Monday, March 2, 2015

A Cardinal in the Snow

Photos by Lightnin' Ridge Editor Sondra Gray
It snowed eight inches up here on Lightnin’ Ridge last weekend. This is supposedly the highest point in the county, and it seems like we always get an inch or two more here on this timbered ridge than the weather people predict.
It was only about 20 degrees that morning after the snow ended, so I put on some boots and my duck-huntin’ coat and went out to survey the beauty of it. But I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of a lift to hear cardinals singing their song of ‘good cheer’ just like it was April.
They should sing, because on my back porch I have bird feeders I keep full. Yesterday there were seven or eight species out there making the most of it, one of them a Carolina wren.
The corn feeder down behind my office, above the pond, is a great attraction for doves and squirrels and deer and turkey, but I was amused yesterday to see a cottontail rabbit sitting there. Many people do not realize that a winter blast coming in February or March is much, much worse than the same situation in December.
That’s because wild creatures go into the winter fattening up in preparation for it. In the early half of winter, there is far more food than there is in late winter. Right now is the real bottleneck, the most difficult time to survive for wild creatures. Food is at its lowest level, and wild birds and mammals at their weakest, with less ability to resist cold ice or deep snow. So it is indeed the time you want to feed birds and keep corn feeders full.
It might be that the month of February just past, is the only month of February I can remember in which I didn’t catch a single fish. Because of that, I figure there will be more fish out there in rivers and lakes in March than ever before, so I intend to take advantage of it. While the late snow wreaks havoc on water temperatures, I think it makes it more likely that we will have a bumper crop of mushrooms in late April.
I don’t know why, but it seems that snow puts more nitrogen in the soil, and I think that must be the thing that mushroom seeds need the most. When I hear those cardinals singing like they have been, it really makes me think of mushrooms and poke greens and freshly fried fish. Don’t anyone write me this year trying to buy mushroom seeds! I sold all of them last year and had all kinds of problems with folks who couldn’t get them to grow wanting their money back. What happens so often is that mushroom seeds, which are so tiny you can’t see them with the naked eye, are often spilled before the buyers get them to the woods where they want them to grow. And when you spill a pack of mushroom seeds, you don’t have a chance in the world of finding them and picking them up!
When you see wild turkey in late February and early March, they are usually in huge flocks, because in numbers there seems to be a greater ability to survive. But the largest flock of turkeys I have ever seen in the Ozarks numbered about 75 or 80 one winter in a field along the river above Truman Lake.
I never thought there would ever be any flock like that one. But Gloria Jean, who does that facebook thing, called me in to look at a film on the computer showing what I believe was a wild turkey flock numbering 200 to 250 birds. They were an ever-moving mass of turkeys, going across a Nebraska field, coming out of a tree line like a stream flowing from a spring.
I can’t tell you how to find that, but if you are a computer person you know how. Those Nebraska turkeys are not the eastern gobblers we hunt here in the Ozarks. Most of them are Merriams gobblers, and perhaps they are crossed in some parts of that state with Rio Grande gobblers which are prevalent to the south in Kansas, but they are a different bird up there, not nearly as wild, and much much easier to call in. They have white or beige tail bands usually. I have called them up in the fall of the year, gobbling and strutting just like it is spring.
Several times in Kansas I called up eight or ten Rio Grande gobblers in the spring. And when they come to a call, they don’t fiddle around much. That’s why I have so long joked about those turkey hunters who boast of ‘Grand Slams’ in hunting wild gobblers. All anyone needs to get their ‘Grand Slam’, which includes the four best-known species of wild turkeys, is to have the time and the money to travel to where they are. If you can’t call in and kill a Rio Grande or Merriams gobbler in the spring, you aren’t where one can hear you.
I never thought I would see the day though, when there would be greater flocks of turkeys in a state like Nebraska or Kansas than flocks of pheasants or coveys of quail. Truthfully, I would much rather see the numbers of quail like they once were.
A word of caution to those turkey hunters about to buy shotgun shells for spring hunting… I got a hold of some bad shells last fall made by Federal Ammunition, with the ‘turkey thug’ logo on the box. They weren’t properly sealed and were leaking shot out into the box. I looked at about 20 boxes on the shelves of a local sporting goods store and found four or five with defective shells inside.
The store manager said they could not take back any returned ammo, but she let me have a new box of shells. From this point, after seeing what I have seen, I will buy Remington or Winchester ammunition, and I recommend you do the same thing. How are you going to be a good turkey thug with shells that have leaked their lead shot into your pocket?
Well we are less than a month away from our outdoorsman’s swap meet. You can still get a free table on that last Saturday of March if you want to contact us. You just need to be selling outdoor gear or related stuff that outdoorsmen would use, whether new, used or antique. We anticipate having some good buys on boats and motors and canoes and that kind of thing, so bring them if you have them for sale. We have a place set up in the parking lot for those to be displayed. If you can put up a few flyers in your area letting people know about this completely free event, I will send you some.
I have also had a great deal of interest in the daylong wilderness trip and fish fry in March, and even more interest in the mushroom hunting trip in April. If you want to find out the cost and details and get your name on our list to call, write or call us at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or call 417 777 5227 where my executive secretary Ms. Wiggins will be glad to help you.
My website is and the email address is

