Monday, November 28, 2016

Just Ordinary Luck





There should never be a doe only season. If you want more of them killed, add a doe tag to the regular purchased tag rather than trying to sell a seperate one.  If more money is the purpose, just raise the price of the regular tag






       A few years back the MDC sent out this news release… “Warm weather is one factor being cited by Missouri’s deer expert in continuing to a drop in the number of deer shot by hunters”. 

       A few years later they had a different result and said this…”a high deer harvest on opening weekend took place because the unseasonably warm weather allowed hunters to stay in the woods longer, and hunting hours significantly increased because of it.” 

         Boy how things change.  The news is out that in the 2016 regular deer season the number of deer killed is lower than expected.  With that warm weather we had I expected the deer ‘harvest’ to be high. 

       When there’s a moon that bright at night during the season, places that have high hunting pressure see deer becoming nocturnal. But with so many acorns, I found deer to be so fat I can hardly believe it.  Of course, I also planted some unharvested grain on my place and they’ve feasted on that too.  My daughter killed a buck recently and when we butchered it we cut off bucketfuls of fat.

       The reduction of that nine-day season for does is a good move.  This year it is a three-day season for does, and hundreds of bucks will be killed illegally during that season.  The doe season was instigated after meetings with big insurance companies who were disturbed about the number of car-deer accidents.  Rather than accepting the fact that automobiles on the highway had nearly doubled in twenty years, they blamed it on too many deer. That doe season was a poor answer. 

        It took them long enough, but they are beginning to figure that out.  A wiser plan is to sell each hunter, a buck and a doe tag, and keep the present nine day regular season.  Then if they want, they can open another weekend for deer hunting, but not for just does only. 

Antler hunters, who know that a big rack might bring several thousand dollars, won’t watch one walk past them. They can take it home, call in and report a buck killed during the bow-season, at no risk. Unbelievably, about ten years ago I saw a hunter with a buck and a doe in his pickup during the doe-only season. He had checked the doe on his gun tag, and the same afternoon, checked the buck on a bow tag.        That nine-day doe season has made it really impossible for anyone to know the true harvest of deer the past few years.  But I don’t really imagine it makes much difference to today’s MDC what the harvest is.  You can bet your hunting boots they know exactly what revenue they get from the sales of all types of deer tags, and the more they sell, the better the deer season, no matter what the harvest drops.

       In reality, there is no such thing as a state deer herd or ‘deer management’. This year the MDC became worried about the reduction of deer numbers. But the number of deer will never drop to the near-extinction times of the 1930 Ozarks.  The people of that day were hungry country people who pretty much lived off the land.  Today, there aren’t many who need to kill all the deer and turkey they can, as those folks did. 

       A lot of today’s deer hunters are so trophy oriented they won’t kill does or small bucks. There aren’t many hungry hunters now, and because of that, you will never see deer numbers threatened in the Ozarks.   We have a bunch of them, and even with chronic wasting disease, I think we will have as long as there is habitat for them.  Bulldozers may wipe them out someday… hunters won’t.

      
       I have always been fascinated with old things from way back in the Ozarks past.  I still have boat paddles in my office my grandfather made in the ‘20’s.  The other day I got a handful of change from a McDonalds transaction involving a fried pie and amongst those coins I found a wheatleaf penny made in 1919.  I have a gallon jar full of old wheatleaf pennies, not worth anything to anyone but me, but I have never found one that old. 

       I put it in my billfold to bring me good luck while I was hunting and fishing, but so far I’ve had the same old luck I have always had, which I’m not saying has always been bad, but just ordinary, like everyone else’s luck, and certainly nothing to brag about. 

        I am looking for some consequential event in my life, to tell me that penny is a good luck charm, and if it doesn’t happen soon then I will put it in that jar with the rest of them and look again for some four-leaf clovers.

       While I am not in the least superstitious, there are some things a man can’t deny.  If you swing a dead cat around your head in a cemetery at midnight in a full moon, you can put an awful hex on another deer hunter just by chanting his name for a few seconds while you swing the cat.  But who would do that, just to see somebody never get another deer?  Certainly no one I know? It isn’t that easy nowadays to find a fresh-killed cat anyhow and I can hardly stay awake past 9 p.m.

       Last summer, a black cat ran across the road in front of me, and I considered backing up and going into town via another roundabout route.  But just then, it ran back across the road to the ditch where it came from in the first place, bringing me much relief, as anyone knows that the latter action of a black cat retracing his steps will negate the bad luck of the former.

