Thursday, August 18, 2016

Only Two and a Half Million





         I thought about this letter years ago, to Bass Pro Shop's owner, Johnny Morris.  But knew if I sent it, the letter would be tossed in a waste can in the Bass Pro Shop's office and never read.  I believe by including it in whatever newspapers will print it, there may be a chance that someone will listen, and some things can finally be done in the Ozarks that are badly needed.


         Dear Mr. Morris…   Not long ago it was reported on a local television station that you have become one of the richest men in our country, and I saw the big pyramid version of Bass Pro Shop in Tennessee which some say cost a billion dollars. Quite a place.

         Remember the 2.5 million dollars the Missouri Department of Conservation gave you a few years ago.  It looked a little fishy at the time because right after he helped you get that gift, the MDC director who orchestrated it went to work for your company.  I always wondered how your company kept the news media from writing or broadcasting one word of that!

         I think it is time you return that money to the common folks of Missouri from whom the Missouri Department of Conservation draws tax and license money…  the hunters and fishermen of our state who are not the elite people you hunt and fish with, but folks who live week to week with a paycheck that may not allow them to do as much hunting and fishing and enjoying of the outdoors as they would like. 

         As for how the two and a half million might be best used for all citizens, I have a couple of proposals for you that I hope you will at least consider.  With this letter I am enclosing two of my columns. One talks about the constant decline of our rivers. 

         We can do some repair and preservation, and do so much with landowners along the stream, but no one will do it.  The MDC, operating on 200 million or so each year, doesn’t have the money to work with landowners to get cattle out of the river or repair badly eroded banks. They need to put their money into things that help the little people of our state, like stocking elk and arranging out of state trips on their airplanes for commissioners.

         With your 2.5 million, I can get miles and miles of the Niangua, the Pomme De Terre and other streams, repaired so that the eddies stop filling in, and in turn create new fish habitat and spawning water.

         And with only a small part of that two and a half million bucks we all gave you, I think I could set up some of the greatest quail and pheasant hunting anyone could find, on public ground around Truman Lake, where thousands of acres now sitting in cockleburs, pretty much devoid of the covey’s that once were found there, could likely host thousands of hunters year.

         Please see my recent article about a place called Ozark Wings, owned by an ex-state senator by the name of Chuck Purgason.  His operation on only a thousand acres is actually restocking breeding coveys of quail and providing hunting of game birds which duplicate the hunting of wild birds.  And you know what, it doesn’t take millions of dollars!  It only involves three employees!!  Isn’t that remarkable? And it gives common low-income sportsmen a place to hunt.  Anyone can afford it.  Even those who don’t hunt could enjoy it, for hiking, photography and enjoying nature.  Such a place would increase songbirds and other wild birds by ten times.

         If we could figure out a way for the MDC to make money out of such a place on Truman, by selling some inflated quail and pheasant permits, I think they’d be interested.

         It is hard for them to afford such a thing without your help, what with their important projects like building private waterfowl marshes for a group of lawyers on the Sac River, or working for days and days to remove wild hogs from land you own via helicopter, like they did a year or so back.

         I understand how important it is for you to build the best golf course in the world, and I know that you do not often meet with common folks like me, but how about it, couldn’t you set aside a day to let me show you how much that two and a half million could do for these two projects and other conservation projects in our state. 

         I am sure that two and a half million dollars is a drop in the bucket for you, and the projects could some day bear your name, or maybe the name of that MDC director who helped you get the money and then went to work for you.  I am sure he’d like that.

         Mr. Morris, as satirical as this letter may sound, I am serious as a heart attack.  You and I could make so many good things happen with amounts that pale in comparison to the cost of your Tennessee pyramid or the Ozark golf course.  And I will do it for nothing… I don’t want a cent for my time, from anyone.

          Would you please meet with me and let me show you what conservation really is and some marvelous things we could do.  It will take only one day…just one.