Monday, February 23, 2015

Guiding Again

Guiding a group of hikers at Buffalo National River in 1974, as a naturalist for the         national  park service...
You know what I love about this snow and cold?
Not a doggone thing! But remember this, every cold night that passes makes us one day closer to spring peepers and redbuds.

Folks in the cities have really suffered with the weather problems over the past few years, but ‘they ain’t seen nothin’ yet’. If people could see into the future there would be a panic in places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and New Orleans, and big traffic jams as folks tried to get away. But no one can see what’s coming, and I can’t either.

While those people who talk about global warming may not have the slightest idea what they are talking about, the earth is like a lifeboat. It will only hold so much. Anyone who doesn’t think mankind is altering the conditions of our climate and the earth itself has their head in the sand. 

I think it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that our country in 100 years will have no clean waters and maybe a loss of hundreds of species of birds, fish and mammals, and the only forests and wild places will be found in crowded parks and preserves. Big trees won’t exist anywhere else. But I also think that in 100 years, folks won’t care at all about what is lost. 

There will be enough entertainment in the world that no one will miss what so many of us today cannot live without. I see it today in my own grandkids. They live their life with little boxes in their hands, pushing buttons, and the outdoors has little attraction. Still, they are very happy. I live in one world and they live in another. Well, actually, today almost everyone lives in a different world than I do. I was born much later than I should have been.

But I do love meeting good people, and because of that, a friend and I have decided to do some guiding again this year for beginning turkey hunters. I figure I have killed enough gobblers in my life and would like to enjoy again seeing a beginner learn how to do it, to help them get a turkey and learn about the outdoors, in a day or so of hunting. 

I guided turkey hunters in the seventies and eighties because I needed the money. Living in Arkansas I was a free-lance writer at the time, raising a family. Guiding float fishermen with my uncle, and turkey hunters in the National Forestland in Arkansas gave me a chance to flee the typewriter and spend more time outdoors. There weren’t nearly as many turkey gobblers then as there are in Missouri today. Bagging a gobbler now is fairly easy if you have any idea of what you are doing.

I had nothing in common with the men I guided. They were rich and money meant little. I took Neurosurgeons and Ophthalmic Surgeons, Lawyers… those kinds of people. In the early eighties, I took one of them from Oklahoma on a hunt and called up a gobbler that he killed about two hours after we left camp. It was his first one and he was elated. 

When he got back he packed up his stuff and headed home, handing me 500 dollars and telling me it was the greatest morning he ever had. I told him he didn’t owe me that much, we had only camped one night and hunted two hours. He laughed and told me he made more than that in one hour.

I intend to start guiding again because today I don’t need so much money and I like to teach ordinary people about the outdoors. When I was young, I worked with people for many years in the state parks of Arkansas and on the Buffalo National River as an interpretive naturalist, and I loved it, maybe more than the park visitors who came from all points of the country. It was something I felt I was born to do.

My Uncle Norten was the best guide I have ever seen on the rivers, much because he loved those streams so much, and liked people. He once told me, when we were guiding four fishermen on the Kings River on a three day trip, “You know, I am having more fun with these fellows than they are,” he said, “But if you were to know them in the city, where they live and work, we likely wouldn’t get along at all!”

Uncle Norten, who guided fishermen all over the Ozarks, took his first float trip in 1933 and his last one in 2010. The only two years he didn’t guide fishermen was the two years he spent fighting in World War II with the 101st Airborne in Europe. I got a kick out of him when we guided fishermen together in 2008 and I took care of all the charges. He couldn’t believe that he was going to get 200 dollars for taking two men on a daylong fishing trip on the Niangua.  

