Thursday, June 22, 2017

Black Ended Catfish Ain’t Black

       On my way back from a Canadian fishing trip, I stopped in Iowa to call my cousin-in-law, Becky McNew, and asked her where I could find a good camera. The reason I need to update my camera gear is because I am going to become a fully engaged part-time river fishing guide and photographer. Taking others fishing brings back memories of those times so many years ago as a kid on the Big Piney, and again in the 70s and 80s in north Arkansas.

        I know the floatfishing isn’t what it was, but when you are as good at it as I am, I consider anyone who floats a river with me to be one lucky fisherman!  That sounds very conceited but everyone is good at something, and that is what I am good at.  If I try to do much of anything else, it is a disaster.  I can’t do anything mechanical.
       The only thing I know to do with a spark plug is use it for a duck-decoy weight.  I tried to change my trailer bearings once and had to buy a whole new axle.  My wife wont even tell me if there is something broken around the house because she knows if I try to fix it, it will be broker than it was. 
       But you should be with me floating down the river because I can definitely paddle a boat.  If there were a boat-paddling hall of fame I would be in it. And I can tell you right where a big smallmouth lurks just from all the years of catching lunkers on my own.  But I am about to quit fishing and begin seeing to it that others catch lunkers.
       I am also going to quit killing monstrous bucks and great big gobblers and help others do it.  From now on when I sit in a deer stand I will be sitting there with a camera, and when I sneak through the woods in the snow next winter, the only barrel I will have will be a short telephoto camera lens.  When mallards drop into decoys, I will shoot the whole bunch with my camera, and when I see a classy little English setter frozen before a covey rise, not one quail will escape my wide-angle lens.

       For that you need a great camera, and I had one for many years, but it might be outdated now.  Besides that, I have spent great sums on batteries to run it, and now the door on the battery compartment won’t latch.

       Becky took me to a couple of places in the huge mess of a city called Des Moines.  I think that is a Spanish name meaning something in Spanish.  But there are some stores there big enough to play football in, and one of them had a Nikon camera with two lenses that never needs a battery, normally more than 800 dollars, on sale for one more day for 500 dollars.  They only had one left, and now it is mine.

       With my sudden increase in happiness, I volunteered to take Becky to a real fancy place for dinner and she opted for a restaurant named for some kind of colored lobster. A lobster of course a giant crawdad, apparently found in various Iowa lakes, a northern subspecies not found in the lower Midwest.  It is normal for creatures in Iowa to be extra large.  Take an Iowa raccoon for instance.  They pig out in those cornfields and before they are half grown they are big enough to cause grill damage if you hit one on a back road somewhere.

       Iowa is really proud of those giant colored crawdads, price wise. To eat one of them, you need to have a good-sized bank account, and my camera purchase had nearly eliminated mine. Becky said if I would order a black-end catfish, it was fairly economical!   So I ordered it.  Now I have caught and eaten white catfish and blue catfish, yellow perch, green sunfish, black bass, brown bass and even a red snapper once when they had some on sale at Aldis grocery store.      

       But I never even heard of a black-end catfish! When I got it, there were some little biscuits and mashed potatoes to go with it and NO GRAVY!  I asked the lady who brought it to us if I could get some gravy or if they were just out of it that afternoon, and Becky acted like I had asked for a midwinter watermelon!  “He’s from the Ozarks,” she said apologetically.

       Apparently folks in Iowa don’t eat much gravy!  And that black-end catfish I had was not at all black. It was sort of brown, and would have been SO much better with gravy! Of course, I do not know what he looked like before he was caught.  Maybe one end was black, but I would like to know what color the rest of him was.

       Well this week I intend to bring in some great outdoor photographs with my new camera. 
     Although this is known as a website, that name is deceiving. It has nothing to do with a real spider web, of which I have a photo. I also have a photo of a web with a really pretty black and yellow spider right in the middle of it, but it is hiding somewhere in the midst of my photo files.

        I am pretty proud of my photography, because I am fairly good at it.  But I am better at paddling a boat, and if you want to be paddled down the river and photographed catching big fish, you ought to call me.  Or I might could take you turkey hunting or deer hunting this fall, or quail hunting or duck hunting or whatever. I might even take a few folks mushroom hunting next spring, but Ill insist on blindfolding you until we get there.

