Annual trek to hunting camps under way; all eyes on Nate

By noon Friday, the exodus will be well under way, with wary eyes on Tropical Storm Nate's path and progress.

Men and women, boys and girls will be in the throng “gone to camp” to take part in the statewide hunting season that arrives Saturday.

About 400,000 licensed hunters (age 16 and over) in Louisiana (about one in every 10 residents)  are eligible to chase bushy tails and cottontails, with countless youngsters under 16 getting into the mix.

Squirrel and rabbit are legal targets beginning Saturday, with deer and duck seasons to follow not far behind.

As dark falls today, there’ll be fires lit for the first time in months at camps from the woods north of I-20 to the swamps south of I-10, from the Sabine River on the west to the Mississippi on the east.

Gumbo pots will be simmering, barbecue pits smoking and card tables set up.

Some camps rival the finest of suburban homes; others are as basic as 6x6 tents on uneven ground. And the beds of pickup trucks do just fine for some.

The newest hunters — youngsters awaiting their first outing with Dad or Grandpa — won’t sleep much tonight as anticipation stimulates their system.

The oldest hunters won’t sleep much either, as they rediscover just how lumpy that camp mattress is.

The young hunters are most likely carrying a .410 single-shot shotgun, though a .20 gauge pump is increasingly popular.

The older hunters pack 12-gauge shotguns loaded with No. 6 shot, if they actually get out in the woods instead of sitting around the camp coffee pot, eating breakfast and trading stories of hunts past.

Those who do work their way into the forest before sunrise will find a decent crop of mast (acorns, beech, hickory nuts, pine cone nuts) and a good number of squirrels, according to wildlife officials.

A little bit of rain in some areas this week will help but not much. Dry conditions have left walking on the forest floor sort of like walking in a room full of egg shells — too noisy to get very close to the target — either the grey (“cat”) squirrel or the red (“fox”) squirrel.

 Most groups will have enough success to brown a pot, make a gravy, cook some rice and sit down for what most of them will claim is the best supper they’ve had since last opening day.