Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Snake News

 Last week a visitor to Sam A. Baker State Park apparently picked up a copperhead and was bitten two or three times. He died some time later. I heard the Missouri Department of Conservation news release saying it was only the third death from a copperhead bite in Missouri … which they had record of.

That last part should be emphasized. Anyone who thinks a copperhead is not capable of delivering a deadly dose of venom is silly. I can’t imagine that man, who was apparently in good health, picking up a copperhead. He was from St. Charles, and perhaps he didn’t know what kind of snake it was.

There have been plenty of cases of snakebite death amongst early people in Missouri, back before any state agencies thought to keep records. I would bet that between 1850 and 1950, there were hundreds of deaths, some from cottonmouths, some from rattlesnakes, but many from copperheads. I say that because I talked to many people in the Ozarks, especially in north Arkansas, who knew of someone who died from the bite of a copperhead. Many were children, because they ran around those hills barefoot.

My uncle Norten came very close to death in 1929, when he was bitten on the foot by a copperhead. Of course he was barefoot, outside their cabin, and the copperhead was a big one. In describing to me what he went through, with the high fever and hallucinations and unconsciousness, plus the swelling and breaking of the skin, you realize he was fortunate to live through it.

Old timers thought the only hope was cutting into the bite and sucking out the venom, but they also killed chickens and put a bloody chicken breast on the bite, or rags soaked in coal oil. Many snakebite victims did not survive, and if you hear someone telling anyone that a copperhead bite is not to be worried about, they are misleading you. Sure, the MDC has only three records of copperhead bite fatalities, but there is so much they do not know about.

They are trying to keep people from killing copperheads, or any other snakes, because few of them have actually grown up in the country. That’s why they tout the law that makes it illegal for you to kill a copperhead around your place, or a blacksnake or whatever. It is against the law to float a river and kill a cottonmouth as well. A cottonmouth is a little bit more aggressive than a copperhead, and anyone who ridicules that hasn’t spent enough time on the river. They are very dangerous in the right situation. Much of a snake’s demeanor depends on the temperature, and the time of summer.

A cottonmouth that is in the molting stage is a bad character. We are coming into the time of summer when snakes are the most dangerous, that molting period, and the highest temperatures of the year, followed by the cooling night temperatures of September which causes them to be on the move. If you live in the country, you likely already know that. And remember too that a wasp or yellow jacket becomes much more likely to sting you in August and September than it would in June. Thankfully, the MDC allows us to kill wasps and yellow jackets.

If I see a copperhead around my place anywhere, I intend to kill it. In the 20 years we have lived here on this wooded ridge top miles outside of town, I have killed at least 40. I am not going to allow them to live around my Labradors or my grandkids…. Or me! I have had two come into my basement. I have also killed a few blacksnakes, those climbing trees in the back yard trying to eat eggs or baby birds in the nest.

Now if I had a dairy barn where mice and rats were finding stored feed, I would welcome a blacksnake to keep the numbers of vermin down. It is nothing more than a matter of common sense. Many times when I was working for the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, studying and reporting on the states most remote wild areas in the Ozarks, I came across cottonmouths, copperheads and timber rattlesnakes, which I left alone.

I never killed any of them; because it was their land, and they were so far from people I didn’t consider them any great threat. Again, it is a matter of common sense. In a campground on the Buffalo River, when I was a park naturalist there, I killed several poisonous snakes, and captured and moved some others. You couldn’t let copperheads live under benches in the amphitheatre or around washrooms or in a campsite. Common sense.

With the new people coming into outdoor jobs without an outdoor background, you can see why they lack that common sense. They do not know nature as it actually is. That’s why we have a law protecting snakes and no laws protecting red wasps, spiders, moles, field mice, wood rats or groundhogs. What sense does that make?

I will say that if you want to protect copperheads around your place, as the law requires, you should kill king snakes. The king snake kills and eats copperheads and other snakes as well! A king snake can actually eat a copperhead bigger than he is… I have seen it happen. It might take him all day to do it. Despite the law, I do not think you will ever, ever see anyone prosecuted for killing a copperhead.

We saw a bird last winter that I have never seen in the Ozarks. It was little tiny brown-headed nuthatch that I first thought was a mouse going up the side of a tree. There was no doubt what it was, I saw it clearly, either a pygmy nuthatch or a brown-headed nuthatch, one of the two. Neither are suppose to be in southern Missouri. I just saw it one day and then it was gone.

Now I think I have found something else that isn’t suppose to be in southern Missouri at all, a grey shrew. And this time we have a really good photo. It is the color of ashes, living under one of my storage sheds, a night-dweller which is nearly blind in the light of day. You can see it on my website and decide for yourself. The common shrew found here is the short-tailed shrew, which actually is a little larger than the one I found and my daughter photographed. I have seen many of them over the years but none this light colored or small.

Shrews are vicious little creatures, like a miniature weasel. They are amongst the tiniest of predatory mammals, and they eat anything they can catch and kill. A shrew can tackle a field mouse twice its size, kill it and eat most of it. If shrews grew to the size of a Labrador retriever, none of us would be safe.

