Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Best Event of the Year



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   This week’s Lightnin’ Ridge nature question for all those master naturalists out there is… “Mountain lions do well when their number one food source, the white-tail deer is plentiful. Another mammal, which is steadily increasing, is a prey animal mountain lions would rather have than venison. Mountain lion numbers might rise in the Ozarks solely because of this animal.  What is that animal?


         It is likely the best time to discuss our spring Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’ Swap Meet, because the fishing is getting good and in the next few columns I am apt to be bragging about the fish I have been catching.  Believe me you are going to be amazed at all the big fish I am going to catch soon.  But on Saturday March 25, I will not be fishing.  I hope to be with lots of you folks at the Brighton Assembly of God church gymnasium where we will have about fifty tables of outdoor gear for sale at bargain prices. 
 
         Honest to goodness, at that swap meet five or six years ago I saw and antique fishing lure worth 60 or 70 dollars sell for three bucks!  And I saw an antique muzzle-loader sell for about half of its true value.  The thing about our swap meet is…there is no charge to get in and there is no charge for a table.  In this day and time, that is unusual.  There was a swap meet in Springfield recently where they charged 85 dollars per table and five dollars to each visitor who wanted to come in and buy something.  But we have a hard time getting tables for everyone who wants to bring something to sell.  So if you want to be a ‘vendor’ you need to contact me soon.

         We’ll open at 8:30 in the morning and close things down at 2:00 in the afternoon.  The church has a youth group that prepares coffee and biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and then hamburgers, pork sandwiches, potato chips, cake and pie for dinner. So therefore it is a great way for them to make some money for the activities they undertake.           And this year we are going to have a room set up with antiques and various things for sale which will help us with the Panther Creek Youth project we have set up for underprivileged kids.  You will be able to hear about and see photos of what that place is, basically a no-cost outdoor setting for those youngsters with a lodge and cabins on a 60 acre tract along Panther Creek.  And there will be lots of items for sale, which will go toward paying electricity, insurance and taxes there.

         Out on the main floor of the gymnasium I expect to have about 50 tables.  One of them might be particularly interesting to visitors who are into antique lure, rods, reels, etc.  I think Jerry McCoy, from Lakeview Arkansas probably knows more about those old, old lures than anyone in the Midwest, and he will be there to buy and sell antique lures.  But if you have some that you want to keep, Jerry can tell you what they are, when they were made and what they are worth.

         This year we will have lots of items for those folks who want to decorate a den or office or cabin with art.  We will have many beautiful wildlife paintings of deer, bear, elk, eagles, wolves, etc. hanging on the wall, 11 by 14 paintings in black wooden frames, for only ten dollars.  Already I have purchased a half dozen for my own home.  They are really something.  A woodworker, Harold Mitchell will be coming from my boyhood town of Houston, Missouri with handmade wooden bowls and other wood items that he sells for a great deal less than they are worth.  I saw his work several years ago and kept after him until he agreed to come to our swap meet. At his table, you will see some of the prettiest woodwork you have ever seen.

         Another woodworker comes from Galena, Mo.  Dale Olson has been to every swap meet we have held, and he makes things like birdhouses, bird feeders, jewelry boxes and many other things.  He has been a favorite vendor of ladies who come to our swap meet because he makes cutting boards that are absolutely beautiful on a kitchen counter, and priced below their actual value, on account of, Dale is a grizzled old outdoorsman like me who hasn’t been to the big cities much and doesn’t realize how good he is at this stuff. We will also have a fellow from down around Norfork Lake, who makes cedar cabin furniture and picnic tables, with his handiwork displayed outside the door.

         David Preddy usually comes from southern Missouri with tanned furs, mounted predator heads sitting on deer antler stands, fur caps like the earlier frontiersmen wear, and I think Vernon Myers will be there with a whole table of handmade knives.  In fact many tables have old antique knives, pocket knives like my grandfathers and the old-timers at the pool hall use to carry.  On those tables which just have a hodge-podge of outdoor items, you will also see good usable rods and reels, camp stoves, minnow buckets, bait traps, steel traps, old carbide lamps, lanterns and duck decoys.  There will also be vendors there selling turkey calls, duck calls and predator calls, with some archery equipment as well.

         Lure makers who produce modern day lures also come, for example the Criddly lure company from Pleasant Hope who makes all kinds of spinner baits, of all sizes and I use their lures often because I catch fish on them.  They are quite a bit different than other spinning baits.  Of course, me being a grizzled old outdoorsman like I am, you might expect me to catch fish on about anything, and I sure won’t argue that fact.  I have never once written about the lures I didn’t catch fish on, and I ain’t about to admit that ever happened!!

