Saturday, May 23, 2015

MRS. JONES' BASS

 
  THE FOLLOWING IS A CHAPTER FROM THE NEW BOOK… THE PRINCE OF POINT LOOKOUT.




 
    I was a heckuva fishing guide at 17, and Table Rock Lake was full of big bass back then.

 

        Dr. Clark (left) with Mrs. Jones at the celebration of the completion of the learning center she donated so much money for.
        She is shown receiving an honorary degree from the college.  It wasn't for fishing!!

 




 It might be a good time to brag about my contribution to the Nettie Marie Jones learning center at School of the Ozarks, which held the auditorium and two or three floors of classrooms. Nettie Marie Jones was a very rich lady, probably in her seventies, and she had given a great deal of money to the school.

While the Nettie Marie Jones learning center was under construction at School of the Ozarks, it was a great place to sneak off with a girl and explore the dark stairways at night, and I think I did that a few times but not often enough. I can’t remember the names of the girls. If I did I wouldn’t tell. Now some girl from that time can read this book, and brag to her family that she was one of them!

At seventeen, I was very na├»ve and immature. This isn’t one of those tell-all books. If it were, I wouldn’t have much to tell! The only exploring I ever did, had nothing to do with the girls I met and spent time with. I was happy to just hold them close and smell them, and steal a few kisses whilst exploring the vast stairways and darkened rooms of that big dark building and get away with it.

You have to remember I never did anything like that in high school, having never had enough money to have a date. At S of O, you didn’t have to have much money to explore the under-construction learning center, or sit on lookout point watching the moonlight on Taneycomo, far below.

I did have a big part in the financing of the big learning center that bore her name, because I took Nettie Marie Jones fishing! I didn’t know who she was at the time. Dr. Clark quite often benefited from the trout I caught from Taneycomo, and he told me about property on Tablerock Lake only about four or five miles south of the school called “Clevenger Cove”.

There was an old V-bottom aluminum boat there, a great deal harder to paddle than our johnboats on the Big Piney. Still, I could paddle it, and that cove back then was full of big bass. I’d spend a weekend there on occasion and bring bass filets back for Dr. Clark, telling him I would take him fishing whenever he would like.

He never seemed to have any time, and then all at once he did. He told me that he needed me to paddle a boat around Clevenger Cove one spring evening for him and a guest of the school, to see if I could help the elderly lady catch a fish.

On the Piney, I had been guiding fishermen since I was 12 or 13. Guiding fishermen was my cup of tea. So there I was about four p.m. one beautiful afternoon paddling around Clevenger Cove with Dr. Clark, the only time I ever saw him without a suit and tie, with a lady along whom he referred to as Mrs. Jones.

I didn’t know who she was and I didn’t care. My job was to see to it she caught a bass, because she never had caught anything before. Dr. Clark’s tackle was sparse, and he only brought some little Zebco push-button reels on rods that would have been better suited for goggle-eye fishing than bass.

Mrs. Jones couldn’t cast, no matter how hard I tried to teach her. My favorite topwater lures were going to be of no value. Thankfully she was just enjoying the afternoon so much she didn’t seem to care about the fishing. So I tied on a plastic worm rig for her, a hairy jig for Dr. Clark, and took them out just off the timber aways so they wouldn’t get hung up. I paddled slowly along while Dr. Clark’s line trailed out on one side and Mrs. Jones’ line trailed out on the other side, behind the boat.

All in all, it was a really boring afternoon, until Dr. Clark interrupted himself and jerked his rod high. It bent double and he fought a two-pound largemouth around, whooping and hollering and laughing in that Georgia accent, until he got it close enough that I could grab its lower lip and boat it.
The two of them acted like that bass was a wall-hanger, and I put it over the side of the boat on a stringer, thanking God that something exciting had happened that didn’t involve any one falling out of the boat and getting wet.

We had a fish! There weren’t going to be any more, I knew that.For Mrs. Jones I had a plastic worm rigged so that the hook’s barb was back deep in the plastic. It would keep her from hooking every stick on the bottom of the lake she dragged over, but if a bass picked it up, she’d have to set the hook, and she had as much chance of feeling a strike and setting the hook in a bass as I had of making an A in algebra.