As I go through my daily life I make up short poems for the situation. I stopped in a cafĂ© the other morning to have breakfast, and I gave the waitress my order. Then I added in good humor, “If my bacon is all floppy, it won’t make me very hoppy, and if my eggs are soft and runny, you won’t get any money.” She just looked at me as if bored, and walked away with my order. Later when I got ready to leave her a quarter for a tip, I asked her what she thought of my poetry. Without even smiling she answered in prose… “Men look really weird, when they have egg yolk in their beard!”

The website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net.

Monday, July 14, 2014

First Float Trip

Alex, left and Ryan, right, learned many things on their first float trip.
Ryan proudly displays a smallmouth
Spud is looking for a new home...his previous owners moved and didn't have room for him

I believe this to be a grey shrew because I have seen many shorttails and none of them were such a light grey color, but grey shrews are not supposed to be found as far up in Missouri. They are usually found in Oklahoma and Arkansas. I could have known for sure by counting its teeth, but it wouldn’t open its mouth.

I took my grandsons on a float trip in search of hard fighting smallmouth bass, fishing a section of the Niangua River gained by private access where the canoe rental people do not operate, where we could have a little solitude and some good fishing.

It was their first long distance float trip, and we had to wait for it to quit raining before we could start. Ryan is eleven years old and Alex is eight. Casting lures is not their strong point, so I knew we would have a difficult time catching the wary and elusive brown bass, and perhaps an even greater difficulty in landing them after we hooked them.

My grandsons can do things on a computer that I don’t even want to learn. With modern technology, they are akin to Einstein. In the outdoors they are lost. But my grandfather taught me, and it seems that I am derelict in my duty as a grandfather if I do not teach them.

It is mind-boggling to realize that when I was Ryan’s age I was working alone in my dad’s pool hall, and paddling fishermen down the Big Piney River in a wooden johnboat on Saturdays making up to a couple of dollars a day.

I had some help. Their Aunt Christy, my middle daughter and a competent river runner, went along in a kayak to help. Most kayaks are not of much interest to me. But last year we traded advertising in my magazine for a twelve-foot Nucanoe kayak and I grudgingly admit it has surprised me. It won’t haul nearly as much as my 19 foot Grumman square-stern Canoe, or my 16 foot aluminum johnboat, but it is a great little craft for only one person, or perhaps one person and a kid.

I got some paint and camouflaged it after I got it, and though I hate that long double bladed paddle the beginners use, I kind of enjoy slipping along with one of my sassafras paddles, learning to use it on very shallow streams where my other boats are too large.

I knew the morning rain would likely slow down the fishing and it did. It slowed it down to a crawl. But I had forgotten that for two little boys on their first full-fledged float-fishing trip, it doesn’t take much of a fish, nor very many of them, to provide a lot of excitement.

It is best of course to give young anglers lighter tackle and topwater lures. With lures that go under the water, Alex would have lost forty or fifty. It was difficult enough retrieving lures cast over logs sticking up out of the water and limbs way up above the water.

But the boys had a great time, and caught some very small smallmouth and small largemouth, as opposed to the large largemouth and large smallmouth I hoped to see. And they swam, and had a picnic, and had a ball. We will go again soon, but I can tell you what we are going to do first… we are going to go out in the lawn and practice casting. I am talking about lots and lots of practice.

I have posted some photos of that float trip on my website that you might enjoy seeing, and you can view them on a website which editor Sondra Gray takes care of, if you do computer stuff. The place to see them, and some other interesting photos, is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com

Christy got a great shot or two of a little silky gray shrew, about the best shrew photos I have ever seen, and I have a picture on there of a beautiful male golden Labrador that needs a good home. Each week you can see new photos of the outdoors on that website.

I am worried about how the fishing has declined on that stretch of the Niangua. We floated past some people camping on the bank and two young boys in an old boat were running a trotline. They took two smallmouth off of it, about 13 or 14 inches long and they kept them. I wish somehow we could get people who fish our rivers to return the smallmouth, keeping other fish to eat.

One writer suggests it is local people that are causing the decline in fishing, and they certainly do their part. I once saw two Amish boys and one adult fishing on the Niangua that had kept a big stringer of smallmouth, some of them only 10 inches long, and none larger than 13 inches. But it is everyone, not just local people.

With the tremendous increase in fishing pressure along our rivers in the past ten years or so, we are just drubbing smallmouth to death as the deep holes fill in and water quality keeps declining. Leadership on saving smallmouth, which should come from our conservation department, is non-existent. Someday we had better protect smallmouth, or we won’t see any of the larger, more efficient brood stock left.

It is already obvious that the decline is significant. Twenty years ago on that stretch of the Niangua, it was nothing to catch smallmouth in the twenty-inch range. I once caught and released a five-pounder there, and I can recall catching or seeing caught, a dozen smallmouth in one year over four pounds. All were released. Now, they seem non-existent.

