Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Spider and the Fly

From now until well into the fall, the woods become full of spider webs.  They are amongst the fiercest of predators.  I saved one fly from one of the meekest spiders I ever saw.

       I learn a lot when I set on my porch watching the birds and rabbits and squirrels.  Every now and then a deer passes through, or something like a raccoon family or a coopers hawk.  If an armadillo comes around, he is a dead armadillo!  But I watched a life and death struggle just the other morning.  The participants were very very small.  A housefly somehow got his leg stuck through the screen wire and couldn’t get it out.
       His struggles were epic, sort of what you might expect if you could go back in time and see a wooly mammoth stuck in a mud bog, just on a smaller scale.  His predicament attracted a tiny spider, which likely was about half the size of the fly in body weight.  The spider could see the possibility of a great feast, and he would get about a half inch away from the fly, which would go berserk at his approach, and then the spider would get scared and run up the screen a few inches to get his nerve back.

       That went on for a while, the fly screaming obscenities at the spider and begging for his buddies to help.  Well I don’t know that, I just suspect it.  If I had my leg stuck in something and a spider was approaching, it is what I would do.  What a spider does to a fly is awful.  When one is caught in a spider web, or any other insect is caught, a spider bites them and injects a little bit of venom into its body with little tiny fangs of a sort.  It puts the fly to sleep.

       The spider has no chewing teeth so then it just sucks out the body fluid and soft matter, leaving the outer shell.  If you ever come across a fly skeleton, which I never have, you will know he was set upon by a spider!

       Anyways, I sat there and watched the whole thing and just couldn’t stand it any longer so I pulled the fly out of the screen, which pulled his leg off.  I know that must have been very painful, on a small scale, so I put him out of his misery.  Not long ago I came across an electric fly swatter that looks a little like a tennis racket.  It has batteries in it and if you push the button on the handle, the metal strands inside the frame receive an electrical jolt that kills even horse-fly or a wasp.  I sat the tortured fly on it and pushed the button, electrocuting it and putting it out of its misery.  The spider, seeing the whole thing, hot-footed it off away and out of site rather quickly.

       With all that over, I sat back to watch one young gray squirrel chase another all through the branches of a chinquapin oak, apparently unaware that mating season is months away.  I assume that the one in the front was a female, who well knew when the mating season was, and the one in the rear was a male, who couldn’t care less.  He has not learned yet what most of us grizzled old veteran outdoorsmen found out many years ago.  You don’t chase ‘em, you bring them flowers, you read them poetry and you find an after-shave lotion they really like.
       I know that many of you readers are far from Lake of the Ozarks, but permit me to take a short piece of this page to inform everyone of a get together at Climax Springs they are calling the Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s Luncheon.   This is a dinner that will take place on Wednesday September 16 at 11:30 a.m. at the towns Civic Center. 

       About twenty or so really good-looking ladies came up with the idea of raising money by inviting men to come to a really great dinner and charging them 10 dollars each, then using the money to pay winter utility bills for some of the areas elderly people.

Isn’t that a great idea?  They have asked me to come and give a thirty-minute talk about conservation and the outdoors.  While the dinner costs ten dollars, the talk I give which will involve more humor than seriousness, is completely free.  In fact I am going to bring a bunch of my outdoor magazines to give away, free of charge.

       They tell me that there in the Climax Springs Civic Center, where the dinner will be on the second floor, they will have vendors on the bottom floor selling things like art, fishing lures, turkey calls, etc., so outdoorsmen should enjoy the event even more.

       One of the reasons I bring up this event is to let people know that I would rather speak for a group that is raising money for a cause than anything else I do.  God never gave me any great talent or ability, but one thing He gave me was the ability to talk to people and I like to use that.  I think it springs from the years I spent as an interpretive naturalist at state parks in Missouri and Arkansas and for the National Park Service at Buffalo River.

       I speak to groups often; churches, outdoorsmen’s groups, conventions, wild game dinners, civic clubs, schools, writers groups, etc.  I do it free of charge even though many of those places have what they call “honorariums” which means they have a check for speakers.  Since I can generally sell enough of my books at such events to pay for the gas to get there, I return that money.  Here’s why… At a big Assembly of God church in Columbus Kansas a few years ago, a four-hundred-dollar honorarium I returned, used with money donated by the audience, bought dozens of pairs of shoes for children at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in the Dakotas.

