Monday, March 19, 2018

You Have a Right to Know


         I am looking forward to our outdoorsman’s swap meet this coming Saturday, and hope to meet and talk with many of the readers of this column. If you want to get more information about it, call my office number at the end of this column.

         It is disappointing to write a column about what is going on today with the Missouri Department of Conservation and know that there are newspapers who refuse to print it because they do not allow any criticism of that agency.  What I wrote a couple of weeks ago is true and beyond dispute, about what amounts to questionable activity on the part of department agents, but in some newspapers today, it cannot be printed, usually because only one person disapproves of it.

        On April 13 I will spend most of a day with the Director of the Conservation Department, and it is likely that what I write about that day will not be published by some of the 45 or 50 newspapers who receive my column weekly.  But what we talk about and agree to will be in our summer Lightnin’ Ridge outdoor magazine and on this blogspot.
         The public has a right to know what an agent can and cannot do when it comes to entering a home and taking your possessions. And fishermen need to know what they need to do to escape citations and fines for technical violations.  For example, a lady from Long Lane, MO called me last spring to tell me that she and her husband were coming back from a crappie fishing trip to Pomme De Terre Lake, when a pair of game wardens pulled them over. One took her to the front of the pickup and began to interrogate her, as if she might be Bonnie Parker herself.

         The other one hauled her husband back to the boat and demanded that he open the live well so the crappie therein could be counted. There were seven. Obviously neither had caught their limit. But the agents smelled the possibility off a technicality citation, so they demanded that both fishermen tell them exactly how many that had each caught. The wife, who was mad as a hornet, said she didn’t know how many were in the live well and didn’t care, because she hadn’t caught any. The game warden started giving them both the third degree because two crappie fishermen have to always keep their fish separate until they get them home.

         So that is something to remember, Missouri’s conservation agents, maybe the same in Arkansas and Kansas and Oklahoma, in an attempt to find away to fine fishermen who have done nothing wrong, travel in pairs and will often do just what they did to that lady and her husband. They will give you a ticket in a minute if you cannot identify the fish you personally have caught. If you have only six or eight crappie in your live well, you can be forced to pay a fine IF YOU CAN’T IDENTIFY WHAT YOU HAVE CAUGHT. It is the same with white bass, black bass, walleye, etc.

         Since few fishermen keep their fish separated, and since all fish are often kept in one live well, the answer is a pair of small scissors or clippers you can use to clip the top or the bottom of the tail fin to mark you fish, sort of like the old time hill people did to separate mark the ears on free-ranging hogs. Then you crappies are easy to tell, because they are marked. Fishing partner Joe can clip the bottom of the tail fin on his crappie, and Bob can leave his unmarked.

         Then when the game wardens pull you over and digs into your cooler or live well, they can’t fine you because there is no question what each of you caught. Just be sure that no fish fall beneath the length limit. If any game wardens insist your fish is too short, lay that fish beside a ruler and take a picture before he takes it.  If he refuses to let you do that, he is violating your rights.
         Have a witness! In southern Missouri, I have seen crappie fishermen pay fines because the conservation agent insisted that a ten-inch crappie is only 9 ¾ of an inch. In courts, you cannot prove he is lying unless you have a photo. And they do lie on occasion. The MDC paid a million dollars out in a lawsuit only a few years ago because several of their agents were proven to have lied. A retired agent has also told me that he objected to being told by a supervisor to lie in order to convict someone. So do everything you can to be unquestionably legal, and to do that you have to know what the fishing regulations are, totally and completely.

         There is so much to know. Don’t be caught with a walleye after a certain time in many of the streams in the evening in the spring, even if you caught it at noon.  Know all length limits too!  For instance if you are fishing in the river above Stockton or Truman or Bull Shoals, the nine-inch crappie you catch is legal. But if you run down into the lake to load your boat, those shorter fishing are perhaps illegal. It isn’t so much where you catch them, but where you take them. And remember that length limits in different waters are not the same.

         One of the advertisers in my magazine told me that this past winter he went to fish for trout on Lake Taneycomo and was checked at a boat dock by two Missouri Conservation Agents who said they had come down from Stockton Lake area. “When they got ready to leave the dock,” he said, “one commented to the other… ‘Lets get out there and find us some victims’!

         The young man became very angry and he said he told them as much saying, “Those victims you are after are the people who support your agency and pay your salary.”

         More of us need to speak up against this type of attitude. Many of the state’s ‘game wardens’ operate this way, looking for any little technicality they can use to write a citation to fishermen who have no intention of breaking any law.

