Monday, October 20, 2014

Get Aholt of a Good Camera

I got aholt of a cheap little camera when I was in college at School of the Ozarks, and took photos of our hunting and fishing exploits with it. ‘Aholt of’, is a term the old timers in the pool hall used to describe coming across something valuable or useful, strictly by luck.
The other day I got aholt of one of those old photos I hadn’t seen in years and it was like finding treasure. Every now and then that happens, and it brings back great memories. The reason I don’t know where all of them are is simple… there are thousands of outdoor photos in my office, and I don’t have the time to go through them and organize them!
I love taking photos, and sometimes I forget the rod or gun when I am fishing or hunting and just use the camera. That goes back to the time I graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in wildlife management, and went to work the following week as the outdoor editor of the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock, the largest newspaper in Arkansas.
They gave me one of those big, box cameras that took black and white photos, and I brought film back to their processing department on a regular basis. I hadn’t been there more than a month or so when I went out to do a story about Arkansas Power and Light Company planting food plots for wildlife under power lines. Maybe it was because I was new, but they made a big deal about the photo I took of seed heads waving underneath a big iron electrical structure, and I won an award for the best photo of the month.
I think Gloria Jean bought me a nice 35 mm camera that year for a birthday present, and I began to take color slides with it. Today I have oodles of those color slides, and due to my organizational skills I can’t find anything I want to find without a considerable amount of time spent going through dozens and dozens of sleeves of slides in a huge photo-holding cabinet. I find slides in there I don’t even remember taking!
As a free-lance writer back in the seventies and eighties trying to support a family, those photos played a huge part in my success. Writing articles for Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, Sports Afield and many other outdoor magazines, I was paid extra when they used my photographs. In time, I began to sell photos for magazine covers, and the pay was good.
But I didn’t just take those pictures for the money it made me; I just got hooked on it. I never did learn anything about what I was doing, I just took lots and lots of photos, and because the camera did everything automatically, like adjusting for light conditions, etc., I got some great photos by accident. You just look through the hole in the back of the camera until you think you see a good picture, and then push the button.
It must have been about 12 or 15 years ago that I stopped taking those color slides and went to color prints, since they could be scanned and sent via computer. That changed things, because by sending out 20 or 30 color slides via mail to a dozen or so different magazines I worked with, a good number of them were lost.
I think it was only about six or seven years ago that Sondra Gray, who is the editor here at The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, took me to Sam’s, where she had a membership, and helped me select a really good digital camera that has a little card in it.
Now I can take photos all day, and come back to my office at night and slip that card in a little slot in this computer and put them all in a file in this gosh-awful machine that I hate so much, but am forced to use.
Looking back, it is just unbelievable what has happened, going from that big old box camera at the Arkansas Democrat in 1971, to the way things are today. It makes me feel a little like my grandfather must have felt when he watched a jet take off, and remembered how he once drove a horse-drawn wagon to town. I still don’t know a thing about photography, but I have sold hundreds and hundreds of photos, and if I can do it, anyone can. Just get a good camera and learn the fundamentals of using it, and take it with you everywhere you go. You don’t have to take classes, I never did. But I’ll bet if you do you’ll be glad you did. No telling how many more great photos I would have today if I had learned something about what I was doing.
I have noticed that if you forget the camera, that is the day that you will catch the biggest fish, or some giant buck or wild gobbler will walk up and look at you and say, “Where’s your camera.” I got a dandy photo the other day just by accident, of a deer running across a field with heavy dew and the sun behind her. If you want to see it, just go to my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors. and you’ll see it there.
And someone reminded me that I told everyone in a past column I would put a photo of a deadfall trigger my uncle Norten made years ago, on that website. I forgot… but I will do it this week, so you can see what a deadfall to kill skunks and armadillos looks like. But I repeat, it is illegal to use one, and no one should use one where there are cats or small dogs that mean a lot to a neighbor.
Our outdoor magazine, The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, and our Ozark magazine, The Journal of the Ozarks, always needs artwork, good photos and feature articles. If you think you have a good story for us, send it, but have it typed first. Or you can email it to us at lightninridge@ My mailing address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. In a week or so I will tell you what about some of the stories coming out in our winter magazines, and how you can get a gift subscription for someone who likes to read. But if you have any questions about either, you can always call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, here at our executive offices, located way out in the woods only 50 miles northeast of Springfield and about 500 miles southwest of Chicago. Ms. Wiggins has been to Chicago and Springfield too! I figure that anyone who has been to both places has the ability to answer any questions anyone might have. Ladies who have any questions about keeping their fingernails fixed up should ask Ms. Wiggins. She does more of that than anything else when she is here!
Huntin’ and fishin’ questions ought to be directed to me.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Sick Deer-- Harbinger of Things to Come?