Everyone is a witness to a miracle on occasion. Some of us recognize one when we see it, and others do not. I was watching Mrs Jones line, and I saw the fish hit. There wasn’t any doubt about it, the line didn’t just stop a bit, it lurched. And then it cut through the water to the left and came back.

“Ma’am, jerk that rod,” I hollered. She turned to look at me, and the end of it started to bend. “Hang on to it ma’am” I hollered again, “and give it a jerk.”

Mrs. Jones never once jerked, but thank goodness she did hang on. She didn’t look all that hefty and I figured a three-pound bass would whip her. But she came alive in that boat, struggling and squealing, turning that handle on the reel backwards, giving that bass a little more line to work with. I finally got it across to her to reel it the other direction, and there was pandemonium on Clevenger Cove.

It took awhile, and there was great suspense as all three of us thought there wasn’t a way in the world she would get that bass close to the boat. But by golly she did, and I being the type of experienced professional fishing guide I was, got ahold of his lip on the first try. He weighed five pounds if he weighed an ounce and there has never been three happier people in one boat.

That afternoon back at Dr. Clark’s house, there were pictures taken and all the girls who worked there looked at me as if I was a hero. But after I filleted the bass, I headed back to the dormitory and a supper of meat loaf at the cafeteria, remembering the laughter and happiness behind me at the Clark home. Kind of sad, ain’t it.

 In time they finished the Nettie Marie Jones learning center. Thousands of students have gone through the classrooms of that big building, and graduates who learned much there, have gone on to do great things. But nowhere is my contribution to higher education at School of the Ozarks noted, nor has anyone ever given the proper credit to that big bass that gave himself up for the advancement of knowledge. No one but me and my old friend, Dr. Clark.

The book “The Prince of Point Lookout” is priced at $16.00.  Readers of this column can have it sent to them, inscribed and autographed for $14.00 and the postage is paid.  Payment can be sent to Lightnin’ Ridge Publishing, Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. You can write to me at the same address or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com

Monday, May 18, 2015

Not As Many As You See

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   This mountain lion track was found within a few yards of the restroom at the Fairfield launching ramp on Truman Lake last fall.  The big cat was walking, with about 28 inches between his tracks. 
He had eaten some fresh fish cleanings the night before at the water's edge.  The general shape, (width and height), of the track tells an experienced outdoorsman the difference in a feline and canine track, but the lack of fixed claws showing in a track in mud tells the observer this is not a canine track.




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The mountain lion isn't a chaser he is a waiter.  My grandfather showed me where a "panther" as he called them, had waited for a deer along a Big Piney tributary.

       


      I was listening to a radio station in the Ozarks a few days ago when I heard a lady talking about a mountain lion being killed in Laclede county after being hit by a car.  I know this sounds unbelievable, but this is how she finished the story…

       “Media specialist   _______ ______ for the Missouri Department of Conservation states that increased sightings of mountain lions in the state does not necessarily mean there are more mountain lions!”

       I could hear country people all over the Ozarks laughing about that.  What sense does that make?  If you are seeing more turkeys in the field behind your house, should you assume that doesn’t mean there are not any more turkeys than there were a few years ago when you saw half as many?

       For some reason, people in the MDC have always played down the fact that mountain lions are in the Ozarks. They had this official policy for years that there were none of the big cats in Missouri, and if any existed at all they were escaped pets.

       About ten years ago I wrote a column about how I was on the Big Piney River with my grandfather in the Lewis and Clark National Forest in 1960 when we came across mountain lion tracks in the snow, pursuing a fleeing whitetail deer.  We back-tracked him, and found where the big cat jumped from the limb of a large oak tree growing up beside ledge that hung over a cave we were looking for.   The deer had passed a little too far away, and the deer and cat both had crossed the river full throttle.  Grandpa told me that if the mountain lion didn’t get a deer within a few yards of where he jumped down, he likely wouldn’t get it.

       At least two dozen times since that day, I have seen mountain lion tracks, most of them along waterways in Missouri or Arkansas. And I have seen several live mountain lions, though most were in Arkansas.  Every mountain lion I ever saw was either at night or right at dusk.  There were always some here in the Ozarks… always.

       After that column, a writer for the MDC out of Jefferson City wrote an answer to it stating that I was someone who couldn’t be depended on to write accurate accounts of the outdoors.  He said again that the MDC was confident there were no mountain lions in Missouri.
 