There is one way to know for sure if the big fish are declining as much as I think they are. A friend and I plan to go to a secluded spot where the habitat is good, camp on a gravel bar sometime in August when it gets really hot and the stream is at a low point in water flow, and fish with a jitterbug after dark below the shoals. If they are there, you will catch them that way, around midnight or one or two in the morning. My suspicions are that the big fish aren’t there any more. We’ll see.

I received a call from a landowner after I wrote the piece last week about “deer management.” He told me that saying landowners today manage the deer is far from accurate. “None of us manage deer any more than we ‘manage’ rabbits or squirrels. They are just there. We can control their numbers by allowing more hunting, but there has been no interest in managing deer in forty years. You do not need to.”

“I wish we had as many rabbits as we have deer,” he told me. “Deer are thick, and they are hammered every now and then in the late summer by the blue-tongue disease. None of us pay any attention to the four-point restriction, because we bring the deer back to the barn and then it goes into the freezer. If you have any poaching to report, good luck. You can’t even get them to call you back if you leave your number.”

He’s right. The deer on my place do not need my ‘management’. And believe me, chronic wasting, or mad-deer disease, won’t make a dent in populations. The deer will just live with the disease, as they are doing in other states. But in a few years, when it is widespread, I don’t think many of us will want to eat venison anymore.

Still, when you hear the MCD or any news media talk about the disease, make note that you will not hear about the meat and bone meal diet the deer ranch people have been using for years, which created the disease and continues it.

I saw a humorous letter in a newspaper from a deer-ranch supporter saying that there is far more of a problem with mad-deer disease in the wild deer and elk across America and they spread it to the raise-deer-for-money enclosures. That is the dumbest statement I have ever heard. The disease spread from Wisconsin into Illinois because a deer rancher saw the disease in his captive deer, and released them all into the wild.

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

Monday, July 7, 2014

Deer Management???

These does are kept in an enclosure, bred to produce big bucks. Almost all of them came from other states, and the owner boasted he paid $20,000 for one from OHIO.

Though a gruesome sight, this buck, left to rot with antlers removed, is a direct product of the MDC's "deer management". Depredation permits often result in exactly this type of occurrence. So does the four-point rule now in place.
 For the Missouri Department of Conservation, it is easy to get a great deal of positive publicity, and radio stations carry their ads talking about their “deer management” meetings around the state. I don’t know what that costs all of us who fund them through licenses and the sales tax they get from us.

The biologists and crews who brought back our deer worked for the Missouri Conservation Commission 60 or 70 years ago, and they did a great job. Most of them are gone and forgotten, and today’s biologists do not have to do a thing to “manage deer”.

Deer in Missouri are “managed” by landowners! The MDC does little to help deer and saying they do amounts to telling something with little truth in it. A few years back, they were approached by insurance companies alarmed by what they were losing paying out for deer-car crashes. The idea was, “We have to cut down the deer herd to eliminate some of the accidents”. It was never considered that the number of automobiles on the road had tripled in twenty years or so, more of a cause than the increase in deer numbers.

At any rate the MDC decided they needed to go along with the insurance companies and they began to issue all the doe tags anyone wanted to buy over a large area of the state. It cut down the population all right, way too much in some pockets of the state. That was “deer management” in their eyes, and it was senseless. Landowners at that time were the only real managers.

Some of them refused to allow the killing of all the deer hunters wanted to take. Others went along with it. So there were places where deer were plentiful and other places where they really dropped way down in number. Landowners are still the management specialists.

For years and years, deer-raising farms increased in Missouri for the purpose of raising and selling big antlered bucks. They brought in deer from various states where chronic wasting disease was known to be prevalent. Those pen-raised deer had been fed meat and bone by-products to create those big antlers in a way that helped advance the spread of the chronic wasting disease, or mad-deer disease.

There isn’t a doubt in the world that the disease was created in cattle, and eventually deer and elk, by feeding the animals meat by-products. Cattle and deer were not meat eaters, and it went against natural law.

Still, the MDC sat by and watched those out of state deer come in, and approved it. Today, chronic wasting disease has spread from those penned-deer facilities to our wild herd in north central Missouri, and there is no stopping it. It will eventually spread to all wild deer throughout the state.

Today’s deer management meetings are a result of MDC fears that many hunters will stop hunting deer, and it will cost them a great deal of money. The bottom line is… these meetings are an attempt to reassure everyone and keep them buying permits

What they do amounts to managing hunters and hunting in a way that maximizes what they make from the sale of deer tags. The idea of installing a rule that you can only shoot a buck with at least four-points on one side throughout most of the state comes from the idea that you can convince non-resident hunters they can find more ‘trophies’ as a result of it. That, they were sure, would bring about the eventual sale of many more non-resident tags as high as four or five hundred dollars each. More money!!!

That four-point rule is one of the most useless laws they ever put in place, and it turned lots of deer hunters into violators. It is hard to tell some farmer his grandkids can only shoot a buck the MDC approves of on land the farmer owns and manages. Thousands of hunters ignore it even today, as they should.

Another form of management comes with the regular issuance of ‘depredation permits’. I don’t know if there are records of who gets such permits or how many are issued each year, but I have been told by employees of the MDC that at times it is something done not so much as a result of deer damage but for those with “good connections” who want to get rid of some of the deer on their land.