         I really want to contact ladies who do baking, and who make jelly and can pickles and relish, because we notice how much attention such a table garners.  We need that, because I don’t have time to make muffins and cookies and such.  What I do hope to do is make some of my handmade turkey calls, the ones I use myself.  Thousands of beginning turkey hunters have called up their first gobblers with my handmade calls, and while I know that I can’t prove that, I also know that no one can prove otherwise!!

         I just cannot get to all the other special things that will be there, but I intend to put up for bids one of my Uncle Norten’s handmade sassafras paddles and one of my grandfathers sassafras paddles made some time in the 1930’s.  The money from those will help with expenses at the Panther Creek Youth Retreat mentioned earlier.

         Remember that this event is free, there will be tables where visitors can set and relax and drink coffee and eat dinner and have conversation with other folks.  I’ll be there amongst ‘em, with my new spring issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge outdoors magazine and all my books, which I will sell as usual for about 2/3rds of the book store prices.  I have a couple of new ones, so now there are a total of nine.  My daughters and their mother will be there too, so this has become a family affair.  And the event gives me the opportunity to meet and talk to those folks who read this column.

         I cannot thank enough the Brighton Assembly of God church for giving us this opportunity year after year, and assistant pastor Mark Cross for all the help he gives us to make this work so smoothly.   


         The answer to the nature question… feral hogs!

        

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Just a Pair of Antlers



These two summer fawns are both does.. difference 
in size suggest they were born a month apart.
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        This weeks nature question for all you master naturalists… True or False.  Some fawns in the Ozarks are born as early as January!  Answer at end of column.




 
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       Not long ago I received this email from a reader…”I just read your article in the local paper in November. I have never heard of Conservation officers taking deer horns from a hunter. Can you please tell me more??”

         Shortly afterward, I received this email from another reader…
“My husband is challenging a Conservation Agent in North Central Missouri who is trying to bully him into relinquishing a very large rack from a deer he killed this past season. He tagged the deer with a landowner/lessee tag and was told that he cannot use this tag because he does not reside on the 628 acres we have leased. We do however pay utilities on this property and have for years. This agent got a search warrant and searched our home when no one was present and took an 8- point rack killed years ago that was not even related to the issue. We are taking this to court and suing the MDC for harassment due to the fact this agent is verbally threatening to take every rack we have and write every ticket possible since my husband would not give him the rack in question.
Thank you...Amy L Barto

         My answer to her… ---Amy, the law states that landowners or lessees may hunt with a landowner permit.  What that agent is doing is done often.  He wants the antlers because they are so valuable, sometimes they get thousand and thousands of dollars for one deer head.  Taking the 8-pointer from your home is theft, pure and simple, and you should contact the sheriff in your county to report it.  A search warrant cannot be used to enter when no one is home.  It is to be served to you before entry.  Another violation of the law.  You should try to contact the director of the MDC.  She is new, a woman who should listen to you. It will do you no good whatsoever to contact the Enforcement Department of the MDC. This agent is ignoring your constitutional rights and he is guilty of theft.---


         This stuff makes me sick.  Why are conservation agents allowed to bully and harass and make charges against hunters just because they want their valuable deer heads?  Why have such a high percentage of younger agents decided they can break the law without any consequence and why is there no one in higher power in our state willing to look into this and do something about it.  Maybe if we go to newly elected governor and attorney general we can have some of this looked at.  But it hasn’t worked before.  Over the past few years this has happened hundreds of times, and it has worked so often because any legal action must go before judges who are indebted to the MDC, like the west Missouri judge named Kelso, who received 235,000 thousand dollars from them, and whose property taxes are paid annually by the Missouri Department of Conservation for perpetuity.  When high ranking MDC officials hunted on his hunting preserve with him, how can anyone they charge be heard in his court fairly?

         This is coming now to an almost mafia-like corruption, with no attempts made to control it. A few years back, I was threatened over the phone with physical violence by an ex-director just for writing about what he had done and what was happening. He told me that he and friends would come to my home, because he knew right where I lived, and he hinted if I didn’t stop writing about the MDC someone would find me floating in the river I live near. That man had been an MDC director for many years.  They named a place after him!! 