       Another thing you ought to do is, you really ought to call my office before July the first to receive a copy of our 96 page full color Lightnin Ridge Outdoor Magazine summer issue.  We will run out in a hurry. Our executive office number is 417-777-5227. We can now take credit cards. Tell my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins that you want to talk to me.  Or you can write to me on the computer at

Monday, June 12, 2017

A Far-Away World

Next Issue of The Lightnin' Ridge Outdoor Journal will be mailed out July 1st. Anyone wanting a copy will need to have payment (by check or credit card) BEFORE that time. Info following column.

        You might not expect a naturalist, an outdoorsman and a lover of the good old days like me to brag on television.  It is a two-headed creature, one head the ugly epitome of evil, and the other a beautiful invention showing us the creation of God that my ancestors could never see nor comprehend from just a spoken or printed word.  I ignore most of what television offers, but I often sit glued to a screen when it takes me where I could never go, and teaches me about what I could never have imagined.
       For that reason, I think television can be a great thing for those who want to learn about the boundless numbers of living things found in far-away places. And it can be wonderful for kids who never see much of anything but the creation of man, trapped inside a concrete world, crowded with people and automobiles.

       The channels where you find those awesome films are varied, British Broadcasting, Animal Planet, National Geographic, the Discovery Channel and others. One I found not long ago is a channel produced by Brigham Young University.  I encourage you to watch them when you are inside for any reason.  All the master naturalists out there need to see this unbelievable modern day miracle of photography from some of the best camera-naturalists ever.  It makes me wish that when I was young I would have gone that direction with my love of the outdoors.

       I also get a kick out of seeing old television shows from my boyhood, like Gunsmoke and Bonanza and the old westerns.  Are there any modern television shows which even make you want to watch them, filled with the debauchery of modern times, and the sex oriented situations which television people think is great viewing?  Are there any modern-day stars which compare to Jack Benny and Jackie Gleason or Bob Hope?

       The old time movies and television shows needed a few good naturalists as advisors.  I saw John Wayne shooting pheasants once, supposedly in a time when those birds didn’t exist in this country.  Some show about Billy the Kid showed pheasants flushing where there should have been prairie grouse, and once I saw a grizzly bear in a movie set in Kentucky. 

       Fess Parker made a great Daniel Boone, but I would have loved to tell them that having him packing around tanned furs didn’t look convincing at all.  Furs taken by ol’ Daniel would have been bloody and stiff, thrown over his shoulder.  And there wouldn’t have been any arctic fox hides amongst them, as I often saw. 
       In the westerns of that time, you could be shot in the shoulder by a Colt .45 or a 30-30 Winchester and be up and around in just no time at all, ready to fight the bad guys again.  The bad guys fell stone dead in just a second and you often didn’t see any blood at all. That just wasn’t the way it was.  When Matt Dillon took a bullet in vital areas, somehow Doc and Kitty were able to save him! 

       But mostly I object to the fact that in the old movies, they got the natural world really goofed up.  Not today though, with those nature films that show places like Alaska and New Zealand and the Australian outback, or the depths and coral reefs of the Atlantic Ocean.  The jungles and wild creatures of Africa or South America, I can see and learn about. 

       My grandfather never knew about them except from the stale black and white photos in magazines and books he read by lantern light in his little cabin.  Would he have ever been awe-stricken if he could have seen those films!

       So I urge you to find those channels and watch them with your kids and grandkids, and stay away from CNN and NBC and CBS and channels like those that are out to deform the minds of those who watch.  Satan never found a better way to destroy our nation! 

       I am pretty much uninterested in television except for the old westerns and baseball games, and anything with Red Skelton or Bob Hope or those old time people from my boyhood.  Direct T.V. and Dish Network are about the only ways you can see those handful of channels that I watch when I am not able to be out in the woods or on the river. 
       You and I and everyone else knows they are very dishonest and deceitful businesses that are going to try their best to get much more money from you after a brief period than they first promised they would charge.  But in today’s world, you can’t fight them.  If you get big enough, you can lie, steal and cheat with little consequence. Maybe that goes along a little with modern times.  But if I was in that business, I think maybe I would just worry about getting people those nature channels. 
       I hope you find them and watch.  There is another world far beyond the Ozarks that we will never get to see and appreciate any other way, and those places and those living things are awesome.

       Can you remember the first movie you ever saw? When I was about five, my Grandma took me to see the Saturday afternoon matinee at the Melba theatre in Houston Missouri.  The movie was titled, “The Creature From the Black Lagoon”.  It scared me so bad I swore I would never be in a dark place again without a blanket over my head.  I slept that way for quite a spell, and for a good year or so I wouldn’t ever go out that long path to the outhouse after dark.