The sick buck is full of ticks and too weak to walk any farther. He shows no fear of man. Hunters should note that this is a four-point antler on one side which makes him legal. There are some antlers twice the size of these, with only three points on one side, which are therefore illegal. Is this buck a trophy suited to passing on trophy antler genetics to his fawns? This demonstrates the stupidity of our four-point rule, which has been adopted to create trophy bucks to make more money from non-resident hunters looking for a trophy buck.
I found this doe in late September a few years back, very weak and covered with ticks. She had no fear of me. I hoped she might recover but I found her dead two days later.
A neighbor a few miles away had a sick buck deer, acting tame, come up to his place covered with ticks and too weak to go much farther. He photographed it, and you can see photos of the deer on my website, given at the end of this column.

He called the Missouri Department of Conservation and was told to kill the deer and they would come and get it and try to find out what is wrong with it. I have seen that same situation at least three times in the wild… all three times the deer was a doe in the early fall so covered with ticks you couldn’t believe it unless you saw it. Once, the deer was very weak and sick, but the other two times they appeared normal and strong.

I always theorized that the deer had some sort of tick fever. It was not the blue tongue (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) you see in August and September of very dry hot summers. People who know about the mad-deer disease which is spreading in north central Missouri are going to be wondering if any diseased deer they see have that… chronic wasting disease as it is being called.

I think it is a few years away in the Ozarks, but it is coming. Trouble is, no one knows for sure how long it will take to spread throughout the state. When it does, hunters like me will likely quit hunting deer. The Missouri Department of Conservation fears that because it will cost them a lot of money.

They were geared up to start selling non-resident tags for hundreds of dollars to the wealthier out-of-state hunters looking for trophies. That ‘seven-point or greater’ rule put into affect in two thirds of Missouri only a few years ago was to serve that purpose… create more “trophies”. Biologically and enforcement wise it is a ridiculous concept. Some of the older agents told me that confidentially they wouldn’t even attempt to enforce it because of the silliness of it.

But hunters looking for trophies do not worry about chronic wasting disease, they don’t intend to eat the deer, they want a cape and a set of antlers, and that is it. From that concept the Conservation Commission did well in setting up a ‘share the harvest’ program which turned over venison the trophy hunters didn’t want to poor families who could use the meat.

With mad-deer disease spreading, that program should someday be stopped. No one should take a chance on eating the meat of a sick deer harvested perhaps in some other part of the state just for its antlers.

My oldest daughter is a doctor and I question her about the chronic wasting disease and have a hard time getting her to give me hard medical answers. She says it a disease spread by organisms called prions, and there isn’t anything she can say that the medical profession is absolutely sure of. To a doctor, mad-deer disease or mad-cow disease is known as ‘Creutzfeldt-Jakob’ disease, and it is an absolute fact that humans can get it if they eat meat from an animal with the disease, whether it is a cow or a deer, or an elk.

My daughter tells me that in her early years as a doctor, she saw a case of it at the University of Missouri hospital in Columbia. That was about 12 years ago.

Bill Zippro, a resident of Joplin, Mo insists that his brother died a young man of that disease because he killed and ate a huge buck which was acting very strange, and didn’t make any attempt to escape. He said his brother was shown to have the prions in his system, and the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta Georgia verified it. When he died, his family was refused a normal funeral, because his body had to be cremated quickly.

Some news agency somewhere should talk to Zippro and investigate this, but they won’t. The only thing you will ever see on this subject will have to be through the Conservation Department. Ozark news medias will not oppose them. Zippro thinks the huge deer his brother killed had been kept in captivity. He says that a similar death of a deer hunter occurred across the line in Kansas about the same time.

The Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was created by feeding meat and bone meal to cattle in England in order to make them heavier and worth more money. The same thing created it in deer and elk in the United States, feeding a commercial food with meat and bone meal to herbivores in order to create bigger antlers.

You will never, ever hear the news media or the Conservation Department mention that when they discuss chronic wasting disease. In dozens of meetings on deer management held around the state in recent months, that meat and bone meal diet wasn’t even talked about. Hundreds of deer farms are enabled to continue because of the huge amounts they make on individual deer.

The mad-deer disease in north-central Missouri spread into the wild because deer in several of those penned-deer operations developed the disease and a few were turned into the wild to get rid of them. Some of those operations paid thousands for brood stock brought in from other states, which apparently spread the disease.

My daughter will not say that anyone eating a diseased deer may get the disease, but she does admit it is very possible. Prions aren’t bacteria and they are not virus. There really isn’t a good definition of exactly what they are! The idea seems to be that the prions exist in the brain and spinal fluid and possibly bone marrow, but not blood.

The Conservation Departments depending on deer tags for millions of dollars do not want to lose that revenue. But in time, they will not be able to hide what they know, and what is the truth. Like I said, I love venison, but my days of hunting deer are limited and thousands of hunters who learn the truth about this disease will join me. But some hunters will never know, and those who hunt only for trophies won’t care.