         Remember that and don’t allow yourself to be another of their “victims”. 

Contact me at P.O. Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. or email me at  The office phone number is 417 777 5227.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

One More Free Swap Meet


      I think that our first Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s swap meet took place about ten years ago.   But whenever it was, a woman about 80 years old decided that her husband’s fishing gear might make her some money so she brought a bunch of it to the swap meet and sold it all.  Some of the lures that she priced at 3 dollars each were worth 50 dollars or better. 
She sold some of his old Ambassadeur casting reels for five dollars each, and an over and under Browning Beretta skeet gun for 300 dollars.  I suppose it was worth about 1500 dollars at the time.

     That happens often, because the folks who bring stuff for sale just want to get some of it out of the attic or the garage, and much of it is antiques that are quite valuable.  We are unlike most swap meets in that we have free admission and the tables are free to ‘vendors”.  Therefore we fill up the place with hunting and fishing gear from ordinary folks and not a bunch of folks running businesses.  I was thinking the other day about all the things I have seen at that swap meet, and there isn’t enough space here to just hit the high points.

     We don’t allow the selling of assault rifles or large quantities of ammo for those guns, but we see a lot of older hunting guns, some very valuable and some worth less than 100 dollars.  This year there will be a 16 gauge ‘stage coach gun’ made by Parker brothers, maybe the most valuable collectors gun ever sold there.  It is a short, light hammerless double-barrel made in 1913. There will be more fishing gear than everything else, hundreds and hundreds of lures, some old and very valuable, but hundreds that are new and priced at just a dollar or so, lures that would cost better than five dollars each at most tackle shops. 

      I expect there will be a hundred or more rods and reels, new ones and old ones, some valuable as antiques. There will be old steel rods and newer graphite rods, reels from 100 years ago and some new ones still in boxes… bamboo fly rods too, I think.
     I am going to part with many things I used when I was just a boy on the Big Piney, two 1950’s era reels, one made by Shakespeare and South Bend, one my father’s and one mine, the very first casting reel I ever used.  It still has braided line on it, as it did the day I caught my very first fish on a store-bought rod, a black perch, (green sunfish) just below the bridge at Simmons, Missouri on the Big Piney.  I was only eight or nine years old.
There will be some modern duck decoys, mallards and pintails, which are ready to use next fall, and some shell goose decoys and 8 or 10 Bigfoot Canada goose decoys, the best ever made.  And there will be some wooden duck decoy blanks for wood-carvers. Speaking of carvers, I think we will have two on hand showing their carvings, some of it on beautiful driftwood from Arkansas and carved cedar walking sticks as well.

     There will be a table full of leather works, belts, holsters and such, a table of wildlife art and a table of hats and other items made of furs, and a table of handmade hunting knives and collectible pocketknives.
     With turkey season so close, we always have some folks who bring handmade turkey calls.  I intend to make some of my own, the little western cedar box calls which are autographed, dated and inscribed to whomever buys them. These little calls are all I have ever used, and with them I have called in more than 200 kilt gobblers in the past 45 years.  They are said to be the greatest turkey calls ever made, even though it was me who said it.   I don’t know how many I can get made so come early if you want one.  They are a little bit primitive, but cheap!
     Of course there will be a large variety of handmade wooden items like birdhouses, and cutting boards. And there will be minnow traps and camping gear and traps and a great deal of that kind of used but good outdoor gear at a bargain.

      Outside we usually have some of the Amish-made furniture and several boats. This year we will have a 22-foot antique aluminum johnboat with a serial number 0001. Made in 1954 for the Missouri Conservation Commission to run on the Current River it is the first aluminum johnboat made in the Ozarks.

     There will also be a 17 and a19-foot square-stern Grumman Canoe, and an 18-foot Lowe Paddle John designed for Ozark rivers. Some antique outboard motors and trolling motors will be there as well, and two foot-control Evinrude trollers as well. This year for the first time I am going to sell some of my grandfather’s stuff… sassafras boat paddles he made in the twenties and thirties to an old double-barreled muzzle-loader he acquired in 1902.  With that gun I will sell his little .22 Steven lever action Marksman rifle which has likely killed more rabbits and squirrels in it’s time than all the shotguns I ever used. I have no sons or grandsons to leave these to and the money from them will go to help pay the annual bills at our Panther Creek Youth Ranch for underprivileged kids.  I know my grandfather would be proud to know he contributed to that project.
      I will also sell a brand new Browning 12-gauge pump-gun which is still in the box. I have only fired it three times.  It has bagged one gobbler and two mallards for me.