       At a Baptist church in Mountain Grove Missouri I spoke to a big congregation just before a Sunday dinner there, and returned a five-hundred-dollar honorarium, which I placed in a collection plate, and asked the congregation to pass the plate and put in a handful of change or a dollar to make it grow.  That money would be given to the local schools to buy coats for underprivileged children of the area.  The congregation really responded.  We ended up with nine-hundred and eighty-one dollars. 
       I remember the amount well, because while I never saw any of the little kids who benefited, a teacher called me to tell me about a little 8-year-old girl so proud of her new coat she wouldn’t take it off in the classroom for more than a week. Then there was a little boy who needed glasses to be able to see the blackboard, which his parents couldn’t afford, and his teacher nearly cried when she described the big smile on his face because for the first time in his life, he could see clearly as a result of that Sunday morning.

       I don’t spend five minutes on planning the talks I give… because it seems that God lets me know what to say when the time is right.  I can hear the skeptics laughing at that, but it is the truth!  Mostly, I like to tell stories and experiences from my life to make people laugh.  But it serves a higher purpose, and gives my life a true purpose…someone who grew up so poor I thought I would never be able to help anyone, raising thousands of dollars to help hundreds of people.  When you consider how easy this has become for me, it is something of a real miracle.  In high school I couldn’t even stand up in class and give a book report.  If you have an event which raises money to help others, and you need a speaker, just let me know.

My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 and the email address is lightninridge@windstream.net  Or you can call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, at our executive office at 417-777-5227.  If she is doing her nails you will just get a message- and I will call you back.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Not Much Tolerance


A pileated woodpecker searching a tree behind my porch in the dead of winter.
He isn't at all tolerant of other woodpeckers.


Chances are the dove population throughout Missouri will remain stable, but…they would do better and hunters would do better, if the hunting season was delayed two or three weeks.


       I sat on my grandfathers screened in porch when I was a boy, looking down on the creek as he relaxed in his rocking chair, one that he had made himself.  It had a hand-sewn cushion full of wild duck feathers.  Everything grandpa had he made himself. He built his little three-room cabin and the porch, which was enclosed by screens taken off old screen doors.  I couldn’t be near as happy without my own screened porch, and I sit out there each morning with a cup of coffee, watching the birds and other wild creatures in the woods below.
         Yesterday a young squirrel scurried up a hickory tree just to the south end of the porch.  I have never believed fox squirrels and gray squirrels will interbreed, but this one puzzles me. His face and body are just as any other fox squirrel, but his tail is that of a gray squirrel.  He is a strange looking squirrel.  He sneaks out to the end of several low branches looking for a hickory nut and there are none there, so he climbs higher to a point well up in the hickory tree where he cannot be seen, above the roofline. 

         In short order I hear hickory nut cuttings pattering down on the leaves below, like a slow gentle rain.  It takes me back to my boyhood when I sat in wooded creek bottoms in late summer with my single-shot shotgun, listening to the sound of squirrels gnawing on hickory nuts.  It would be nice to do that again but it is too hot right now and I am less tolerant of ticks today and those hard rocks are harder to sit on.  I want to wait until it gets cooler.

         Last year we had a ton of hickory nuts in my area, this year the crop is skimpy.  I notice the big walnuts here on Lightnin’ Ridge do not hold many walnuts either.  But the white oaks are loaded.  A three-hundred-year-old oak, which grows up over my house at the north end of the porch, is filled with an abundance of big green acorns.  In October they will drop on the roof for days on end.   Nights too, making it a little harder to sleep when they are really falling.

         Sitting on my porch I note that wild creatures do not tolerate each other much.  The diversity men preach today is found in my back yard, but tolerance is not.  A red-bellied woodpecker chases a downy woodpecker away from a post oak trunk, and hummingbirds fight with each other at the feeders I have out.  Blue jays hate the cardinals, mockingbirds fight with the brown thrashers and if those hawks were smaller the crows would kill them all.

         I worry about the whippoorwills and chuck-wills-widows.   Once so plentiful here on Lightnin’ Ridge, they seem too be declining rapidly.  I blame the egg-eating armadillos, skunks and raccoons, all three at the highest point in populations I have ever seen.  Anyone who sees an armadillo should kill it.  They are not native to this region and they are becoming a plague.