He told me that was just too much. “Just get me 75 dollars in the future,” he said, “I feel like I am cheatin’ folks if I get this kind of money.”

Our guided hike coming up in March, in a semi-wilderness area, is something my uncle used to join us with. I can still hear him and see him, telling folks about the woods and the creatures in it, telling jokes and entertaining everyone, then frying the fish at noon. He was one of the best naturalists I ever knew and he didn’t know it. 

This coming trip we will take this year will be a memorial to him. It will be some Saturday in March when we know we have a good day to go. The mushroom hunting trip in April will be something we have never done before, but it should be lots of fun. We are going to split up all the mushrooms we find. If you want to be on the list to go on either trip, let us know soon. We can’t take a lot of people, and we need to figure out how many fish to catch for the fish fry at midday.

As much as I like writing about the outdoors, I spend a lot of time by myself, and I really enjoy taking good people out into the woods for a day, or speaking to groups about the outdoors at churches or wild game dinners or schools, etc.

I found a really amusing description of me on something called Wikipedia on the Internet not long ago. I couldn’t help but laugh. It read…
      Larry Dablemont (born Larry Fitzgerald Dablemont September 22, 1961 in Bolivar, Missouri, U.S.) is a famous author, journalist, cobbler, Civil War reenactor, referee, fisherman, and hunter, He is married to Tonya Harding. Among his many claims to fame as a journalist, Dablemont interviewed OJ Simpson and has bragged in several columns about beating Ted Nugent in a footrace during a hunting expedition in Jackson Hole, WY. Dablemont was the last referee to ever throw Bobby Knight out of a basketball game, leading Knight to throw a chair. Later Knight commented, "Dabs is one tough ****, but God if I don’t respect him." Dablemont is a notoriously peculiar figure who, among other eccentricities is known to wear an unnecessary eye patch, rarely wears socks, and claims to have wore the same pair of jeans for 19 months consecutively.

The writer claims to be University of Arkansas professor William Thomas, and though he meant it to be some kind of insult, you can’t help but laugh at it. There isn’t any truth in it, but I may have worn the same pair of jeans for 19 months when I was eight or nine years old. I only had one pair! My middle name is Arthur and I will bet a dollar I can outrun Ted Nugent, whoever he is.

Email me at, or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. My website is

Monday, February 16, 2015

Kayaks and the Eye of the Eagle

Using my kayak as a floating photographer's blind, with a short sassafras paddle laying across the back. 
Kayaks are fine if you are just on a joy-ride, or doing some solitary fishing, but the double paddle makes it hard to go quietly down the river without being noticed.
We built this long White River johnboat years ago at Bull Shoals State Park, then gave folks a ride in it when it was finished.

Like most large birds of prey, eagles are likely overpopulated today in relation to the prey they seek. Carrion is what gets them through a harsh winter in areas of the midwest where they nest in good numbers.

I think I am going to build myself a 12- or 14-foot wooden johnboat to use on some of the local rivers, like my dad and grandfather once built to use on the Big Piney. I have several boats for rivers of all sizes, a 19-foot square-stern canoe and a 16-foot Lowe paddle-john amongst them. Last year I acquired a 12-foot kayak just to see what I could do with it. It can be used for quietly drifting down a river sneaking up on ducks or deer or kingfishers or whatever you’d like to sneak up on, especially if you conceal it with some sort of bow blind. And it isn’t a bad little craft for fishing, as long as you want to go fishing by yourself with a minimum of equipment.

The double bladed long paddles the kayakers use are a major problem. Sure you can manipulate the kayaks with one, but they are clumsy, made for novices. You won’t sneak up on anything with those long-shafted kayak paddles. It is like saying to anything downstream, “here I am and here I come”. 

I find that if you sit in the very center of the kayak, you can’t effectively handle it any other way, certainly not with a single bladed short paddle like I prefer to use. But I take along my sassafras paddle and if I sit toward the back of the kayak, or just about anywhere past the center point, I can ease it along without a sound, paddling all the time from one side, without taking the paddle out of the water. To do that, I have to put some weight in the very bow of the little boat. Then when I get out, the front sags into the water. But it is the only way to go down the river as I like to do it, without looking like a windmill.