     There will be some other authors there signing outdoor books and of course my old college roommate at School of the Ozarks, Woody P Snow, who is now a well-known song writer and radio personality, will be there to tell you all about what a fine student I was back then.  He will be selling and signing several books and some remarkable original paintings which have become very popular.  His latest book is a dandy, a novel about Alf Bolin and the bald-knobber outlaw gang from the Ozarks which he led more than a century ago.

     This all takes place in the spacious gymnasium of the Assembly of God church at Brighton Missouri just off Highway 13 about 16 miles north of Springfield and 6 miles south of Bolivar.  The youth of the church will provide coffee and biscuits and gravy in the morning, then a variety of sandwiches and desserts at mid-day.

     For me it is an opportunity to sell and sign my outdoor books, nine of them now, and meet with readers of these newspaper columns.  Every year we give away a lot of copies of my magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor journal, and take subscriptions for future issues.  Most of my profit from this swap meet will go to that free children’s retreat already mentioned.

     There are a few of the fifty tables set up and available, for free, if you’d like to bring something for sale, including boats for the lot outside.  If you have questions, just call me at 417-777-5227 or email me at
Remember this all takes place from 8 o’clock to 2, on Saturday March 24.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Your Home is Your Castle

         I don’t know how many times I have written that Missouri Department of Conservation game wardens are the friends of no one they choose to visit.  When they come with hat in hand and ask, all friendly like, if they can come into your home for a visit, don’t be fooled. They are there to see if and how they can find a technicality which can hang you.  TELL THEM THEY CANNOT COME INTO YOUR HOME OR ANY OUTBUILDING WITHOUT A SEARCH WARRANT!!  Use your head-- they are there to nail you on something that involves a technicality you never dreamed of.  They are not your friends.

         With this weeks column I am going to tell you about a perfectly innocent hunter who learned that the hard way.  But first I want to say that I had a long conversation by phone with the MDC director, Mrs. Sara Pauley, who has surprised the hell out of me.  Mrs. Pauley has agreed to come down to the Ozarks to meet with me and see some of the things I have been writing about.  I have met with and interviewed five different MDC directors over the years with tremendously disappointing results. Most of them were merely puppets, and couldn’t have cared less what happened to Missouri’s wildlife, forests and streams.

         For some reason I cannot explain I feel a little bit of optimism in this new director’s words.  She asked me to meet her halfway on some of the problems I have seen and written about, and want to see corrected.  I told her I would meet her 90 percent of the way, and I intend to do that. I will give the MDC’s side of any story, but I have said that often. They do not want to try to defend the things they do and I don’t blame them.  Defending some of their actions calls attention to what they do not want known.  If any readers want to send me questions to ask of Mrs. Pauley, I will try to get the answers you seek.

                  The young man who is now suffering from trusting a pair of agents, is Jeremy Henshaw, an air force veteran and school board member living in Rushville, Missouri. He bought five acres and a home in 2005 and since then he and his wife have killed eight bucks on his land with landowner permits which are allowed  by Conservation Department regulations if you own five acres of land.
         Those two agents came to get those 8 mounted deer heads!!! The value of them may exceed 30 or 40 thousand dollars. They told Mr. Henshaw that they had done some checking and found that his 5 acres did not actually involve 5 acres, but somewhere around 4.86 acres.  He got out all his paperwork and like most tracts sold in the Ozarks, it doesn’t give exact acreage to the tenth of an acre.  The seller and real estate agent said five acres and Henshall believed them.  When he pays his property taxes, the acreage isn’t given.  He could never have known what those two low-life agent had found out.

         Can you imagine a pair of agents stooping this low?  Who is paying them to come up with those 8 deer mounts?  Someone is!!  Henshaw is going to court with a lawyer, but here is the problem there.  That judge may be one of many that has reaped rewards given to lawyers and judges by the Conservation Department.
         Do you doubt this assertion?  They gave almost a quarter million dollars to a judge in western Missouri named Kelso because he allowed high level MDC people to hunt his private refuge. And forever and ever, the MDC will use our money we give to them, to pay the annual property taxes on his private hunting preserve.