         Doves nest here in abundance and there are pairs of them around my screened porch, feeding on the ground.  Dove season will open in less that two weeks, and I wish to gosh they would delay that opening date for at least two or three weeks.  I am not sure that biologists know it but there will be a few nests where young are not yet independent, and hunters will kill the parents, allowing the pair of young birds left in the nest to die.  Doves nest from February thru September, bringing off several broods, always two young at a time.  It is a given that the hunting season will result in the death of young birds not yet ready to fly.  Not many, but a few.

         Another reason I hate the September 1 opener is because the heat and humidity is so high.  It is really hard on a dog, and hard on hunters.  But since it is now considered a tradition that date will never change.  I have similar problems with the opening of the archery deer season in mid-September.  It is just too early, still summer in our area. If it isn’t cool enough to hang up a deer at least overnight, it is a poor time to be hunting.

         I went to an ‘Outdoor Expo’ in the Ozarks last weekend and there was a lady there with a bunch of snakes.  She of course, was telling people how gentle snakes are, and why you should never kill one.   She had a boa constrictor wrapped around her neck, and other exotic reptiles that give me the creeps.
         I go along with the advice not to kill most non-poisonous species…I don’t. I dispose of black snakes here on Lightnin’ Ridge because they are so hard on birds in nests and young rabbits.  If I had a dairy farm I am sure I would like them in my barn to kill mice.

         But I don’t tolerate copperheads up here on my wooded ridge-top.  That screwball law that you cannot legally kill a poisonous snake should be repealed, unless you want to make it illegal for anyone to kill red wasps, moles or mice as well.  I asked the lady, who was all wrapped up in snakes, where she had grown up, where she was from. I’d bet she had never lived on a farm, or in a country setting.  I was right, she said she came from Los Angeles!
         I asked her if she knew that two people had died in Missouri over the past year from snakebites, one from a copperhead and one from a cottonmouth.   She didn’t believe me! She proceeded to tell me how I could use a hook to move poisonous snakes from a lawn to a safe area.
         Boy would I like to take her down on the river with her hook, and let her try to move a big old 30-inch cottonmouth with it when he is good and mad, which he would be when she started messing with him.  She’ll do better back in Los Angeles with her constrictors, teaching those folks.  I heard that people from Southern California are easy to fool.  I heard somewhere that those pet boa constrictors and pythons have killed a few people in the U.S. too.  But only a few!

         I was in Iowa last month and visited a friend of mine, taxidermist Brad Coulson of Ankeny Iowa. He has been a taxidermist since he was a youngster and that was thirty years ago.  He has one of the nicest studios I have ever seen and he is as good at that type of work as anyone I have ever seen.  Brad told me he needs to hire a taxidermist to help him, because he can’t keep up with the work.  If you are a competent taxidermist able to move to Iowa, you should contact him.

         If you are a writer, you should contact me.  We are looking for good stories about the outdoors: nature, hunting, fishing etc. for our magazine, The Lightnin Ridge Outdoor Journal.  Actually some of our best reading comes from outdoorsmen who have only one story, people you might call amateur writers.  If you think you might have a good article for our October-November issue, or a special Christmas issue, I would like to see it.  We are now paying for the articles we use.  My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613, my email address is lightninridge@windstream.net

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Green and Blue… and Gold

   A view of wooded hills surrounding Bull Shoals Lake today, all public land.   When the master plan for the lake goes into effect, most of this will be gone, replaced by private homes and docks just above the high water line.

       I moved near Bull Shoals Lake in 1972 and it has been my favorite reservoir since then.  I don’t know how many acres around it was saved by putting them in public ownership, but it is a considerable amount, maybe 60 or 70 thousand acres set aside and preserved as is.
       It is all what they call “Corps Land”. Because of that the shore of most of Bull Shoals has been protected from the elite, from the developers and the people who live their lives for money.  Those developers, many of them who fought the preservation of the Buffalo, are now seeing silver and gold along the shores of Bull Shoals.

       Thank goodness, we always had Table Rock and Lake of the Ozarks and Beaver and most every other Ozark reservoir for them.  It kept their money grubbing hands off Bull Shoals for awhile.  Bull Shoals was for us common folks who disdained the shores lined with vacation homes and boat docks and trailer parks where you could see the water just below from your built-on deck.