         Indeed, an agent in southern Missouri has a shed filled with confiscated antlers he calls his “retirement fund”. Other agents laugh about it, but if they thought you had that shed full of unmarked, unaccounted for deer antlers, worth thousands and thousands of dollars, you could be arrested and required to pay massive fines, and perhaps serve jail time.

         One thing more, from an employee in the department who ask me never to use his name, confiscated antlers that are said to be destroyed according to law, are never, ever cut up and discarded.  He says it doesn’t happen, and that is why the Enforcement Chief, Larry Yamnitz, will not allow anyone to see the bogus destruction.  No member of the press can view such a destruction because it doesn’t ever happen, and it has not happened for many, many years.  Those deer heads are often worth from 10 to 50 thousand dollars on a black market.  

         In this state, if you kill a deer with big antlers, keep it quiet.  When you check a deer by phone and they ask if it has a beam above 2 and a half inches at the skull and how many points it has, DO NOT COMPLY,  If you report what they want to hear, you may get your deer head confiscated on some made-up charge and stand before a judge who is in the MDC’s hip pocket.

         I will have much more about this in my spring magazine if you want to hear more.  Some of the stories about hunters who did everything legal and still lost their deer are hard to believe… but it happens, and often.  If this has happened to you, contact me and we will get your side of it told.  I intend to publish a true account of much of what is going on with our state Conservation Department in that spring magazine, and eventually a book that they dread very much.  In most larger newspapers in this state, none of this can be published, and that tells you a little about the power of the MDC.  When they lost one million dollars in a lawsuit a few years back which was the result of three agents breaking the law, no news media mentioned a word of it.  They paid the million dollars out of money you and I give them in that 1/8 cent tax, and none of the agents were even disciplined.  Unbelievable isn’t it.  Is there any hope that they might ever be held accountable for breaking laws and violating constitutional rights?  Not much!

         I will catch hell again for writing this.  There will be threats over the phone and some papers will not publish it, but I want the truth to be known. I would love to gather with a dozen of the MDC’s top officials in a public place where hunters and fishermen could gather to discuss these things and others, so everyone could hear, and they could ask questions.  Wouldn’t you think they could really discredit me if I was there alone to debate the things I have seen in my last twenty years as an outdoor writer.  That is a challenge I have made before.  I’d do it anytime, anywhere.  You would think they would love to make it happen!  As for me, I would bring up what they have hidden for years and years.  But the upcoming book will do just that, and I hope to distribute thousands of them to Ozarkians free of charge.

         It will be a rare thing… the truth about the MDC, being shown to the people of Missouri, most of whom haven’t got the slightest idea what is happening.
  
      
As for the nature question… yes, some fawns are born in January.  I saw one on Feb 1st and photographed it's tiny tracks.  

 
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These are the fawns tracks in the mud at Panther Creek.  It’s steps were 15 inches apart
 

 
--> The newborn fawn on my place has to be the result of an early September breeding.  It happens occasionally but not often.  Usually the early fawns appear in march, but the bulk of them are born in April or May.  For some reason, the early fawns are usually just single.  Twin fawns seem to be most common after April begins.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Turkeys and Lightning






 
Fishing last February— My daughter Christy caught 30 white bass and 40 black bass on light tackle on this February afternoon  last year.  She released them all.

 
















       Some folks said they enjoyed last weeks outdoor quiz questions, so here is another one I learned recently from the National Geographic channel…   Experts say the fastest mammal is the Cheetah, found in Africa.  They say the second fastest mammal is found in the U.S.  It is… (answer at end of column).

       I always thought the fastest runner in the Ozarks was a wild turkey gobbler, as I have seen several outrun my shotgun blast rather easily.  It is nice to sit around during this colder weather and think about April turkey hunting, a calm sunny dawn with redbuds blooming and birds singing and the slightest hint of green everywhere you look. 
 
       Probably won’t be exactly like that though.  My pants will be wet up to the knees from the dew, and the gobblers will be with 15 or 20 hens each.  A storm will blow in about mid- morning, with hard rain and lightning and I will slide halfway down some hillside because I stepped on a wet rock, then have to find my shotgun, which slid farther than I did.   Knowing that will happen makes me wait until later in the morning to hunt turkeys in the spring.  

       I can go out about 9 or 10 and have similar problems with gobblers.  They often ignore me just as well at noon as they do at dawn.  But after sunrise I can look off into the southwest and see if a storm is forming.  You often can’t see those big cloud banks if you are tripping around and falling off the porch at 5 o’clock in the morning, trying to carry too much stuff to the pick-up.