         Tim Ripperger, a deputy director with the MDC years ago finally admitted to me that fourteen lawyers and judges had received such payments to use at their discretion in developing their private hunting grounds.  One judge, of great political power, got the zone boundaries between two waterfowl zones changed to run through his land so that he could hunt ducks and geese in two different seasons just by stepping across a highway.
         On the private land of one of the state’s wealthiest judges, the Missouri Department of Conservation helped build a half-mile levee to create one of the best waterfowl hunting areas I have ever seen, only for that judge and lawyer friends to hunt. He never paid a penny for it, according to sources within the MDC who are incensed about it.  Isn’t it a surprise that members of the MDC also hunt there?
         Meanwhile if Mr. Henshaw could have this decided by a twelve-man jury, he would easily win in very little time.  I intend to go to that trial and look into possible involvement between lawyers of that area, and the judge, and the MDC.  It may be that his deer heads were doomed before he so graciously let those friendly agents into his home with no search warrant.

         You know, as do I, that those two agents did not find such a detailed legal description of Henshaw’s land on their own, without direction.  Where did that aid and direction come from?  And why has his lack of knowledge about his 4.8 acres not being the 5 acres he thought he bought, become such a serious issue 12 years later?  Those two agents ought to be ashamed of themselves, and perhaps look into the Bible to find some advice on how to treat your fellow man.  All men, in time, will stand before a judge and they are not exempt.

         I am very anxious to see if Mrs. Pauley is as concerned about this as all Missourians should be. Larry Yamnitz, chief of enforcement for the MDC, is of no use in getting any problems dealt with in a just manner. Over the years of meeting with him and hearing him promise a change, I have given up any hope that he can do anything about rogue agents.  I have seen such agents who are beneath him just ignore his directives, and he does nothing about it.  It is as if they are untouchable, out of control, and they know it.

         But remember that if agents come to your home and ask politely to come in, tell them politely to go obtain a search warrant first.  While they are doing that, hide any legally taken deer mounts or turkey mounts… because they are there to take them.

         Henshaw will lose his deer heads without ever going into that courtroom. He doesn’t have a chance.  It is already decided. Because there is a fraction of an acre he knew nothing about, his deer heads will be sold, or perhaps someday hang in the office of friends of the commissioners, judges or lawyers.  And as always, the MDC people involved in this will lie and say they are going to destroy those 8 deer heads, all forty-thousand dollars worth of them.  Baloney!! Ever wonder why no media can see that happen, why all witnesses to such an event are barred.  No one has ever seen that destruction of confiscated property occur, because it doesn’t happen.. never has!!

         After I attend that trial I will report back to readers, and after I meet with Director Pauley, I will tell you what we discussed, and her side of the story. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope that someday our Conservation Department actually serves to advance the notion of resource conservation-- and fair treatment of the state’s citizens who aren’t rich and special and powerful.  And I hope someday, that all men and women who wear a badge are held to the same standards as the rest of us, and can be prosecuted for breaking the law, perhaps sued for violating a citizens rights.

If you would like to order our spring magazine, any of my books, or for any other reason, you may call our office. Remember too that we still have free tables for vendors at our March 24 outdoorsman’s swap meet.    Call 417-777-5227

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Memory From Another Time

One of the hunters in 1910 had a camera. The old double-barrel muzzle-loader he holds in the photo is today on the wall above my office fireplace.

What a story there is behind my grandfather’s old double-barreled shotgun.  In 1965 while I was a 17-year-old student at School of the  Ozarks, the museum creator, Steve Miller, loaned me a tape recorder which I took back to Texas County and used to tape my grandfather’s stories. Someday I intend to make an hour-and -a half  CD of many of those stories from his youth, but for now I will tell just this one, as best as I can remember as he told it to me.  It was in the fall of 1907 I believe.

         “I wasn’t allowed to kill all the turkeys I wanted to.” Grandpa said.  “Mom let me kill only what we could eat.  I use to give my sisters a nickel to eat all they could and I’d sneak some out to my hound.  I gave some to a neighbor family ‘bout 3 miles away.”

         “ I loved to call ‘em in an’ brother there was a lot of  ‘em back then.  When a farmer planted a field with corn or whatever, he had a battle to keep crows and turkeys away from the plantings. Pop had a field planted in corn an’ back then you tried to keep the turkeys out with a brush barrier stacked aroun’ a rail fence they couldn’t get through.  Coons could, but they was scarce ‘cause their pelts were a way of folks makin’ a little extra money.  Deer were scarce too.”
         “But they was turkeys ever’where and they weren’t real smart.  They could fly over a brush fence, but they didn’t… they just tried to go through it. Ain’t nothin’ smart about a turkey. Get one little gap started though and they’d find it.  Free-rangin’ hogs would too.  Havin’ a corn field or a big garden took a lot of work if you meant to get anything out of it.”