       You know what Bull Shoals was?   It was a haven where no roads were built, and a natural shoreline with green buffer land above it. It wasn’t a place for the extremely wealthy to claim as their own and tell the rest of us to stay out.  It was a place where septic tanks didn’t drain, a place where big oaks and walnuts and hickories and cedars stood, where wild turkeys and deer traveled the same paths that all of us could walk as well.  It was a place where flying squirrels and owls and a myriad of species of songbirds lived. With another generation... that meant something.

       Now they are holding meetings down around Bull Shoals, especially in Mt. Home, Arkansas, where tens of thousands of retirees come to live the later years of their lives.  Most of them are glad that it isn’t another Branson.  At those meetings they are discussing the Corps new “Master Plan for Bull Shoals”.  What that means is, a plan to bring the money Branson and Table Rock are known for, to a fairly pristine area.

       I heard one guy on television talking about the money a new plan could bring in.  He makes his money out of tourism and he complained that they weren’t able to cut trees below homes already there, so they could see the lake.  “Tourist friendly” he called it. If a new “master plan” is adopted, he can cut lots of trees and he might make a few more dollars each week!

       Lawyer Jones can move down from Kansas City, where he made millions in courts he helped to corrupt, and claim a little of the acreage now owned by all of us, for his very own. He can build a million dollar place just above the high water line and he can expect the government to cut a mile long road into it, and work with developers to put in some docks which are his and his alone where no one can step foot on them without his permission.

              The “Master Plan” means this…. We take thousands of acres owned by all the people and we make it a place owned mostly by the few very wealthy folks who want to flee the big cities.  The “Master Plan” means you’ll soon see roads and homes and private boat docks by the hundreds along banks that now give a view of green hills and blue water.

       Then the real estate developers can really make some money. They are salivating in anticipation!  And oh yes, that fellow on television talking about making Bull Shoals “tourist friendly’; he can get more money for his fishing service and at his bait shop, cause he loves people like Lawyer Jones.  Maybe he too can buy a little tract where he can set a mobile home.
       It would be nice if I could get some of those television news people to go with me and spend a few hours there seeing the Bull Shoals I know.  But television people don’t do that.  I called and volunteered my time and a boat, and I can’t get them to return a call.  I know the country is too rough for them and they might get a tick.  And besides that, Bull Shoals developers would raise heck with them for showing another side to that story.

       Unfortunately Bull Shoals as it is isn’t making anyone enough money.  It has many fine resorts, but the bad thing is, those resorts were built back up on ridges away from the lake and you might have to drive a mile or so to a launching ramp to put your boat in.

         There are launching ramps aplenty on Bull Shoals, but not nearly enough for Lawyer Jones who doesn’t want to drive a whole mile and wait ten minutes to put in his 250 thousand dollar boat.  He wants his own dock, a big one filling up a whole cove, with bright lights and a swimming platform.  And soon, he will have it.

       So now I have given you a sneak peak of the new ‘Master Plan for Bull Shoals’.   It has been the plan for some time now, and it will take that magnificent natural body of land around the lake from all of us and give it to just a few. They don’t have enough of such ground left on Table Rock or Beaver Lake or Lake of the Ozarks. Most of it is claimed. So Bull Shoals is next.

       If you doubt what I say, wait and watch. In the meantime you might want to go walk those wooded hills this fall.  You might want to go hunt it this fall while you still can. Much of it, like that Jones Point Wildlife Area near the Highway 125 ferry, is great hunting.  It will be a prime spot for roads and logging companies soon, and then the homes and docks.
       Those trees are are seventy or eighty years uncut, and big. They’ll make some loggers big money.  Most of the wildlife found there in that forest will survive to some extent as semi-tame.  Folks love to see birds and deer at their feeders off the back porch.
       Some species won’t survive, like the mountain boomers that live in the cedar glades.  But what the heck, those collared lizards aren’t worth anything...The land is.  You might be able to get up to ten thousand dollars an acre for much of that land if you are a developer.  All you have to do is take it out of public ownership.  And the Corp’s ‘Master Plan” is about to do just that.

       If you are just a plain old Ozark county person and this makes you a little bit sick, remember that we treasured such places as Bull Shoals in a wild setting because we are older than those who want it to be ‘tourist friendly’.  We remember a different time.  There were things we wouldn’t sacrifice for money.
       What voice do we have, those of us who have fished one of those remote coves at sunset in a 500 dollar fishing boat? Will our grandchildren care about seeing wild ducks circle above a cove in the fall in a golden sunset?  I doubt that kind of gold will mean much to anyone in another fifty years.
       That kind of gold has no value in a “Master Plan”. Present generations want big expansive lakeside resorts and plenty of fast boats and jet-skis.   And they want to see the water for the day or so they rent a cabin, they do not want to see trees that block the view.