         I envision the time some day when you could buy some of the big timber on our public MDC managed land so they could stop butchering those lands to make more money, contracting private loggers. Wouldn’t it be great if a hundred years from now folks could enjoy some of those big forestlands?           Wouldn’t it be great if we could leave some big timber standing for the people of Missouri to enjoy?  The way things are now, it won’t happen.  The Missouri Department of ‘Conservation’ (notice that word conservation in their name) will take them all in time for the dollars it makes them…  They look at those trees and speak in terms of “billions of board feet of lumber.”

         There are great things you can do with those millions we all gave you for that museum, and I want to show you that.  Isn’t it ironic that so many Missourians who made it possible to give you that two and a half million dollars have to pay the exact same amount to visit your museum as someone from New York or California?

         I appreciate you reading this letter. Please just give me one day to take you out and show you what can be done for common ordinary people in the name of conservation.

Respectfully, Larry Dablemont

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Wild Wings



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    He wears an old straw hat and a white T-shirt that probably is only clean for a short time every morning.  He has a full white beard and tanned skin and you wouldn’t believe what he has done.  I think the man is a miracle worker!

       Chuck Purgason raises game birds by the thousands near Caulfield Missouri, not too far north of  Norfork Lake.  On his eleven hundred acres of crops and prime wildlife habitat, twenty-five hundred hunting parties killed 18,000  quail, 8,000 pheasants and 5,000 chukars last fall and winter.

       Everywhere you look around his home, there are quail and pheasants.  The air is constantly pierced by the sharp clear whistle of bobwhite roosters. It looks like an operation that would take twenty workers.

       “No,” Purgason says, “I have my son and one other employee here, and my wife who takes care of the books and accounting records.  But in the hunting season there are four or five guides who I hire on a contract basis to take hunters out.”

       If you think the birds are his only responsibility, think again.  He also owns and trains eighteen or twenty bird dogs, some of the best you can find. Every upland bird biologist in Arkansas and Missouri needs to spend time with Purgason and listen to him.

       “I had a biologist tell me not long ago that he feels wild quail are adversely affected by released, pen-raised birds,” he said.  “I told him the reason people buy them to release and hunt is because there are no wild quail there anymore.”

       In the wild quail eggs are eaten by raccoons and skunks and armadillos and even possums.  Small rodents and snakes get a few eggs too.  Those furbearing scroungers are at high numbers all across the Ozarks.  Purgason says that adult quail are hurt by smaller hawks, particularly sharp-shinned and coopers hawks, and at night by owls. He said that red-tailed hawks, which are deadly on rabbits, likely aren’t a big problem for quail or pheasant on his place.

       Purgason says that cats, mostly feral cats, are the biggest threat to released adult quail after the sharp-shinned hawks.  He also says that fur trapping which controlled raccoon and skunk numbers was much of the reason that quail did so well, decades ago.  No one traps anymore.  Coons and skunks are thick as beer cans in the ditch. In one month this spring, Purgason trapped 28 raccoons around his place as his quail began to lay eggs.

       The main reason I visited him was to inquire about something I have wondered about for many, many years.  Truman Lake in the south-central part of Missouri, is surrounded by more than 100 thousand acres of land acquired by the Corps of Engineers.  The lower part of the lake is mostly timbered, but the upper part consists of thousands of acres of fields and old fencerows, hunting land increasingly taken over by vast expanses of cockleburs.

       It is supposedly “managed” by the Missouri Department of Conservation, but there isn’t any “management” to it.  They just lease chunks of it, with the best soil, to farmers who plant and harvest crops and make good money doing it, of which they give the MDC a percentage.

       When John Hoskins became director, perhaps ten years back, I took him out on Truman Lake in my boat and showed him a spot where we had flushed five coveys of quail before my English setter in one afternoon in the early nineties. 

       I told him that on that day there were no coveys left… not one.  Then I asked him if the MDC would forget the tenant farming of large acreages, which left barren ground in the winter, and start doing what people like Chuck Purgason was doing… SMALL tracts of food plots for quail, with nesting and escape cover in between.

