Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Six Headed Fish-Eater

                  A drake wood-duck searches for acorns along the creek


Less than a year ago, mark Powell and a couple of men from a Springfield Baptist church brought a group of 27 fatherless boys to the Panther Creek Youth Retreat I have been working on for a year. They spent three days, and together we all built a trail through the creek bottom.      

       It is part of a circular trail still not totally complete, but it runs along the bottom, then up along the wooded ridge=top, and it is a magnificent place to see wildlife of all sorts, and hyuge trees and flowers and birds.

       A day or so ago, I walked it, carrying my over and under .22—20 gauge, which is one heck of a squirrel gun. Early in the hike, I walked upon a fawn that was maybe 6-months old, which I watched for awhile. It had no spots now of course, and I don’t think it would have weighed 60 pounds.

       Just afterward I flushed a woodcock in the bottoms along the creek.  Next to a food plot of clover, bordered by standing millet and milo, there was a big buck and a doe, and I wondered if they might be the fawn’s parents.

       Walking out on a gravel bar, I stopped in my tracks when I saw a drake and a hen woodduck, and I eased backward without spooking them. They were in shallow water eating the acorns. I might add here that I have never in my life seen so many acorns as there are this year, from both the red oaks and white oaks. A big white oak towering above my open porch on Lightnin’ Ridge has dumped so many acorns you cannot see one that is not touching another. The plenty which is afforded to wildlife this year is a blessing. If the winter isn’t really severe, the survival of my quail coveys should be really good, and I will let them and the rabbits go unhunted.

       As I reached the point where the trail leaves the creek and climbs up into the woods along the ridge, I caught sight of a creature swimming in the water below, and figured it was one of the muskrats or beavers I see quite often. But not so, a head poked up out of the water several inches above the surface and there was another right beside it. 
       They were young otters, and I estimated that there in that big hole of water, there were three or four. Then they became aware of my presence, and all of a sudden there were six little heads sticking up, peering at me high on the bank. And there I was with my camera back in the cabin. 

       These were young of the year, but very close to being adults, and I am quite sure that the creek is too small to give shelter to fish they search for.

       The stocking of otters a few years ago was done by young biologists who had no idea what was about to happen. It was like spreading seed on fertile ground, and the otters burgeoned into a real problem for those who have private fish ponds. A family of otters can completely wipe out the fish numbers in a good-sized pond, and they have done it in the Ozarks. 
       In creeks and rivers today, they are the greatest enemy that bass, catfish and trout ever faced. The reason they are more of a problem now than they were in an earlier time, perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago, is the lack of trappers in the Ozarks today. There was a time when hundreds of trappers went after otters each winter. 
       That also was a time when every stream in the Ozarks had twice as much water as they have today, and each stream was much deeper, with rocks and holes in the depths that today are gone, filled with silt and gravel from the erosion of the watershed. Fish cover is nearly gone in smaller streams. Some of those six young otters, and hopefully their mother and father, will be gone by spring if I can remember what my grandfather taught me about a creek-bottom trapline.

       As the sun began to fall lower into the woods, I approache a little ridge-top clearing where the old barn sets, and froze when a group of turkeys stepped out of the woods. I called a little by mouth, and soon they were all around me, maybe fifteen or so of the spring hatch, and I couldn’t see one beard. They got close and an old hen saw me. 

       I stepped out from behind my tree and turkeys went everywhere. For a minute I was undecided as which one to shoot. Then one of them flew up into a tree at perfect range. My twenty-gauge barrel had only one shell… size 7 shot. 
       Years back when my granddad was telling me about hunting fall turkeys as a kid with his old Steven’s double barrel, he said that the best shot size for big spring gobblers was size 6, but for young fall turkeys he said there is nothing better than size 7.

       There was the roar of the shotgun and then the thud of the turkey hitting the ground. It was a two-year-old hen. I prefer not to shoot a hen in the fall, but I can tell you that the hatch along Panther Creek this spring was good enough to not worry about it this time.