       I probably fish more than I hunt in April because my boat runs great at 10 a.m. and I am not so likely to fall out of it as I am right at first light.  I have found that in April, the best fishing is found after I wake up, and I often don’t wake up very early.  That is often because I write until 1 or 2 in the morning and when you do that and then get up at 5, two or three cups of coffee do not make one whit of difference. 
 
        I could handle it all when I was 25 years old but not now.  If I want to get up at 5 in the morning, I really need to get to bed about 5 in the evening.  I have found too, that there are no mushrooms in the morning until the sun gets up well.  I know this because for the last 5 or 6 years I haven’t found a single mushroom until I go out and look for them, which is always about 10 in the morning.

       I never get caught in a storm while fishing or looking for mushrooms, because while I fear nothing in the world, man nor beast, (with the exception of grizzly bears and Islamic terrorists) a bolt of lightning from a distant black cloud strikes terror in my brain and legs, which, working together, have saved me in the past. 

       It could be that the fastest I have ever ran was when a bolt of lighting hit a barb-wire fence I was astraddle of one summer evening in my youth.  And in a lightning storm, I can still be called a good sprinter.  

       That awful fear of lightning developed early!  Because the night I was born, way back there in the Yukon, (Yukon, Missouri) lightning hit the small farmhouse where I came into the world and killed two chickens in another room at the exact second I drew my first breath. 

       Similar circumstances occurred when a great comet appeared the exact time of Mark Twain’s birth, and didn’t come back around until decades later.  When it appeared a second time, Mr. Twain croaked.  I guess you know, since I am so much like him, how I am going to go out… in a great flash of lightning.

       You may laugh at that, but one of the old timers at the pool hall said he was born two weeks early because his mother was kicked by a horse, and he was afraid to get near one, knowing that.  They all stopped laughing when they found out that the old guy had died from a kick in the head… you guessed it… from a horse.

       But all that really doesn’t have much to do with turkey hunting.  Actually, since April is so far away, my attention right now is on the month of February because I have enjoyed some of the best fishing of my whole life after four or five days of unseasonably warm days in mid to late February.  Fortunately, for you readers, you will read every detail of the best of those trips, right here in this newspaper unless I get hit by lightnin’!

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       If you intend to reserve a table at our grizzled old outdoorsman’s swap meet, you need to let me know soon.  We are going to have about 45 free tables for anyone selling anything pertaining to hunting, fishing or the outdoors.  We will do this at the Brighton Assembly of God Church, where we have held it for the past 8 or 9 years I think.  From 8 in the morning until about 2 in the afternoon the last Saturday of March.
      
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       I will be taking groups of people out on Truman Lake via pontoon boat again in the spring to see that remarkable natural area over there that has lots of history, wildlife and huge timber.  We have a fish fry on the lake at noon, do some hiking and then come in as the sun sets. 

         This year we will do things differently, by opening up our Panther Creek Lodge and cabins to participants on Friday evening, having breakfast there on Saturday morning and coming back there on Saturday night to spend the night again.  On Sunday morning visitors can roam around the property at Panther Creek and see what we have accomplished before going home. 

         This trip once cost 40 dollars per person but this year there will be no charge to anyone. If folks want to donate any amount to our program there for underprivileged kids, that will suffice.  The Saturday trip to the lake is limited to fifteen people because that is the number legally allowed on our boat, so if you want to join us, get your name on the list soon by calling me at 777-5227 or emailing lightninridge@windstream.net or mailing a postcard to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.  Dates will be in March and April, decided about a week in advance according to the weather forecast.

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      The Lightnin’ Ridge Magazine’s spring issue will come out in March.   For the first time in fifteen years it will be all color--88 pages of great reading.  If you want to get one, call my executive secretary at that phone number above.  Ms. Wiggins says we have just had hundreds of orders for it; and my latest book as well, “Little Home on the Piney”.  She says that each will make a wonderful Valentine’s Day present for an outdoorsman’s wife.



The second fastest mammal… the pronghorn antelope.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Master Naturalists

diving ducks… called 'blue bills' by hunters,  greater scaup by ornthologists

puddle ducks,  blue-winged teal


-->        Once again it is the time of year for that age-old question… How do I keep squirrels out of my bird feeder?  I have found that squirrels eating bird-seed have a much better flavor than those found eating acorns.  

