tail, it cannot spray you.

This is SO under the heading of — kids, don’t try this at home. Actually, skunks will put up with a lot of things, if you get the right skunk. However, they can spray whether their hind feet are on the ground or not. In addition to that, there is the issue about getting close enough to pick it up in the first place and then putting it back down again. This is strongly held lore so let me relate some empirical evidence.

At some point in the career of every Boy Scout, they are taken on a “snipe hunt.” The newbies are given a bag, left in the woods and advised to stay still and quiet while the rest of the troop thrashes about driving the snipe towards the waiting bagger. Flashlights are confiscated from the baggers since snipe are allegedly terrified of lights. After a while, once the noise of the snipe drive has subsided, the baggers will notice a large bonfire and come slinking out to find everyone toasting marshmallows and laughing at their expense.

On my snipe hunt, things worked a bit differently. I crouched in the blackness, listening intently for the pitter-patter of little snipe feet. Something came along and I swooshed my bag over it, closing it up and heading toward the big campfire with my “snipe.” The scout leaders were baffled at my apparent success and suggested I dump the contents of the bag so they could see it. I upended the bag and dumped out a half-grown, full stripe skunk at their feet. The one closest to the offended skunk immediately lifted it by the tail, thinking to avoid the blast.

The only result was to get the release site higher in the air so more of us were covered. Half-blinded, he dropped the skunk and, hacking and retching, we all stampeded for the cars. Someone recalled our lesson about making sure a campfire was dead out before leaving it but we decided a forest fire was preferable to going back into the contamination zone. In later years, I have lifted skunks by their tails out of bad circumstance (ranging from being stuck in a swimming pool filter to hanging by one foot off the edge of a dock) and have not been sprayed — but it is entirely up to the skunk in question.

What is the best way to dispose of a Christmas tree?

That depends on your situation. Tossing it beside the road somewhere is definitely NOT the best solution, although it seems to be one commonly practiced. The only thing worse is putting it in a plastic bag before tossing it by the roadside. Some people stake theirs outside as additional cover by their bird feeders. They have been sunk in lakes to provide cover for young fish, chipped and used for compost, and fed to goats. The brush section at the transfer stations is a good option. I burn ours in the fireplace.

I was sitting beside four men in a restaurant and overheard one of them talking about using “mouses” for bait when fishing. This is appalling, and poor grammer, but I have to ask, are they drowning adult mice or the little blind babies?

My grandfather always had a couple of Heddon Meadow Mouse ® lures in his tackle box. As a child, I felt this was ridiculous because how would a bass know what a mouse was — afterall, mice did not go swimming. Then, over the course of the years, I cleaned several bass with mice in their stomachs and one pike with several mice in its digestive system, so apparently mice go swimming more than I would have ever imagined. However, we are now in ice fishing season and there will be no mice injured in the production of tasty perch fillets. The guys were talking about mousees — the larvae of a species of drone fly, raised in captivity specifically to produce fishing bait. If it makes you feel better, the larvae are also called “rat-tailed maggots.”

One time I was fishing with my brother-in-law, who was quite a know-it-all on piscatorial lore and technique. He had a number of hand-tied flies, I was jigging with tiny spoons baited with mousees. It was brutally cold and, to keep the bait from freezing, I left the main supply in the truck, in a small cooler with a bottle of hot water, taking only as many as I felt I might need for an hour or so’s fishing in a small plastic baggie, which I kept tucked in my cheek.

When I needed a new mousee, I would reach in my mouth carefully to avoid two things — 1. To keep from getting a bunch of the sawdust mousees live in into my teeth and 2. To keep my brother-in-law from seeing exactly what I was doing. After I had 20 fat perch on the ice and he had no success with his flies, he asked if he could have some mousees. I said sure, but do not let them freeze. To my credit, I was able to keep a completely straight face for the next couple of hours as he spit sawdust and pursued wriggling maggots around his molars. Never did tell him the difference, hoping he might pass the lore on to some of his friends.

Sometimes I hate myself. ...

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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