When I got that little kayak, I bought some green and brown and black paint, and I camouflaged it. If you float down the stream in a red or yellow kayak, you show up like a cardinal on a corn feeder. But I will say this… if you are going to go wind milling around some large body of water in a little kayak where motor boats are whizzing around, it is indeed a good idea to be brightly colored, so you can be seen. I always wonder why anyone would take a kayak out in the middle of a lake like Bull Shoals or Stockton, but if you do that, paint your paddle blades too. Be sure you are seen.

If I use my Kayak much it will be in the winter to hunt ducks or deer or take wildlife photos while alone. I doubt if I fish out of it much because I have my little aluminum johnboat for that, and I usually fish with someone in the bow. I like to sit up a little higher when I fish than I do when I am sneaking down the river not wanting anything to know I am there.

Sometime this summer I will build that wooden johnboat at a special event or location where those who have an interest in such things can come and watch it go together. We had a pretty good crowd down at Bull Shoals State Park a few years ago when we built a 20-foot wooden White River johnboat, and then took folks for a ride in it.

I am trying to encourage folks who have boats, canoes, and kayaks to sell to bring them to our Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet on March 28. There will be some outboard motors there too. In a later column I will list some of the amazing items that will be there for sale by a host of folks who are now calling me to reserve a free table inside. We have printed some little fliers to send out, so if you want all the information, just call us and we will send you one of them.

This coming April, retired Corps ranger Rich Abdoler and I will take some folks out who would like to find mushrooms and teach them how to find them. We will take them to some backwoods areas on Truman Lake via pontoon boat, have a big fish fry and find mushrooms, guaranteed. This is something we won’t be able to schedule, we will just have to see when the mushrooms erupt, and then contact folks who are on the list wanting to go. Rich and I can sell you a mushroom hunting license!!!

And at least once during the month of March, when we have a nice calm, sunny Saturday, we will take a dozen people to our wilderness area on Truman Lake, have an interpretive nature hike and a fish fry and visit a pair of nesting eagles. On that walk through the woods there are some of the biggest trees of several species that I have ever seen, and the remains of an 1800’s cabin. If you want to learn about the outdoors, this is the way to do it. There is an oak tree on that trip that is the biggest white oak I have ever seen anywhere, way back in the woods. I figure it is so old that it was a sprout somewhere about the time George Washington was president. To find out more about those trips, just contact my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins and have her send you the information.

You know, if I wrote in this column that bluebirds build nests in sumac bushes, lots of people would believe it. Recently one of my old classmates sent me something that had come from an ornithologist saying that eagles avoid the rain by climbing above the clouds. It also claimed that an eagle can see a rabbit a mile away and survey three whole acres at once with it’s fantastic vision. 

When you read stuff like that, remember that today, most biologists and naturalists have grown up in the city somewhere and use their positions with a conservation organization to come up with some real baloney. There are plenty of birds, which can and do fly above rainclouds, but I have seen eagles sitting and flying in the rain, where they don’t get wet at all because of feathers that shed water like waxed paper. 

And who the heck knows absolutely for sure what an eagle sees? That stuff about seeing a rabbit a mile away is the biggest bunch of hogwash I have ever heard. Eagles do not feed regularly on rabbits; they are too small for them. If you tied a squirming live rabbit at the top of a dead tree, a mile from a perched eagle, you’d find out what nonsense that is. He would never see it! 

While they are majestic, beautiful birds of prey, they like nothing better than to gorge themselves on a dead deer like a group of buzzards or pick up a floating dead fish or zero in on a crippled duck or goose on open water. We don’t have to make them supernatural to enjoy seeing them. An eagle is an eagle, nothing less, nothing more.

Truthfully, I believe that eagles feed as much on carrion as prey they kill. I floated a river a few years ago in December and there were nine eagles ripping away at the carcass of a deer. If I too had grown up in some suburb somewhere I might write that I saw nine eagles feeding on a deer they had killed, and some readers would believe it. Most ranchers think that eagles feeding on dead calves have killed the calf. In a future column, I will tell you some amusing stuff I heard from professors while I was working to get a degree in wildlife management at the University of Missouri. Remember you can never become a real naturalist if you spend more time in books than in the outdoors.