       Here are some nature questions you might find interesting. First, are there any mammals that reproduce by laying eggs?  What color is a giraffes tongue, blue, pink, black, red or green?  How do male giraffes fight, with their horns, their feet, their necks or their teeth?  True or false… some frogs in Africa swallow their eggs and their young climb out through the adults mouth. There are more than 300 species of humming birds somewhere… Where? Answers at the end of this column.

       I learned the answers to these questions by watching television.  I hate to admit that. That skinny little box is no doubt the devil’s most favored instrument, a place where you can see as many advertisements per hour as robins on a spring day. It is designed to ruin the minds and lives of millions of young people.  

       But when I get in from a tiresome day in the woods in the winter, I set back in my recliner and turn it on and usually go to sleep.  I notice that Marie Osmond spends more time grinning and talking about her stubborn belly fat than Matt Dillon does recovering from gunshot wounds.  Boy am I sick of that woman!

       The companies which provide television channels do not have to tell you the truth, or live up to anything they tell you.  I called one and told them I do not watch television much, I just need the old westerns, the nature channels, the Cardinal baseball games and occasionally a news channel.  No problem, they said, “we’ll fix that all up for 40 bucks.”        
     
       So I agreed and then I couldn’t get the Cardinal baseball games at all, but I had about 80 channels I wouldn’t watch except at the point of a gun. To date, after several months, nothing works right, and the first bill was a hundred and two dollars.  I called several times trying to get someone to fix a problem, and each time I got someone with a foreign accent I couldn’t understand. 

       So I asked to get it all unhooked and finally an English speaking employee decide to talk to me. She apologized and got the Cardinal baseball channel added. But she couldn’t remove the trashy stuff channels I had no interest in.  She told me that even though I only watch and ask for a dozen channels, I have to get all the others, and after one year the price will go up.  I told her to pass on to the main people at her company that when that happens, they can come and get the whole mess, because I won’t be paying them anymore. 

       I won’t miss the stuff most people watch television for, the slanted, biased and useless news mixed in with the advertisements which take up hours of viewing time.  But I will miss the nature channels.  With the Animal Planet channel, National Geographic, Discovery, the Travel Channel and British Broadcasting, I have often been fascinated and made aware of a natural world in the ocean, in the Arctic, in New Zealand and Australia and Africa.

      When those programs about history or geography or nature come on, I don’t drift off to sleep. I don’t have words to describe my amazement. The wonder of it, the beauty and peace found in those wild places where those cameramen I envy so much get to go, taking me to a world I could never have seen otherwise.

      Take my advice and spend some time with those channels. It is mesmerizing, photography that is mind-boggling.  It makes me think often of that first line or two of the song.. How Great Thou Art.  Indeed what a great Creator God is.

  
    
       If you are a hiker, this is the time of year to get out and see what the trail-followers do not see.  Strike out across the forests of south Missouri and north Arkansas where others do not go.  Go alone and stay off those beaten trails.  Take the bare necessities for a long day and see what others have not, from high promontories or along rocky creek bottoms, finding and exploring a cave here and there, finding a gushing spring, a rushing waterfall, trees that are two centuries old because they grow where the loggers cannot get them.

       Just last week a lady wrote me a letter, talking about being a member of a group of “Master Naturalists” in a Missouri city not far from this wooded ridge I live on. It made me think of a man at a sports show years ago who proudly announced himself as such in a boastful way.

       I pushed one of my magazines before him and asked him if he knew what species of duck that was on the cover, and what it did that other puddle ducks did not.  He just looked at it with a bewildered look… had no idea what it was, knew nothing about it.  The cover showed a baldpate, or widgeon, a puddle duck that likes to hang around diving ducks and steal food. Divers go way down deep to bring up vegetative matter that the widgeon can’t get to.

       Can you name ten puddle ducks, and a half dozen divers?  Any real naturalist can do that off the cuff. That Master Naturalist really got mad when I told him that true naturalists do not live in suburbs, they love the natural world so much they find a way to live close to it, far from the traffic jams which consume so much of his life.

       I worked for more than ten years as a PAID naturalist.  I spent a couple of years just out of college as the Chief Naturalist for Arkansas State Parks, giving hundreds of programs in those parks, conducting daily hikes with park visitors to teach them all I could about nature and conservation, and the web of life found in unaltered natural places. 

       Then for a couple of years or so, I worked as a paid national park naturalist at Buffalo National River.  During winter months I explored the Ouachita and Ozark mountains of Arkansas for the state’s Natural Heritage Commission, going into the wildest areas of the state to find and report on significant natural features, and plant and wildlife species I found there.  Again, I wasn’t there as an amateur, I was a paid naturalist. 