       A few months later, the Department of Conservation changed their ‘policy’ and stated that wild mountain lions did indeed exist in the Ozarks.  One day we didn’t have any, and the next day, because of their proclamation, we did!  The writer for the MDC owed me an apology, but it never came.

       They actually owed an apology to hundreds of Missourians who called them to report seeing mountain lions over the years, citizens whom they derided for those reports.  Most people you talk to who call in any kind of reports of something they have seen, are ridiculed a little by those who see themselves as authorities on the outdoors, and many of them are without the knowledge to make any judgements on what anyone else might have seen.
 
       Too many of today’s authorities within the Department spent little time outdoors.  They live in their offices and they just go along with what the books tell them.  I can give you many instances when what you learned from the books doesn’t jive with what you see outdoors.

       If I worked for the MDC and someone called in with the sighting of a prehistoric cave bear, I’ll be darned if I would make them feel like I thought they were an idiot.  What good does that do?  If you are such a state employee and someone tells you they saw a big cat, act very interested, thank them for their call and make them feel like you respect their intelligence.
 
       Don’t insult people who feel they are doing the right thing by telling you what they saw.  For the life of me, I wonder why the MDC has never figured out how dismissing people as ignorant hillbillies hurts them in the eyes of those who have been their supporters.  They do it constantly.
 
       A few years ago, after the MDC decided that the animal they were sure didn’t exist actually did exist, I talked on the phone with the man who identified himself as the leader of the department’s big cat team. I didn’t tell him who I was and he couldn’t care less, but our interview was laughable.  That man had spent his boyhood in a big city suburb and got his degree as a biologist in a big city college… the same one where I got mine.
 
       He made statements about mountain lions that merely echoed what he had been told, or read.  He told me something that he said a mountain lion in the Ozarks would never do, and he was dead wrong according to what I have actually witnessed.  When I told him that outdoor people who used the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ ought to spend more time outdoors, he got mad.

       The media specialist who stated that just because folks are seeing more mountain lions doesn’t mean there actually are more, lives in a city, works in a city office, and likely never ever saw a mountain lion outside of a zoo.

       He is the same person I took fishing twenty years ago who didn’t know what a bluegill was when he caught one.  But he is a heck of a nice guy, and I like him and that is the truth. I know that to keep his job, he must pass on what he has been told, as they tell him to say it, and you can’t blame him for that even though it seems like a heck of a waste of a life and a person’s talent just to get a paycheck.
 
       It is indeed possible that because there are more people in the world today that the mountain lion sightings have increased just because of that.  About ten years ago when the MDC wanted to thin what they refer to as the ‘deer herd’, they used figures showing how many more deer were being hit by cars.
 
       They never figured into their calculations the increase in automobiles. That was inconvenient to their pre-decided conclusions.  If ten percent more deer accidents were occurring, maybe the twenty percent increase in traffic had something to do with it. They didn’t think so. But now they think maybe the increased number of mountain lion sightings is because more of us can see better.

       I am just a tiny bit open-minded, so I will accept that.  And I am thinking that the increase in raccoons in my garden is simply because I am looking closer just because last year they ate all my corn!  Yeah, that’s it.  And the increase in armadillo sightings mean nothing.  They actually are declining in number.  We are just all seeing more of the ones that are left!

       By the way I saw my latest mountain lion track last fall at the Fairfield boat-launching ramp on Truman Lake, ten miles north of Wheatland. There were several clear big cat footprints in the mud there about ten yards from the bathroom, heading down toward the ramp, where the cleanings from a big catch of catfish were found against the bank.  Guess maybe he was a fish-eater.  I will have to call the MDC’s big cat expert and ask him about that.

       And though there are no more photos on my website than there has ever been, you can see them more often by going to www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com   Write to me if you think you saw a mountain lion. Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email lightninridge@windstream.net

Thursday, May 14, 2015

THE LAUGHING TREE

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         I was walking through the woods and I came to a small creek which I started to cross.  I stepped on a small slick stone and my feet went out from under me.  As I got up, a little wet, a little muddy, and a little sore, I heard someone laughing.
 
         I was way back in the wilderness and I couldn’t believe someone had seen me fall.  Then I looked around and it was this sycamore tree, laughing uncontrollable.  I knew no one would believe me so I took this photo of it, and then I asked what that tree found to be so funny.
 