       But as we went to other Saturday afternoon matinees, I watched Tex Ritter and Lash Larue and Gene Autry always get the bad guys.   I guess I have turned out so bad because I got my own gun and holster set and rode around our little place on Indian Creek on an imaginary horse, shooting dozens of bad guys, quite a few Indians and a bear or two.  When I went to get my little grandson a gun and holster years ago, they didn’t have any.  Couldn’t even find a solitary cap pistol!  I kind of wonder if that attitude which we have developed today about what it takes to raise a boy has made the world better.

       When Roy Rogers was every kids hero, we had the best of times, and we lived in a society that was simpler and safer and yet greater than any we will ever see again.  Today there just aren’t any good guys left!

       If you would like to inquire about getting our new summer magazine or one of my books, just call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, at our executive office on our executive phone.  The phone number is 417 777 5227.  Or you can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613, or email me at

Monday, June 5, 2017

Why Is It Cooler in the Woods?



 Snow in the spring makes some folks scoff at the idea of a man-made climate change. They must have their head in the sand!

      Today I am going to write about putting together four words not usually associated with each other… ‘global warming’ and ‘common sense’.  Those who go around saying that climate change is a farce show their ignorance.  Certainly it is happening and you can see it if you take your head out of the sand. 

         BUT… those who are wringing their hands about what it is going to do to the earth may be dumber yet.  Because, there isn’t anything we can do about it.  We have made our beds and we will indeed lie in them.

         If indeed the ice caps continue to melt, if the oceans continues to rise, if the polar bears and arctic wildlife disappear and if Los Angeles citizens eventually have to wade in flooded streets, and New Yorkers have to wear masks to filter poison air, it won’t make much difference to those of us living in the Ozarks. And if the average temperature rises 5 or 6 degrees in the summer and winter alike, it won’t affect many of us. Folks will use more electricity to run air conditioners in the summer, and then less to keep homes warm in the winter.  As for me and a few folks like me, tucked back in these woods far from civilization, we won’t need either.

         That climate change that anyone older than fifty can easily see, will in fact have an effect on Ozark plants, fish and wildlife in time, but today’s population is so tuned into modern civilization, city life and technology that few will even know what happened, unless it affects cattle, chickens and hogs, and a slow ‘global warming’ won’t… much.

         Before global warming can hit the world’s populations too hard, it is likely that a meteor of some kind will, or a hail of nuclear weapons will.  For sure, floods will get worse, but we can live with that.  Droughts will be worse, but we can live with that too.  Carbon Dioxide in some cities will make the sun’s rays hard to see and feel, but what is warming our planet has much to do with something no one will talk about; population, increasing pavement and concrete… and the removal of forests and natural vegetation worldwide.

         There are increasingly new subspecies of human.  One subspecies is becoming extinct, that is the one that has lived on the land in small numbers, and with it to some extent, a part of the earth with little effect on it.  There were once quite a lot of them, but they are being replaced by a really strange sub-species now found in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York and places like that. They are very intelligent in many ways but they do not understand things that involve common sense.  This new sub-species thinks that one lifeboat will hold and infinite number of people, or that a strong oak limb will hold a million people and never break.

         That subspecies does not know that today’s world, as great burgeoning numbers of their kind keep pouring millions of acres of cement and spreading millions of acres of pavement, might be creating global warming that has nothing to do with CO2 or methane or hot water vapor. 
         I noticed that once when I had a pair of thermometers, that a big rock out in the woods up here on Lightnin’ Ridge was a full 15 degrees cooler than the paved parking lot at Walmart shopping center in town.  That is strange, isn’t it?  We went float-fishing on the Niangua river one summer when the temperature in Springfield Missouri topped 106 degrees.  On a river gravel bar beneath some big sycamores it was only 92.  Go figure.  Why?

         I am thinking that 200 years ago, the temperature in the woods where Springfield now sits, was likely the same temperature as the banks of the river.  That is a theory only, one I call the cement versus gravel bar theory.  And I want everyone to know that there has never been a day that you could fry an egg on that flat rock in the woods up here on Lightnin’ Ridge.

         Maybe you can see what I am trying to say.  If you can’t, I must sound awfully foolish, but I am betting that on the hottest day in mid-July of this year, I can lay down in the woods in the shade of big oaks, and you can lay down in the parking lot of some city business where no trees stand, and one of us will not get up at days end.