       For fifty years I have written about nature and the outdoors. I sell those articles to newspapers and magazines because they believe I have been there and done that.  I do not write about what I read out of some book, but what I see and hear and experience in wild, remote places.

       AND WITH ALL THAT, I NEVER WAS A MASTER NATURALIST.  I never knew anyone who was! Every trip outdoors then, and every trip now, I learned more and more.  I have studied the lives of great naturalist like Leopold, Muir, Audubon, Miner and Peterson.  Not one of those men would have accepted the term “Master Naturalist”. 
 
       There are indeed Master Electricians, Master Plumbers, Master Musicians, because they can learn all there is to know about what they do.  Naturalists cannot. Calling yourself that makes it obvious you haven’t spent enough time wearing out boot soles in far off wild places.  You haven’t been out there alone where bobcats bounce from tree limbs to rocky ledges as you slip close late in the evening, and a barred owl answers your call at mid-day. Bobcats and barred owls do not live in the suburbs.  Neither do naturalists.

      The giraffe has a black tongue, they fight with their necks, whipping with tremendous force at the body of their opponent.  There are 18 species of hummingbirds in North America, 308 species in South America. In Africa, a species of frog incubates eggs inside the stomach and the babies crawl out the mouth. One mammal lays eggs, from which her young hatches.  A Platypus!


      

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Breaks






Uncle Norton paddling Dad a few years ago, hoping to get ducks for dinner




        Sitting in the front of the boat, I held my shotgun and trembled a little with the excitement as we slowly floated forward toward the flock of mallards.  They seemed aware that the blind which grandpa had arranged on the bow out of sycamore and oak branches wasn’t quite right.  It looked like a floating brush pile, but perhaps they could see me poke my head above the brush on occasion to get a better look. 


         Gosh, those bright green heads were beautiful, milling about on that shimmering, bright water shoal below us.  My grandpa was masterful with that sassafras paddle, maneuvering the old wooden johnboat downstream slowly.  We would soon be right in the middle of that unsuspecting flock of eight or ten mallards.

When the branch hit the water, I watched the mallards take to flight
   And then it happened!  By a peculiar circumstance of bad luck, a big dead sycamore branch hanging put over the river between the ducks and our boat, snapped under the weight of lingering snow and an alighting kingfisher, and plunged into the river. With a frenzy of rushing wings and erupting water, and an old hen quacking in panic, the mallards took to flight and were gone.


         I think that’s when I heard it first.  Grandpa uttered an oft-exclaimed expletive and said, “THE GAME GETS ALL THE BREAKS!!” I heard that often over the years, hunting with my dad and grandpa and Uncle Norton.  Dad said it often as sort of a tribute to Grandpa, but I came to know that it seemed to be a true statement.

         Sitting in the woods along the creek a short distance from my Panther Creek Cabin last week, I thought of that as a rush of memories of those great times I had as a boy came back to me.  In my hands was a weapon Grandpa would perhaps have laughed at… a crossbow.  I can hear him saying…  “Yore huntin’ turkeys with that there contraption?”

         As the last weekend of the archery season approached, along with a cold freezing rain that was only hours away, I built a good fire in my cabin and peered out the window.  There they were… a goshawful string of wild turkeys across the clover patch, moving past the plot of milo and into the woods.  It was easy to count them, in a long procession of one or two or three at a time.  Fifty-one in all.
        
         The huge flock, mostly young of the year and old hens, crossed the creek and went out into a field on the other side.  I knew they would come back across in an hour or so, to roost on the timbered ridge back behind me, above the bottoms they had just crossed.  So I took my crossbow and got myself substantially hidden along the creek with my back to a big sycamore and waited.  At that time I was about 73 percent convinced that I would be bringing a young turkey back to the cabin about sunset.  It is hard to miss 51 turkeys if two or three of them pitch across the creek together.

         And then it came back to me, what Grandpa always said… “the game gets all the breaks.”  The break those turkeys got was the fact that I had sat down in the wrong place!  I watched them cross the creek and head up into the woods just above my cabin, all 51 of them, one or two or three at a time about 75 yards downstream.

         I muttered that oft heard excuse my grandfather had made famous, and then enjoyed the ambience.   Three red-headed woodpeckers seemed to be fighting along the creek, causing me to realize that this year I have seen more of them on Panther Creek than I ever can recall seeing along any stream. Contemplating why that might be, I glance out into the woods on my left and there stood a nice young buck!