       I also pointed out that with the tons of heavy equipment and farming equipment the MDC owns, some fantastic small marshes for waterfowl and other migrating birds could replace the desert of cockleburs along the lake. Operating at the time on about 180 million dollars, Hoskins said there just “wasn’t enough money” to do things like that.
       There was of course enough to give Bass Pro Shops owner Johnny Morris, perhaps the richest man in Missouri, two and one-half million dollars for his museum.
And there was enough to spend hundreds of thousands on restocking a handful of elk down at the Peck Ranch.

       I asked Chuck Purgason; what if the Corps of Engineers would let him have a thousand acres to manage on Truman Lake like he is managing his own land, as a place to release and hunt upland birds.  It would be a hunting paradise not for elite wealthy hunters, but for common old-fashioned bird hunters living on a weekly paycheck, to bring their youngsters, who have never seen a covey rise, nor heard the cackle of a rooster pheasant.

        Purgason wasted no time answering that his place could be replicated easily on such a large tract of public land. He said game farm like his would need only 20 acres, placed on private land adjacent to that public owned Corps land which is already open to any type of hunting or trapping!

       I ask--- why would the Conservation Department, which has no idea how to bring back quail anywhere, not look at this idea.  Chuck says that one of the reasons is a basic misunderstanding by the department biologists of what has happened with wild quail and a disdain for people like him who do what they do.  They have been told how to think and they follow old lines without looking at anything outside of what they have been trained to believe.

       “At the beginning of spring, we have some wild coveys nesting and reproducing which are descendants of birds I raised,” Purgason said. “And if they don’t believe it they can come here before we start to hunt and see those coveys out there in the field.” 

       The reason for that could be that Purgason’s release of twenty thousand quail insures some survival into spring even if the percentage is small.  In the past, this kind of restocking has been attempted with only small numbers of birds.

       Chuck laughs about an article in a recent the Missouri Conservationist magazine about a place they are calling ‘The Cover Wildlife Management Area’ where they are ‘bringing back’ the bobwhite quail.

       “My son Cory went along and his picture is in the magazine article, with one of our dogs.  He says they found one bunch of quail at this place all afternoon and there were only six or eight birds in it, too wild to hold for a shot,” Purgason says with a smile. 

       “Cory came home and took some of our birds there to release that day so that they could get the pictures wanted,” he says.  “They never said a thing about that in the article.” 

       I cannot for the life of me figure out why this idea of making the upper reaches of Truman an upland bird hunting area like Purgason has is so objectionable to our conservation department.  I know the Corps of Engineers would go along with the idea, so there’s a possibility the MDC could be by-passed if they do not want to help. 

       Why can’t they send a group down to talk with Purgason and study what he is doing, and maybe just try it once as an experiment?  It is not rocket science, even if it is above many modern day quail biologists.  I could do this myself if given the opportunity.  What a great thing it would be for young hunters to see upland-bird hunting as it once was.

       The idea of “habitat means everything” is fine, but it doesn’t work for upland birds in the Midwest without knowing that large scale farming now practiced on our MDC land is not about producing habitat, it is about producing money.  Biologists must accept controlling today’s predation, and know how to create “edge and interspersion”.  That means making the RIGHT HABITAT-- which is the mixing of adequate winter food and escape cover and spring nesting cover.  If you want to see for yourself what could be done, go see Chuck Purgason’s  Ozark Wings project.

       I sent a hunter there last year and he came back praising what he saw there.  “It was like the old days,” he said.  “You would swear you were hunting wild quail.”

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Where the Status Quo Won’t Work


 This photo was taken in 1975 on the Big Piney.  The eddy below this senseless raping of the watershed was about 8 feet deep then.  Today it is less than half that.


  
         In Arkansas just the other day I talked to a friend of mine who is a bass-fishing nut, and all around outdoorsman.  Larry Davenport runs the Buffalo Point Restaurant high above the Buffalo River.  He grew up there. We got around to talking about Crooked Creek which flows from the Ozark Mountains south of Harrison into the White River southeast of Yellville.