         I also will bet that where these big trees now stand, there will be none in a hundred years or so. They will be gone, and who knows, maybe concrete will have taken their place. What might the temperature be then, where cool soil might be covered with hot asphalt? Do you get a new perspective on global warming now?  What do you think the chances are that it will get cooler when the population and the amount of cement and pavement both increase on the surface of our nation by two?

         There is no chance of changing things here on earth, and those politicians who think we can most likely are those who think some Russian talked me into changing my vote last November.  That new sub-species of human beings and what they want have already swamped those of us who still cling to common sense.  As the old sub-species dies out completely, woods and rivers and wildlife and some far away glacier will be of no importance.

         But there is something to remember.  If there is a meteor, or if a great number of earthquakes and volcanoes erupt, or God forbid, if nuclear weapons start being used, the clouds created for months and months by any of those things will block the sun’s energy and really cool the earth, perhaps to a point of wiping out all life but cockroaches…and maybe a few folks who belong to the old sub-species of humans.

         So the thing is, those of us Ozarkians who do not gravitate to a world of concrete and pavement should stop worrying about global warming.  We can enjoy a much warmer winter in the future!

         My executive secretary, Ms Wiggins, has been so worried about global warming that she keeps putting ice cubes in the fish bowl and shaving her cat.  But if you call her you can find out how to acquire the summer issue of my magazine, “the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal” or one of my books over the phone. Just call her at our executive offices up here in the woods, 417 777 5227.

         You may write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at  You will notice there is no ‘g’ on the end of lightnin’.  In the pool hall back home, nobody put a ‘g’ on the end of anything.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Modern Technology and Old Tractors

       I hear there will be a city in Toronto called “Technology City” where the latest in technological advancement will be built into every home and business.  Mankind has come a long way since Plymouth Rock and Boonesborough, but folks, I mean it when I say that I think Boonesborough probably had happier people than “Techology City” will have.  Given a choice, I wouldn’t even hesitate to choose Boonesborough and a chance to know Daniel Boone.  I know there were Indians who were a problem, but I think I might have been able to bring about peace with them by setting up a good local pool hall and teaching them how to play pool and dominoes and checkers.

       Even with the Indians to cope with, seems like Boonesborough was a safer place than Los Angeles or Chicago or New York is today.  Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a place where kids weren’t consumed with the buttons on a little box all their waking hours?

       What is referred to as social media might ought to be called, ‘social mayhem’!  Recently my daughter put an exercise bike and a treadmill on some kind of computer site and while they show up on my computer as 100 dollar items, some guy came up here with one of those little boxes and showed me where both are listed as forty dollars each.  They are expensive pieces of equipment that my wife's parents paid more than four hundred dollars a piece for, and he insisted that I sell them to him for forty dollars.  I chose not to.

       So this might be a good time to mention that they, along with hundreds of other items, hunting and fishing gear and that kind of thing, will be hauled out beneath the old oak trees up here on Lightnin’ Ridge and sold in one of the biggest sales ever, in October.  I say that because I will be selling something like 1500 fishing lures, many of them antiques.  There will be guns, rods and reels, antiques of all kind, including a Mosley safe made in the 1870’s in Hamilton Ohio, said to be in place in a bank western Missouri that Jesse and Frank James tried to rob. It is huge. 

       I will sell most of my guns at the sale, and that will include the little Iver-Johnson I bought from someone in the pool hall back home when I was eleven years old. I killed my first duck with that gun.  There will also be boat paddles my grandfather hand carved in the 1930’s and lots of valuable wildlife art and that is just a small list of what I will have for sale.  

       I have talked with my daughter Leah, about someday splitting the money I have made to St. Judes Children’s hospital and the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital, and most of what we make from this sale will go to them I hope, if the government doesn’t get it first.

       But this sale will be an opportunity to visit my museum, walk the nature trails when fall colors are the best, and see first-hand what Lightnin’ Ridge is.  About 35 years ago, I moved my family to a beautiful ridge-top at the edge of the Ozark mountains about 6 or 7 miles west of Harrison, Arkansas. The first night we were there, a big storm came through and a bolt of lightning hit a back-hoe one of the construction people had left there.  So I began to call it “Lightnin’ Ridge.  Twenty-five years ago, we moved back to Missouri, eight miles north of Bolivar, to a home I built on another high ridge, the highest point in Polk County.  That first night a storm passed through and another bolt of lightning hit a chinquapin oak tree right off the screened porch.  It was scarred, but it survived and still grows today.  So therefore the name moved here with us, and when I started a fledgling publishing company 16 years ago, what better name could I have come up with?