         “I had an old muzzle-loader double barrel shotgun an’ Pop would keep me in powder, shot and primers so’s I could keep everything out of the corn, and I was good at it.  One year in October, after the harvest of everything and farmers started roundin’ up their hogs, I found a big turkey roost, and I would go out with my ol’ coon dog huntin’ coons and scare them turkeys off the roost.  It sounded like they was a hunnerd of ‘em when they flew off in the dark.  The next mornin’ I’d go in at first light and get hid well where they was the night before and I’d call like an old hen.  “Bout anybody who ever heard a wild turkey can easy imitate ‘em.  I get tickled at everyone huntin’ ‘em nowadays with all them wood boxes an’ the likes.  Why if you can’t imitate a hen turkey in your own throat you must ain’t never heard one.”

         “Well there was a surveyor feller workin’ for the state not far from Pop’s place, and he saw me take a young gobbler to a little country store to sell it, knowin’ we already had one on the table at home.  He was so fascinated with that turkey he couldn’t hardly stop lookin’ at it.  So he comes to our place wantin’ to know if  Pop might show him where he can get one and  Pop he says in that French brogue of his, “That leetle boy dere, he take you to shoot de turkee.”  So he wanted to know if I would take him and a couple of his St. Louis pals turkey hunting if they would pay me.  That fit me darn well, making a dollar for a half day in the woods.”
         “Three or four days later three of ‘em comes to our place in a horse and buggy all decked out in their huntin’ an’ sportin’ duds and they paid pop two dollars to stay and take their meals at our place for two days whilst I took ‘em turkey huntin’.  That night after they went off to bed I took my old dog an’ went out an’ scared two bunches of turkeys off the roost about a quarter mile apart. Then I fixed up a couple of hideouts… what you call a huntin’ blind today.”

         “Next mornin’ about four or five oclock Pop hollers to ‘em, “clocks alarmin’.”  Well one of em gets up all sleepy an’ says ‘Do we hafta get up so early? It’s still dark.’
No.. I tells ‘em.  You can get up after sun up an’ fail, or you can go out with me an’ get hid and shoot a turkey.”

         “So about daylight they are sittin’ there behind that brushpile I made an I hear some turkeys fly down and I start callin’.  Here they come, puttin’ and calkin’ an’ kee-keein’ an gettin closer.  Them fellers was shakin’ so bad with the buck-ague I didn’t figger they could hold their gun barrels up.”

         At this point of the story my grandfather slapped the arms of  his home=made rocking chair and laughed hard and long. “Well they went to shootin’ too soon,” he continued to laugh and talk.  “But they had those breech loaders and I’ll be danged if they didn’t get three or four turkeys.  They was all floppin’ around the way turkeys do when they’s in their death throes and one of those fellers jumped up an’ ran over and grabbed one by the neck and went to shootin’ at its head with a little ol’ 22. pistol.”

         Grandpa had to pause again he was laughing so hard.  “It’s a doggone wonder he didn’t shoot his fool hand off.”

         My grandfather said he never was paid for two days of his guide service but when the hunters prepared to leave they gave him a breech-loading shotgun.  In another column sometime I will finish this story and perhaps start another.

         All of his recollections about growing up and raising a family on the Big Piney   are on the discs I am making of that taped interview which I should have ready this spring.  There are an hour and a half of his stories, dozens of them. The old breech loading shotgun was hanging on the wall in his cabin back then.  Today it hangs on the wall in my office.  It is a Liege, Belgium-made H.J. Sterling, not safe to use with today’s ammunition.  When our March 24 outdoorsman’s swap meet arrives, I intend to sell it and use the money to do something Grandpa would be very proud of.  It is a shamed it cannot tell stories of what it has seen.

 If you would like a free table at our outdoorsman’s swap meet, call my office… 417-777-5227


       Please think about this… the men who added amendments to our constitution knew only of muzzle-loading rifles that could fire only one bullet before a reloading process.  A militia they wanted to protect fought a war against armies which also had ONLY muzzle-loaders.  I have shotguns and rifles that I hunt with. None have the ability to load more than 5 rounds into the magazines. They provide a quite adequate defense of my home and no credible assault on hunting guns is even considered today.  Loaded with five rounds of buckshot, a short barreled, open-choke shotgun is a formidable defensive weapon, and I keep two of them loaded, safely away from anyone but me.