         I first saw that smallmouth fishing paradise in 1972, after hearing so much about it from Uncle Norten, who began guiding fishermen there in the 1950’s.   It was everything he said it was, eddies deep and clear; the shoals rough and tumble waters where smallmouth fed. 

         Back then, I floated all the Arkansas rivers, the Buffalo, Kings, War Eagle, Illinois, Eleven Point and many more.  Uncle Norten and I guided folks on some of them during from the late seventies until 1990.   But I will tell you right now, as great and as unique as each of them were, Crooked Creek, not spectacular in terms of bluffs or scenic grandeur, beat them all as a ‘big smallmouth’ stream.

         Today it still has smallmouth, but it is a shell of the river I remember, because it has been so badly filled in with sand and gravel, and subject to unchecked pollution in the eighties and nineties.  A chemical spill there from train derailment right above the water devastated the lower portion about 40 years ago.

         Davenport thinks many of the once-deep eddies could be like they once were if the gravel could be removed.  Unrestricted gravel dredging operations back some time ago surely made the filling-in problem a major one, but it isn’t the only reason Crooked Creeks eddies often went from 10 feet deep to 3 feet deep. 

         The clearing of trees and brush along small tributaries and the river itself contributed mightily.  You cannot turn a timbered bottomland watershed into bulldozed and barren flat without having tremendous erosion over the years. That’s exactly what has happened.  Much of the silt and gravel came from places where there were never any gravel operations. 

         And for that reason, Davenport is exactly right, if you could bring in a big dredge line of some sort and take the gravel and sand and silt out of 10 or 12 big holes you would see those eddies support some big bass again and lots more of all kinds of aquatic life… but in time they would fill back in from the massive flooding Crooked Creek sees quite often.

         The Ozark watershed of a hundred years ago was a sponge that soaked up heavy rains, because of the timber. Layers of leaves made a soft forest floor that slowed and held water.  Today the Ozarks, almost all of it, is a brick.  Hard cattle-trod fields sit on slopes, and there is increasing pavement and concrete likely covering ten times what we had in 1970.  And that’s why stopping the gravel companies from reeking havoc along the stream didn’t stop the degradation of that unbelievable river.

         But what Larry Davenport theorizes, ought to be tried, not only on Crooked Creek but many other rivers.  While Tyson’s chicken operations have fouled Arkansas’ Illinois, Kings and War Eagle, there are other rivers where it could be attempted.  The Big Piney and the Niangua in Missouri, the Eleven Point in Arkansas.  The removal of fill-in gravel and silt ought to be tried as an experiment.  What could it hurt now?

         My close friend Dennis Whiteside was floating rivers with me in an old johnboat when we were college kids, only 18 years old. He grew up on the Current River and he knows the streams and smallmouth bass like no man I ever knew except my Uncle Norten.  That’s because he is doing exactly what Norten did, guiding folks year round, who want to fish or otherwise see the rivers before they are ruined forever.  As many streams as I have floated, Dennis has floated twice as many, and he can tell you all about them… dozens and dozens of creeks and rivers from tributaries of the Arkansas River to tributaries of the Missouri.

         “Tell me something the Ozarks has that is of greater value than it’s rivers,” he says.  “Men can make almost anything, but not a river.” 

         When you set somewhere and see a bluff towering up above a stretch of flowing, tumbling water where a big smallmouth and a half dozen rock bass may lurk, when you see and hear kingfishers in a majestic white sycamore, where a mink plays along it’s roots, what can we boast of here in these hills that is better? Why aren’t we doing everything we can do to stop the abuse that is killing them?

         Dennis and another long time friend who floats rivers all over the nation went to a meeting about smallmouth held by Missouri Department of Conservation biologists last year.  They came back very despondent.

         “They have no clue!” Dennis said, “They want to base everything on some study they had on a few miles of one stream.  They just haven’t ‘been there’ and ‘done that’.”