The “share the harvest’ program has other flaws. A Mtn. Grove resident, Larry Baty, retired from a Texas County pen-raised deer facility and told me this story. He says he saw a big buck raised from a fawn and sold to a Texas hunter for 26 thousand dollars.

The hunter brought his young daughter up to kill the buck, which was about half tame, in order to have the head mounted. Baty said that he had to inject the buck with a chemical to calm it down in order to move it to the area where it was to be shot. Then the next day he had to inject it with another chemical to make it hyper and give the appearance of a wild deer.

He gave me the boxes the chemicals came in and both said… “Warning…Not to be used on food animals.” The Texan and his daughter didn’t want the meat, and the venison, like that of a dozen other deer similarly injected, was given to the MDC for distribution to poor families that fall through the ‘share your harvest’ program.

Whoever ate those deer never knew that they had a dangerous chemical in the meat. Now even more, it will be risky to eat deer meat you know nothing about. Don’t do it!!! Probably right now the risk isn’t very high, but it may increase as chronic wasting disease spreads.

My website is and the email address is My postal address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Wet, Illegal Gobbler

One of these turkeys is gonna' wind up in the creek!
  I don’t want anyone to get to thinking I have any money, because that kind of thing gets you in trouble with the IRS, but last year I bought about 50 acres off in the middle of nowhere. It sits on a pretty little creek, with a great little cabin on it, just made for someone like me who likes to pretend he is living in some previous century with no one within 500 miles. Filled with big timber, decorated with the howling of coyotes and bellowing of bullfrogs at night and the gobbling of wild toms at dawn, it is a little paradise to me.

  This purchase was a result of one of the finest men I ever knew, Gloria Jean’s father, Frank Goedde. When he died he left enough money to buy it, and he wanted something done with that money to benefit his granddaughters and great-grandsons. So really, it is his place, and theirs, and I am enjoying it as well.

  A friend and I went there last weekend as the weather turned cold and it actually felt like hunting season again. And I went by Walmart sporting goods’ counter and picked up a roll of landowner hunting permits big enough to choke a buck deer. There must have been close to ten of them, and I was stupid enough just to sign everything, some saying “turkey” and some saying “deer” and some saying “firearm” and some saying “archery”. I commented to myself that if I killed everything allowed on those tags I’d have to pray for a cold winter, or by a new freezer. But I didn’t look as close as I should have.

  To make a long story short, as I seldom do, my father-in-law’s new place is full of turkeys. My friend and I got into them one afternoon, while he sat on a timbered hillside and I sat down along the creek. I probably ought to digress here to tell all you nature lovers that while I have seen black squirrels in several Midwest towns, I have never seen one in the wild until that evening. But there he was, a coal black gray squirrel. ‘Gray’ here refers to species, not color.

  A few times I have seen black fox squirrels in the wild, but never a gray, and he was absolutely spectacular. There were a few gray hairs sticking out the sides of his tail, but his white belly was black, and he looked like he might be something made for Halloween. With a can of black spray paint, you couldn’t have made him any blacker than he was.

  In time he got up in a great big oak and I lost track of him because of all those turkeys out in the opening before me. There were about a dozen or so of them - some young turkeys, a couple of old hens and three big ground-raker gobblers. Normally in the fall, it is the young of the year jakes I like to shoot, and leave the old toms for next spring.

  But across the little opening in the valley, sitting on the hillside, my hunting friend got antsy and decided to try to move down a little closer, just an hour before the sun set. There were too many turkey eyes watching for such a maneuver and they all spooked and clucked and flew toward the creek. One nice turkey came sailing past me, and if you think a turkey cannot fly very fast you should have been with me. That gobbler was matching the flight of any rooster pheasant or drake mallard that ever streaked by me, and I knew that I had to lead him well. I got out in front of him and squeezed off a shot and he fell dead in the creek.

  A wild gobbler is a beautiful bird when he isn’t wet. When he floats for a while in the creek while you try to figure out how to retrieve him, he just looks awful when you get him out. To get an idea, just take the next turkey you kill and throw him in the creek and see how awful it looks. Or take one of your chickens out and throw it in the pond. You don’t take any photos of yourself with a dead gobbler that fell in the creek.

  The levity of the situation went away quickly when I dug out my landowner tags and found that the only thing I had for a turkey was an archery tag. They had left off the wild turkey gun tags, for cryin’ out loud. I had to drive out a mile or so from the little cabin to find a place where a phone would work, and call Walmart, where I learned that it wasn’t their fault either, and if I would come in, they would give me the tags I was missing.

  It worried me, driving about 30 miles with an untagged turkey in my pickup, knowing how the conservation agents I criticize so much would like to discover me in such a vulnerable situation, so I covered up my gobbler good and hid him behind the seat of my pickup, and lit out for the Walmart store. At a truck stop a few miles away, where I had to buy gas, I met another hunter who had been hunting with his daughter that day and she had missed one. She had never killed a turkey, and he hadn’t either.