       Of course anyone who really believes that a black cat crossing your path will bring you bad luck is a little bit crazy as I see it.  That is a bunch of hogwash.  But why take chances if you can get to town via another route that only takes an extra fifteen minutes?

       Anyway, if you have a relative that is silly enough to be superstitious, last year just after the rabbit season I ended up with a stack of about 40 rabbits feet. I am just giving them away because years ago I knew a guy who hunted rabbits a lot and he sold several of his rabbits feet for a dollar apiece.  Only then did he find out from his great grandmother that it is bad luck to sell rabbits feet and within a week he fell off a stump and cracked the stock on his shotgun.

       So my advice is, ignore superstitions. But cling to common sense traditions and perhaps buy my new book for a Christmas gift for someone or perhaps yourself, an act that will make the new year better for someone who likes to read and bring you good luck at the same time. 
 
       I know a guy who has bought his wife one of my books each year for the past five or six years and he has killed a nice deer each of those years right after Christmas with a bow.  And his wife helps him make jerky every year and you can’t deny that a man like that is lucky.  Although I will say she gets a little bit uglier each year.  And that reminds me that there is an old saying that the uglier a man’s wife gets, the luckier he gets.  That certainly hasn’t been the case with me, mine is beautiful!  And my luck just stay’s ordinary!

A Matter of Patience


      
       It isn’t too hard to figure that this will be a year of high deer ‘harvest’.  The warm weather insures that.  “Why is that?” you might ask.  Let me explain.  The average deer hunter will sit quietly and wait if he has a sack with sandwiches in it and some of those little chocolate cakes and a thermos of coffee.  If he has a cushion to sit on, he will increase the length of time he will sit there.

       But if it is twenty degrees, or if it is raining, then some Little Debbie cakes and a thermos of hot coffee doesn’t make a darn bit of difference, he is not going to sit there long, even with a soft cushion.  So therefore, when a buck walks by at 10 in the morning, he has been gone since 8:30.  That reduces the number of deer killed.  But if said hunter is comfy and well fed and the temperature is say, 50 degrees with a calm sunny day, he is liable to be there until naptime, well past noon.  That kind of patience results in a higher deer ‘harvest’. 

       Patience, they say, is a virtue!  I have never have had a whole lot of virtue, and patience is the one I have had the least of.   I just can’t stand waiting and sitting. I am a hunter, and I do not like the idea of being a sitter and a waiter.  Hunters hunt… they sneak around and stalk their prey.  I could sit for a while, and often do for an hour or so. It is easy to wait if you have about a half dozen of those cakes and fried pies, but I can’t have them on account of I can’t eat sugar.  Carrying a backpack full of jerky and crackers and Vienna sausage isn’t my idea of a picnic!

       But just because patience is a virtue, I can’t imagine impatience being a fault.  Being impatient makes a really good muzzle-loader hunter and that’s what I am anxious for, in December when you have to walk to stay warm.



       I still maintain that bottled deer scent is not likely to bring a deer-hunter better opportunities.  In this day and time, due to the unlikeliness of game wardens patrolling the woods, driving between the trees through the far-away reaches of the woods in a new MDC pick-up, there are lots and lots of deer killed over bait way back in the woods. The smart thing for a person to do if he wants to hunt over bait is to plant himself a patch of corn somewhere.  Corn grown in a patch of ground off in the middle of nowhere is not considered to be bait, and while it is likely that your yield per acre isn’t going to be great, it doesn’t have to be for it to attract deer.

       But I still maintain that if you can come up with a bottle of liquid that smells like corn you would have something better than the scent you buy from the sporting goods store that may or not be goat urine!  A friend of mine who is a big time deer hunter has often told me that he thinks someone who buys doe pee is dopey.

       A couple of weeks ago I was visited by taxidermist Brad Coulson from Iowa.  Brad is a very knowledgeable outdoorsman who lived on a farm in Iowa in his boyhood.  When I first met him about 30 years ago, Brad had a pet buck that he kept for years. He said that if you put a pile of corn out in one place and a couple or three cigarettes a few feet away his buck would eat those cigarettes first.  “He absolutely loved any type of tobacco,” Brad said.  “He got to where any visitors that gave him a cigarette would have a hard time getting away from him.”