         That’s the way deer do on occasion.  You are sitting somewhere wondering why women can’t think more like men, or why God lets there be so many crooked lawyers and all of a sudden there is a deer, just materializing before you. This one had a medium-sized set of antlers, but at 60 yards there isn’t a hunter in the world who could have said for sure if he was an eight-pointer or six-pointer, nor if he had a brow tine an inch long or shorter.

         Me, I didn’t care… it is the one game regulation too stupid to give any regard to. Most agents ignore it anyway, and there will be a time when that regulation, which never had any biological basis, or any conservation value, will be gone and forgotten.  It will someday be a remnant of an ill-advised rule, created by conservation department officials who spent too much time in an office and not enough time outdoors. A rule made by men in suits who needed to know more about deer hunting than any of them did.
 
         Earlier this year I killed a buck with my crossbow at 40 yards, a heart shot right where the green dot of my scope settled.  So I figured with the power the crossbow has, a sixty-yard shot was feasible.  I watched him for a while and then aimed eight-inches above the heart and squeezed the trigger.  I couldn’t see where the arrow went, but he jumped and milled around for a while without running.

         A crossbow makes a thumping sound, but not enough to alarm much of anything in the woods. The buck certainly wasn’t hit.  I reloaded and got ready for another shot, but he walked away, joined a doe, and disappeared.  I found the arrow embedded in a bank just past where he had stood.  I think if I had held that sight sixteen inches above his heart, I would have put a third buck in my freezer this winter.  But what the heck, I have two, and they will be enough to make a lot of steak and hamburger and jerky when I get the time to work it all up in February. I take care of my own venison and I treasure the meat that comes as a result of that effort.

         As the freezing rain began that night I sat back and watched the fire in my cabin and heard a limb or two crack down on the creek. I thought of those poor turkeys sitting on a branch somewhere up the hillside. The woodpeckers take refuge in hollow spots in the branches, but God made turkeys so big they have to just sit out there and take it.  Doesn’t seem fair does it?

         I looked for the turkeys awhile the next morning. They had just disappeared. Then I walked up to the main lodge on a high point a mile or so to the east, and folks, I swear this is the truth.  That whole flock was milling about that big house, some within ten feet of the window on the west side!  If I had spent the night there, I could have plugged one out the bedroom window!

         I wouldn’t have done that of course, never shot anything out of any kind of window and never will.  But I think Grandpa would have.  He hunted for different reasons, and he would have welcomed a wild turkey dinner no matter how he got it.  Besides that, he was a little more of a believer in getting what you could get when you could get it.  He didn’t feel sorry for anything he looked at down the barrel of his gun because when it came right down to it, back then, he lived with the conviction that--- “The game gets all the breaks!”



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Work at Panther Creek paying off!!





Our work at Panther Creek Youth retreat is finally paying off, 30 kids and five counselors from the Joplin area will be there the 17th thru 19th of March. Another group of 16 kids will be coming as soon as they can finalize a date. I can't wait to spend some time with them and teach them a little about the real outdoors.





A thank you note written late summer of last year by a Panther Creek youth group.
 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Directions




         So a new year begins! My new years resolution is the same this year as it has been each and every year since I can remember…  “I resolve to live and enjoy every day of this year one day at a time, and try to think of others more than myself. And I will thank God for each day even if I ain’t kilt or caught nothin.”

       If you adopt that same resolution and try to live by it, I will bet you’ll have a good year. Lot’s of simple country folks have had similar resolutions for a long time, but as the years go by there are far fewer simple common-sense country folks. Since we are just about out of those people, I don’t think our country will ever be as strong and as good as it was, ever again. 
 
       One big reason for that is how little money there was then, compared to how much there is today.  For every 10-dollar bill in circulation in the 1930’s, there are probably a million now. It is so simple for people today to have so much of all that money can buy.     
   
       My grandparents and the country people around them couldn’t have much of what money could buy, they had to live for what money could NOT buy.  And that made them happy!  I doubt if that will ever happen in our country again, but I swear, my greatest happiness over the years has been just that… the blessings that money cannot buy. 
 
       I find most of those blessings when I am off somewhere alone, enjoying the wildest of places, and the presence of someone far greater than my mind can comprehend. What you can find there is freedom, freedom peace and beauty.  I don’t see any of that where there are concentrations of people… there’s not much freedom in a crowd.