         Dennis points out that in the course of a year, if he and I concentrate on a few good holes of water in a small to medium stream like Crooked Creek, we could catch and keep every smallmouth above 14 inches.  NOT MOST--ALL!
People like us who are dedicated to rivers and smallmouth have the answer biologists won’t even consider…  keep no smallmouth ever, from any stream, that exceed 13 inches, and a limit of two.          

         If you just have to have fish to eat, keep green sunfish, catfish, largemouth and Kentucky bass, but keep no smallmouth above 13-inches and no rock bass at all.
A smallmouth bass from an Ozark river is poor eating.  The flavor doesn’t compare to other fish and most have yellow grubs in the meat.  If you take out someone from the city who hasn’t caught many fish, he might clean and fry a smallmouth filet.  But show him those yellow grubs, which are sometimes a dozen or more per 6-inch filet, and he will likely decide he doesn’t want it.

         Another solution is seeing the Conservation Department work with cattlemen to keep cattle out of the river and to stop the worst of the bank erosion with rip rap and willows, and a buffer strip of native grasses and planted trees.

         A federal program helps landowners along the river practice these conservation measures by paying for the planting, fencing and drilled wells to water stock.  The catch is, the Soil Conservation Service must wait until it is all finished to reimburse the landowner and most landowners can’t afford the initial expense.

         If the Conservation Departments in Missouri and Arkansas paid for it all up front, many landowners would try this, and the Departments would only be out that money for a short time before the SCS reimburses them.  Missouri’s Department of Conservation has nearly 200 million a year to work with and vast amounts of that money which all Missourians pay them in licenses and taxes is wasted, much of it spent for almost nothing. Recently they paid a retiring employee who was a close friend of the director 145,000 dollars to write a book about rivers.  It will never be written.  You could take that wasted money and repair miles of river somewhere where it is most needed.

         A neighbor of mine, Jim Hacker, has used this program to do preserve a mile or so of river along the Pomme de Terre. On that river, cattleman David Cribbs saw a place along his land where the river was eroding barren bank several feet a year, so he used discarded concrete slabs and huge chunks of cement to stop it.  Now you can scarcely see the concrete, as willows and other plants have hidden it, and the riverbank is stable in the worst of floods.

         To see the best of this, go look at the once-terribly eroded banks above the big new bridge at Galena on the James River and see what was done to stop it cold. Oh yes, it can be done! Saving our rivers is possible, but we need to want to do it.

         Whiteside was right, the Ozarks has nothing compared to our rivers, and in a matter of years our over-used, over-fished, much neglected streams will be nothing to boast about.  Changing what is coming to them will take some money… but they are worth it.

         If you want to learn more about Ozark streams, I would encourage you to read my book, “Rivers to Run—Swift water, Sycamores and Smallmouth Bass”.  To find out how to get a copy, call my office, 417-777-5227 or email lightninridge@windstream.net


This photo was taken in 1975 on the Big Piney.  The eddy below this senseless raping of the watershed was about 8 feet deep then.  Today it is less than half that.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why Everyone Ought to Hunt Squirrels in the Summer


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This boy, who loved squirrel hunting is a grown man today, and said to be very honest and cheerful and trustworthy.  More proof of the value of hunting squirrels.

       Just outside my screened porch, there are white oaks well over 200 years old, and they are loaded with acorns.  Just after dawn this morning I sat there watching pieces of acorn rain down from high limbs as a grey squirrel ate his breakfast.  Those white oak acorns bode well for a wide variety of wild creatures this fall and winter.

       A few yards away there’s a hickory tree also loaded with nuts, and I’ll bet the squirrels get on them within a couple of weeks or so.  Usually they are cutting the hickory nuts up here on this high wooded ridge-top by early August.  Hickories are important to squirrels because the hard hulls help wear down their teeth. Like other rodents, their teeth constantly grow, and have to be worn off on the ends because of it.

       If you were an Ozark country kid back in the good ol’ days you likely hunted squirrels.  I have found that anyone above the age of fifty can be judged by whether they hunted squirrels or not when they were kids.  The men who didn’t may not have good character, prone to be grumpy and ornery, maybe even mean to their dog. 