         It never changed expression or said a word.  It just kept laughing.  When I left it was still just like this, laughing away.  I think I might just go back again someday with a hatchet.  I bet it will quit laughing then.


 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Suffering from a Shortness of Spring




 A villainous blacksnake, after a nest of baby birds.  By the look on his face, you can tell he knows he should have stayed on the ground and ate mice.




            The good times seem so short don’t they?  Mushrooms are there and gone overnight, and the turkey season whiffs by like a cool breeze in the middle of a hot summer.  And then by golly, it isn’t spring any more.  You fill the cooler with a mess of slab crappie, spawning in shallow water, and you turn around and they are gone.  The white bass jump all over a topwater lure just below the shoal, and then while you watch the white petals fall off the dogwood, they just get the heck out of there and all you can see is gar and carp, flopping around in the shallows, muddying up the water.

            Can you remember what those beautiful redbud blossoms looked like?  Seems like a long time ago when they erupted overnight.  I always wonder why they can’t last longer, like the blooms of the thistle do when the summer is hot… like ticks that stay with us fromValentines day to Thanksgiving.  There are times when I wonder what God was thinking when he made April and May so short and July and August so long.  Then I tally the days in all four months and wonder if I haven’t miscounted.

            I remember the wonderful times I’ve had though, in July and August. They aren’t really so bad.  There are memories from August in Canada that will remain with me until I am an old, old man.  It’s just that the summer would be so much better with morel mushrooms and spawning crappie, and redbuds and dogwoods.  I guess I will have to be content with garden tomatoes and blackberries and a big catfish on a trotline, when summer gets here, but darn, it is so hard to see spring flit by so quickly.

            I killed a 38-inch copperhead on May 5, and it made me more careful as I walked through the woods hunting turkeys.  He was not so aggressive on that cool morning, but come August, he would have been a different creature.  The only non-poisonous snake I ever dispatch of is the black snake, here on Lightnin’ Ridge where I have all these nesting birds and squirrels and baby rabbits.
 
            My daughter Christy, a naturalist and biology teacher, praises them for killing mice around her storage shed.   But I have told her often that they make really economical mousetraps for that purpose and the mousetraps never catch little doves or rabbits in their nests!
 
            Black snakes climb as easily as any creature that ever confronted a tree-trunk.  And nothing is safe from them that have eggs or young in a nest anywhere.  On the lake, I have watched them swim out into a cove of flooded timber, climb up into the hollow tops of those old dead trees and eat young swallows and red-headed woodpecker fledglings.  I like hog-nosed snakes and blue racers and garter snakes and green bush snakes.  I particularly like the king snakes that eat copperheads on occasion.  But black snakes and copperheads need to stay clear of me.


            On a different subject, we need good stories and writers who want to contribute to our magazines.  Most of you know all about them, but if you do not, send me a couple of dollars worth of postage and I will send you samples of each.  We need good stories

about the outdoors, and about the Ozarks history and people.  Starting with our summer issue, we will pay writers for the material we use, except for poetry.  The pay isn’t enough to brag about, but it ranges from 25 to 50 dollars depending on the article and whether or not there’s a photo or two to go with it.  The magazines are growing and doing well, and I want to be sure we keep quality material between the covers. 

            Over the years I have been involved with the investigation of situations where innocent hunters or fishermen have been victimized by conservation agents.  Truthfully, I still think there are some top-notch conscientious enforcement agents in the Missouri Conservation Department.  But the percentage is way too small.  I heard some television commentator say recently that 99 percent of all law enforcement people were good people intent on serving and protecting us all…  BULL-SNOT!!!  The percentage of good people in law enforcement with compassion and a sense of service to mankind is high; but it sure as heck is not 99 percent of them.  Truthfully it isn’t even 80 percent of them in my opinion.

            Those good, honest men who wear a uniform and pack a gun deserve accolades for what they do, but not those who are power-hungry, or inefficient or downright corrupt. All over our nation, you can see the results of corrupt sheriff departments and local police departments.

            That’s not surprising.  Take any profession and you will see a percentage of worthless people involved.  It is that way especially with lawyers and judges and enforcement people. Their power is great, and such great power corrupts.  What we need to do is find those people in the law enforcement profession who are bad eggs and get rid of them.
 