       In our first year, we have had some great success with  this Panther Creek youth project, but I am only halfway finished there at the place we want to use as a new experience for underprivileged youth, a place that can maybe change the lives of some kids. Our sports field isn’t finished yet, nor is our spring-fed trout pond. I do have a shooting range started, but we need an automated trap thrower, just in case someone out there has one they will sell.

       This coming Saturday, the 22nd, we will have our Panther Creek fish fry for those who want to see the place. You won’t believe the natural beauty that is there. Come prepared to explore. It is a free event, but don’t come without notifying us, because we have to know how many fish to thaw out a day before.

       Our only difficulty is a neighbor to the west that I believe is the most evil-hearted man I ever heard of. He has tried to extort money from us, has torn down our west boundary fence, made a false charge of theft against me, and accuses us publicly of advertising the cabins for rent and making money from them. 
       I will put my hand on the Bible and swear before God that those cabins have never been so advertised, nor have any of the dozens of kids and guests staying there ever been charged a penny. 
       I have a list of names of all who have come here, and all can readily confirm they were never charged. This man seems determined to destroy what we want to do, and he gains nothing by doing it.  His last threat was to burn or bulldoze a 12-year old cabin, of which he thinks a few feet of one corner sets partially on his land. 
       Somewhere in the Bible it talks about running into this kind of thing when you want to do something good. But I know this, that man will be of no consequence if God really wants this retreat for youngsters to change the lives of a few or many.  He will make it work in time. I have never been patient enough to give God enough time. I always did think He should do things faster.

       Call us if you want to come to our fish fry, and we will send you a map to get there. Phone 417-777- 5227. Or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net

Friday, October 14, 2016

Canada and October

Canada in October at Lake of the Woods

       It was nice in Canada last week, except for the wind. In the sixties for four days, it abruptly turned cold, with a skiff of snow overnight. When giant Lake of the Woods has much wind, you have to cross the whitecaps and find someplace that is sheltered in order to fish.  A fisherman becomes a hunter at such times, hunting a place that has the right depth and the substrate to hold fish. Last week I found such a place, a spot I had never fished before.  Lots of fish in 30 feet of water, most of them good-sized yellow perch, averaging twelve inches long.  But the walleye were there too, and we feasted on walleye filets one afternoon that were as good as fish can get. 
       Of course before I found that sheltered spot, I wasted some time in less productive places.  But in Canada in early October, every place you find is beautiful, with spectacular foliage and not one piece of litter to be seen. You cannot get back in the secluded waters of that giant lake without wanting to get out of the boat and go exploring. 
       My Labrador, Bolt, enjoyed that exploring as much as I, looking
for grouse and mushrooms and moose tracks.  But at one spot, he surged ahead up a narrow game trail and returned in a flash.  He retreated to the boat and wouldn’t get out.  You could see him saying, “Don’t go up there boss, let’s get out of here and go somewhere else.”  He came across the fresh scent of a bear or wolf, I am sure, and he didn’t like the prospects of seeing what he smelled.

       Unfortunately, the fishing in Lake of the Woods has declined over the last 30 years. Places where we once landed fish right and left in early October are now just fishless, and what you catch is about one-half the size of what was once there.  Places where we caught big fat crappie twenty-five years back have none now.  Of course, the guides know of secret places where they can get plenty of fish for their clients, but if you go to Lake of the Woods now in October, you will not see anything like what I experienced thirty years ago.  Lots of walleye and northern pike, but they are small, and fewer crappie and bass. 
       The numbers of walleye and crappie you can keep to bring home are low now, and I think that is a good idea.  If fish numbers anywhere were decimated years ago, it was Americans that made it happen.  Twenty or thirty years ago we were a greedy bunch, and everyone thought that fishing pressure could never affect the plenty we found there. Today you can still catch lots of yellow perch and bring home twenty or so per angler. If you use light gear, you cannot help but enjoy catching them, and the 12- to 15- inch walleye found with them.  Yellow perch are as good in the frying pan as walleye, in fact you can’t really tell which is which when you eat them.  I keep the bigger yellow perch and when they are filleted, you have one nice chunk of meat from each side that can be fried whole, just like a big bluegill or average-sized crappie.