If some large-scale landowner with those good connections claims deer are damaging his crops, or his fruit trees or whatever, he can acquire, free of charge, a large number of tags that he alone can give out to whomever he likes.

According to a hunter I talked with, the Joplin airport was issued a number of such tags to eliminate the danger of deer on the runways, and he boasted of a huge buck he had killed there. He told me he was one of a few selected hunters given the opportunity to hunt there by airport authorities.

The information I received from the employee of the MDC was that at times, those depredation permits are given out to one landowner by the dozens, and sometimes, large numbers of does and smaller bucks are killed and just dumped somewhere. There is no doubt that at times, depredation permits are needed, but in each case the situation should be looked at and evaluated. I am not sure today’s field biologists have the special knowledge to decide such things. It is too often a matter of politics.

Our deer population is sufficient, but there are big differences in those populations here and there around our state. Making a statement about the overall deer herd doesn’t take those differences into account. Trying to come up with numbers of deer in one county or another is pure silliness. There is no way to do that, but the MDC gains credibility with the news media by doing things of that sort.

I had to laugh when a media specialist a couple of years back in Springfield told the local television stations and newspaper that the Ozarks’ turkey reproduction was up one percent from the previous year. Think about that! No one had the slightest idea but landowners who watched the flocks. In truth, they were likely up by 25 percent or better at that time.

The news media in our state never questions those people, they just report what they say and keep any questions or criticisms quiet. That’s why, if you went to a “deer management” meeting, with a suggestion or an idea, no matter how valid it was, you wasted your time. Get ready to watch chronic wasting disease spread, as a result of the MDC’s ‘deer management’.

And notice this! Whenever chronic wasting disease is talked about, whether by the MDC or our news media, the unnatural meat-and-bone-meal food given to herbivorous deer to produce big antlers, is never discussed or even mentioned! It created that mad deer disease and continues, I suppose as part of “deer management”.

This column cannot be printed in Missouri’s larger newspapers, even in “Letters to the Editor” section. You will see no photos or articles casting the MDC in a bad light on Ozarks’ TV stations or in our largest newspaper. That huge bureaucracy, operating on a budget which has approached 200 million dollars, controls those media outlets. People need to think about that before they buy into everything the MDC wants them to know.

I went to a farm auction the other day and the owners were moving into town. They had a beautiful golden-colored Labrador male name Spud, which I brought him home with me. I’ve raised Labradors for forty years and I know good Labs. Spud is a good one, sweet tempered and calm. He needs a good country home where he won’t be penned up or chained as per his owner’s request.

Call us about getting information on the Journal of the Ozarks magazine or the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal we publish, and we will help you to get a copy. The office number is 417 777 5227. My email address is lightninridge@windstream.net and the mailing address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613, and the website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Where the Fish Are

  Summer walleye are deep... fishermen have learned to troll special walleye rigs, or to fish vertically in the depths off of points or underwater humps

Hanging on with a mouthful, the little nuthatch thinks his belligerent 
show ran everyone else away from the feeder.
I spent a day down at Bull Shoals and Norfork Lakes last week, and I am astounded by how clear the water is. Bull Shoals had a turquoise look to it that I have never seen before, but I believe you could see a quarter on the bottom in 25 feet of water.

Both lakes have changed so much since my grandfather fished them for catfish, and my Uncle Norten guided bass-fishermen there in the early 1950’s. Today, both are walleye lakes, and Norfork is likely the best striper fishing in the Ozarks, though Beaver Lake would claim to be just as good.

I often tell beginning fishermen who want to learn how to fish for a particular species, or fish a particular lake, to find a good guide and spend the money to learn from them and catch fish at the same time. Right now, mid-day fishing on either lake would seem to me to be very tough. I am sure that most bass, crappie and walleye are very deep much of the day.

Walleye and crappie likely stay deep all the time, while bass move into shallower water for brief periods all summer long, and then begin to surface late in the summer as they gather and feed on schools of shad. Stripers and whites spend time in all levels of a lake during the summer, and you can have some unbelievable fishing in July and August on very calm days when they push shad to the surface in open water and may stay after them for an hour or so.

The reason a guide is worth every penny of his fee is because he is out there day after day and has learned all the tricks. On both lakes, there are guides who specialize. Bill Struthers has a business between Yellville and Peel, Arkansas, renting cabins and guiding for nothing but walleye on Bull Shoals Lake. With him, you will likely catch a limit of walleye even on bright summer days, but they will be deep, and his techniques may be different than anything you have ever done. He came from up north somewhere and spent years fishing for walleye in all kinds of waters.

Steve Oloman is a guide on Norfork Lake who guides for all species, but I think he likes fishing for bass and crappie better than anything else, while Tom Reynolds fishes Norfork for stripers and hybrids only. There are guides on both Stockton and Pomme de Terre who take out crappie fishermen at all times of the year, and they keep busy with crappie to a point they don’t guide much for anything else. On Truman Lake, there are several guides who guide only for catfish.