       This ridge-top is a beautiful forest, with trees more than 250 years old, and home to dozens of birds and all kinds of wildlife species… one of them, a gray shrew, residing beneath an old tool shed, is not suppose to even exist in Missouri. 

An old civil war road runs right through the middle of it. You can still see the wagon ruts where Federal troops hauled cannons from Jefferson City down to Wilson’s Creek and Pea Ridge battlefields.  They crossed the Pomme de Terre River about a mile from here.  I found half of an old army saber blade beside those ruts here on my ridge. 

       So all day on Saturday, October 21 we will be proud to let visitors come see this ridgetop home, office and museum and take part in the sale.  I will see to it that there is cake and pie and coffee and tea for all visitors, and you will find tables filled with stuff I have used since I was a boy, and things belonging to my dad and grandfather and Uncle Norten, a legendary guide and WWII veteran.

       We have some churches bringing kids to our Panther Creek Youth Retreat this summer, where we make it possible for underprivileged kids, and boys without fathers, to stay for days free of charge.  They can swim, shoot clay pigeons, fish, learn to canoe and hike our trails, and now use a brand new sports field for softball, soccer, whatever.  

 But the old Farmall Cub tractor I use to mow the trails has stopped running and we need a good mechanic to come and fix it there, since I have no trailer that will haul it anywhere. It will start and run, but only for less than a minute. they tell me it is a pretty simple machine, made about 1950. Last year it ran perfectly.

      I tried last week to use a smaller tractor but I turned it over on a slope and was lucky to escape a tragedy.  Now it doesn’t run either. It is a much newer machine, a Massey-Ferguson 14-hp edition made in the '60s. If anyone can fix either of them, I will be glad to payt them well and let them stay a couple of days in one of the cabins. You can call me at 417-777-5227, email me at or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar MO 65613

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Black-Hearted Bird

A black-hearted cow bird

       It gets harder, as I think more about things, to shoot something just because I disagree with it’s
headed for the nest… this blacksnake has a wicked look in his eye!
lifestyle. It was not so hard to shoot a big blacksnake last summer that was crawling up an oak tree to eat the little bluebirds in a bluebird box I had attached to it. He made me realize that I need to take that box off the tree and put it on a steel post, then keep the post greased so his descendants can't climb it. 

      It is easy to shoot the occasional copperhead that ventures to close to my home here on this wilderness hilltop we call lightnin’ ridge. As I get older, instead of heading for the lake or river early in the morning, I make a cup of coffee and sit out on my screened porch; looking at the patch of grass and plant life we jokingly refer to as a ‘yard’, or ‘lawn’. 

This blue racer isn’t evil… I don’t think.  
 Never seen one eat a baby bird!!!
     It is a place for occasional wildflowers and mushrooms, rabbits, and all kinds of birds. Some snakes, like the hog-nose or garter snake or blue-racer, may cross it safely, as do terrapins or a variety of lizards. The lizards occasionally fall prey to the yellow-billed cuckoos, which us Ozark country folks call 'rain-crows'!
         Normally I would never shoot a bird in my back yard, but there is one I ought to pick off with my .22 rifle every time I see one… the brown-headed cowbird.  

      Yesterday, there they were, hopping around in my backyard, beneath the big oaks, a male and a female cowbird of the brown-headed variety.  Only the male has the brown head.  The female is gray. Though only the male is brown-headed,  I think both of them are black hearted, because they are like so many in the Ozarks... they are too lazy to work to provide for their offspring.

      That does not include me. I worked hard to make a good life for my offspring without causing difficulty for my neighbors.  When my daughters left the nest, they left a nest I had built myself.  This cannot be said of the brown-headed, black-hearted cowbird.  They build no nest. They find one made by a cardinal or bluejay or mockingbird and kick those eggs out of the nest, laying their own where returning birds of some other species, will hatch and raise their young for them.

      You would think that any bird would be wise to this, but they aren’t, displaying the traits for which we refer to really dumb folks, usually found in the big cities, as ‘bird-brains’!

      At any rate, now that I have made many city people mad at me, let me tell you why I let those brown-head birds venture off on their own to do what they do without being shot.

      The male, all black except for his brown head, was following that smaller gray hen around, standing straight and high, then huffing up his feathers to make him look taller and wider than he really is, throwing his brown head forward, making him look hunch-backed and disheveled.  That quite often makes the female receptive to mating with him.  Who knows why that would be, he looks awful doing that. It didn’t work that day.  She was apparently quite hungry and seemed to be trying to get away from him.