       That is something for a deer hunter to remember.  If you pile up cigarettes or cigars in the woods from mid-September to mid-November, who could say you were baiting deer?  Even if a conservation agent walked back into your woods, which is really a stretch, he couldn’t say you were hunting over bait.  You could say you just emptied the top drawer of your Uncle Buford’s hope chest, who was a chain smoker who recently died of lung cancer!

       A buck that is after a doe is about the easiest of quarries because he pays little attention to anything else.  Once, many, many years ago while I was sitting on a log off in the woods eating one of those Hostess snowballs, (you know, the inside is chocolate cake with a kind of marshmallow covering) a doe came running through the woods and I shot her and dropped her in her tracks.  Now folks, I swear this is the truth… a ten-point buck came running after her and ignored me and the shot, and ran right up to her which was his final romantic act on account of, I had two deer tags.

       I have never felt good about that, and wouldn’t do that today for anything.  For one reason, a ten-point buck is not good for venison Parmesan because his meat is fairly tough.  And as I remember, I dropped the other half of that cupcake and stepped on it in my excitement.  If I could have a Hostess snowball today I wouldn’t trade it for the biggest buck in the woods! And too, I recall being a little like that buck, back when I thought the chances of ever finding a wife was really slim.  There may be other young hunters out there who are like that, and while it hasn’t got a thing to do with deer hunting, my advice to them is, do not chase any of them… BE PATIENT!!


       On local television station the evening before opening day, they showed a photo of two mule deer. Then a Missouri Department of Conservation spokesman who never hunted deer in his life, talked about making sure of your target!  It looks as if any television station could beat that with a real story about something important to hunters of today.  But at least they didn’t come up with an outright lie. The Springfield newspaper printed a little story on Chronic Wasting Disease and said that ‘no one has ever died from eating deer with the disease’, which is a blatant untruth.  Hunters HAVE died from it!!

       In humans, that disease is called Jacob-Kruetzfeldt disease and it is always fatal to humans who fell victim to it.  What the deniers have going for them is that you cannot prove what animal gave it to them… was it a deer, a cow, an elk or a goat?  I have talked to folks who lost relatives to the disease and they had no doubt how their loved ones got it. I would like to see the media talk to them, but it will not happen as long as the MDC doesn’t want deer hunters to get worried.  Fewer deer hunters buy fewer deer tags.

       In another time, the media couldn’t get along with cover-ups and denials of the truth.  It isn’t that way now and there isn’t a single Ozarkian that doesn’t know it.  My daughter is a doctor and she told me she saw a man when she was finishing medical school in Columbia, Mo. who died from that disease.  The disease is a huge mystery right now… like nothing anyone has seen, and something no doctor seems to be able to precisely define.
       
       But there is no doubt about one thing, human greed created it, and here in Missouri, pen-raised deer are STILL being fed meat and bone meal.  Deer and elk and cattle are not carnivores… they do not eat meat! God made them herbivores. And in that meat diet is the origin of what they call Chronic Wasting Disease.  Why is that kept covered up?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Venison in the Freezer




 
As fall colors change, whitetail deer drink from Panther Creek.

I shot the buck several times with a camera and left the crossbow beside me.

      My old “Fred Bear” compound bow must be 30 years old. It has put many pounds of venison on the table here on Lightnin’ Ridge, but due to something called a frozen shoulder I cannot pull the thing back as easily as I once did. So I bought a crossbow at the local Walmart sporting goods counter for about 300 dollars, more than I ever paid for a shotgun or rifle! Some are five times that.

       You do not have to practice much with a crossbow. It has sights that can easily be adjusted and it shoots a short arrow with tremendous power. I sat in my tree-stand the other day enjoying the slow coming of fall and I must have watched two small, young deer feed around me for twenty or thirty minutes before I saw a buck coming through the woods quite a distance away.

He was just a fork-horn, just what I want for my freezer.  He came in grunting, and paid particular interest in one of the youngsters only about thirty yards from me. When she jumped away, he followed, and with my sights on him I had a broadside shot at 40 yards. I wouldn’t have taken the shot with my old bow, but I squeezed the trigger on the new crossbow and the buck leaped forward behind the fleeing yearlings. I figured I got him, but I didn’t know until I heard him fall back in the woods a ways. I had centered his heart, and the arrow went through him.  He was dead in only seconds.