You can call our office at 417 777 5227 or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or emailing me at Find photos and information on my website,

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Making Good Browse for Deer

As much as we love the idea of warm weather in February, it worries me a little. It could backfire on us if Mother Nature starts thinking spring has come early. Then all of a sudden there are early blooms and buds and all of a sudden an awful cold spell comes along. Uh-oh! The fishing goes to heck!

The white oak acorn crop can be devastated by such a situation and nothing is more important to wildlife in the fall and winter of next year than those acorns. But even if it happens, red oaks won’t be much affected by such cold this year. Their production will be clobbered the next fall. 

It is a difficult thing to explain, but I believe it is nature’s way of ensuring there will be at least some acorns most every fall. When you look at smaller wild creatures that have less biological potential, or survivability (life span), than the larger ones, I think nature ensures their survival in the same way. If a huge rain or spring cold spell limits the spring production of creatures like quail, rabbit, dove or even wild turkey, the late hatches which occur in June, July and August insures the survival of the species. It almost makes you think some great mind was involved in the planning of it all! 

I received a letter from someone last week talking about how the cutting of timber by logging contractors working on our public wildlife management areas and conservation areas through the Missouri Department of Conservation was a good thing. He wrote that my criticism of the moneymaking butchering of our state owned lands failed to take into account the fact that removing the timber could be a good thing for deer because it created more browse.

It left me shaking my head, wondering if there might ever be a time when our citizens can think on their own instead of buying some of the hogwash the MDC feeds them to justify whatever they do. Are there thousands of people out there so ignorant to the ways of the wild, and the situation in natural areas that they think deer in Missouri need more ‘browse’? It is likely the letter-writer can’t even adequately understand what the word means. He is someone who wants to be assured that the MDC is more interested in wildlife than money. They are not! It was that way once, but not now.

We need more browse for deer like we need more cow manure for turkeys. Deer in Missouri need nothing. They are not hard pressed in the worst of the Ozarks winters because browse is plentiful… everywhere. In those forests, being rapidly destroyed on lands we all own, deer and turkeys depend more on the acorns than anything else. 

What else needs the browse we create by destroying a hardwood forest…flying squirrels, screech owls, pileated woodpeckers, woodcock, foxes??? What else? Those species make no money for the MDC and those who feel assured that the destruction of our woodlands is a good thing likely know nothing of those dozens of species of birds and mammals that live there, and decline as the trees are cut. 

Destroying a forest won’t endanger the deer. If it did, the MDC would be worried, because deer make them tens of thousands of dollars. Acorns, squirrels and woodpeckers make them nothing. They will allow outside logging companies to cut every valuable tree in the areas they supposedly ‘manage’, if they can receive a good percentage of the profit, which they do.

For those who doubt me, go around the state and look at their real interest, which is board feet of lumber over wildlife. More and more, the conservation areas we all own are showing the devastation, as one area is stripped and another areas looms in their sights.

For those who have never seen it and do not want to see it, here is a letter from a fellow Missourian, Chuck Banks who describes what has happened in his area…
My family bought our farm near Coldwater back in 1985. We love to hunt, fish, hike, and do just about everything you do in the outdoors. We were excited that our farm adjoined the Coldwater State Forest. The forest offered opportunities for family and friends to interact with Missouri hardwood forest whether they hunted or not. We adjoin about 3/4 miles of the forest. My Boy Scout troop spent many weekends hiking and identifying trees and birds, non-hunters could photo the mature forest and its inhabitants; it was just plain beautiful.
Then the Missouri Department of Conservation changed the forest to a conservation area and began selling the timber. Until then, I had always admired and trusted the MDC. Block by block, some clear cut, some select cut, the forest has been destroyed. None of the original forest remains. The last block was cut last summer, and a new method was used.
This sale allowed for the timber men to cut all unmarked trees. This meant that the Department’s people marked remaining trees by painting a red stripe around the tree about breast high. Some of the perimeter trees have a smiley flower painted on them as well. Now that the cutting is done, EVERY remaining tree has a red painted ring around it. The rest of the block is the usual mess of tops and ruts.
The trails that once meandered through the forest have been destroyed. I now call this it the graffiti forest, because it will take decades for the red spray paint to wear off the bark. The once beautiful forest is now a strange, almost industrial looking disgrace. The trails are gone; the beautiful stands of oak and pine are now defaced. I thought that diversity would include at least some untouched forest, but they left nothing. NO one would want to go there. The Department should be ashamed.