       We caught a limit of four- to six-pound northern pike and they too are great eating.  But for the color of the meat, when you eat northerns, you would think you are eating walleye.  But they are slimy, and fishermen do not like to handle them.  You need to find a sand bar, plenty of them in Canada, rub sand all over the pike and then wash it off.  Then the fish is easy to handle and filet. 

       But you have to know how to take a filet, which may be two feet long on an average pike, and remove the Y-bones down the center.  It is simple to do, but it is absolutely amazing how few fishermen from the states know how to do it.  If you do not remove that small strip of Y-bones, the filet is tough to eat.  But when they are gone, anyone who doesn’t like a northern pike filet has problems with appetite.

       This country in Northwest Ontario is the land of my ancestry, French trappers and Cree Indians.  On my dad’s side, both his great grandfathers were Canadian French and one grandmother was a Canadian Cree.  As I get older, and I see the mess this country has become, I feel drawn to that Lake of the Woods country. 

       When I am there, and can retreat to some small cabin that can only be reached by pontoon plane or hours of portaging, I have no idea what is happening back here in the U.S. and it is the kind of peace some men yearn for.  No T.V., no phone, no computers, just a land where God’s face never seems to be turned away, where the perfection of natural law has not changed since the beginning of time. 
       When winter comes, with a pair of snowshoes, a man can walk anywhere, even crossing over miles of frozen water. Build up a supply of firewood, and fill a couple or three coal oil lamps, and be able to hunt well and fish through a hole in the ice and you wouldn’t have to worry about who becomes president, nor the kind of nation a new supreme court will create here. 

       That wilderness is too difficult a place for those who live here on entitlements. They will never be a problem. To survive there you have to work.  But I know that if I were there for an entire winter I could easily write a couple of books that I never seem to get finished here.  While there for only five days I wrote the final three chapters on a book I am about to publish.

       Sometimes, seeing the situation we have in the Ozarks, with growing numbers of lazy people we all have to support, and the law and justice system we have deteriorating by the year, it seems that Canada’s wilderness is a place where peace can be found for a few of us… not many.  The Canadian government is far worse than ours, but the people who survive deep in the bush are folks that live without fear of that government, because they are out of reach.  If I were young and had no family, I would be there in a heartbeat, and never leave. 

       The book I am finishing is entitled, “Little Home on the Piney” and it is the story of my dad’s  life from 1937 when he was ten years old to 1945, when the war ended.  It results from the years I spent listening to him recall his boyhood on the Big Piney River. It is packed with old photos and artwork.  If you enjoyed the book, “Ridge-Runner”, you will like this one even better.  The first 100 books off the press will be signed and numbered, and if you want one you can order it for 15.95 and we will pay the postage necessary to send it to you.  I will personally inscribe those books to you or someone else.  They’ll be ready well before Christmas. 
       My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.  Email me at lightninridge@windstream.net.  Somehow, I have a Lightnin’ Ridge Facebook thing that one of my Publishing Company employees set up.  Ms.Wiggins, our executive secretary, keeps it going and shows me reader responses.  So if you know what that Facebook nonsense is all about, you can see that.

Our big fish fry at Panther Creek is Saturday October 22.  If you want to come, please let me know by calling Ms. Wiggins at 417-777-5227.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Disease You Need to Learn About

These are elk along the buffalo river in Arkansas.  Tested animals from this herd have been found to have chronic wasting disease.

         The public is being misled about chronic wasting disease in deer.  If you eat deer meat, you need to know that several Missourians HAVE BEEN diagnosed with the disease, known as Jakob-Kruetzfeldt disease.  It is a horrible disease for humans to deal with and you can learn all about it on the internet.  It has been a disease dealt with in England for more than 30 years because of “Mad Cow” disease-- another name for it.  In the U.S. it exists in deer and elk and goats and is known as “Mad Deer” disease.