       It was too warm to let him hang, but I skinned him and quartered him quickly, and had all the meat soaking in cold water overnight to remove blood. The next day I got the best loin steaks and ham steaks in the freezer quickly, and cut a good quantity of stew meat and hamburger meat off the ribs, neck and shoulders.Much of that hamburger meat will be ground up and mixed with ground pork to make jerky. There are times when I am eating that jerky that I wonder why I do anything else with venison.  Gee whiz it is good!!

       I intend to kill two more deer this fall and two only. They will not be ‘trophies’. That will give us plenty of venison in the freezer, lots of jerky, summer sausage and steak. No meat processors will get any of it, I will do it all myself.  If you aren’t doing the same, you are missing something about deer hunting.

       Before the deer season, this advice for anyone who kills a really big buck… when you call it in, if you answer the question the MDC asks about number of points and diameter of the antler, you might well be targeted by agents. They want them, and they get them! I will have a story in my next issue of Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal about the confiscation of big buck antlers by agents. One agent has a shed full of valuable confiscated antlers he calls his “retirement fund.”

       Those antlers have a great deal of monetary value, and believe me, none are destroyed as hunters are told. When they ask about the size of your antlers, tell them they are only average. Keep it off face book and the computer and the local newspaper. Otherwise, your deer head may be confiscated for some ridiculous, made up offense. More about this next week.



       I hope all you Democrats and Republicans will forgive me, but it is my opinion that in Missouri, It seems that those who seek public office from either side are a sorry lot. I may be alone in this, but I wonder why decent, average men no longer want to run for public office. But I do not blame them. It seems that such offices, whether state or local, are only available to those who crave and have power or money or both. They exist for themselves and their enrichment.

       Men like Lincoln and Roosevelt, didn’t do that. There is no one like them left amongst us. Down to earth, common sense people without great bank accounts aren’t about to jump into a sewer. Such men still believe that someday all men must stand before God and answer for what they have done and how they have used their lives. As for President, we need to forget voting altogether and turn that decision over to the voters of California and New York, with help from ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN. The electoral college will always decide that and our votes mean nothing.

       Here in the Ozarks, we are going to have to live with what those folks want. And they want nothing to do with the principles our nation was founded on. Where we are as a nation is easy to see when you acknowledge that this paragraph cannot be printed in many of the larger newspapers that use my column, because it will offend the political crowd, and does not go along with the new news media.

       But deep in the woods, there is a refuge from all that. There our Creator still can be seen and felt, and his voice is strong if you will listen. I am not sure most men today can say that if they are living according to the dictates of Wall Street.

       I am amused by the arguments over ‘global warming’. Maybe the name should be changed to “man-made, slow moving, natural disaster”. But it is real, whatever you want to call it, and there is not a chance of ever reversing it. It is just too late. Arguing about it does little good… what is coming is coming and it is too late to stop it. The problem is, there are too many humans beings on a planet which is always going to be the same size.

       There are too many of us—and no one wants to acknowledge it. There is no answer to those increasing numbers when you have a defined space for growing populations of men, and limited space for the declining and degraded soil, water, timber and clean air to make those numbers happy in a modern world.

       I have studied nature too long to believe that if indeed this earth survives and continues to spin perfectly around the sun, that the increase of concrete and pavement will not come to a screeching halt someday. Most of us old-fashioned Ozarkians believe that someday a disaster like we have never dreamed of will take the great majority of populations from the earth in all corners. We don’t worry because we figure we will all be gone by then.

       I am not so sure that day is very far away… I know something awful is coming but I don’t know what. I can feel it when I am in the woods or on the river. But it is best to just leave it all in the hands of God and live out the remainder of my years enjoying what he has created. I am grateful to be so far from the herds of people who seem trapped, good people who are subjected to the corruption of modern day government on all levels.

       The best of life is making our existence here on earth beneficial to those few people we can reach and help. “The least of these” as Jesus called them.  In doing that here in the goodness of the Ozarks, we just have to ignore what we see today in our elected leaders, in our judges, in our justice system. Sitting in the woods watching a small stream trickle by and listening to the kingfishers and pileated woodpeckers as leaves fall and squirrels forage for acorns, it is much easier to do that. When you mix with that giant herd of humanity arguing about global warming, it isn’t so easy. I pity those who have no escape from that.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Never Seen it Better




 
October was one of the best fishing months we have had in many years.