      He really looked stupid running around on the grass and leaf litter right below my place on the screened porch, huffing up and hunching over.  It reminded me that I had often done something similar as a youth, trying to show off my muscles and getting some girl to notice me.  It never seemed to work for me any better than it did for him.

      Eventually they both flew up on a white-oak branch only a few feet from where I sat drinking my coffee whilst I listened to an old gobbler sounding off down the ridge from my nest… er, I mean ‘house’.

      I could have plugged the two cowbirds with my .22 rifle, but it would mean making a pair of holes in the screen of about 1/5th of an inch, big enough to let in a fly or mosquito later in the summer.

      So I left it to the Great Creator to deal them justice for their evil ways. But really it seems as if he has been overlooking a great deal of evil everywhere lately. I may, later this summer, take things into my own hands and shoot their progeny, even if it will upset some mama cardinal or brown thrasher that raised them.

      You wonder why God created things like brown-headed cowbirds or copperheads, or cockleburs.  I guess he had His reasons, and as I see the perfection of His hand in the woods and streams not yet ruined by the hand of man, I feel a lot better than I do sitting on the porch watching some devilish blacksnake trying to eat my baby bluebirds.

      Then I begin to think that the blacksnake and I aren’t so much different.  I wouldn’t eat a baby rabbit or squirrel for anything, but I would sure eat either one this winter when they are grown up.  If the blacksnake waits until everything grows up, he will starve to death.

      It likely is best for me not to get into such deep thinking as I sit on the porch and drink coffee. I am fairly sure God didn’t create me for any deep thinking! It is best to get up early and head for the river and try to catch some five- pound, evil-minded largemouth, which might eat a baby wood duck or a whole household of young crawdads in his self-indulgent whims.

      I think that is perhaps what God put me on earth for… to stand up for the weak and defenseless, catching evil bass and evil catfish and evil walleye.  But the cowbird episode shows me I am getting too old for such purposes, growing too kind-hearted to do what should be done.

      However, through this column I might encourage others to keep a shotgun handy and shoot every cowbird and copperhead they see. In such a manner, I continue to be of some value, straightening out Mother Nature in her misguided ways.

You can read more about the outdoors and nature in my Lightnin Ridge Outdoor magazine’s summer issue.  To get a copy of it, call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, who will likely be napping at her desk here in our executive offices on Lightnin’ Ridge. The phone number is 417 777 5227. You may write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I’d Rather Talk Than Write

Signing books at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs after a convention speaking engagement.

         Last week I spoke to the Sertoma ( service to mankind) Club in Springfield.  They are a group of 40 or 50 who work to help boys and girls clubs of the area, and they were surprised to hear that I have a ranch for underprivileged kids where they can come and stay free for a week or a weekend.  Several of those men work with groups of children and vowed to use our place this summer. 

          I have never made a big thing of speaking to groups, but I have been a public speaker as well as a writer for decades, speaking in several states and once in Canada.  I have spoke in huge beautiful cathedrals and little country churches; in grade schools, high schools, small colleges, big wild game dinners, at ducks unlimited banquets, at various kinds of conventions and sport shows. 

        It is easy for me, I have done it so much that I never even prepare a speech or talk, I just try to add some humor to what I have to say, with a few minutes of seriousness about whatever I feel God wants me to say.  Groups are so different… so you have to adapt to each situation. 

         A few years back, I was asked to come to a town on the northeastern border of Missouri and speak to a church.  When I got there it was a giant cathedral that I absolutely was in awe of.  I had never even been in such a place.  Then Gloria and I were asked to speak in Plano Texas to a church that ended up being several hundred people in a huge community building.  I spoke for 40 minutes and then signed books for more than an hour.  They provided a place to stay and gave us a pair of beautiful matching jackets.  I would have driven the whole distance just for those jackets.

         I spoke to a convention in Hot Springs, Arkansas a few years back that was in the Arlington Hotel, and they put us up in a room right across from the room where Al Capone always stayed when he came there.  The room was just as it had been back then, set aside as something of a museum site.  I never knew what that convention was all about, but they paid me well, and again, I signed books for an hour or so.  

         The following day, Gloria and Sondra Matlock Gray, who was my editor at the time, wanted to go to the horse races.  Sondra’s husband and I bought three two dollar tickets for three races and we didn’t win anything, but I swear this is true…Sondra, who had never been to a horse race, picked three straight winners, and her two-dollar bets won her about thirty dollars.  She didn’t bet on the fourth race, but picked the winner anyway.  If she had bet two dollars on that race she would have collected about 20 dollars more.  It was one of the most unbelievable things I have ever seen.