         In the fall issue of my magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Journal, on the newsstands in about a week, there is a letter from a Texas doctor you should read, concerning this horrible disease. I am not suggesting that you buy the magazine.  You can just find it and read the doctor’s letter on page 64 without buying it.  It won’t take long.

This is that sick buck found last fall in Polk County.  Stumbling
and staggering, he went down and then couldn't stand.
    Hunters in Missouri have been grossly misinformed about this disease, spreading to new counties each year.  It is likely that it exists to some degree in the Ozarks right now, and there is no holding it back. In the Ozarks of north Arkansas it has been found in whitetail deer and elk in large numbers.  I believe a Polk county landowner found a deer on his place with chronic wasting disease.He made several calls to the MDC asking them to come and check the sick deer, but no one would come.

         I think that state agency is looking at this disease too much in the economic line.  They really stress what it will do to the state’s economy to lose deer hunters.  They say less about what it will cost them in deer tag sales.  What they need to talk about, and do not, is what the disease can do to those of us who eat deer meat.

         My daughter, a doctor for more than fifteen years now, has not been willing to say much to me about it when I question her, because there is so much not yet known.  She did tell me that she saw a case of it in a patient at Columbia Missouri when she was finishing her doctorate at the University of Missouri.  A disease created by something known as a ‘prion’, Jakob-Kruetzfeldt destroys the brain, and it is complicated to diagnose.  The bodies of those known to have died from it are not taken to a coroner, but immediately cremated, as apparently instructed by the Center of Disease Control.

This is one of the deer pens operated by Amish
people in Randolph County.  Does are crowded
into a small area, to be bred by trophy bucks in
hopes of creating superior fawns to grow big antlers,
 sold and shot.  This Amish farmer told me he had
just bought a doe in Ohio for 26 thousand dollars.
There is no doubt it could have been stopped in our state fifteen years ago, if the raising of penned deer had been outlawed. That is what Colorado did when they first learned of the disease… they shut down all operations buying and raising elk and deer to be used as hunted trophies. And to my knowledge,
no wild elk or deer tested for ‘mad deer’ disease to date have 
tested positive in that state.

         Why didn’t Missouri do that?  The answer is money!!!  It was becoming a big business.  North Missouri deer pen operators were spending thousands and thousands on deer purchase in Ohio and Michigan, brought into our state without testing. And some of those Amish deer pen operations were making tremendous profits they had never seen in farming or ranching, tens of thousands of dollars off the sale of just one buck. The disease then started to occur in wild deer around those north Missouri operations.

         I am going to continue to eat deer meat only when it is a deer I have killed.  The prions that cause the disease are supposedly not found in blood, but in spinal fluid, and in the brain. If you do not cut the spine or brain in anyway, it may be that you could eat an infected deer and not contract the disease. But who knows for sure?  No one!  The doctor who wrote the article on page 64 of my magazine says that people have been known to get Jakob-Kruetzfeldt disease from eating meat.  Perhaps that was because the meat was tainted by spinal fluid.

         As for me, I will heart-shoot any deer I hunt and remove the meat from the bone without ever cutting a bone.  I worry about the bone marrow as well as the spinal fluid.  If you are a deer hunter, I would suggest you do the same.  I process all my deer meat, and have never taken it to a processor.  There is a worry that meat processors might accidentally get your meat mixed up with someone else’s.  There is no problem if you are very familiar with your meat processor and confident that won’t happen.

         That ridiculous “seven-point-or-better” regulation the Missouri Department of Conservation installed in two-thirds of the state was never biologically sound, never achievable for the majority of deer hunters not using binoculars from a stationary stand.  It was done to bring in more money from out of state hunters who were looking for trophies, and would pay large sums to buy a non-resident tag.  A few conservation agents said they never had enforced it and never would.