Don’t be so disheartened Chuck… think of all the deer browse you will have in a few years! Mark Twain said that lies can travel around the world in less time than it takes for the truth to get its boots on. If you believe everything the Conservation Department tells you, you are being duped. This state department is nothing like the one we had thirty years ago when we passed that one-eighth cent sales tax that turned them in to an agency filled with corruption. I only want the truth about what they are doing to be heard. Don’t take my word for it. Just go out and look for yourself.

I hope some of you will find our February-March issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazine and read the Common Sense Conservation section. If you don’t choose to keep your eyes clamped tightly shut, you may begin to learn what is happening in the Ozarks.
My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. The email address is and my website, where you may enjoy seeing my outdoor pictures, is

Monday, February 2, 2015

An Old Bridge, Old Magazines, and Old Bolt

The owner had these boards added so that he could get a view from the bridge and a better perspective of previous generations.

This old magazine, from 1859 has less than 20 pages in a plastic bag, and is very fragile and brittle. We need an expert to separate the pages.
I have mentioned here that a couple of years ago I bought a tract of land with a small cabin on a little creek back in the middle of nowhere, mostly for my kids and grandkids to have when I am gone and forgotten. There is an ancient, high, iron bridge on my place, crossing the creek and it stands on rock outcroppings with no road coming or going. It shows no names or numbers anywhere and the flooring is long gone except for a couple of old decaying wood beams.
Downstream a little ways is a standing fireplace and the remains of a 1920’s lodge, which I have been told was a retreat for local politicians and businessmen from Collins and Humansville, Missouri who liked to get together and drink during the time of prohibition. Even the local sheriff and his deputies joined them, according to legend.
Next to it is a huge spring that once provided water to local people during the depression when severe drought caused wells to go dry. I have been told that at times on Sunday afternoon, wagons were lined up there to fill barrels with the cold pure water. Surely the old iron bridge was a means of getting there, but I cannot find any history of it. If any readers know anything about that iron bridge over Brush Creek in St. Clair County, please contact me.
And somewhere out there, someone must know how to handle old, old pages of antique magazines. I have two 1859 magazines, which are more like little newspapers, and the fragile pages, maybe 20 in all, are enclosed in a plastic bag. I am afraid to take the pages out without an expert to advise me on how to do it. But as you can imagine, I would give anything to read some of those pages. The magazine is entitled, “The Leisure Hour, a Family Journal of Instruction and Recreation.” One issue is marked Thursday, April 28, 1859 and the other is Thursday, August 11, 1859. In time, I believe I will donate them to a museum, but I hope I can open them without seeing the pages fall apart. If anyone can help with this, please let me know.
There may be an interest too in a stack of old newspapers I found in a cabin way back in the wilderness of the Ozarks years ago. They are called the Kansas City Drovers Telegram from the 1940’s mostly. I can hardly handle them without damaging the pages. I found one sports story in a 1951 newspaper which declares that Roy Campanella hit two home runs for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Joe Dimaggio hit one for the Yankees. It proclaims that the St. Louis Browns had beaten the Detroit Tigers because of three perfect innings of relief pitching “by the fantastic Satchel Page”. The standings showed eight teams in each league, and the Cardinals were in fourth place in the National League, 18 games behind the Dodgers. The Browns were in last place in the American league, but only 33 games behind the Yankees.
Of course I collect old outdoor magazines and have a whole room filled with hundreds of them dating back to 1908. At a farm auction recently I bought 14 bound volumes of Life Magazine from the mid 1930’s into the early 1950’s. Each volume has about 20 or so magazines inside so there must be nearly 300 Life magazines to look through. Life was published weekly back then. How in the heck did they do that?
While there isn’t an overwhelming amount of nature and outdoor material in them, there is some, and it is fascinating. Old ads with legendary sports figures, and actors are found all through those pages, with full-page movie circulars for movies like Gone With the Wind, and amazing photos from World War II. If I start going through them, I can’t stop and the world I am living in is gone. In those pages I am carried back to a time which our grandfathers lived and revered, as difficult as it was.
I am going to bring some of the oldest of those ‘Life’ volumes to our big outdoor swap meet on March 28, for those who want to just sit down and look through them and marvel at the historic pages. And while I can’t write much in these columns about that swap meet because there isn’t enough room, you can send me a stamp and I will mail you a circular giving a map and all the information. Tables there are free, but if you want one, you need to have us save one for you now. For those who know all about computers, you can find the information on my website,
For the first time in a couple of years, I have a litter of tiny Labrador puppies, the progeny of Bolt, my number one companion and the 3rd or 4th greatest Labrador in the world, and his mate, Hallie who surely is in the top 20 or 30. For forty years I raised hunting Labradors because I loved the breed, and hunted upland birds and waterfowl with the enthusiasm of a squirrel on a bird feeder. I only have two Labradors now, but at one time I had a dozen or more, and my dogs were well known, appearing on a dozen outdoor magazine covers and even a Cabelas catalog cover. In those forty years I raised hundreds of puppies, chocolate and yellow mostly. I love little puppies! And in those forty years I never once sold a puppy to a broker, nor allowed one to go to a puppy mill to become brood stock. And many times I just refused to sell one of my puppies to someone because I had a gut feeling it wouldn’t get a good home. A dog is a special treasure in the lives of outdoor people and if you don’t love one when you raise and train it, your soul isn’t in the right place.
I hate puppy mills and I learned that puppy mills operate with American Kennel Club registrations, and so I changed my dog’s registrations to United Kennel Club out of Ann Arbor Michigan. I did that partly because an AKC representative came to my place about 20 years ago and imposed fines on me because I had eight dogs in my spacious kennels and none of them had collars. She was a huge woman, who didn’t know I was a writer. She came in my house and told me the fines would be about 500 dollars and I could pay her. Then she went on to tell me what a terrible organization she worked for, how they had her go to dog sales in Oklahoma and Kansas where she often transferred false registration papers on stolen dogs and sick dogs and animals that had had tortured lives in puppy mills.
When I wrote what she told me, she denied it. She also denied telling me that American Kennel Club had just rented new offices in New York increasing their costs almost a million dollars per year and the fines they were trying to impose, plus increasing registration costs, were needed to help them pay for it.
Knowing what I know about them, I urge everyone who has a dog to transfer registration to the United Kennel Club. More and more, hunters who do not want to breed their dogs are just ignoring registration papers. If old Bolt had no papers at all, I wouldn’t trade him for two goats and a pig and a yard full of chickens! I want to see his little puppies get the very best of homes, with hunters who want old-style hunters and companions, that look and act like the big old hefty duck dogs from a hundred years ago, when there were none of them bred for field trials, nor crossed with other breeds to create pointing Labradors. Before I would own a pointing Labrador, I’d get a pig to hunt mushrooms with, and I’d hunt bullfrogs with a gig!
Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Photos from the mountains of Arkansas.....