You wouldn’t have seen such specialization forty years ago, but I suppose it works. When it comes to the species they guide for, they really learn it all. We list a bunch of guides and resorts in my outdoor magazine each issue, so it isn’t hard to find someone you can learn from.
Still, there are great ways to fish in the summer if you can’t afford a guide. On Lake of the Ozarks, where boat docks decorate the shores by the thousands, crappie and bass like to hang in deep water under those docks. On most any clear lake like Bull Shoals and Norfork, I would bet you can still catch big bass just like they did in the old days, by fishing at night with a jig and eel or a big spinner bait.

The spinner is a great lure to fish off of bluffs where ledges stick out and bass hide beneath them. It doesn’t seem to work very well in the middle of the day, but at night if you drop a big jig and eel or a pulsating spinner bait slowly down over those ledges, you just might catch the biggest smallmouth or largemouth you have ever caught.

Late and early in the day, and during the night, fishermen have luck fishing for Kentucky bass out deep off the long rocky points, just by using live crayfish on just about any of our Ozark lakes. I think more fishermen who want walleye, catch them by trolling some kind of night crawler rigs along those points where there is deep water on either side. And don’t forget that as the first light of day comes to the lake, or the sun fades below the horizon, you still can catch bass back in those coves by fishing some kind of topwater lure. There are many you can use, but I like two especially… the large Rapala or Zara Spook. Next week I will talk a little about how to catch summer panfish.

Thirty years ago, on this perfect fishing morning, I would have been out in a Bull Shoals cove somewhere, casting a Zara Spook, trying to catch a big bass, or perhaps running a trotline, excited about the lunging power of a big flathead catfish.

This morning though, I sat out on my porch watching birds fight over a bird feeder. I am plumb ashamed of what I have become. There is a finch feeder, which holds food in a pair of long socks and it consumes much of my attention on an early summer morning. How can a red-necked, grizzled old Ozark outdoorsman like me wind up fascinated with a doggone finch-feeder? I don’t know what has happened to me.

Every morning, a whole family of goldfinches shows up to hang by their feet on those socks full of food. They get along quite well, the mother and father and three young ones, just hatched this spring as best I can tell. Then a little later there is strife and contention, as a family of tufted titmice show up. They are quarrelsome and belligerent, with a couple of them trying to hog the feeder and drive the others into the overhanging white oak limbs to wait.

Only one other bird uses the feeder, a little nuthatch. He comes alone, and gets his money’s worth at the buffet. A titmouse might chase him off, but he never goes far. This morning, he decided he was not going to be bullied or scared away any more. He came to hang upside down on the big limb from which the feeder is attached, and he put on quite a show. He hung there with his head pointed down at a ninety degree angle and spread his wings wide and slowly spun around in a circle, as threatening a pose as he could muster. I have seen him often, but never saw him try that. Anyhow, it did no good, as the other birds kept feeding and fussing with each other, ignoring him. He put on quite a show, and eventually had his turn. All that over thistle seeds!

The man who found the two newborn fawns beside a dead doe is Leon Wisdom from Bunker, Missouri. He and his wife took them and fed them and raised them to good health, then made the mistake of letting the state conservation agent know he had them. The agent came and took them and killed them. What kind of idiocy is it that makes the Conservation Department fear that those fawns might spread disease to the rest of the herd if they are raised and released? All that after they have allowed large numbers of diseased deer to come into our state, purchased by those people trying to raise record bucks on bone and meat meal food - which has brought Chronic Wasting Disease or ‘mad deer disease’ to our state. Now they are having get-togethers around the Ozarks to talk about ‘deer management’, which hasn’t existed for years. Next week, I will write about what “deer management” amounts to today and what they call “depredation permits.”

My website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors. My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. Email lightninridge@windstream.net

Monday, June 23, 2014

An Afternoon Owl

Barred owls don't normally have much activity during daylight hours.  This one was just very lonely, I suppose.

The following three or four photos show what has happened to miles and miles of Missouri highways.  Notice the before and after shots. Why????

I have always been able to imitate a wide assortment of wild creatures, something I learned from my grandfather, who could just about duplicate the call of any bird or animal. I have called up a good number of wild turkeys by mouth. I never have really needed a turkey call. It is easy to call up bobwhite roosters from my porch in the summer time, pretty easy to get squirrels to bark at me by imitating the distress call of a young squirrel. Sometimes I can call in a buck deer in the fall by imitating a grunting buck, and at certain times of the winter, I can call in coyotes, foxes and occasionally a bobcat early and late in the day by imitating a dying rabbit.

Nothing is easier to imitate and call in than a barred owl or a screech owl, but it’s not so easy to attract a great horned owl. Last week I took my sister and brother-in-law and their grandson on a float trip, and about four in the afternoon a barred owl began to call from the woods away from the river. I answered him (or her) and in only minutes, the owl flew into a tree above us, hooting and laughing the way barred owls do. If you have spent much time in the woods at night, you know how two or three barred owls will get together and get all excited and begin that laughing sound they make.