         Now that regulation has been ditched in nineteen counties where it is feared the disease exists.  It needs to be repealed everywhere, but the common sense in doing it escapes the decision makers who still think that a fork-horn will always become an 8 or 10 point trophy in just a year or so.  It doesn’t work that way, and never has.  Antlers don’t always progress to trophy size by letting them grow.  Many factors can make a spindly six-point rack remain that way throughout the buck’s life.

         My decision on whether to take a deer on my place will be whether or not he appears healthy and whether or not I can make steaks, stew meat, hamburger and jerky from the meat.  I have enough big sets of antlers laying around for the squirrels to chew on, I don’t need any more.  Any hunter who is out there trying to bag a trophy set of antlers again and again, needs to examine what makes him think that way.

         Human greed created Jakob-Kruetzveldt disease. They created it in England by feeding meat by-products to cattle, a creature God created to eat grass and grain… not meat. Too often, the greedy don’t go along so well with God’s ideas. Their idea was to put more weight on the cow, by making it a meat eater.  The added weight would mean more beef and more money.  Instead, it meant a horrible disease for the cattle, and a horrible death for humans who were infected by eating the beef.  In England there were many, many deaths in humans.

         In the deer and elk pens, similar meat and bone by-products were mixed into the deer feed to try to make bigger antlers and more money from them.  Good idea wasn’t it?  No one knows where it is going to end, or how bad it might get.  When the MDC people talk about controlling chronic wasting disease or keeping it limited, they are doing a disservice to those who believe them. It is not just limited to that 19 county area now, and in the Ozarks, it will move north from Arkansas soon if it isn’t already here.

         Notice that our state conservation department never mentions the disease spreading to humans, but it needs to be talked about, because several known cases have occurred in Missouri.  Talking to their relatives, I learned that in at least three of those deaths, venison was a big part of the diet.  I’ll hunt deer this fall once again, and hope I feel comfortable eating venison for a few years to come.  But I am sure that in time, deer hunting will just be too much of an uncertainty for many.

Friday, September 16, 2016


            While I was trying to compile the ten issues of a magazine we called The Journal of the Ozarks over a couple of years, I had contact with different types of contributors.  Some of them were hilarious.  There was one lady whom I had went to college with that considered herself a great writer and tried to help with one of my magazines for awhile. I had to brag on her a lot, but she was awful.  I didn’t tell her, but she quit, and really lambasted me and the way we were doing things.
            I decided a long time ago I would never discourage anyone, but always offer optimistic evaluations to everyone who asks me, if I can.  But what the heck do I know.  It is the absolute truth that I don’t know any of the technology of writing.  I don’t know the difference between a predicate and a participle.  That is the truth!  But then, what difference does it make.  
            In all my life I never wrote a thing I didn’t sell somewhere, eventually.  It just takes some resubmissions.  Once years ago, Sports Afield magazine asked me to send a story with photos about Midwest quail hunting.   When he received it, the editor really ripped it apart and said, “after reading this I can’t help but wonder if you ever really go quail hunting!” 
            At the time, Sports Afield paid around 1200 dollars for a feature article with good color photos.  I never touched the manuscript, just sent it to Outdoor Life.  The editor bought it and thanked me for sending it.  Outdoor Life paid 1500 for that article and used several of the photos I sent.  Good advice for anyone who wants to sell their writing… take some good photos to go with everything you write, if possible.  Photos often sell marginal articles.
            Speaking on occasion to a writing group or some high school kids, I tell them that anyone can be a writer.  All it takes is a pen and a tablet and a tree to lean against somewhere.  But truthfully if you are going to call yourself a writer, you have to make a living at it. Otherwise, writing is a hobby.
            One lady called me to say she could do some great work for my magazine and I asked her if she had been published.  She answered smugly that she had been published since she was six-years old.  She sent me a couple of manuscripts flawlessly put together that put me to sleep.  Boring as a soap opera.  But then, someone who loves those soap operas might have loved her work.  And that is a good point.  Just because I don’t like it, or can’t use that doesn’t mean a thing.  Someone else might… just resend it.
            I tell the story often about getting into one journalism class at the University of Missouri’s prestigious Journalism School. At the time I was majoring in wildlife management and the instructor didn’t like the idea of me being in his class.  At the time I was writing a weekly outdoor column for the Missouri Tribune or the Columbia Missourian, I can’t remember which.  One of my assignments received a D, and it was one I had just sold to a Texas Magazine called “All Outdoors” for a whopping sum of 35 dollars.  I dropped the course and kept writing.  I just wasn’t journalism material.