         What a strange October… the largest mast crop I have ever seen and the latest fall colors I can remember.  Mast, for those of you who do not know, is a woodland term for a ‘variety of nuts’.  So that means it can be used in place of ‘politicians’.  A little humor there!  At the end of this column I will tell you how you can use acorns as food this time of year.

         As for the fishing… I have to say ‘I ain’t never seen it better’.  On recent float trips on small streams I float often, we have caught bass on topwater lures by the dozens and dozens. It was like they were starved half to death; smallmouth, largemouth and Kentuckies… even white bass.  Trouble is, lately, it has become really hard to fish much of the best water because of the fallen leaves floating everywhere.
 It is almost time to hunt ducks and here we are catching bunches of bass on topwater lures.


         What a great time to be outdoors.  I have seen enough turkeys to know that in my hunting areas, there is no change much in the number of young birds, and those who tell you there is, probably do not take into account the fact that with all the acorns, turkeys do not have to spend as much time in open areas chasing fall grasshoppers. Most of the time, there is a big difference in wildlife numbers according to regions, and when a biologist in this day and time starts talking about a statewide ‘flock’ or ‘herd’, that really sounds goofy.  There is no such thing and never has been.

         I can’t tell you about turkey numbers in North Missouri or Southeast Missouri. Where I hunt, there is no shortage of wild turkeys. But as for tomatoes, they are really scarce. I would say that the statewide herd of tomatoes has dwindled badly due to weather conditions.


         When I was in Canada early in the month, I picked up a copy of Outdoor Life magazine in an old cabin I stayed in one night.  It was about half the size of the ones I read as a boy in the pool hall, tons of advertising, poor reading.

         One writer was telling about the areas where largemouth bass were native, and he completely left out large areas, like southern Canada.  At one time there was nothing but largemouths in the area of Northwest Ontario where I often fish.  They introduced smallmouths from trains crossing that region, dumping them from a big boxcar here and there when they crossed various waters.  Smallmouth there today seem to crowd out largemouth in a hurry when they get a foothold.
 
         But still, you can fly in to some of the small lakes and find only largemouth. There are quite a few six-to-seven-pounders there but I have never seen a bigger one.  The writer, undoubtedly an expert living in some city suburb, wasn’t writing about what he had experienced, and seen.

         I think the same guy wrote that red foxes didn’t exist in the Midwest 200 years ago, but expanded here from New England.  We can probably look forward to that kind of thing from outdoor writers in the future as fewer of them have been there and done that. Writers who wrote for those magazines in the past wrote from experiences and a life spent outdoors, rather than the Internet.  Not so much today. Few of them know foxes or fish.
 
         Imagine what a St. Louis or Kansas City or Little Rock newspaper would do if their best baseball writer wrote that Babe Ruth was a third baseman for the Cubs in the fifties, or that Stan Musial was a switch-hitter.

         There is no canine species so widespread or adaptable as the red fox.  I know the species well and red foxes are fascinating creatures. You might read sometime that only gray foxes can climb trees, red foxes do not.  Ask some old timer who has lived his life outdoors if that is true.  If you have never seen a red fox climb a tree you haven’t been out there enough. He doesn’t like too much, but he can if he needs to, like a squirrel.          Most anything native to the Ozarks that has fur can climb a tree, except those creatures that swim, like beaver and muskrat.  I still have never seen an armadillo in a tree, never once saw a rabbit or deer or coyote in a tree, but at one time or another, about everything else you can imagine, I have seen in the branches of a tree, seeking to escape something else.  However it is true that sometimes you will find something in a tree that absolutely cannot climb one… like a wood duck or a turkey.  A little more humor there!!

         When I was young, I believed almost everything I read about the outdoors.  Now, I believe only what I have seen.  As a writer who concentrates on the outdoors, I always try to never say never or always.  And today’s outdoor writers can get away with about anything they want to write because many an editor or publisher doesn’t know the difference between a crawdad and a crayfish!

         A note from a reader says he thinks that the Missouri Department of Conservation is incapable of putting a dent in the wild pig numbers. I think they know that. But yes, they are indeed right to ask that hunters do not pursue them in areas where they are trying to trap them in big baited pens.  It is best to leave those wild pigs alone, because hunting them keeps them from being as easy to trap.
 
         Unsuspecting wild hogs may be trapped in large numbers and that is what is needed.  If the operations were big enough and covered enough of the Ozarks, we could drastically reduce the numbers of feral hogs.  We need to; the critters do more damage to our woodlands and native wildlife than anything I can think of.