       Those men who hunted squirrels as a boy are men to be trusted, and you’ll find them to be happy and generous to a fault… a lot like me!  I think it was squirrel hunting that made me what I am today.  If, when you were young, you had a good squirrel dog, you are likely a successful and happy and avoid politics and politicians altogether.

       Studies done at the University of Missouri when I was there trying to get my wildlife management degree clearly show that the best of our presidents, including Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman and Reagan, all hunted squirrels as boys and were honest to a fault.  Can you imagine any of those men coming home and telling their folks that some hunter on a nearby ridge had shot at them and caused them to duck and run for cover that very afternoon? 


       Truthfulness!  That’s the mark of an old time squirrel hunter and that’s one reason why this column is so honest.  Honestly, there are a bunch of walnuts up here loading the walnut trees on Lightnin’ Ridge, enough so that I will most likely be able to load up fourteen or fifteen dollars worth of them in the back of my old pickup in just one afternoon if I can get Gloria Jean to help me. 

       Gloria Jean certainly did NOT hunt squirrels when she was young.  She lacks the ability to understand why a pick-up load of walnuts is worth the work.  But that pick-up load of walnuts, hauled over to Hammons Walnut factory in Stockton, will buy me a box of three-inch magnum, twelve gauge, number three, Winchester steel-shot duck loads.  If I convert that box of shells into four or five big old greenhead mallards in December, that means that the walnuts wind up providing two really good suppers, that don’t cost a dime. 

       Only four or five mallards is a worse-case scenario.  I have been known to kill 20 or so mallards with one box of shells, all flying, or just about to fly.  My grandpa insisted that we did not shoot sitting ducks when I was a kid.  He said to always shoot them when they were “about to fly”.  That way they all had their heads up and you didn’t waste as much shot.  If grandpa could have sold walnuts back then like I can now, he probably could have eaten ducks every day of the week for two or three months on just one pick-up load.

       But duck season is a long way off, and so is walnut picking weather.  There will be a lot of them this year because if you have noticed, squirrels will not touch a walnut with a green hull. That should be easily understood; just taste a green walnut hull sometime!  Green walnut hulls can be used to stain a white t-shirt so dark you can wear it when you squirrel hunt.  In fact, back before we had Mossy Oak and all those different kinds of camouflaged shirts you can now buy at a sporting goods store for two pick-up loads of walnuts, old-timers I knew used walnut hulls to permanently dye their hunting shirts, which is what each shirt became after it was too worn to wear to church. 

       And there’s something else you can do with walnut hulls.  You can take a washtub down to the crick and fill it with fresh water, then throw mashed up walnut hulls in a little eddy and watch sunfish and minnows of all kind come to the surface.  Walnut hulls make it impossible to breathe underwater!  If you grab them quick and put them in the fresh water tub they will recover and you can use them for late summer trotline bait. But if there is a bass or two in that little hole you dump hulls in, you had better get him upstream quickly or he will die.  So will frogs and crawdads. This would not work now on the creeks I knew as a boy because most of them have dried up.

       But back to squirrel hunting.  If you are a kid reading this and you want to amount to something when you grow up, you might want to hunt some squirrels now before you outgrow the urge to eat fried squirrel or try squirrel and dumplings.  Getting old enough to afford ham and beans will do that to you. 

       Well into the early fall, you can go out in the woods early in the morning and find squirrels with your ears.  Just listen for the sound of squirrel teeth gnawing away on a hickory nut.  This is something you kids can hear a hundred yards away if you haven’t started hunting ducks yet and firing off those high-powered duck shells.  Remember too that after you get a car and put in those big loud speakers and play that awful stuff kids today call music, you aren’t going to be able to hear a squirrel twenty yards away if he is sitting on a limb blowing a moose call!

       So hunt squirrels before you get a drivers license, and the effect of it will be to make you a better man.  One of the reasons for this I think is the fact that a kid in the woods alone talks to God.  I did.  I remember asking God to help me get a limit of squirrels, just once, or to help me find my way back home, or to please keep anyone from stealing my bicycle where I had parked it off some gravel road next to the squirrel woods.  I asked him to help me get a girlfriend and to help me win the snooker tournament. 