        I need no assault rifles!!! I never owned one! I abhor them.  I would not hunt with or associate with anyone who does. But there isn’t any possible way to rid our country of them.  Having multiple round clips or magazines is akin to owning hand grenades, bazookas etc. If one is legal, then why aren’t they all.  Each is a killing machine… meant to kill people.

       BUT…if we would outlaw any magazine or clip which holds more than five rounds, and make it illegal to own more than one clip, you can chip away at the killing potential of those horrible firearms.  Right now I cannot see any chance of reducing innocent deaths in public places such as schools, churches and large gatherings of people. We should at least try that first.  But we won’t.  Therefore, talk of ending the slaughter is useless.  We cannot stop an avalanche until it stops itself.  When a garbage truck comes down a hill out of gear and gaining momentum, talking about stopping it is ridiculous… you can’t.  We had the chance once to do something about the mess this nation is in, but we didn’t.  Now we talk about guns and mental illness and family structure.  Today those things are beyond our control.
       If you do not permit prayer in school, or the teaching of morals, ethics and the Bible, “thoughts and prayers” afterward do no good.  Again, we could begin by the simple restriction of the number of bullets the assault rifle can hold and restricting the number of clips in anyones possession!!!  Make it so that anyone possessing multi-round clips faces a prison sentence and follow up on it.  Then those misguided people who love their AR-15’s could keep them, and the NRA, (no longer a shadow of what it was fifty years ago when I taught hunter safety programs for them,) could remain the political power it still is.  Only ammunition companies will lose anything and maybe the government can subsidize their losses with some new taxes on churches!

       Otherwise, without that limitation, we might as well legalize the hand-grenades and the pipe bombs too. The carnage isn’t going to stop, it will increase now. Everyone knows that. It isn’t a result of mental illness or guns.  It is the ugly extention of evil.  It is something involving much more than those two obvious problems, and when we could have stopped the evil which is here and coming, we let our enemies talk us into being tolerant… embracing diversity., and abortion and homosexuality, letting drugs become a part of our culture, welcoming those who bring drugs and evil into our country.
       You can find peace far into the woods or on a distant gravel bar, today.  It is a world I live in and love.  But in the places when humans live in great herds like cattle, get use to seeing awful things happen, and being a part of it if you live there.  Peace and contentment and common sense does not abide where men live in herds. Marijuana and alcohol helps, I suppose.

       Somewhere, in some book it says, “You will reap what you sow.”  When we could have sown something different, we listened to Hollywood, television commentators and the left wing politics of casting aside what our ancestors believed and taught us, and making common sense a bad by product of another era. The founders of the constitution and its amendments didn’t see the day coming when we would see such horrible weapons in our schools and churches and everywhere that evil can snake itself into. Ben Franklin, John Adams, George Washington… those men with single shot muzzle-loaders didn’t mean for us to embrace assault rifles.  You couldn’t have made them believe this culture was to come!

       So let us forget what we were and celebrate what we are becoming, before the long limb our society bends low.  If it breaks-- in the wake of the horror that may lay ahead of us, in fires and floods and droughts and volcanoes and earthquakes, --and perhaps nuclear devestation-- we will not be clinging to assault rifles.

Monday, February 19, 2018


       To tell the truth, one of the most overpopulated species of wildlife in this day and time is the eagle. No so much yet that they are a problem, but when you consider today’s numbers of bald eagles to what we had 50 years ago, it is unbelievable.

         The eagle is about as much a scavenger as the buzzard, and they aren’t so much travelers passing through today. They are here in Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas as residents, and the number of Eagle nests found in our region in the spring probably is greater now than it has ever been mainly because traditionally the eagle was a bird of the north and west and where we ain’t neither.

         I always laugh about what they refer to as “eagle days” when city folks go out with binoculars to view some eagles a few hundred yards away in a group at some pre-designated site. I love being outdoors in late winter with my camera and I have so many eagle photos I don’t waste much time on them any more. Unless it is something really unusual, like seeing a dead deer as I float the river, with five or six eagles sitting on and around the carcass.

         Eagles can carry away a newborn calf, and they do that on rare occasions. Ranchers hate them for having that ability, but even they know that it seldom happens.

         But what wasn’t seen much, decades ago, was an eagle or two eating a calf that had died or that had been born dead. Again they are carrion eaters and not prone to try to kill their prey.

        Eagles prefer, if they can, to eat fish. Right now on many Midwest lakes they are in seventh heaven because of all the dead shad. They also eat lots of ducks and coots. But they don’t get many healthy ducks. They do best on those, which have been crippled by hunters and can’t easily get away.