         However, if there are no trapping efforts going on, if I were sitting in my tree stand hunting deer and had a good shot at some feral hogs, I would shoot all the young ones I could, and clean and eat them. It may be that someday no one will want to eat deer because of the Jacob-Kruetzfeldt disease. Hogs don’t have the disease.

         There is one way to eliminate feral hogs, and that is the development of a poison to kill them with as little effect on other species of wildlife.  That is a method no one has wanted to risk yet but it is a possibility.


         Okay, here’s the acorn recipe I often give to those who ask why I am so healthy and good-looking at my advancing age!  Get big, nice white oak acorns (with no worms in them) boil them and pour off the stained water, boil again and again until the boiling water full of acorns stays clear. If you do not boil all the tannin stain out of them, then the whole mix will be bitter. You can take whole boiled acorns and dip them in cinnamon and sugar, or…

         Grind the acorns to a fine meal.  Use one cup of acorn meal, half cup of wheat flour, half cup of cornmeal. Add one teaspoon of salt, one tablespoon of baking soda, then stir or mix until well blended. In another bowl, mix 3 tablespoons salad oil, half cup of honey, 1 egg and one cup of whole milk.  Then mix up both concoctions until it is a big moist batter which you then pour into a pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 or 30 minutes.

         Cut into slices, butter them well and maybe add some molasses or homemade mulberry jelly.  If you don’t have molasses or mulberry jelly then don’t blame me if you don’t like it.  I wouldn’t doubt a bit that some ground walnuts wouldn’t make it even better, but when I lived with the Indians they wouldn’t ever eat walnuts!


Monday, October 31, 2016

Night of the Big Cat






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    An Excerpt from my new book, Little Home on the Piney, the true story of my father’s boyhood.      

       In November of 1938 I was eleven years old and soon to be twelve.  Pop showed me how to set a deadfall, and how to bait them and run up to 40 at a time without forgetting where they were. With deadfalls you would catch lots of possums, and skunks and a weasel now and then. Weasels were small, their pelts about one-third the size of a possum, but they were worth more than a possum or skunk. 

       A skunk was worth more the less white he had on him. Once I caught one that was coal black except for a white spot on his head. Pop was tickled with that. He said it was a pelt that fur-buyers called a ‘star-black’ and worth as much as two dollars.  
    
       For some reason, a skunk killed outright and quick under a deadfall didn’t spray anything and didn’t smell unless you cut the scent bag while you skinned it. I never skinned nothin’ as carefully as I skinned a skunk. Pop taught me to skin everything as I went, and bring the pelts back in a burlap bag.


       I would head out with the bait in another smaller bag, usually a rabbit head or the heads of suckers Pop had gigged. I guess I would cover a couple of miles in a half day, and I would usually return with no bait in the sack, but at times, enough furs that I would have to drag the bag.

       Several wild house-cats were roaming around in the woods on that stretch of the Big Piney, and back up Arthur’s Creek. I would catch one now and then in a deadfall, and furs of those cats, all different colors, were worth a quarter to fifty cents. I wondered if there were ladies out there somewhere wearing fur coats made out of cats and skunks, thinking they had something really valuable. 

       Pop said there was no greater killer in the woods than a wild house-cat. He said a wild house-cat had no inclination to stop killing when it had enough to eat, and it would kill every bird and rabbit and chipmunk it could catch. Pop was so smart about things like that and he was always teaching us what he knew. 

       He had told me too, how big cats like mountain lions could jump on top of a deer and rip through the jugular vein. I wish he hadn’t.

       When it was snowy or cold, Pop saw to it I stayed warm while running deadfalls, with old clothes of his, and boots to go over my shoes. Well, they were sort-of boots. He took burlap sacks and wrapped them around my feet way up above my shoes, then tied with binding twine. I could walk all day long and they never came apart, but after a couple of days I would wear holes in them under my shoe soles.

       I always had matches and carbide along, in case I needed to start a big fire in a hurry. The little handful of carbide needed a small amount of water to make the gas which blazed up high and strong when you lit it. You could pour water on it and the flame just got bigger. Pop taught me to start out with really small twigs and crushed leaves, and even if they were wet, the fire would dry them and they would begin to burn. Then you added bigger twigs and bigger pieces as the fire grew. But of course you had to have enough brains to know where to build it… not out in the open but sheltered a little by a rock outcropping or a big tree that leaned out and made for a little dry spot. 
     