       The public meetings are a joke.  Bull Shoals Lake’s future HAS BEEN DECIDED!   Soon a privileged few will own those green hillsides and what we knew will slowly disappear. And in time those of us who remember what that lake once was, will be gone and our memories won’t be of any importance.

       But I thank God he let me see it all those years as it is, as the forests grew, wild creatures thrived and it wasn’t just another Table Rock or Beaver Lake.  It belonged to us all.  The problem is… green and blue does not have the value of silver and gold.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Favorite Waters

   At one time Truman Lake was a haven for waterfowl.   Blue-winged teal in spring plumage stopped there by the thousands each spring, then again in the early fall.

30 years ago, quail were doing well on Truman Lake's western watershed and hunters often found numerous coveys in an evenings hunt.  Today, my estimate is that 80 percent of those coveys are gone.

       I am not going to write today about my favorite lake in all the world, Bull Shoals, where I lived and worked for twenty-five years.  That is going to be Part Two of this column, and I hope you won’t miss it.
       Truman Lake is my second favorite lake in the Midwest, almost two bodies of water behind one dam.   I have studied it, hunted it and fished it too, for more than forty years.  It is the most recently built lake in the Midwest, certainly the last big reservoir in the Ozark region.

       I have spent hours and hours on Truman, because it is a body of water that has a semblance of naturalness to it, and you can’t say that about many lakes.  Depending on how high the water is, Truman is surrounded by somewhere close to 120,000 acres of public land that is undeveloped.  It is land you and I can hunt on, or hike on, get lost in, land so full of a variety of wildlife and tree species it is amazing.
       Oh sure, it has deer and turkey in such an abundance that it boggles the mind, but the diversity of the Truman Lake watershed makes this a wildlife habitat like no other.  Both bear and mountain lion have been seen on the public land around Truman, and you can just about name any Missouri species of mammal, bird or fish and be assured they live here.  I doubt if there is an expanse of land anywhere that provides homes for more bobcats per acre than this lake.

       The west end of Truman, made up of the Grand River, Sac River and Osage River tributaries, is as different from the southern arm, made up of the Big and Little Pomme de Terre Rivers, as a goose from a groundhog.  That western arm, flowing out of Missouri and Kansas prairie country is shallower, much more turbid, downright muddy much of the time.   Over the years the lake has filled in on that west end with silt.

       Forty years ago, we hunted waterfowl on the upper reaches of Truman, over closer to the Kansas border.  We would often wade out and hunt beneath pin oaks in the fall, and you have never seen better duck hunting.  This evaluation comes from an outdoor writer who has hunted ducks in seven or eight states and two provinces of Canada. You could find an equal to any place, including Arkansas on Truman Lake in the seventies and eighties!  What a waterfowl haven Truman was then, and to some extent, still is.

       Those pin-oak trees are gone now and the ground you could wade cannot be waded now because the mud and muck beneath the water in such spots is so thick from the years of siltation it will sometimes sink a hunters waders down to his thighs, and you can hardly move as it does so, sort of like underwater quicksand.

       I remember when there were enough coveys of quail in that region that it was nothing to find four of five coveys in a few hours of hunting. I would take my bird dogs out in my boat and we would hunt natural cover that now is little more than acres of cockleburs.  The quail are gone!

       The Corps of Engineers turned over much of that farmland found on the west end of Truman to the Missouri department of Conservation and they in turn, with the Corps approval, turned the land over to tenant farmers for large scale farming.  Where there was cover for quail and rabbits there now is blackened ground where no quail could survive and rabbits have declined and continue declining.  We now hunt rabbits on that public land by running beagles on private land adjacent to that tenant farmed land, because that’s where they have had to move to survive.

       I had a spirited discussion about this tenant farming with a good friend of mine who was a Corps Ranger at the time.  He angrily told me that there was no way to have farmers do what was best for wildlife on Truman because they couldn’t pay for their time and efforts unless they put large acreages in cultivation, a practice that ensured the decline of all wildlife EXCEPT deer and turkey, and that, he said, is what hunters want, not rabbits and squirrels.