Barred owls must be one of the dumber of our wild predators, as he sat there and looked down at me as the two of us had a hooting contest. Maybe he couldn’t see well in the daylight, but it is amazing that he couldn’t figure out the boat and its occupants had no resemblance to another owl. I took several photos as he sat there twenty feet above me, and you can see them on my website, given at the end of this column.

The river we floated is in sorry condition, so low that you have to pull over shoals I floated through easily twenty years ago. Only a few people know how bad things are getting on our rivers and how much worse they will get. I do not know when water will become a critical issue in the Ozarks, but it will. A different generation of people will perhaps not care when our rivers are creeks, and our creeks are dry beds. I don’t know that we will need wild places in the future but I thank God he let me live in a time when there were woods and waters and wild creatures.

When I was a young writer, about 21 or so, I wrote two or three articles about the Big Piney River, where I grew up fishing, trapping, hunting and guiding floaters. Outdoor Life magazine published them. Joel Vance, who worked as a writer for the Missouri Conservation Commission back then, wrote me a note that I still have. It read, “Kid, if the Big Piney River ever dries up, you won’t have anything to write about.”

Well Joel, I did find some other things to write about over the years, but your note was prophetic. The Big Piney has just about dried up on the upper half, and the Little Piney flows no water at all most of the year. I would estimate that the Big Piney is about 60 percent the stream it was in 1960, and there are many springs I drank from along the river as a kid that have no water at all, at any time of the year. I think probably 60 percent of those springs are now totally dry, and the number may be higher than that. The same is true of all Ozark streams, but only the oldest Ozarkians know it, because only they saw the time when the springs gushed cold, clean water.

People can stop arguing about global warming, as the argument makes little sense. It is the lack of water across our nation we should worry about. But then again, I doubt anything can be done about any environmental problem we face, as there are ever-increasing numbers of people, and the land will be needed to feed them, more than any thing else.

We will raise thousands more cattle, hogs, turkeys and chickens on the land than ever needed before, and our timber will be needed for more construction than we can envision today. We cannot see the future, and I am thinking it is a very good thing that we can’t, because we can’t do anything about what the world will be in a hundred years. The thing to do is enjoy what we have today and be thankful for it. And when I get to someplace where I feel like I am the only person for a hundred miles, it recharges me, chasing away the sadness I feel when I see it all being destroyed somewhere else.

The Southwest Electric Company sent me a very terse letter saying that they had entered a contract with the Asplundh Company and would be using chemicals beneath power lines on private land to kill plants. I went in and talked to them and I was told that if I preferred they didn’t use the chemical, they would refrain from doing so. If you do not want herbicides used on your land, you need to tell them. If they don’t hear from you, they will use it.

They tell you it is not dangerous or harmful, but any chemical can be, and herbicides have been known to cause health problems. Killing agents are made to kill. I told the folks at Southwest Electric since there is such a small amount of my land beneath their lines, if they would notify me as to what might be a problem for them, I would take care of it myself.

I wonder how many tens of thousands of dollars the Asplundh Company will make from this, paid for of course by those of us who watch our electric rates rise, so that chemical companies can perhaps sell a million gallons of herbicide to be used across the Ozarks.

I won’t be voting for the big tax increase the Missouri Department of Transportation, (MODOT) wants in order to finance great new projects. That’s because I have see thousands and thousands spent on something as stupid as cutting cedar thickets and trees and bushes and wildflowers off roadside banks that had absolutely no reason behind it.

You can see some of the ‘before and after’ photos I took of that practice along highway 13, where they even went high above the highway past rock bluffs to cut, burn and bare the roadside. It serves no purpose whatsoever. Some of the cutting and butchering they did was so far from the highway it was ridiculous. Now the beauty of the roadside trees and vegetation has given way to stumps and rocks. If they spend tens of thousands on such useless and detrimental projects, why try to convince us how hard up they are financially.
Missourians should be give an voice in making our highways uglier for absolutely no purpose other than spending more of our tax dollars. I would write them a letter, but I don’t think “Modot Cares!” What Modot cares about is ‘getting’ more money, not ‘using it wisely’.

I think there are thousands of Ozark folks who would like to see the ground on the other side of the mowed ditches put into wildflowers and flowering shrubs, and cedar thickets, and the hardwood trees which present no problem for any traveler, left to grow. State agencies get to a point where the people do not matter, except for providing money.

When you see such useless cutting and grinding of all vegetable matter far up the roadside banks, you wonder why the leadership of such agencies are wasting so much money on unnecessary projects. See the photos of all this on my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.

My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 and my email address is lightninridge@windstream.net.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bearded Hens and Redskins

Three old gobblers enjoy an early summer day. 
Usually, this time of year they enjoy a solitary life… but not always.
Boy did I ever see something unusual in the woods this week. There was this old gobbler that was all puffed up, strutting a little, and another mature tom beside him just standing there with his head up, watching a little clearing before him. In the clearing, there were two hen turkeys walking slowly toward the two gobblers, and both hens had slender beards about 7 or 8 inches long.

The gobblers had beards about 10 or 11 inches long. I was fairly close and could see that the one strutting a little had some long sharp spurs. I would guess him to be 3 or 4 years old. All four ambled off into the woods away from me, but unaware I was watching. I figure you could imagine the two toms had been off playing pool in the pool hall while their wives were shopping somewhere.