         Once I was hunting ducks in December when I dropped a mallard out at the edge of my decoys. He fluttered around some, seemed to get his head up and swum away a little.

         My Labrador was swimming hard to catch the drake and he was about ten yards away when a big white-headed eagle swooped down to pluck the duck from the surface. I don’t know who was maddest, me or my retriever.

         Yelling at the thieving bird, using my best pool hall language to describe him and his ancestors, I fired off a shot into the air. I think the eagle thought maybe I was shooting at him. At any rate, since eagles do not know the range of a shotgun, or maybe just because he didn’t have a good hold on my duck, he dropped it and flew away That eagle cost me a shell worth nearly a dollar and made my Lab swim a lot farther than he needed to.

         So if you live somewhere where eagles are not often seen, come and go with me on one of our wilderness trips and I will show you some. But I will pass on something I saw a week ago that is quite a surprise.  I stopped at a quilting shop about a mile southwest of the Truman Lake Dam, and there about a stone’s throw from the shop was an eagle nest with a big white head sticking up out of it, and the owner of the shop, Patty Wallace says it has been a pleasure having them there, anxiously awaiting the hatching of eggs likely just recently laid.  Mr. Wallace told me that the nest was built a few years ago and each year they add sticks to it.  Eagles do that.  You never see them use a nest they are satisfied with.  They spend late winter bringing new sticks, some of them 4 or 5 feet long and two or three inches in diameter, to place in the old nest.  I think maybe it is something the female insists on.  I never saw a woman who was satisfied with interior decorations.  At any rate, she lays the eggs, and does most of the incubation, although the male will spell her for an hour or so at a time while she goes to Eagle-Mart for fish.

         I knew where there were nine eagle nests on Truman and it’s tributaries two years ago. One of them is only about two or three miles from my Lightnin’ Ridge home and office, as the crow, er uh I mean eagle, flies. A really unusual nest was situated in a creek bottom sycamore where I could actually climb to the peak of a nearby ridge and look down on it! At one time there were ten nests in the area, but a powerful wind destroyed one. That doesn’t often
happen.  If you will notice, eagles in the Ozarks seem to always build nests in sycamores.  In Canada and the western states, big tall pines.  But I really believe that the pine-nesting eagles would prefer a sycamore… perfect place to guard eggs and then young.

         Eagles in Canada really get tame.  When I am there in the summer and fall, I feed them an occasional yellow perch, and I have had them fly down only 8 or 10 feet from my boat to take the offering, then set in a tree above me and twitter away, seeming to be begging for another.

         When you see an eagle that is all brown, it is a juvenile.  It will be two or three years before the white feathers on the head develop.  Oddly enough, a six- or eight-month old youngster is larger than its mother.  I have photographed so many eagles that I no longer take pictures of them, but you might want to if you go up to that little shop called, Saltbox Primitive Woolens.  Mrs. Wallace will show you the nest if need be, right there beside her shop, where that white-headed mother looks down upon you with curiosity.  You can take your binoculars and camera and have your own “Eagle Days” observance.

        As for the eagles, it is not hard to tell the males from the females.  You throw a fish on the ground and if SHE flies down to get it, you know you are watching the mother.  If HE flies down to get it…

I will be speaking at a free-to-the-public wild game dinner this coming Thursday evening at the New Hope Covenant church in Springdale, Arkansas. For more information on that, call the number below.  Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email  

IF YOU WANT TO GET OUR SPRING MAGAZINE CALL OUR OFFICE AT 417-777-5227. you want to get our spring magazine, call 417-777-5227.  

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Is a Duck Smarter Today?

My grandfather, hunting ducks from his johnboat

         Things change slowly in the outdoors but if you live a while and spend lots of time in the woods and on the rivers, you can’t help but see it.  One of the things I saw early in my life, due to my grandfather, was a change in the habits of raccoons in the Ozarks.  They of course had no corn to eat before white men began to settle here, but did they ever find it to be a wonderful change from crawdads and mussels.  Then they declined rapidly a century or more ago as massive clearing and logging began to take place and den trees were eliminated all over the Midwest.  In the Ozarks, by 1940, it was tough to find a raccoon.  Trappers and hound men had helped to make them scarce as well.  Their furs were really valuable before that time.
         When I was a boy in the 60’s, grandpa said he figured that raccoons were going to be gone someday, like the wild turkey…nearly non-existent.  But raccoons did come back because they began to raise young in holes in river bluffs when den trees weren’t plentiful.  One of my teachers at School of the Ozarks College said that such an adaptation was evidence of slow evolution, that God never had stopped creating, and those holes here and there made the raccoon become a little different animal.