       Little by little we got to talking about some more serious things and I got the idea that I was talking to someone real, that knew all about me.  If it hadn’t been for those years as a boy in a johnboat on the river all alone, or hunting squirrels all alone I don’t know that God and I would have ever had a really serious conversation just between the two of us and I might have ended up being so honest.  I might have become a lawyer, or maybe a politician.  Come to think of it, most all politicians started out as lawyers.  You can find parallels to that in the wild, like a skunk and a polecat here in the Ozarks… they are the same thing.

       I hope I have influenced some young country boys with all this.  The message is, hunt squirrels in the hickories late this summer, talk to God a little while you are out there and listen.  Listen for Him to talk to you.  At the very least you will hear squirrels chewing on hickory nut hulls.  As a result, you’ll tend to be honest as you grow older and therefore the chances of you becoming a lawyer is very, very slim.

      

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Tale of Two Outdoorsmen













Robert Murders hunting turkeys many years ago.





























  Robert Murders fixes some breakfast on my camp-boat before dawn, 
                   on a Truman Lake turkey hunt.



         Born in the Ozarks of Southern Missouri, I moved to the Ozarks of Arkansas in 1970.   In 1990 I moved back to the Missouri Ozarks.  That first spring I was exploring new country, hunting wild turkeys, when I walked upon a young hunter sitting against a tree.

         I felt bad about interrupting his hunting but I am glad that chance encounter took place. That young man was one of the best outdoorsmen I have ever met, and he became a good friend of mine.  We got to hunting and fishing together and he worked with me helping me get my new place together up here on this high ridge and most recently at our youth retreat up north on Panther Creek.  I introduced him to duck hunting, and he couldn’t get enough of it.  I never met anyone who loved the outdoors more.

         I recall one cold December day when we set out duck decoys in the back of a deep lake cove. My young friend sat there hunting ducks while I walked back into the woods to hunt deer with a muzzle-loader.  While there, I watched four or five Canada geese wing over me at tree-top level, easy shots if I had brought a shotgun.  My hunting partner had a better story.  Sitting there on a log watching for ducks, he heard a buck grunting, and turned to watch two bucks cross the draw behind him in easy muzzle-loader range.

         About 18 years ago, my friend Robert and his wife had a little boy.  They named him after Roberts father, whom everyone called JD.  I laughed when I watched Robert haul that little boy around in a special backpack he had made for him, out in the woods.  I loaned him a boat back when JD got to be 10 or 11 years old and father and son would float the river.  Robert was always teaching him.  When JD turned 16 years old he loved duck hunting more than any kid I have ever seen, and he borrowed some goose decoys from me on occasion.

         I am going to tell the remarkable story of his father, Robert Murders, someday in one of my magazines.  I didn’t know what a great story his life was until one day when he and I were driving back from Bull Shoals and there was time to ask a lot of questions and hear it all.  Robert was an Oklahoma athlete, and he played football at his high school, where he led all running backs in the entire state in yardage gained back when he was a senior. 

         He did that in spite of the fact that he had been shot in the stomach by a school mate while hunting squirrels when he was about 13 years old, and it took years to completely recover.  Robert loved baseball, and had a chance to sign as a catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies until at the age of 19 he lost his parents.  Robert put his family’s welfare above his own, and quit college, where he had an athletic scholarship. He returned home to care for younger siblings.

         His son, JD had one heck of a baseball coach in his father.  The kid was quiet and respectful and worked hard.  I remember when he came over and worked for me to make money to buy baseball cleats.  Wish I could have hired him full-time.  JD, the youngster who loved to hunt ducks when the baseball season is over, was offered a full scholarship to play shortstop for Texas Tech University in Lubbock, one of the powerhouse college teams.  Can you imagine how proud his parents were?