Sometimes when I would be miles from nowhere, I would find beautiful little rivulets in solid rock, flowing out of springs well up in the mountains
This cave, with a small stream inside which came from a big spring back in its depths, was nearly hidden by the debris which had fallen to obscure the opening.
These old whiskey barrels were all that was left of a moonshine still. Wish I could have got them back to my pickup, five miles away.  I found an active still once down south of Jasper, Arkansas.
Always, miles from any roads, there were little openings along small creeks with the foundations of old cabins, occasionally an old barn still standing...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Catching Fish in February

It turned out to be a great big drum, and I fought it for ten minutes thinking I had a monster walleye

Maybe February isn't the greatest month to fish, but it may be the best month to catch walleye in the Ozarks

Hot dang, I love February, all because of Valentines Day. Lots of our lady readers send me small boxes of chocolate candy! I say this hoping that you realize that a person can lie about one thing without really lying about everything else.

And I ain’t lyin’ when I say that the month of February can be a great month for fishermen. When the weather stays mild for a while and you have several days of warmth and warmer-than-usual nights, bass get very active and some of the best bass fishing I have ever enjoyed took place in the last three weeks of February. In addition, walleye begin their spawning run in February with the slightest warming.

A couple of years ago I went down to a small Ozark stream and there were two old timers sitting there with four lines out in the water, fishing a deep hole with night-crawlers. I sat down and started talking to them and found out they were fishing for suckers. They had four or five on a stringer and caught another one while I watched.  They were the common yellow suckers between two and three pounds. Some of today’s fishermen wouldn’t know what to do with them, but they did. And anyone can catch them, with worms and patience. 

 “You can’t find a better fish to eat,” one of them told me. “But you can’t freeze them. You need to take ‘em home, scale ‘em, score ‘em and fry ‘em.  We’re going to have a supper fit for a king tonight.”