  I quickly came up with a plan that would allow me to go back to my cabin and eat some beanie weenies and potato chips and sit on the porch calling owls and telling hunting stories. I explained to her father what had happened and asked if she would tag the gobbler I had, call it in and make it legal and take it and give it a good home.

  So that’s the story. I don’t know if I did something wrong or not, but I have seen smiles on little kids faces that weren’t quite that big and happy as her daddy drove off with her turkey that had once been mine. There are plenty of turkeys left in my little wooded valley, and now I have some hunting tags. But I’ll tell you what I would rather have than another turkey to eat. I’d druther have a really good photo of that black squirrel.
  A reader asked me how to control skunks and armadillos around his place, knowing the difficulty created by shooting a skunk in the front lawn. The best way to do that is with deadfalls, which are illegal. They will kill a skunk quickly and they animal will not spray anything. They are illegal because they also kill cats and dogs belonging to neighbors.

If you live out in the middle of nowhere with no neighbors, you might use a deadfall, but don’t take the chance on killing a cat or dog that means the world to someone. My grandfather and his family used deadfalls to supplement his traplines, and each winter caught skunks, possums and a few coons and weasels that way. You can see one my Uncle Norten made years ago on my website. Without them you have two options for eliminating skunks or armadillos. You may trap them with a steel trap or conibear trap or sit out on your porch at night in the moonlight and shoot them, or get out at the first hint of light and look for them.
  We have a quantity of leftover summer magazines, which we would be pleased to give away. Anyone who sends me two dollars worth of stamps can get the summer issue of either the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal or the Journal of the Ozarks. Specify which one you want. Email me at or write me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. The website is

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bass Wallering in the Evening

My fishing partner hefts the nice wallering 

A nice bass, which engulfed a topwater lure, wallering on the surface.
We only had a few hours to fish so we took the boat and headed for the river a few miles away. I took only one lure, an old Hula-popper with a white skirt dangling behind it. I don’t know when they made the first Hula-popper, but it was a long time ago because when I was a kid in the fifties and early sixties, I had a couple of them and used them on my Uncle Roy’s farm pond, where fat little two-pound bass slurped them readily from the surface.

I write often about fishing with topwater lures because it absolutely enthralls me to see a huge fish smash a lure on the surface of the water. If you have fished much, you know the thrill of it. He is there and gone in the blink of an eye, and he can suck it under with just the slightest wrinkle of the water around the lure, or he can throw water three feet in the air with the energy of his strike.

The size of a fish cannot be readily determined by the commotion he creates, unless you are a grizzled old veteran fisherman like me. A greenhorn fisherman can have his eyes bugged out and his jaw dropped open with the splash created by an extra frisky one-pound bass.

At times, a bass actually clears the water and comes down on top of the lure, and that’s what happened a day or so ago with that hula-popper. I saw a smallmouth bass slash at it and miss, and honest to goodness, I didn’t even have time to react. He just decided that my Hula-popper was something he wanted to eat, and he came out of the water a few inches and smashed it from the upper side, carrying it deep as he did so. He was a nice one, and he made me feel very happy for a few minutes. 

I made him feel very happy too, by removing the treble hook from his jaw, and returning him to the water. Only a worthless no-account would keep a smallmouth bass from an Ozark stream and while I may be a worthless no-account at other times, I certainly am not one when I am fishing.

The Hula-popper had caught two nice big bass for me on one of the Missouri lakes I fish often, only a day or so before. I realized that I had written about Zara Spooks and Buzz-baits and Rapalas and Jitterbugs in the past year, but had failed to mention how effective a Hula-Popper can be. It isn’t that I do not use them. With my casting gear, I use one that is about three or four inches long, not counting the white skirt that extends from the back. It is colored like a frog, with a yellow belly.

But truthfully, I think that white skirt does a lot for its fish-catching ability. I don’t think a big bass looks up to see it splashing along above him and says, ‘oh, there’s a frog with a mess of white stuff sticking out behind it”. I think he just figures it is dessert, with whipped cream, after a meal of crawdads or shad or minnows.

Rich Abdoler had on a Buzz-bait of some sort, and truthfully he caught more bass than I did. We must have landed a dozen or so really big ones, up to about 4 pounds. He almost hooked one about 6 and ¾ pounds, but it missed the lure just a little.

I never actually saw the bass but I heard it ‘wallering’ around on the surface and I have fished so long, and missed so many good fish that I can pretty accurately guess how big one is when I hear it miss a lure on the surface.

Two different times, we caught fish around a log-jam at the same time. Once I let my Hula-popper sit on the surface while I maneuvered the boat to help Rich retrieve his lure, hung on a snag. His lure pulled loose finally, and a nice largemouth nailed it. As that happened, I heard a big splash and turned to see a ring of disturbed water where my lure had been. My fish wasn’t as big as the one Rich caught, but at least I caught mine on purpose and not by accident.