         About five or six years ago, due to my book on duck-hunting experiences, I was asked to speak at a Ducks Unlimited Banquet in Oklahoma City.  I should have known, from what they were paying, that this would not be like speaking to DU banquets in small towns of the Ozarks. Gloria and I got there the day before and they had us staying in one of the fanciest apartments I have ever seen. At that dinner, there were about two hundred members of the richest people I have ever seen, all in expensive suits and ties.  Imagine how I felt that night, walking out before them in boots and jeans and a new ten-dollar sports shirt purchased at Wal-Mart.

         I mainly want churches, schools, and civic groups to know that I will speak at any time, any place to any size group, especially if they are trying to raise money, and while I once was paid for doing it....when I was young and broke with a family to support, I now speak anywhere-- free.

         Speaking to ANY group of any size is easy for me, and I recall the times when I have helped raised a lot of money for good causes.  Speaking at a big church in Kansas one summer, I helped raise enough money to buy more than a hundred pairs of shoes for Indian children on a couple of reservations in Kansas and Nebraska.  Once ten years or so back, I spoke at a Mt. Grove Baptist church in Missouri and that night, we raised 981 dollars, which was spent to buy coats for poor kids in the county. At another church in Kansas, I finished speaking and turned it over to the pastor, and he asked if there was anyone in the crowd in need that night.  A young man in a wheel chair came forward and said that he wanted to become a Christian.  Maybe nothing I have ever done equals the results of that 40-minute talk that night. 

         Those are the reasons I will go anywhere, anytime, and speak to any group.  I enjoy it, and it is easy for me to do it. I’ll end this with a story about 7 or 8 Baptist ministers who got the idea to have a big “Outdoor Sportsmen” dinner to try to bring in men of the area, hopeful they would start coming to one of the churches in the area.  They would have a free wild game dinner, give away tickets for a drawing which furnished all kinds of hunting and fishing equipment and in particular a nice 500 dollar shotgun.  I was to speak at the event. 
         It was cold that night, and the wild game, cooked and served outside, was just as cold when folks lined up to eat.  Then they packed the church, and a group of musicians that were suppose to play for 30 minutes liked what they were doing so much they played for almost an hour and a half.  Then a minister talked for a while and they announced that after I spoke they would have the drawing.  At that time it was a past 11:00 p.m.  Those men were really restless and they didn’t care about listening to me. 
         I confined what I had to say to about three minutes and then the drawing took about another hour.  I remember that the preachers and others involved in putting on the event all had tickets. One of the minister’s sons won the set of books I had donated.  Unbelievably, one of the ministers won the fifty-dollar Bass Pro Shops gift certificate and another one ended up holding the ticket for the shotgun. I think maybe not many of those folks who came that night ended up joining any of those preachers at Sunday services. 

         If you want information about my books or my outdoor magazine, just call me at 417 777 5227.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The One That Got Away

         I wasn’t going to tell this… thought I would just let it go, since it doesn’t make a very good story.  But there was this big ol’ gobbler, one morning about eleven o’clock. I like to walk and call and walk and call, and explore the country sometimes when I hunt spring gobblers, and upon a ridge-top, I hit my call at the right spot.  I am not sure how to describe the sudden and surprising response of a wild gobbler less than one hundred yards away. 

         It is loud and beautiful and rattles.  It bounces off the leaves and the branches like nothing you have ever heard in the woods.  “A thundering of his passion,” one writer described it.  Well when it is that close, it will put a walking hunter on the ground in a hurry, and I just happened to be in a good clump of buck-brush, where I was so well hidden I just figured I couldn’t even be seen by the sharpest-eyed bluejay, let alone that old gobbler.  

         Oh it was fine… I would call and he would answer, and I could have set there for a half hour or more, even with my lack of patience.  But as they do, when they have been alone too long, that gobbler came slowly toward me and before I saw him I could hear him booming and spitting as he strutted forward through the woods.  But the trouble with late-spring foliage and buck brush is… it hides the turkeys as well as it hides the hunter.           But then I saw him, maybe 30 yards away, and I brought up my barrel as that bright red and white head disappeared behind a big, big oak.  He stepped out from behind it a little and only his head and neck were visible.  That’s enough for any turkey hunter.  I blasted him with a load of 3-inch magnum sixes and on the other side of that tree, another turkey took to flight and soared away through the trees.