            And that’s the problem.  We have evolved to a situation in our country where police power is so great they can’t be touched, and you cannot get rid of them no matter what they do.  I witnessed a policeman in the town not far from me breaking the law, and I found out that going to the authorities and reporting it was a waste of time.  That policeman could not be held accountable.
 
            Too many police chiefs and sheriffs departments talk about how the answer is good training.  It isn’t.  The answer is finding good people, people who have compassion, and think first of the rights of others, and do not look at everyone as a powerless victim. And the answer is a sheriff or a police chief who will say to his people, “If you break the law or violate the constitutional rights of a citizen intentionally, I will fire you in a heartbeat.”
  
            Due to economic problems in small towns, too many city officials look at the local policemen as collectors instead of protectors. They let them get by with anything. And too often innocent people are victims. So I might say that 99 percent of all the people in a community are good law-abiding people.  That’s baloney of course, just like that assertion that 99 percent of the law enforcement people are good conscientious lawmen.
 
            Lets applaud the good ones, the real heroes who serve honestly and deserve our respect and our help.  But lets get rid of the riff-raff, the bullies, the power hungry…the ones who should never have been given a badge and a gun.  It seems to me that it is next to impossible to do that.

           

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Gobbler, The Bass and The Mushrooms

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--> He was much prettier an hour before this photo... but like this, he can be cleaned and eaten.         



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 There were some big morels growing along a small creek bottom out of a gravel bar… but not enough of them.  Last year this gravel bar held 40 and this year only 8.
     



     

       He made the mistake of gobbling, an hour or so after sunrise, up on top of a wooded ridge.  Then he heard my little box call and slowly came down the hillside looking for companionship. Hidden most of the way, gobbling every couple of minutes, he made my heart beat a little faster as he broke into a spot of sunlight in the timber just above the creek.

       And there he was! My gosh I never saw anything so beautiful, as he broke into strutting posture and then straightened up again, looking for the hen turkey he thought was there in the creek bottom waiting for him.  He gobbled twice, and then began to strut more, crossing the creek above me, about 40 yards away.
 
       He didn’t appear to be about to come any closer, but he was within range, apparently about to climb up the other hillside, expecting the hen to see him and follow.

       He didn’t go any farther, but I found myself looking at him, thinking that in a way it is awful to see such a grand creature reduced to a bird in his death throes.   I had left the camera at my side to use my shotgun.
 
       In a way I wish I had taken the picture that he presented and let him go on his way.  But if you want to eat a turkey, you have to shoot the turkey, clean him, prepare him for the smoker or the fryer, and then you are glad you did it.
 
       I must tell you, wild turkey breast is delicious when sliced thin and fried, or when smoked whole.  And the dark meat of the legs, boiled off the bone and tendons, makes some of the best casserole or noodles that you will ever taste.  If you bag a wild turkey, do not throw away the legs!

       It was the kind of morning a turkey hunter dreams of… thick woods and a few mushrooms here and there, not a bawling cow within miles, no straining gears on a nearby highway and no other hunters.  It might have been exactly like this 200 years ago.  I would rather have those hours than a bank account that weighs more than that gobbler.

       I have a feeling that this may be a very low-harvest turkey season, and not because there aren’t enough turkeys.  At the very first of the season, and several days into it, I saw gobblers and hens in groups just like they are found in February and early March.

         Once I watched five gobblers, all strutting, with eight or nine hens around them.  Another time I found three gobblers with at least that many hens again.  That is very unusual for late April, when toms are usually separated, and mating hens on nests.

        You can call in a mature tom easily at times… when he has been abandoned by the hens and is all alone and feeling that mating instinct.  It is amazing how simple it can be, and how rewarding.  In fifty years of hunting them, the excitement I feel when I watch a woodland gobbler break into a strut only 30 or 40 yards away has not diminished in any way whatsoever.


       I cast a topwater lure next to a log that same afternoon, as evening shadows broke across the river.  Several fat white bass had engulfed it, and there was this perfect ambience as everything in nature seemed at peace and I was just a small part of it.
 
       What a day it had been.  Who could ask for more?  And then, a swirl in the surface, above a big rock out away from the log.  This one was a largemouth bass, three pounds or so, and mad about being stupid enough to think that little popper was a frog.
 