We came in about dark, empty handed, with all our bass returned to the water. I can’t tell you why we do such a thing. I guess it is the satisfaction of being off away from the crowd, where God’s creation is all around, undisturbed at least for awhile by man’s conquering, greedy hand. It is seeing so much that doesn’t even hint of this awful day and time, making me feel like I am some angler from the 1930’s using a Hula-popper just after it was invented.

And for some reason, a topwater lure and a big bass excites me still. It isn’t that way when I look down the sights of my rifle at a buck deer, and it isn’t that way when I flop another crappie in the boat with my ultra-lite outfit.

There is something about seeing a big hard-fighting fish, like a bass or a northern pike or a muskie or a brown trout, or one of those ten-pound hybrids, come up and slash a lure on the surface, only a few feet away from my rod tip. And in this modern time, it is really something to have that happen while I use a lure made long before I was born.

A reader sent me an article published on the outdoor page of a big city newspaper where a writer expounded on the catching of two fish on one lure at one time. One was a small sunfish and the other is a bass. There is nothing unusual about such a thing. In the many years of fishing and guiding fishermen I am sure I have seen that happen a couple of hundred times.

Once, floating the Arkansas portion of the Eleven Point River, a friend and I caught two fish at once a total of five times. In each case, the fish were small bass. But once on Crooked Creek in north Arkansas, I hooked two smallmouth, which clobbered a Rapala lure as it hit the water. One was better than three pounds.

If you use a lure with two treble hooks, you will see it happen a lot. Fish are aggressive and competitive. In Canada I have hooked two northern pike at once, and in the Ozarks on twenty or thirty occasions I have hooked two white bass at once, usually small ones. Green sunfish also double up on topwater lures often, along Ozark streams. But the greatest thrill you can get from double on one lure is when a big muskie in some Canadian backwaters comes along and nails a smallmouth you are fighting, and you actually land them both. I have seen that happen too, more than once.

At night on Ozark streams in the summer, when you float through a shallow shoal with headlamps on at the head or foot of that shoal, bass seem to panic as your paddle clacks against the rocks and gravel. They will jump high out of the water, and often come down in your boat.

One night on the Kings River in Arkansas in mid-July, I had two smallmouth jump into my boat at once, and both were better than two pounds. One of those two fish hit me right smack in the chest as I was paddling the boat through the shoal. Old time rivermen saw that happen quite often.

I know many people will never believe that, but it is the truth. I had a witness that night. But you pay a price when you are a writer who tells tall stories at times just to get a laugh. What I wrote about seeing the flying saucer on a duck hunt… and that time I swore I saw a mermaid in Bull Shoals Lake, well…

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream. net. My website is

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pelicans and Waspers

I didn't get close enough to determine the exact species of the wasps along the bluff.   In my younger days I would have dubbed them 'black waspers'.

The doe heard the splashing in the water as I tried to land a nice bass, and it fascinated her.  I dropped the fish in the boat and grabbed my camera.  Before she ran away, she commented on what a nice bass it was.
If you have never watched a giant flock of pelicans in flight you have missed, uh, well, seeing pelicans in flight! Nothing flies like that. They are kind of pretty, because they soar and twist so slowly, and turn and reflect their snow-white plumage in the sun as they do so. Every year about this time they frequent the upper reaches of Truman Lake by the thousands and thousands.

Nothing I know of has a similar flight, as they don’t flap their wings much, they just soar on those big wings, with their heads drawn back, not extended like geese or cranes. They are, like most large birds today, very overpopulated and growing in number each year. That’s because they really have no predators, and men don’t seek them as a game bird because they are fish-eaters and taste awful. I will never eat another one!

Twenty or thirty years ago you saw none, or few of them, on Truman Lake in September and October and now there are thousands. In Canada in the summer it is the same, thousands of them and growing in number. I don’t know what we are going to do about these burgeoning numbers of large birds; snow geese, pelicans, black vultures, cormorants, even eagles. I wish we could say the same about ducks and pheasants and quail. 

Laws protecting those species are silly nowadays, although I cannot see killing anything you have no use for. It may come to that sometime. In some areas of north Arkansas those black vultures are so thick the Conservation department allows certain docks and resorts along the White River to kill them.  And we just about allow hunters to harvest all the snow geese they want because they are so over populated, and fairly good to eat.

Anyways, pelicans in flight are unusual in that you see dark bodies against the sky, and as they turn they suddenly reflect the snow-white backs. That goes on for a long, long time, as they seem effortless in soaring flight, gliding more than they actually fly.

I caught a nice big bass a day or so ago, and as I landed him I looked up to see a doe watching me. I quickly grabbed the camera and snapped a picture of the doe as the bass flopped around in the boat. If I do say so myself it is a beautiful photo, with the sun backlighting the deer and bright water before her.  I have sent it to all the newspapers that use this column, but you can see it on my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fishing on a river in northwest Oklahoma when we drifted past a beautiful rock bluff with unusual layers of rock. Along that bluff for about 150 yards there were more wasp nests than you could count. 