Of course it doesn’t happen that way in the wild. The older gobbler probably claims both of them for his harem, and the younger one probably is a bachelor. This time of year, they should be solitary, and unable to get along at all. But in the fall, gobblers seem to come together and forget that they were competing for the right to mate with the hens. In November or December you often see ten or eleven gobblers roosting and traveling together.

Seeing those hens ignore the strutting gobbler and ambling around in mid-morning makes me think neither of them nested. It is odd that often there are perhaps half the hens or more which never nest or lay any eggs whatsoever.

But the ones which do nest will sometimes hatch eggs as late as early August. Turkey experts will tell you that August hatches won’t survive the winter, but that is a bunch of hooey. Plenty of young turkeys hatched all summer long will not survive, but plenty of them will. If there isn’t a terrible blizzard in November, late hatching turkeys will survive the winter too, but it definitely is more difficult for them the less they weigh.

Much of their survival rate will depend on how many acorns there are in the fall. So much in these Ozark woods depends on the abundance of cedar thickets and the abundance of acorns in the winter, and a lack of poaching.

When you get to be my age, you get more contented with what you have. In fact I really have too much of a lot of things. I mentioned that there are way too many boats and motors here at my place, way too many fishing lures, tackle boxes and rods and reels. But it is hard for me to get rid of anything, remembering a time when I was young I had so little of anything.

I told my kids not to get me anything for Father’s Day or my birthday or Christmas because I now have all I want of everything I need. I was sitting on the back porch this past week thinking about things and being thankful for the big trees and birds and wildlife around me, trying to think of something I might want that I don’t have. And I came up with something. I would like to have a metal detector. I can envision myself hiking back to old cabin sites in the wilderness that only I know about and finding an Indian head penny or a buffalo nickel.

I realize that those folks didn’t have a lot of money, so I am not counting on finding silver dollars. But I remember my dad and uncle Norten talking about how folks who lived out in the country after the depression never trusting banks and burying money in coffee cans around their cabins. Uncle Norten told me that my grandfather did that, and he is sure that when he needed some money he couldn’t find all the cans. Of course we are talking about small amounts here so if I found some of those lost cans, it wouldn’t be enough to make a person much better off than he is, but it would be as much fun, I think, as squirrel hunting.

Up here on Lightnin’ Ridge, there was an old cabin which fell down in the 1950’s and I have found some treasures around the foundation that is left, a 1942 auto license plate and a beautiful cowbell, and some pieces of an old Model T Ford.

There is an ancient civil war road coming along this ridge and pitching off down to a place where Federal troops out of Jefferson City crossed the river on their way to Wilson’s Creek and Prairie Grove battlefields. Deep ruts show a few places where cannons were hauled along my ridge. Along those ruts I found the end of a saber, about 15 inches long, nearly rusted away. Wouldn’t it be something if I could find civil war artifacts on my own place with a metal detector?

So I am going to tell my daughters to save their money and see if they can find a good quality metal detector somewhere to buy me for Christmas. There are likely many of you out there who are my age who think you have everything you want to make you happy, but if you stop to think about it, you probably don’t.

Things like a good metal detector might make a big difference in your life. If I had one, I don’t think I would spend so much time on my back porch being thankful and watching birds. I would get right back into what is important in today’s world, finding treasure and making money!

I have always been a problem solver of sorts, and I think I have solved a major serious problem facing our nation. You may have heard that a football team in Washington D.C. is facing a great deal of anger from Indians who do not like the name “Redskins”. Personally, it doesn’t bother me, and I am a descendant from Canadian Cree Indians, so if I were going to be offended by something, it looks like that would be it.

But the other day I bought some potato salad at the store and printed on the container in bright bold letters was the name…“Redskin Potato Salad.” The idea came to me that if the Washington Redskins would just tell the offended parties that the name comes from a kind of potato, everyone would probably be able to live with it. They could take the Indian head off the helmet and replace it with a big potato head sporting war paint and a feather.

 I am trying to find out how to get aholt of the owner of the Redskins in order to pass on my idea. I am thinking that something like that might be worth a reward… perhaps enough to buy a good used metal detector.

We continue to need good articles for my magazines, The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal and the Journal of the Ozarks. We have been receiving, and using, good stories from readers of this column. If you want to send something for our fall issues, we have to have it by the end of July. If you are an artist or photographer, our magazines are good places to get your work published. If you haven’t seen either of them, call my office and my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, will tell you how to get them. Her number is 417 777 5227. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net My website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Another Brainstorm

My dad, Farrel Dablemont, doing what he loved.
A photo of me and my dad back in the day.
With Father’s Day approaching I am looking forward to having all my kids gather around me and act like I am something special. If I were to tell them I would like to have a new shirt or a box of shotgun shells, I am sure they would get me a Father’s day gift of some sort, but I told them long ago that I have everything I want, and there isn’t room for another thing here on Lightnin’ Ridge.