He was right, but you have to know how to score a sucker and most people today don’t have any idea what that means. It is a matter of slicing the meat crossways all the way to the backbone but not through the spine, on both sides, so as to eliminate the presence of the fine bones found throughout the body. And when they are fried fresh in the winter, they are so good some fishermen would proclaim them the best tasting of all fish.

You need a few degrees’ change in water temperature in February to get some good response from fish. It is unlikely that you will see walleye and bass and crappie move toward shallow water when it happens, but they sure will become more active in the deeper water. That’s where you have to fish, and you have to do it slower than you do things as spring arrives.

I have had some great walleye fishing in February, up north where there are a great number of fish per acre. We caught them under the boat in deep water with jigs tipped with minnows, pulling the bait up off the bottom a couple of feet and dropping it again until suddenly the line would tighten and you knew you had a fish.
So I got the idea I could do that in one of the deep holes well up the Sac River as a warm week of February weather occurred several years ago. I worked that jig and minnow in a hole about 15 feet deep, a perfect spot for pre-spawn walleyes to gather. And finally, wham… I had one. 

It was a dandy, and bigger than I ever dreamed might be there. He stayed deep and pulled line against my drag, bending that medium rod over like a reed in a strong wind. I was elated. This walleye was a monster! Except it wasn’t a walleye. After several minutes of playing the fish just perfectly I brought it to the surface. A darned drum, maybe 16 or 18 pounds. I think I ate him and pretended I was eating a walleye filet. I have to say that the meat of a drum isn’t bad; there just isn’t much of it. A drum has very white meat, but more body and head than meat.

Some of the best February fishing I have ever had was on the Gasconade River with an old boyhood friend of mine, Alvin Barton from Success, Mo.  We caught smallmouth and largemouth all day in still, warm weather fit for light jacket, but not light tackle. The bass were active, but very deep. Maybe some of those big smallmouth we caught actually fought harder in February than they would in June.

If you are a hiker or a photographer, February may be the best month of the year, because the mountains of the Ozarks are shorter this time of year. What I mean is, the undergrowth is minimal and you can see so much farther. Every year I see a hundred photos of the places in the Ozarks where everyone goes. One of those places is the Hawk’s Bill Crag overlook on the Buffalo River and the falls at Lost Valley. If one picture has been taken there, there has been a thousand.

I spent twenty years exploring those Boston Mountains, Ozark Mountains and Ouachita Mountains and getting paid for it. I was reporting on remote natural areas in the state for the Arkansas Heritage Commission. I never followed any trail, unless it was a game trail. In February I found caves and waterfalls and natural bridges that few people had ever seen, miles from any roads. 

When I would do the same thing in the summer I would get a better idea of the plant life, but you could walk right past a big cave or spring, or historical old home place without knowing it was there. I reached some of those most magnificent places via the rivers, and I could write a book on what I saw. I have old slides that show features I am sure no one ever photographed. On one occasion I stumbled across an active moonshine still! Try that if you are looking for adventure.

Let the masses travel those foot worn trails where a thousand feet have gone before them, but my advice to you, if you are healthy and active, is to go look for treasure in the hard-to-reach creek valleys and ridge tops and find pictures no one else has taken. Now is the time to do it, if you have good footwear and the knowledge of what you need to take with you to make your day enjoyable. 

Leave your cell phone in your won’t work where I go. Of course we have fewer wilderness areas in the Missouri Ozarks, but again, if you want to see what is really there, get away from the easy trails that everyone sees and explore. And go slowly… do not get in a hurry.

The February-March issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal has been finished and printed. I hope you will find a copy, just to read our Common Sense Conservation section and the letters from our readers relating experiences that will surprise you. 

Remember that you will have to look hard on some newsstands to find it, as we have a well-organized attempt by some people to turn it around and hide it behind other magazines. There are those, I suppose, who do not like what we print about the Missouri Department of Conservation. If you can’t find it, just call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, who recently got a raise and has promised to work harder. Our office number is 417 777 5227

And remember that if you want a table at our big outdoorsman’s swap meet, you had better let me know soon. By March, I expect all of our tables to be spoken for.

To see some of the photos I took years ago back in the Arkansas mountains, visit my website,

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or send those boxes of chocolate candy to that same address. Or you can email me at