Surely there were more than 200 active nests covered with black wasps. I couldn’t, or didn’t care to, get close enough to really tell what kind they might be, but they were not the common red wasps we have building their nests inside our sheds and under porches here in my area.

There were also hundreds of empty nests, likely from last year, which is surprising. Wasps do not reuse a nest like you would think they might do. Each summer they build new ones.

But I got to thinking, with likely 30 or 40 wasps to each active nest, there likely were eight to ten thousand of them along that bluff, the most wasps I ever saw in one place.  There is a bluff on the Osage River, which has a number of wasp nests each summer, but nothing like that.

As a kid, my cousins and I used old badminton rackets to kill wasps. We called them ‘waspers’, and we would find a big nest of them on my grandparents’ farm and throw rocks at the nest until we destroyed it and really got them riled, then whacked them in flight as they swarmed us, seeking revenge. On occasion, one of us would get stung, and we would run for Grandma’s garden to cut open a green tomato and slap it on the throbbing sting. 

There is nothing that soothes and heals a wasper sting like a green tomato. It was great fun clobbering wasps with a badminton racket, and of course it demonstrated your toughness to get stung and act like it didn’t bother you. I had some tough cousins, Scotch-Irish descendants, the McNews. I figure some of my cousins were wasper-stung at least 50 times by the age of 15.

As a naturalist today, I regret what we did. We should have allowed them to exist as part of nature’s plan. And if we do indeed urge folks to coexist with copperheads and make it illegal to kill them, we should do the same thing with waspers. After all, “they never are aggressive and seldom sting”... and no one has ever been killed by a wasp sting, I don’t think. Well maybe a few people but not many!

You know there are a surprising number of people who have never seen my magazines, and the fall issues of both are on newsstands this week. The distributor tells me that readers can find copies on the magazine racks at Walmart stores and large grocery chains. One is an outdoor magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, and the other is a magazine of Ozark history and culture, entitled, The Journal of the Ozarks. 

If you are a writer or artist who might want to contribute to either, we would be very interested in seeing your work. But as I have said often, we sometimes get great stories from those who are not writers, and yet have great articles to send us. If you want to submit something to either magazine, just mail it to us at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email it to me at We need good Ozark stories, and one thing I really look for is stories about World War II, Korean War or Viet Nam War veterans from the Ozarks. 

Another thing I am looking for is a nice winter photo for our cover. Deadline for the upcoming winter issues of both magazines is mid-October. If you’d like to get more information, or would like to obtain sample copies of either magazine, you can also call our office out here in the woods on Lightnin’ Ridge at 417 777 5227.

One other thing: I think we will take a day-long trip over to our wilderness area on Truman Lake via pontoon boat, and have a big fish-fry and two three-hour hikes. We can take up to 15 people, and those of you who fancy yourselves Master Naturalists, and those who just like to learn more about Ozarks’ nature, will have a great day. Naturalist and long-time Corps of Engineers Ranger Rich Abdoler will be along, so you can learn a great deal if you don’t already know everything. On this trip you will see some of the biggest trees you ever saw, including the largest white oak tree I ever came across, and an 1800’s cabin site, and an eagle’s nest where the eagles reside year-round, and likely the perfect timing for the best of fall colors and migrating lake birds. Write or call for more information.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dove Hunting be Danged

An osprey I photographed as the sun broke through clouds.   

Bolt, being smarter than his two legged hunting partner, determined early that water from a mud hole beat no water at all!
Rich Abdoler hunts doves, while I look for my dog.

Remember a couple of weeks ago, when in this very column I said that I had decided not to hunt doves anymore. I think that was a very good idea. But I went anyway, on opening day, after my old friend Rich Abdoler said he was going by himself.

I got to thinking he would probably need me so I said I would bring my young Labrador, Bolt, and help him get a limit. What a dumb idea that was. It ended up being a great day to go fishing, and instead I went dove hunting, in a sunflower field on Truman Lake.

Just as I anticipated, there were hunters everywhere that afternoon, the first day of September. It sounded like it might have sounded at Wilson’s Creek during the Civil War.

Dove hunting has become a social thing, and I don’t care for that. I like to hunt alone, or with a friend, off somewhere in the woods or marshes or fields where solitude is part of the ambience and mosquitoes aren’t. But if a hunter in this day and time wants to take a boy out to learn to shoot a shotgun and hunt doves, I think he should be able to do that, even if there is a crowd out there, without any interference from me.

I have had my day. I remember great dove hunts in that very same area 25 years ago when you couldn’t hear or see another hunter. It was a different day and time, and it is over. Dove hunting won’t ever be that way again. So I had decided to step aside and concentrate on fishing off somewhere in the solitude I crave, and never hunt doves again.

But what the heck, I went anyway. Poor old Bolt, the third or fourth greatest Labrador in the whole country, went with me. It had rained much of the morning, and when we got out there, about 2 p.m., it was cloudy, with thunder rumbling in the distance.