       The management of that black, fertile ground for quail and rabbits is a costly, money-losing effort.  Years ago, I took the director of the Conservation Department out in my boat and showed him what was happening on Truman.  He’s the same person, who, in a speech before the Southeastern Game and Fish departments, said that Missouri would increase quail numbers in our state by ten thousand coveys.
       But when I showed him a tract of land where they actually could do that, through the preservation of escape and nesting cover, the elimination of cockleburs and the planting of crops in strips and rows which created what biologists have always referred to as edge and interspersion, he said the MDC just didn’t have the money for that.  A few years later they began to spend millions on restocking elk in a much smaller region of the southeastern Ozarks.

       On the Pomme de Terre southern arm of the lake, the ecosystem is far different.  It is rocky ground; the water is clearer and deeper.  Except for catfish and carp, I believe the fishing is better on that arm, and there’s still places you can wade out into the water when duck hunting.  But the Pomme de Terre arm is not good habitat for quail and rabbits, in general.  It is great habitat for squirrels, deer and turkeys and furbearers like beaver and fox and bobcat.

       Each spring and fall, I and that Corps Ranger, now retired, take a group of people out to a remote area of the Pomme de Terre arm, and conduct a day-long nature hike, teaching them what we have learned over the years about the lake.  This of course is on a small bit of those 120,000 acres of public land, and I can show them some of the biggest trees in that part of the state.  On that hike, punctuated by a fish fry at midday on the shore of the Lake, we show them eagle nests in giant sycamores, and one white oak tree that likely is well over 300 years old.  Giant trees of a dozen species are found there as are cedar groves that are filled with cedars hundred of years old.  It is a fact that on Truman Lake, core samples of a pair of cedar trees indicated they were 700 years old.  How long will it be before the demand for that valuable wood makes it so that the Corps of Engineers feels it necessary to turn that ground over to loggers?

       Then there is the other lake, Bull Shoals, just as magnificent, but so different, which is this week the subject of very useless public meetings in north Arkansas. The Corps calls it a new master plan for Bull Shoals Lake.  What it amounts to is a great deception that means the lake I knew for so many years is about to be turned over to development both on the water and above it. There is big money to be made in its demise.  I will compare Truman and Bull Shoals and what is soon to happen to each, in next week’s column. 

In the meantime, you can write with your opinions to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Red Wasps, Yellow-jackets and Black Vultures

                        The black vulture, an emerging menace for Missourians

            I want to warn all you readers about something… red wasps!  The whole month of August and much of September are the days in which they become most aggressive, as their larvae grow closer to maturity in the paper nests they make around nooks and crannies in sheds and around porches.
            The same can be said of yellow-jackets, which have nests in the ground.   But nature has an answer… in August and September the country is full of green tomatoes, and nothing soothes any kind of sting like a green tomato, cut in half and applied to the sting, squeezing juice onto the area.  If you have multiple stings, use duct tape to hold cut small green tomato halves against each.  I don’t know why they are so efficient for stings, but they are.  Maybe I have a reader who can explain the chemistry of it.

            How far into north Missouri have armadillos and road-runners actually advanced?  A reader near Lake of the Ozarks told me recently that this summer he has seen several road-runners on his place, at least three or more.  Armadillos, which are the scourge of ground nesting birds, are in the show-me state now by the thousands.  Recently there has been an outbreak of leprosy in Florida and some other southern states, attributed to the abundance of armadillos.

            It has long been known that the animal is a carrier of leprosy.  Just last week the Missouri Department of Conservation acknowledged that as on of their media specialists said on television that everyone should avoid handling dead or live armadillos!  I second that… it is a brilliant piece of advice, perhaps the result of their extensive scientific studies!

            I am afraid what is coming next is a plague of black vultures.  They are becoming common in the very southern fringe of Missouri and terribly overpopulated in northern Arkansas.  Last January I saw more than a hundred of them at a big chicken raising facility along the James River south of Springfield, I suppose feasting on piles of dead chickens dumped just above the river.
            In January, they should be long gone from here, as they winter in Mexico and Central America, but they seem to disdain migration now. They seem well fed because of changing land use and the question is, how far into Missouri will they go?  I’d like to hear from readers on this.  The farthest north I have seen them is Truman Lake.

            Down in the White River area of north Arkansas many hundreds of them have being killed through special permits given by the Game and Fish Commission. They are a real problem for boat docks where they congregate in big numbers. But it seems you can’t kill enough of them.  These birds will kill young calves… that fact has been documented. I don’t think turkey vultures have ever been known to do that.