         Well, eating corn and raising young in small holes in bluffs surely did work, as did the reduction in fur prices.  Today, almost everywhere in the Midwest there are too many raccoons, and natures way of reacting to an overpopulation is disease usually.  Distemper, and highways have been keeping raccoon populations a little lower than their production of plenty of offspring would normally allow.  If it were not for distemper, I think we’d have so many raccoons that we would have to have a bounty on them.

         I have seen wild ducks evolve a lot like that.  A wild mallard still has a brain the same size of his distant ancestor’s brain, but brother does he ever use it better than a wild mallard did fifty years ago.  Habitat change and hunting pressure in the lower Midwest has necessitated that.  If you do not change your ways of hunting, you won’t eat many ducks during the winter.  For one thing, mallards are really decoy shy at times and setting decoys surely is a different art nowadays.  And the old decoys that do not ride right in the water, or have poor colors, are a sure way to flare away a flock that seems dead set on joining your set-up.  They have come through too many good hunting spots by the time they get here to be as easily fooled as they once were.  A mallard flying south nowadays has heard 10 shotgun blasts to the one he might have heard fifty years ago. And while those shotguns may have affected his hearing, his eyes are really, really good.  Let a flock of mallards see something that looks a little out of place and they are gone.

         Only about 30 years ago I hunted out of boat blinds back in the coves and killed lots of ducks.  Today they have seen so many boat blinds that larger flocks are all to ready to flare away fifty yards out, and they often alight out in the open water hundreds of yards away.  You had best hunt from the bank behind a really well arranged blind or find flooded timber or a dead tree out into the water to stand behind now, and the more hunters hiding the less chance you have to fool ducks.  I find that when I hunt alone, my chances are much better.   I no longer hardly ever hunt from a boat blind as I once did.

         Wild ducks do hear well enough to know when a duck call sounds like a duck call.  There aren’t many modern hunters who have mastered calling ducks, and they call way too much.  I have found that calling just a little is best, and many times when a flock of ducks is interested in my decoys, I stop calling, finding that maybe a little bit of soft quacking or a chuckling sound made by feeding ducks is all that is needed.  One thing for sure, if you have a flock of five or six ducks circling, you have a lot better chance than if there are twenty or thirty.  If a big flock like that has twenty or so young dumb ducks, it won’t do any good if there are two or three old hens that have been there and done that and they feel like something isn’t quite right. Twenty dumber young ducks follow the old wary ones.

         Grandpa use to say that when we floated the Piney behind a floating blind, sneaking up on mallards.  He would complain because it just took one set of suspicious eyes to make the whole flock take to flight.  If there were two or three or maybe a half dozen ducks in an eddy or on a shoal, we had a pretty good chance of sneaking to within 25 yards.  No, ducks aren’t smart, but they are evolving to survive.  When you try that floating blind type of hunting today it is much, much harder to get close to mallards, and then, if there are more than 8 or 10, it is darn near impossible.  They have evolved, and we hunters, even with all our modern improvements in guns and gear, haven’t figured out how to evolve better than they have.
Grandpa's old double barrel, hanging on my office wall
         My grandpa Dablemont was the best outdoorsman I ever knew, and he hunted ducks on the Big Piney with an old breach-loading double barrel shotgun. It was given to him when he was about 14 years old, after he took a wealthy city hunter on a successful turkey hunt. Grandpa always thought it was a Stevens shotgun, because the only engraving he could see was ‘Ste’.
         Well before his death, he gave me that shotgun and I was surprised when recently I found it to be a Sterling Fox double barrel, a reasonably valuable firearm. With mixed feelings, I have decided to sell it and some other guns from my boyhood at our big outdoorsman’s swap meet on March 24. 
         We have to raise money for our youth retreat we run for underprivileged children, and I have no one to leave my guns to when I am gone, so it seems to make sense to sell them to benefit a lot of kids, many of them fatherless boys.  I know my grandpa would approve.
         If you would like to know more about this swap meet, just call me at 417-777-5227.  Tables for vendors are free, and admission is free.  I hope many of you can join us.  I want to see someone get my grandfathers old gun and hear the story that goes with it.  You might also want to see my website, where we soon will have information about where the swap meet will be held.  It is  E mail me at  You can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613