It was 79 degrees and because I can’t remember September very well, I thought that was going to make for a nice cool day. But the humidity was up there right near 100 percent if I guess right. My camouflaged T-shirt was soaked by the time I locked the pickup beside three or four other pick-ups, and Bolt kept looking back at it like he wanted me to bring the air-conditioner with us.

Surely the two of us could go without water for a couple of hours, I thought. If you bring a gallon of water, which Bolt can drink in less than a minute, it weighs 8 pounds. When you add that to the shotgun and shells and camera I was carrying, that makes more weight than a 21-year-old marine totes in boot camp. And I am not 21.

It was a mile to the dove field, situated a few hundred yards past all the other hunters, who were blasting away. Rich said there were a lot of doves, and I guessed he was right. I closed my eyes and envisioned Wilson’s Creek… or Gettysburg. The thunder even sounded a lot like distant cannons.

My glasses were so fogged over by the time I crouched down in the weeds I couldn’t see a darn thing. Why hadn’t I worn contact lenses? Why hadn’t I brought water and left the camera? Why hadn’t I left the shotgun, now weighing about 30 pounds?

I shot two doves, and couldn’t find either of them. Bolt found both of them, picked them up and dropped them, trying to get the feathers out of his mouth, looking at me as if to say… “I am a duck dog, stupid, and these ain’t ducks!”

He found one more dove before he left. Then he was just gone. Rich said he figured he went looking for water. I panicked. If Bolt was lost, Gloria Jean would lock me out of the house until I found him. While she doesn’t hunt, she loves that big old chocolate Lab. That’s part of the reason he isn’t a better hunting dog.

Spoiled dogs are like spoiled children, they give you lots of trouble at times, and despite my calling and whistling, which he and everyone for a mile around could hear, he wasn’t coming back until he filled up with water. My yelling for him was destroying the ambience.

Rich was yelling at me to shoot, and I couldn’t see anything because of my fogged up glasses. My boots were filling up with sweat! If I could have rung the sweat out of my clothes, I would have lost six or seven pounds. The sunflowers and weeds began to make me itch.

I walked most of the way back to the pick-up and found Bolt in the only mud hole I remembered passing. He was laying in it. I would have given anything to have jumped in there with him. We walked back to the pickup where I retrieved the leash I had forgotten. I drank a bottle of water and left my glasses.

 I walked back to where Rich was banging away and tied Bolt to a tree, which provided shade, and killed a couple more doves. Finally it came to me that I wasn’t enjoying this much. The humidity rose, thunder filled the sky to the west and I saw a streak of lightning. Over the years I have learned not to sit anywhere and watch it lightning when I could run for the pickup.

Rich stayed… Bolt and I left. On the way back he lay down in the mud hole again, and I was thankful I brought an old blanket for him to lay on in the back seat of my pickup. I had killed four doves and walked four miles!

I will never hunt doves again, I don’t think. If I do, I won’t take Bolt until he is older and it is cooler and the humidity is somewhere around 20 percent and all the hunters have gone back to work.

I let the motor run, turned the air conditioner on full blast and waited for Rich. Some hunter came by on the way to his pickup and I rolled down the window and asked if he had a good hunt. He said it was all right, he had bagged several doves. “But there are too many hunters,” he said, “and some of them are real amateurs.

 One old boy not far away was yelling for his dog the whole time… it just ruined the ambience!”

And that’s what I have against dove hunting… it has become a social event rather than a hunting trip. And there ain’t no ambience. I gave Rich my mangled, sweat-drenched doves and drove home in the darndest thunderstorm I have ever seen! But I might try it one more time about the first week of October.

I have 50 acres and a secluded cabin on a little Ozark creek off away from everyone where I take refuge on occasion to forget the world. I have decided not to hunt deer this year either, as it coincides with some good duck hunting and the fishing might be really good about then.

If you are looking for your own deer-hunting lease, I have one. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. The email address is You can talk to my secretary, Ms. Wiggins about getting a sample of our fall outdoor magazine mailed to you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Buzz-birds of Two Kinds

Teal hunting in September can seem mighty like hunting ducks in the summer, mosquitoes, warm days and green foliage just turning yellow.

Someone asked me recently when hummingbird feeders should be taken down, to insure that hummingbirds would migrate on time and not be caught in a winter snap of some sort. I once believed that was important, but I realize now that leaving feeders filled with liquid has nothing to do with delaying the little bird’s migration flight. It doesn’t.

Migration is triggered by dwindling light, and the change of many factors as fall moves closer. Hummingbirds may indeed die at any stage of their migration, as thousands of birds will, through natural causes due to age more than anything else, but they aren’t going to stay too late because feeders are left up. 