       You know what makes fishing so great? It is hearing and feeling the line being pulled out against the squeal of the drag on a spinning reel, while the rod is bent as far as you want to see it bent.  It is lifting up a fat fish by the lip and then watching him fan his tail at you as he lunges back into the depths.  It is hoping that someday you will catch him again when he weighs four pounds.

       But I can’t brag about how well I did finding mushrooms this year.  Instead of finding a sack-full in one spot like we did last year, I had to be content with one here and one there, thinking maybe tomorrow the moisture and the sun and the warmth of the soil will all come together and they will pop up like dandelion seed heads in a fresh-mowed lawn.  It didn’t happen!  I think I found a total of about 70 or 80 and I gave 30 of them away.  Still, they were big enough to make some really good meals, just a dozen at a time.
      
       My idea of having a mushroom hunting trip to some of my favorite wilderness spots on Truman Lake never came off like I hoped it would, as the mushroom numbers were about 20 percent of what we had last year.  Still, that last trip we took a week ago was one of the best ones we ever had.
 
       We looked here and there for mushrooms, finding a dozen or so, and then when we headed back to the boat for a midday fish fry and dinner, we stopped to look at a 300 year old cedar tree, and one of the hikers found a pair of nice sized morels at the trunk of a big tree.
 
       Looking around, we found several more and we fried a big platter of them for dinner, so that everyone got to eat mushrooms with the fish.  We got to watch the antics of an osprey, not far from its nest, and I found a shed antler from a nice buck, with a forked brow tine, something you seldom see.  All in all it was a very good final trip for this spring, and we will wait until October to have our next one. 

       Several of my readers who have received my new book are letting me know they have enjoyed it, and it is giving them some laughs and entertainment.  One said he was surprised how much hunting and fishing I had woven into it but you have to remember that School of the Ozarks sat on the bluff above Taneycomo Lake and Table Rock Lake was just a few hours away.
 
      
      


Saturday, May 2, 2015

THE PRINCE OF POINT LOOKOUT

                       

                  New Book Now Available…The Prince of Point Lookout




            My new book, which can be ordered by mail for $12.95 postpaid from


                             Lightnin’ Ridge,  Box 22,  Bolivar, MO  65613

Monday, April 27, 2015

OLD WOOLEY'S GOBBLER

"Came easin’ up through the woods with that ol’ red head stickin' up, thinking he was about to get him a new woman."

                                                              Photo by Jim Gaston

 

             As I drove up to old Wooley’s house, I could see a big gobbler hanging on the porch, and he was sitting there in his rocking chair.  His name wasn’t really Wooley… it was a nickname of some sort I suppose… apparently the only name the old men at the pool hall knew him by.  But brother, was he a turkey hunter.  He made little box calls and they were as effective as any I have ever used.  I had sat on mine that morning and broke it, and I thought maybe he would have another I could buy for a dollar.  It was the spring of 1974, and a dollar was something you didn’t waste.
   
            As I walked up to his porch, Wooley didn’t give me a chance to say much.
“Now there’s a tough one for you,” he pointed at the dead tom, with a good long beard sticking out of it’s breast feathers and long sharp spurs above his feet.

            “Where did you get him?” I asked as I sat down in a rickety chair on his porch.
            Wooley ignored me.  “Wouldn’t gobble,” he said.  “Never did make a dad-blamed sound.  Took him two hours to come up off his roost down on the crick… but by dang, I reckon I outfoxed him.  I jes’ sets there hid real good an’ he couldn’t resist that call of mine.  Came easin’ up through the woods with that ol’ red head stickin' up, thinking he was about to get him a new woman… but there he hangs.”

            “Looks like he’ll go better than twenty pounds,” I said.  “Don’t you figger he might?”

            Wooley ignored me again.  “They won’t gobble no more like they us’ter.  It ain’t like it was years back when they would set on a limb at daylight and sound off a dozen times.  It’s on account of the damn hunters ever’where, too much callin’ an’ none of ‘em knowin’ what they’s doin’.”

            I heard the screen door slam and turned to see Wooley’s old wife, Lottie, bringing me a cup in one hand with a coffee pot in the other.  “Seen you drive up,” she said, “guess you’re visitin’ your folks whilst yore up here huntin’ turkey’s?”