         But the plans got side-tracked.  JD was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and now is playing professional baseball in Florida.  He did so in part because the Cardinals promise to put young signees through four years of college when they want to leave baseball.




         This winter, JD and Robert will surely get to hunt ducks again and I hope they’ll take me with ‘em.  Roberts duck dog is a litter-mate of my Chocolate Labrador, Lightnin’ Ridge Bolt.   Will JD be playing someday in St. Louis?  Beats me, I don’t know much about baseball.  I’d not bet against that kid, because I know his dad.   The story of JD Murders is well known around here, and will be told often if he makes it to the big time. But someday, when he will let me, I am going to tell Robert Murders extraordinary life story in one of my magazines and folks will get to know all about a remarkable athlete and outdoorsman.

  
         I have another outdoorsman friend here who has decided to run for State Representative.  Rick Vance and his brother Ron grew up hunting and fishing in the Current River country because their dad, Danny Vance, was a Baptist minister there. 

          Danny and I became good friends long ago because he took it upon himself to help our family when we first arrived back in Missouri.  I never knew a better man.  He loved the outdoors and we did a lot of fishing together.  On occasion we would take six or eight men from his church out night-fishing on my big pontoon boat.  Danny’s son Ron and Ron’s wife Laura became doctors and they work today with my eldest daughter who is also a doctor, at a family doctors clinic here.

         Rick, who was big and athletic, became a conservation agent.  In a few years, he resigned, for various reasons. But it was mainly because he was asked to lie by a supervisor who was actually violating the department’s policy.  He felt that as a Christian, he could not do what the MDC wanted agents to do. 

         I don’t know a lot about politics, but I know that Rick Vance is an honest man.  That probably eliminates him as someone who can work very long in our state legislature.  Besides that, he is an accomplished outdoorsman and I suspect working in Jefferson City will take away too much time from the things he loves most. 

         Still, I will vote for him because I know he is honest, and in the world of politics, few men even start that way.  And I ask myself, how many of those soft and greedy, large-bellied politicians, can set a trotline, or know how to catch a walleye or call in a wild turkey.  Good luck Rick, and if you win, please stay honest.  And spread the word about what you saw as you worked all those years for the Conservation Department.  This state needs to know the truth about them.


          Remember the article I wrote a few weeks ago about the nature center at Joplin, asking for donations from visitors to fix a trail made out of asphalt.  This is one of the Missouri Conservation Department’s partnership projects.  They want to spend fifty thousand on repairing that little trail. Supposedly wanting to pave it again.  Why would anyone want to pave a nature trail?  I still say I can take a crew of men who need the work, and do the job and make a much more natural trail for a fraction of that cost. 

         I built nature trails for years in Arkansas’ state parks when I was a naturalist there. Wouldn’t you think the MDC would take me up on that?  Less money, no pavement.   Look what happens to asphalt when the floods come!  When they spend the fifty grand to repave it, it will in time happen again.  It is just a matter of common sense that it doesn’t take fifty thousand dollars to rebuild an existing trail.  It will be interesting to see who gets that contract.  Some company is fixing to make some big money.



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Young Visitors To Panther Creek Youth Retreat




Kids from Bethel Church in Pittsburg, MO spend a few days
at our Panther Creek youth retreat. Although they enjoyed the entire experience, it was hard to keep them out of the water.

If anyone knows of a group of young people interested in using the facilities...lodge, cabins, kayaks etc...at Panther Creek Youth Retreat, Free of charge, contact us at 417-777-5227.  We have accommodated up to 20 youth and 5 adults comfortably with room to spare.



Bonfire, hotdog roast with s'mores on Creek gravel bar










Kayaking on Panther Creek



 View of the 1890s Iron Bridge from the creek below

                                                             


















Meals at the lodge



























       The girls meet in the lodge for discussion and Bible lesson 
If anyone knows of a group of young people interested in using the facilities...lodge, cabins, kayaks etc...at Panther Creek Youth Retreat, Free of charge, have them contact us at 417-777-5227.  We have accommodated up to 20 youth and 5 adults comfortably with room to spare.