       I got a late start for some reason or another one memorable day, and by mid-afternoon I think I had skinned a young coon and a skunk and three or four possums. Then way up Arthur’s Creek where the high ridges surrounded it on both sides there was a deadfall back up in a small canyon of the creek with a dead possum beneath the rock, and there wasn’t much left to it, just blood and hair. It had been ripped to shreds.

       When you realize how heavy those deadfall rocks are, and how much I strained to lift them when I reset one, you realize that it took something big to get under it and pull that possum out. I looked around, and that’s when I saw it…a distinct track of a big cat, about twice the size of the track of a bobcat. There wasn’t any doubt about what it was, because cats are so much different than a coyote or dog or wolf. The claws are held up in the toes, so they do not show in mud or sand or snow, like the claws of a wolf do. 

       In that deep ravine, where the creek ran north toward the Piney River, it was getting dark quickly and I was better than two miles from the cabin. I shuddered, looking at the blood and hair, and I just left that deadfall as it lay. I threw the bag of furs over my shoulder and I lit out down that rock-strewn creek, leaping from ledge to rock to gravel, traveling faster than I ever had. I could feel him coming, behind me.

       Getting close to where the creek ran into the river, I made a long jump across it and my burlap boots caught on a clinging vine. I plunged headlong into the rock and gravel and shallow water, jamming my elbow and knees and both hands into the creek bed. I stood up and looked at my stinging, bleeding hands, and wet trousers and as I did, I
heard the most horrible scream up on the ridge behind me, something awful and hideous and blood-chillin’-horrible in the gathering darkness. The cat was following me and he wanted me to know it.

       I was gosh-awful scared, the first time I really new what terror was. I thought to myself that I would not likely get much older than I was. He would make me look like that possum soon. I thought of leaving the furs there. But I couldn’t do that. We were so poor, and Pop needed those furs.

       I rounded the mouth of the creek and began to run as hard as I could run, dodging brush and trees, back up through the wooded bottomland.  I was a mile north of my home. I could feel that cat behind me, and as fast as I ran, I knew he was much faster than me. I would never make it! 

       I had my skinning knife, and I figured that before he got me I could sink my knife blade somewhere in that killer. I did some praying like I never did before, as I raced up across the bank into the little clearing. I promised God I would do better at being 12 than I had done whilst I was 11. 

       The praying helped keep my mind off of what it would feel like to get eaten, but I knewI’d soon feel his claws and teeth ripping me apart. In my imagination could hear his rapid footsteps. Truthful, I don’t know if he was ever there, but that night you couldn’t have convinced me he wasn’t.

       Then I could see the lantern light through the windows of the cabin before me, and finally I flung open the door to fall down by the stove, exhausted and bleeding. Mom fussed over me and washed my skinned places and wrapped me in a blanket. 

       Pop told me it took some intestinal fortitude to do what I had done. He had learned that term from one of those western magazines Mom’s folks had brought him.  And he was amazed at the sackful of furs, bragging on me somethin’ awful. I felt proud to have contributed so much. But I wasn’t near as proud as I was happy to be alive, there in our little home on the Big Piney.




Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Six Headed Fish-Eater


                  A drake wood-duck searches for acorns along the creek


 
 

    
Less than a year ago, mark Powell and a couple of men from a Springfield Baptist church brought a group of 27 fatherless boys to the Panther Creek Youth Retreat I have been working on for a year. They spent three days, and together we all built a trail through the creek bottom.      

       It is part of a circular trail still not totally complete, but it runs along the bottom, then up along the wooded ridge=top, and it is a magnificent place to see wildlife of all sorts, and hyuge trees and flowers and birds.

       A day or so ago, I walked it, carrying my over and under .22—20 gauge, which is one heck of a squirrel gun. Early in the hike, I walked upon a fawn that was maybe 6-months old, which I watched for awhile. It had no spots now of course, and I don’t think it would have weighed 60 pounds.

       Just afterward I flushed a woodcock in the bottoms along the creek.  Next to a food plot of clover, bordered by standing millet and milo, there was a big buck and a doe, and I wondered if they might be the fawn’s parents.