In fact, Gloria Jean insists that I have to start getting rid of some things. For instance, I have accumulated twelve boats of one kind or another and seven outboard motors. I know that if we are going to get all the weeds cut and the whole lawn mowed, I need to sell some of them, but if I run an ad in the newspaper, I am so far out in the country no one will come out here to look.

So I came up with another big-time brainstorm. I am thinking about finding some expansive large field just off a major highway, hiring an auctioneer and having an outdoor auction where outdoorsmen like me can bring boats and motors and other auctionable outdoor items like old guns or a table full of fishing gear, and auction it off. All I need to do is receive assurances that we can have at least 50 boats and motors, and I think I can pull it off.

Farmers go to auctions like that where they sell off all kinds of used farm equipment, so outdoorsmen need to have a similar event. If you think it is a good idea and would bring something to sell at such an auction, please send me a postcard and tell me what you might sell. If I get enough postcards, we will try to set up a big outdoorsman’s outdoor auction later in the summer or fall.

You could bring a lot of items, but we would not sell individual fishing rods or tackle. We would sell a table load of items at once, in order to get everything sold in a hurry. Send your postcards to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo.

There are some big events going on this weekend around the Bennett Springs. where they will renew a past event known as ‘Hillbilly Days’. It involves lots of things, covering Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There will be a car show and a mud truck race and a canoe race, and many other things. But as I understand it there will be lots of artists and craftsmen set up around in the Bennett Springs State Park area, showing and selling their stuff.

Sandra McCormick, who owns one of the nicest art galleries I have ever seen, only a few miles west of Bennett Springs, will have artists at her place, known as MacCreed's Gallery & Gifts, putting on demonstrations on various types of art over the three day period, and the antique car show will be just down the road from her a few hundred yards.

You can get more information by going to MacCreed's Gallery & Gifts on the computer, or by just going there on Friday and having Sandra tell you about what will be going on all weekend. When you step into MacCreed's, your jaw will drop, because of the variety of beautiful art found there.

Remember too that my old friend and college roommate, Woody P. Snow, who is a legendary radio personality, playing music on Springfield stations for many years, will be signing his new book, and his first book, at Barnes and Noble on Saturday morning. The name of the book is ‘Blood Silver’, which sets fictional characters in the southwest Missouri Ozarks, way back when there were Indians here and silver was discovered. It centers around what they called the Yochum dollar.

While you are there, see if they have any of my outdoor books for sale, which would make a good Father’s Day gift for some outdoor fathers. They once sold them, but they may have removed them because of my conservative beliefs, which don’t go over well in Springfield. Anyway, you will enjoy meeting Woody P. Snow, and you will love his book.

My seven books are found in Christian Publisher’s Outlet in south Springfield, and they also have the just-released magazines I put out, summer issues of The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal and The Journal of the Ozarks. In a week or so, those magazines will be on the newsstands of many grocery stores and the magazine racks in many Wal-Mart stores. If you are unfamiliar with them, just call my office and we will let you know how to find them in your area, or mail you one.

If you are someone who thinks our state Conservation Department should not be criticized, our larger daily newspapers in the state agrees with you. But you should read about how some folks in the Ozarks found a pair of fawns beside their dead mother, and took them home, putting them on a bottle and watching them do well and grow. They made the mistake of calling the Missouri of Conservation and asking if they could acquire any kind of special milk to feed them. They were told they were breaking the law, and an agent came to take the fawns away from them. The fawns will be killed, like the pet raccoon they confiscated from a lady whose home they forced their way into last year. These young agents have been brainwashed by their training.

Most act like robots without souls. What harm would it do to let those folks keep the fawns and raise them on their farm? What harm was that pet raccoon doing anyone? That is the new MDC for you. Regulations, and laws they have made have more importance than wildlife, forests or people. And their justification for what they do becomes more ridiculous as their understanding of wildlife and real conservation declines. You can read about the fawns and see photos of them on a computer by typing in… http://shopping.rollanet.org/image/1151219/item.html

The flathead catfish are about to spawn, and I still want to go trotlining. But there is so much to do. This past week we fished Lake Stockton at night under submerged lights. We caught several white bass and about 40 crappie, from ten- to fifteen-inches long. It is amazing that out of those 40 fish, there were only three males, and every female crappie had viable, fresh eggs, this during the first week of June. We caught those crappie 30 feet deep, in 45 feet of water. There is no explaining it!

Odd things happen in nature. In my back yard, there are some bluebirds just now paying attention to my bluebird house, about to nest I suppose. I hear four bobwhite roosters every morning and doves are abundant. Squirrels are everywhere, and rain crows, and mocking birds can be heard while I watch finches and tanagers and phoebes and flycatchers.

You occasionally can see a pileated woodpecker, and nuthatches and the red-bellied woodpecker, which nested in the small hollow high in a big oak. I think there are six bird nests within 50 yards of my porch. And I’ll be darned if a female oriole didn’t show up at the nectar feeder this morning, after being gone for three weeks. There are a lot of bright colors in the green of summer.

My email address is lightninridge@windstream.net, and you can call our office at 417-777-5227. My website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.