            Another Missouri reader told me he witnessed a single black vulture pecking at and bloodying the ears and face of a newborn calf before he could drive it away, and then it came back to continue its assault.  He called the MDC and reported it, and he was transferred to someone who told him no vulture would do such a thing. They will!

            Black vultures even attack things they can’t eat.  A dozen or so of them attacked a new pickup parked on Norfork Lake a couple of years ago and scratched an pecked it so badly they did several thousand dollars worth of damage to it.  There have been several instances of them damaging vehicles and no one can understand why.
            These birds are devilish.  They, along with the armadillos, should be killed anywhere they are found, but, for some idiotic reason they are protected by federal law under the migratory bird act.  It would be interesting to know how far north they have come so if you are sure you have seen one anywhere north of Stockton Lake, let me know.
            You can easily tell a black vulture from a turkey vulture.  They have no red on the head, they are smaller, with grayish patches beneath the wings.  You can see a color photo of one on my website… larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com

            When it gets this hot, there isn’t much you can do outdoors during the day. A couple of years ago, I took outdoor writers Jim Spencer and Jill Easton on a July float trip when the temperature rose to 102.  We spent as much time in the water as we did in my johnboat, and we kept everything wet in that aluminum boat.  When I was a kid, and floated in wooden johnboats, you couldn’t burn yourself by hopping out of the water onto a seat. You CAN burn yourself on a dry, super-heated aluminum boat seat.
            At the end of the shoals that day, we would wade out chest deep and fish the spots where the water slowed and deepened, and we actually caught a good number of bass.  I use to float those rivers at night and use a jitterbug to catch bass, and at the same time catch a sackful of bullfrogs.
            As you get older bullfrogs aren’t as good to eat, partly because there are more problems found on a river at night; slick rocky shoals too shallow to float, bugs attracted to your headlamp, the humidity, the discomfort of gravels in your shoes, and the fact that good bullfrogs aren’t nearly as plentiful as they once were.   A friend of mine blames several things for that, primarily the over-population of great blue herons.  There are far too many of them, but then, there are more otter, more mink, more raccoons, more of everything that likes to eat bullfrogs.

            I wonder sometimes if when a raccoon gets older if he is content to just to eat corn and crawdads, and not work as hard as he might have to in catching a bullfrog.  I think sometimes that it is laziness that makes me hesitate to go frogging in the middle of the summer.  But if it cools down a little…I’m going to do it again!
            I keep hearing a couple of big bullfrogs bellowing in the pond down in the woods behind my home. I ought to go practice on them I suppose, just to sharpen up my reflexes.  We never did gig frogs, we always caught them by hand, freezing them by shining a bright light in their eyes.  That takes a quick hand and you have to focus.  You can’t be looking around to be sure there are no snakes to deal with.
            Once when I was a kid, I was about to grab a frog when a big water snake slid right over it.  That shook me up, but the frog didn’t move and I got him.  Come to think of it, I always liked fishing at night with a jitterbug more than frogging, which was a whole lot like work at times.  If it gets a little cooler some summer night, I might just forget the froggin’ and go jitterbuggin’!  Yeah by golly, I think that’s what I’ll do… some night soon… if it gets cooler…

            Readers can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Pig-Riding Cat

High on my list of the most fascinating Ozark creatures, the bobcat is fairly common, but seldom seen in daylight hours.  A large mature bobcat can and does kill small mature deer, but that usually only happens during the lean months of winter.  I have only seen it happen once, in deep snow during January. But they can be deadly on young wild hogs, and wild turkeys.

            I guess I am just getting too old to continue the things I like to do.  I have quit my morning jogging altogether because I keep spilling my coffee and I am afraid that if I continue to hunt and take pictures from my old tree stand this fall I will have to nail steps to the tree!  People my age just aren’t good at shinnying anymore!

            The other day I was watching a red-tail hawk in flight when some kind of little bird a bit smaller than a robin dived down on him and actually clung to the hawks back, pecking away at his head. He wasn’t flying, he was just sitting there on that hawks back letting him have it.  It reminded me of the time I saw a bobcat riding a pig.  I know that sounds like something you might hear from someone who is returning from their moonshine still, but I was stone cold sober.