       This year will likely be the last year I pursue what I have done since I was 18 years old… fifty one years of writing about the outdoors as a living. Because I cannot stop writing I will try to publish more books, and a magazine article when I feel like it, or a newspaper column done without any deadlines. But I have a revolutionary idea. When that time comes I will stop charging a fee for my writing and give what I do to all those newspapers that want it free of charge.  They’ll like that!

       A reader opened my eyes not long ago by sending me this letter… “Larry, old friend…you have outgrown your purpose in life because today’s people just live their lives facing in a different direction than you always have.  Clean rivers, beautiful wild places, wild creatures and tall trees are not of much importance to them. Conservation is a forgotten concept because it cannot possibly work any more. By definition, it is anti-progress. Progress will be defined by ever-increasing accumulations of money and a technology we cannot even comprehend. Generations to come will HAVE TO destroy the earth to survive.  And they will, but you and I won’t see it, we will be long dead.”
  
        “Do you think you speak for God? Do you really think God wants what you believe in?  He has allowed huge, burgeoning populations to make a world that is foreign to you, rushing along a path where they can never return to ‘the old days’. Who knows what is at the end of that easy path. God does not interfere with that.”
        
       “You were one of the lucky ones who got to see the last of the best of it. You were blessed. You got to spend all those wonderful days outdoors. Just think how awful it would have been if all those city-bred masses you describe it to had loved it as you did. They’d all be out there with you! You would never find a place to be alone, enjoying such peace!” 
 
       “Remember when you floated Ozark rivers in the spring all by yourself?  Take a look at them now.  Do you think the people out there in those strings of banging canoes care if there are smallmouth beneath them, or if the banks are eroding or that the rivers are filling with gravel and algae?  No, they do not.”

       “Give up your crusade and enjoy what little time you have left.  You are getting old and no one wants to hear what you preach. The state conservation people will become even more corrupt, because great sums of money does that.  Who cares, but you?  Just tell us how to kill something or catch something, where and how to do it the quickest and easiest.  That’s what outdoor writing is about today and tomorrow. You are yesterday’s outdoor writer!”

     
       That writer died recently and was a far smarter man than I. It is about time to recognize that almost no one lives in the world he and I lived in.  And today, who wants to? I just never was able to accept that when I was younger.

       At some point, a person who cannot believe where the years went, has to realize that it is about time to quit, and just enjoy what is left in life.  Believe me there is a lot of the good life left if you can escape the rat race and be free. I want to turn much of my attention now to that outdoor education center and a retreat for underprivileged kids. You cannot imagine how much I am enjoying that, and how thankful I am that God has put it in my lap.

       I still keep thinking I am thirty years old, and in the outdoors, I feel that way.  But I can’t hunt ducks from dawn to dusk two or three days in a row. In between I need a day to rest up. That really annoys me. I can still climb a mountain, but not half as fast as I did twenty years back.  I can paddle my boat down miles of river all day long and I am thankful for that, but darn if I don’t have to take aspirin at night because one shoulder hurts from doing it.

       I write more and more about memories, people and experiences from years ago, what I saw and did then, and less about what I have experienced outdoors recently. I don’t really know if today’s newspaper readers like that. 
      
       I let deer pass by that I would have shot years ago, and sometimes take pictures of ducks rather than shooting them. I never keep a bass, and I didn’t set one trotline in 2016.  What has happened to me?
  
       It isn’t so hard to find a quitting place when you know you have done your best to use whatever little talent God gave you, and you couldn’t have tried any harder.  So as far as doing things as I have done them all my life, this will likely be the last year of that.

       Right now I am working on the spring issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazine and if there are some outdoorsmen out there who would like to send us some good outdoor stories, we need to get them before February 1. We pay now for good stories and photos. Some of the best outdoor stories we have ever received were written by just ordinary folks who had never written anything at all, but had one great story to tell. This new issue will be all color for the first time, and much larger.  It is our 56th magazine.

       More about this later, but our Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s free swap meet will be held again at the Brighton Assembly of God Church Gymnasium the last Saturday of March, which is the 25th.  We will offer about 50 tables to vendors who want to sell outdoor oriented items and hunting and fishing gear.  Tables are free and entrance to the event is free.

       Anyone who needs information about acquiring the spring magazine, or the swap meet or whatever, can call me at 417 777 5227 unless I am gone, in which case you may have a confusing conversation with my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins.  Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net