         I expected to see the one I shot at flopping around in the leaf litter, but to my surprise, the one that flew away was also the one I shot at.  I surveyed the scene, found no blood and no feathers.  As rule wounded turkeys run, they don’t fly.  There on the south side of that tree were the tracks of a half dozen lead shot.  I was right on him.  All I can imagine is, the big lovesick tom had enough luck that as I squeezed that trigger he pulled his head back behind the tree.  So I just kicked one stump only one time.

         Years ago, when I was young and more of a throbbing gizzard that young hunters tend to be, I would have kicked more stumps, maybe even thrown my old scarred up shotgun to the ground and hurled the turkey call into the tree tops. I was like that back then. 

         Certainly I would have cussed. My gosh I would have hated to have my daughters see me back then when I missed a turkey.  Heck there were times, when I missed a turkey in my twenties or thirties, that I would have been kicked out of that little country church where I went, when the hunting season was behind me and the fishing had slacked off. 

         But when you get that carried away in the quest of a gobbler, you learn that kicking a stump makes you limp home.  It can also loosen the sole on your boot.  Sometimes when you throw your turkey call, you can’t find it!  That day, I sort of smiled and reckoned that I saw a beautiful sight.  In my files, I have a plethora of photos of me grinning at the camera over the spread tale of hundreds of wild gobblers.  They all have smutty, bloody blue and white heads, and a beard sticking out just almost exactly like all the others I have ever seen.

         I do not like cleaning a wild gobbler nearly as much as I once did, and as I recall I have two turkeys in the freezer right now that I have intended to smoke for Sunday dinner.  Why do I need another?  I really don’t mind that he got away.  He will be there this fall or next spring, with longer spurs.  It is amazing what time does to a hunter.  An old friend of mine in the pool hall when I was a boy put it best when he said, “ I ain’t as mad at gobblers and bucks and catfish as I use to be!”

         As it is, I am just barely a little bit mad at that one that got away, and missing him really isn’t that big a deal. I just would rather not have any more pictures of dead turkeys, or dead deer, or even dead ducks and geese.  It is a darn shame what advancing age can do to a throbbing gizzard.

         This year, because of all the bad weather and an early spring, I think the wild gobbler harvest will not be what it usually is.  But I have this theory.  I think it is a different wild gobbler we hunt today than the one we called in so easily 40 or 50 years ago.  I met last week with an old-time writer and a man more obsessed with hunting wild gobblers than anyone I have ever known… Jim Spencer. A true woodsman and outdoorsman, Jim, to me, is the best outdoor writer in the country, since the days of Erwin Bauer and Zane Gray.  He doesn’t live in the suburbs somewhere getting what he writes from the Internet. He has been there--done that… and lives in the wilderness of Arkansas down the White River aways.

         I told him I thought that gobblers are different today, a change brought about by intense spring hunting pressure and natural selection that makes wild creatures evolve just a little in order to survive.  He agreed whole-heartedly.  A gobbler today isn’t entirely a different bird than he was in 1970, but he is a little bit different for sure.   What Jim and I see today is a difference in spring mating. I won’t go into it, but if you are an old timer who did indeed hunt back then, you know that the ratio of hens to toms is very much different.  I would estimate that in the Ozarks it might be as much as 10 to 1.

        Today in late April, there aren’t lot of gobblers wandering around by themselves.  You may see one or two or three toms with 10 or 15 hens!   It didn’t use to be so much like that, and gobblers never claimed to be buddies, they hated one another.  Hunting turkeys today isn’t much what I wanted to do when I was younger.  We didn’t feed them until April, then sit up blinds with decoys.  And while I own enough acreage to do that easily, it isn’t my cup of tea.  I do not like sitting and waiting and ambushing. 
          I like to walk because so may old hunters who get to their sixties cannot do that.  I like exploring and I like hitting my turkey call late in the day and hearing a response from a gobbler that never ever heard my call before.  But if wild gobblers are going to evolve, I reckon it is okay for hunters to evolve a little too.
         I’ve changed myself.  I no longer kick stumps and cuss at all, and calling one up and seeing him is always going to be enough from now on.  In late May, when no one else is hunting gobblers, I will be.  I intend to get a new camera soon and shoot a bunch of them with it.  That’ll teach ‘em.

     If you want a free copy of my outdoor magazine, ‘The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal’, or information about any of my nine outdoor books, call us at 417 777 5227.