alligator snapping turtle

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An alligator snapping turtle is no joke. These animals are not found locally; instead, we have the smaller and less aggressive Florida snapping turtle.

I spent my early childhood years in the Midwest near Kansas City. (How about those Chiefs!) I was fortunate to live in an area where fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities were readily available, and incredibly lucky to have been raised by parents who encouraged such things.

They allowed me to roam mostly unsupervised, and not because they were neglectful parents. Quite the contrary — I benefited greatly from my childhood assortment of bloody noses, scraped chins and shins, insect and critter bites, bumps and bruises and assorted close brushes with outright disaster. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for allowing me those experiences. Here are a few things that I remember discovering through trial and error.

be careful around Horses

When you get a new horse and it’s time to introduce him or her to the other horses, you should just go inside the house and not hang around the barn for a day or two.

In any group of horses, there is a pecking order. They will work it out just fine without your help. But the process of fitting a newcomer into the mix will involve kicking, biting, chasing each other around and general rowdiness that you will find upsetting — especially when your new equine love gets pummeled. But you can’t stop it.

Horses can run really, really fast. Faster than you want to go. And when a horse runs away with you and is completely out of control, it’s scary. And when a horse that’s running wide open suddenly decides to stop and puts on the brakes by planting its forelegs without the decency of telling you first, you can launch into quite an impressive flight over its head. One afternoon I found myself pondering these facts as I regained consciousness while lying on my back and looking skyward.

Hogs have good taste

Did you know that hogs like to eat doves? And hogs are very smart. I discovered these facts while hunting doves over a farmer’s hog lot.

The farmer didn’t mind us shooting the doves. In fact, he encouraged us, because every bit of grain the doves ate was being taken away from those fattening pigs. It didn’t take long for the hogs to figure out that if they could beat us to a fallen dove, they’d get to munch on a feathered treat. And since some of those porkers weighed several hundred pounds, there were times that we let them win the race to the fallen dove. We figured that was a smarter move than getting too close to the strong jaws of a greedy, food-crazed hog.

There was a pond in the hog lot. When a shot dove would splash down into the water, there was one hog that would swim out and get it. I kid you not, he looked like a piggy Labrador retriever going to fetch a fallen duck — except that labs don’t usually eat those ducks in one or two quick gulps.

Limb Lines need to be whippy

I was having a hard time catching much on my limb lines. I’d go out before dark and bait them with fresh-caught live bluegill. Not just any bluegill — carefully selected bluegill of just the right size, not too big and not too small. Bluegill that a big flathead catfish would find irresistible when he came cruising along the bank at night.

Come morning when I’d go run the lines, I would usually find a few modest-sized fish, but mostly I had empty hooks, broken lines or straightened hooks. Finally dad took pity on me and told me the secret: It’s all about the limb.

As a foolish youngster with visions of catching huge fish, I’d been careful to choose big strong limbs on which to hang my baited hooks. But it turns out that the ideal overhanging limb isn’t too big or too strong. You want it to be somewhat whippy so there’s a pretty good amount of play when a strong fish grabs the line. That’s what keeps the line from popping or the hook from straightening, and makes it harder for the fish to pull the hook free.

Then when you come back in the morning to run the lines, you might be greeted by the sight of your limb being whipped all around. That was a good sign. But we learned to be just a little careful when first pulling the line up, because there were big water snakes that liked bluegill too. Big, unhappy snakes.

Snapping Turtles: good eatin’

Snapping turtles stink. They are hard to clean. They are mean, disagreeable animals. They have much longer necks than you expect and they can reach way back over the top of their backs to snap at you. And they’re very happy to remove a finger if you give them a chance.

So when we’d catch them on a limb line or a trot line we used to cuss and cut them loose — until a neighbor down the street heard about it. He said to bring him all the snapping turtles we caught and he’d show us how to clean them. He’d chop the head off with a hatchet, then drive a nail though the neck and nail the turtle to a tree or to a big wood fence post so that the back of the shell was lying against wood.

He’d use that hatchet to cut the belly plate out, then a sharp knife to cut loose the meat in each of the four quarters and the neck. I’m not sure exactly what recipe he used, but that turtle meat went into a crock pot for a while and then he pan-fried the chunks. And it was very, very good. He got all our snapping turtles after that.

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Call him at 941-639-2628 or email Captain@KingFishFleet.com.

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Call him at 941-639-2628 or email Captain@KingFishFleet.com.

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