            It was in November or December, I was hunting deer, sitting against a big oak deep in the woods late in the evening or real early in the morning and I can’t remember which.  Anyhow, I heard a ruckus back on the other side of a cedar thicket and I thought I was about to see some deer when I heard a gosh-awful squealing.  Having grown up in the rural Ozarks, I knew the sound was a distressed wild pig.  Sure enough, here he came, a young shoat maybe 30 inches high at the shoulder.  He was moving on, and on his back was a bobcat with its teeth sunk in the top of that pig’s neck and his feet dug into its side, straddling the poor pig like a jockey on a racehorse.

            That of course reminds me of a good story about the time when I was in the first grade and had some little workbook sheet that asked silly questions that any normal kid could answer like, “what can fly farther, a bird or a billy goat?”   One of the questions asked which I thought about for a long time was, “What can run faster, a pig or a horse?”

            The reason I circled the pig was that the weekend before, my dad and his friend Charlie Hartman and my Uncle Norten were chasing some young pigs in a barn trying to catch them, and either Charlie or Uncle Norten made the comment that those pigs could run faster than a horse!   Of course, I thought the two of them were the smartest men in the world, so what would you expect me to choose when some schoolbook wants to know which is the fastest?

            At any rate, no horse in the world could have kept up with that young pig with the bobcat on its back, running through that brush.  I’d sure like to point that out to my first grade teacher!  I have several other good bobcat stories that I will relate sometime, but few people will believe any of them.  You had to be there!

            It might be easier to believe that there will be some outstanding fishing on Ozark streams when the water recedes.  I am not speaking here of the big streams which carry the ‘chaos and capsize’ canoe crowd but the smaller headwater creeks and rivers which might be too low for most folks to float in July and August during normal years.   When the floodwaters recede first in those small streams, they will be well stocked with bass, and if you can stand the heat, they’ll be suckers for topwater lures and buzz-baits.  I don’t mean that you can catch suckers of course on topwater lures, just bass that are gullible, like a… well you know what I mean.

            It is time I guess for me to urge all fishermen who fish the rivers to release each and every smallmouth they catch, because our rivers, annually degraded by poorer water quality and eddies continuing to fill in with gravel and silt, have fewer and fewer of them of any size.  Smallmouth are hosts to those little yellow grubs that infest the meat in good numbers, so why would anyone choose to eat a smallmouth.   Keep the Kentuckies, also known as spotted bass, and the largemouth, if you want to eat fish, but release smallmouth, so that those who fish the rivers may continue to see a few good-sized ones on occasion.

            Those who remember that as a boy I grew up guiding fishermen on the Big Piney river in my grandpa’s wooden johnboats will appreciate the fact that I treasure more the memories of guiding hunters and fishermen over the last fifty-some years than anything else.

            I was born to be a guide, which is what I was basically, during my years working as a National Park Service naturalist on the Buffalo River and years that followed, guiding fishermen and hunters all over Arkansas and Missouri with my Uncle Norten. Teaching others about the outdoors as a guide, seeing their face light up as they catch a good fish or see an eagle or a mink, remains in my blood, and I will continue to do it until I can’t use a sassafras paddle any longer.
            In September and October, I hope to take a few fishermen with me to Lake of the Woods in Canada, hopefully those who have never been there.  It is a different world. Fall on Lake of the Woods one of the few times and places where you can catch anything… smallmouth and largemouth, northerns and muskies, and walleye and lake trout and crappie on the same day.

            In late September Lake of the Woods is spectacular with fall color and a special beauty not to be found anywhere else I have ever been.  You know why most fishermen from the U.S. don’t fish it much as October comes on?  Because you can be there and be caught in a weather front with rain and gale winds which keep you in the cabin for two days, or trying to fish some sheltered bay while trying to stay warm and dry.
            But when the skies are blue and air is so crisp and cool and clear you can see across green waters for miles to distant shores of yellow, orange, red and green, you hate to leave.  At such times I am a fishing guide again, as I will be this September on Lake of the Woods, delighting in seeing someone who has never been to Canada land a walleye big enough to swallow a muskrat, or a smallmouth as wide as a paddle blade.

            My August-September issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor magazine, which came out last week, has a story in it about a little Ontario lake where you can catch a boatload of muskies, and there are some color photos that show you a little of what I am talking about.

E-Mail me at lightninridge@windstream.net or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613


 In September, it is relatively easy to catch a good-sized muskie in Canada in some of the smaller fly-in lakes.