            I told her I was, and she told me she had seen them both at church on Sunday at Christmas.  She asked how Gloria Jean and my little girls were doing.  “You just have a real prize in that young lady,” she told me, “I just love her so much…”

            I played devil’s advocate. “I don’t know, ma’m,” I said, “she never has killed a turkey, and she can’t make squirrel and dumplin’s like you can… I’m beginnin’ to wonder if I didn’t get pretty bad fooled in pickin’ a wife.”

            Lottie laughed, and started to say something, but old Wooley was talking over her, telling me about that gobbler. “I sets down there in the first gloamin’ this mornin’ and I calls three or four times and that gobbler, he don’t say nothin’. I sets there and I hoots like an owl when the sun starts comin’ up and that old gobbler, damn his hide, he don’t say nothin’.  But I knows he’s there cause I seen him fly up on that sycamore limb last night.  He’s there all right, but that sunuvabench, he don’t say nothin’.”

            Wooley began to get wild eyed, and loud.  “I’m tellin’ you boy, I calls him perfect, I calls him better’n any hen could do it… and damn his eyes, still, he don’t say nothin’.”  Lottie came back out with some sugar for my coffee and some home-baked cookies..
             
            “Wooley,” she yelled, “Quit yer cussin’.” She turned to me with an aggravated look on her face and said, “Tomorrer he’ll be sittin’ there in church waggin’ that hymnbook back and forth and singin’ at the top of his voice, and here he sits the day before cussin’ like a sailor.”

            “It’s okay ma’m,” I grinned and thanked her for the sugar and cookies, “God don’t mind Wooley cussin’ a little bit at home, if he sings good at church.”  She mumbled something about how he could cuss a lot better than he could sing, and when the screen door slammed behind her, a gobbler sounded off a couple hundred yards down in the woods.  “Did you hear that Wooley?” I asked.

            He never answered… he just went on griping about how there were too many people any more.  “Them turkeys, they ain’t dumb,” he said.  “They’s figgered it out now.  ‘Don’t gobble’ they says to each other, or your li’ble to have some greenhorn city hunter chasin’ after you wearing them camelflogged clothes and squawkin’ away on them store-bought turkey calls…”

            The turkey gobbled again.  “Doggone it, Wooley,” I said, “he sounds like he’s only a little ways down in the woods.”

            Wooley ignored me and the gobbler.  “I calls ever now an’ then, sweet an’ low, an’ that ol’ tom, he don’t say nothin’.  He’s a foxy one, he is, but he’s lovesick, an’ fin’ly he jus’ comes up there with his old red head high, lookin’ for me,” he said, squaring his shoulders a bit as he leaned back in the old rocker.  “But I was hid and I was ready, an’ there he hangs!”   I started to say something, but it was useless..  Wooley banged his fist against the arm of his rocking chair. “Dad-gum it, it ain’t like it use to be though… they jus’ don’t gobble much no more.”

            Lottie came out again and refilled my coffee.  “You have to get him to look at you if you want to say something to him,” she said, “He can’t hear worth a darn!”

            I tapped Wooley on the arm and he looked at me as I said, “There’s a turkey gobblin’ down there in the timber.”

            “Huh?” he said, “What’s that?”

            I knew he was right.  Things ain’t like they use to be.  Turkey hunters get old as the spring seasons pass and they can’t see and hear like they once did.  And the gobblers, in time, just don’t gobble like they use to.

            If you want to have a good time this coming weekend, May 2 and 3, come to the Pomme de Terre River just below the dam south of Hermitage, Missouri. There they will have their annual “Rendezvous”, a weekend of old-fashioned muzzle-loader shoots, lots of music and country craft and food booths for a half mile or more down the banks of the stream.  I am going to be there on Saturday only, with an assortment of outdoor oriented artwork, lures and fishing gear to sell, and magazines to give away.
 
            I will bring one of my Labrador puppies with me, trying to find it a good home, and I might even bring its daddy with me… Lightnin’ Ridge Bolt, who is the third or fourth greatest Labrador in the world.  Bolt and his wife Hallie Lula had a beautiful litter of puppies back in February, and there is only one left.  I will also have all of my books there, including the new one and I will sign and inscribe one for you. I would love to talk to you if you are a prospective writer, as we are looking for Ozark writers, artists and photographers for our magazines.
 
            My website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com and my email address is lightninridge47@gmail.com   You can right to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.