       Walking out on a gravel bar, I stopped in my tracks when I saw a drake and a hen woodduck, and I eased backward without spooking them. They were in shallow water eating the acorns. I might add here that I have never in my life seen so many acorns as there are this year, from both the red oaks and white oaks. A big white oak towering above my open porch on Lightnin’ Ridge has dumped so many acorns you cannot see one that is not touching another. The plenty which is afforded to wildlife this year is a blessing. If the winter isn’t really severe, the survival of my quail coveys should be really good, and I will let them and the rabbits go unhunted.

       As I reached the point where the trail leaves the creek and climbs up into the woods along the ridge, I caught sight of a creature swimming in the water below, and figured it was one of the muskrats or beavers I see quite often. But not so, a head poked up out of the water several inches above the surface and there was another right beside it. 
 
       They were young otters, and I estimated that there in that big hole of water, there were three or four. Then they became aware of my presence, and all of a sudden there were six little heads sticking up, peering at me high on the bank. And there I was with my camera back in the cabin. 

       These were young of the year, but very close to being adults, and I am quite sure that the creek is too small to give shelter to fish they search for.

       The stocking of otters a few years ago was done by young biologists who had no idea what was about to happen. It was like spreading seed on fertile ground, and the otters burgeoned into a real problem for those who have private fish ponds. A family of otters can completely wipe out the fish numbers in a good-sized pond, and they have done it in the Ozarks. 
 
       In creeks and rivers today, they are the greatest enemy that bass, catfish and trout ever faced. The reason they are more of a problem now than they were in an earlier time, perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago, is the lack of trappers in the Ozarks today. There was a time when hundreds of trappers went after otters each winter. 
 
       That also was a time when every stream in the Ozarks had twice as much water as they have today, and each stream was much deeper, with rocks and holes in the depths that today are gone, filled with silt and gravel from the erosion of the watershed. Fish cover is nearly gone in smaller streams. Some of those six young otters, and hopefully their mother and father, will be gone by spring if I can remember what my grandfather taught me about a creek-bottom trapline.

       As the sun began to fall lower into the woods, I approache a little ridge-top clearing where the old barn sets, and froze when a group of turkeys stepped out of the woods. I called a little by mouth, and soon they were all around me, maybe fifteen or so of the spring hatch, and I couldn’t see one beard. They got close and an old hen saw me. 

       I stepped out from behind my tree and turkeys went everywhere. For a minute I was undecided as which one to shoot. Then one of them flew up into a tree at perfect range. My twenty-gauge barrel had only one shell… size 7 shot. 
 
       Years back when my granddad was telling me about hunting fall turkeys as a kid with his old Steven’s double barrel, he said that the best shot size for big spring gobblers was size 6, but for young fall turkeys he said there is nothing better than size 7.

       There was the roar of the shotgun and then the thud of the turkey hitting the ground. It was a two-year-old hen. I prefer not to shoot a hen in the fall, but I can tell you that the hatch along Panther Creek this spring was good enough to not worry about it this time.
       

       In our first year, we have had some great success with  this Panther Creek youth project, but I am only halfway finished there at the place we want to use as a new experience for underprivileged youth, a place that can maybe change the lives of some kids. Our sports field isn’t finished yet, nor is our spring-fed trout pond. I do have a shooting range started, but we need an automated trap thrower, just in case someone out there has one they will sell.

       This coming Saturday, the 22nd, we will have our Panther Creek fish fry for those who want to see the place. You won’t believe the natural beauty that is there. Come prepared to explore. It is a free event, but don’t come without notifying us, because we have to know how many fish to thaw out a day before.

       Our only difficulty is a neighbor to the west that I believe is the most evil-hearted man I ever heard of. He has tried to extort money from us, has torn down our west boundary fence, made a false charge of theft against me, and accuses us publicly of advertising the cabins for rent and making money from them. 
 
       I will put my hand on the Bible and swear before God that those cabins have never been so advertised, nor have any of the dozens of kids and guests staying there ever been charged a penny. 
 
       I have a list of names of all who have come here, and all can readily confirm they were never charged. This man seems determined to destroy what we want to do, and he gains nothing by doing it.  His last threat was to burn or bulldoze a 12-year old cabin, of which he thinks a few feet of one corner sets partially on his land. 
 
       Somewhere in the Bible it talks about running into this kind of thing when you want to do something good. But I know this, that man will be of no consequence if God really wants this retreat for youngsters to change the lives of a few or many.  He will make it work in time. I have never been patient enough to give God enough time. I always did think He should do things faster.

       Call us if you want to come to our fish fry, and we will send you a map to get there. Phone 417-777- 5227. Or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net