If you don’t believe me, just leave feeders full and watch what happens. The hummingbirds will leave anyway. I am not sure that they aren’t made stronger for their migration flight by the existence of such feeders, as natural food dwindles with the absence of blossoms they seek. So don’t worry about causing a problem for the little buzz-birds. That theory has been spread mostly by the master naturalists who spend more time in books than they do outdoors.

I saw a good indication of that recently when one of the state’s newspapers carried a story about teal hunting. Blue-winged teal migrate earlier than other ducks, and so there is a special hunting season for them in mid-September. The newspaper’s outdoor page showed two photos of blue-winged teal, but they were both drakes in spring plumage.

In the spring, the males are indeed a beautiful bird, but in September they look NOTHING like those pictures. I doubt if anyone associated with city newspapers would know that. In September, there are none of those markings, and teal are as drab as most other marsh birds. Only the wing panels have any color.

Beginning hunters who do not know what they are looking at need to know that hen wood ducks and hen pintails and gadwalls might look a little like teal in September, but once you have a knowledge of waterfowl species and how they fly, you won’t mistake them.

I have hunted teal since I was a teenager, when that special season was first instigated, and I enjoy it tremendously, but there are problems with wood ducks being confused with teal, even though in general their habitats and habits are far different.

The early flights of teal are likely 90 percent blue-wings, but there are always a few green-winged teal in September hunts. That is strange because green wings are one of the latest migrators, coming through our area in December with the late flocks of northern mallards. Both species are very small, but the meat is as good as that of any wild ducks. I usually skin my teal, cut the breasts in strips about the size of my little finger and fry them with some onions and Lawry’s seasoned salt. The legs and wings are just about too small to eat, but there’s a little meat on them too.

In my latter years of college, I was determined to be a waterfowl biologist, because I have always been so fascinated with wild ducks and geese. My dad and grandfather and I hunted them when I was only ten or eleven years old.

For a time, I was the waterfowl editor for Gun Dog Magazine, and I hunted with many knowledgeable and experienced waterfowl hunters. Most all of them could tell at a glance any species flying past within 50 yards.

But if you are a real expert, you can look at a flock of ducks a couple of hundred yards away and pretty much know what species they are, from size, shape and speed, and wing beat, even when you can’t see their colors. If you hunt blue-winged teal the next week or so, remember that they will look nothing like the photos shown on outdoor pages of larger newspapers. Those are spring plumage photos, and nothing similar to what a

September teal is. It is a bad situation when young duck hunters go out to hunt ducks and aren’t sure which species are which. It’s even worse when young conservation agents don’t know a mallard hen from a drake gadwall. A year or so ago a couple of my friends were checked by a young female agent on the James River to whom they had to give a crash course in duck identification. She had a book to tell her what the bag limits were but they had four species of ducks and she didn’t know what any of them were.

Folks expect conservation agents to know a great deal about the outdoors, and the older ones did. Many of the younger ones do not. A reader called me this week to tell me that he had heard a conservation agent on a Texas County radio station telling folks that while bullfrogs were indeed good to eat, they were also great bait for “troutlines”. In all my years of trotlining for flathead catfish or blues or channels, I never ever heard of any trotliners using bullfrogs for bait.

I can’t even imagine that. It would be comparable to using ripe red tomatoes to throw at squirrels and rabbits in place of regular ammunition. Comparable to using pecan pies for deer bait! Big flatheads sought after by trotline, or what he referred to as ‘troutline’ fishermen, seldom take dead bait. You catch them on live bait and live frogs held under water for a short period of time will be dead.

I cannot imagine someone doing that to any living creature, even a mouse. Any catfish caught on a bullfrog would be just as easy to catch on any of a dozen other kinds of bait. In fact, I will have to check the laws, but I think it might be illegal to use bullfrogs on trotlines if you look through the fine print. It is illegal to use any gamefish for trotline bait, and even sunfish, one of the best baits for flatheads and other species, must be under a certain length.

If bullfrogs are legal as bait, it is a bad situation, because year after they become scarcer and scarcer. On streams where I found bullfrogs in abundance as a boy in late summer, there are perhaps about twenty percent of the bullfrogs in most of them that there were forty years ago. In another column, I will go into some of the many reasons why bullfrog numbers are declining, but while I understand why any of us would love to have a skillet full of bullfrogs, please don’t use them for ‘troutline’ bait.

You might be interested in knowing that the first frost is only 38 days away, so it might be a good idea to go down to the pond or creek and take one last swim. One of my old friends was sitting on his porch last week with tears running down his face. I asked if there had been a death in the family or something of that sort. He told me he was crying because he had just eaten the last tomato out of his garden.

These are tough times for those of us who have gardens and love garden produce, but you have to remember that winter has good times too. Thanksgiving and Christmas are ahead, rabbit hunting in the snow, and walking woodland trails with no snakes, no spider webs and no ticks. God has given us six or seven seasons to enjoy for their variety, not just four. And the best of them all, as I see it, is the one we have now, and all those we are going to have.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge To see what our new fall magazines look like, go to my website…