            In past years I was an editor for several magazines, Fins and Feathers, Gun Dog, Wildfowl and Game and Fish Publications.  What a joke that was!  I never knew a thing about editing!  I also never knew a thing about writing, but I have made a decent living as a free-lance outdoor writer for 50 years.  But you won’t make a living as a writer joining writers groups. 
            Those groups are a good thing if you enjoy the social part of getting together with folks who like to write.  It is the kind of setting where folks read something they have written and all the members sit around critiquing it. But should you be in such a group, be smart enough to brag on everything anyone writes.  That way when it is your turn, everyone will brag on what you have penned.
            I once spoke to a large group of outdoor writers known as the Southeastern Outoor Press Association.  One of the members of that group is Jim Spencer, whom I think is the very best outdoor writer in the U.S. today.  Some of  those hundreds of members make good money as writers and others in the group are would-be’ers and hobbyists. 
            I was really amused to find out about their writers awards program.  Each writer sends in his best articles for several divisions, and he pays 25 dollars to do so. You will never catch me paying for an award!  I don’t have money to throw away.  Brother, could a someone make a fortune here in the Ozarks by contacting all the writers groups and charging them to apply for various writing awards!
            If you are a writer, forget the awards and spend your time selling articles. You can sell one to my magazine, The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal if you have a good story.  I am now concentrating on finding articles for February, March, April and May.  The best stories I have ever received are written by folks who never wrote before, and just had one story of an experience in the outdoors.
            I do not care to mess with some cover sheet telling me what and where you have been published, or what your writing background is.  It is just not important.  If you want to sell me an article, send me something I can’t put down when I start reading it.  All I need with it is name address and phone number.  Whatever your writing group tells you isn’t of any value with me.  What I am looking for is hunting and fishing STORIES.
            It is funny to me that all the outdoor magazines I have written for in years past say that they aren’t interested in “me and joe” stories.  But I have sold them a hundred just such stories.  What they mean is, don’t send something boring! I couldn’t care less about a duck story telling me what chokes are best and what size shot to use.  It is stuff that  average writers have written for decades. Paint me a picture of a duck hunt with your words and I will buy it in a minute.  Convince me you have been there and done that.
            Here’s parting advice for someone who wants to write.  Go find some experienced older person who has a million stories from the good ol’ days and write about them and what they have done and who they are.  If you can’t sell a story on that kind of person, try painting scenery, or something of that sort.  The very best of magazine articles are interviews with colorful, unforgettable people.  Often they are also good book material.
            Some more advice, don’t be so determined to have a book published that you pay through the nose to do it.   Publishing companies lie at times.  They will often publish awful books if you have some money to give them.  I helped an old man get a book of poetry published once that was absolutely awful… as bad as you can imagine.  We saved him a ton of money by steering him to a printer, but he has no chance of breaking even on that awful book. 
            I tried to tell him that, but I take pride in knowing I kept him from spending about twice what he had to spend with one of those shyster publishing companies.  I am proud to say that Lightnin’ Ridge publishing company has published eight of my own books and dozens of others for really, really good writers and mediocre writers as well.  But I try to be honest and encouraging as I can be.  If you feel that a writer will never sell enough to pay publishing costs, you should tell them, and I do.  But it is a waste of time, always.
            Only a very few books in this day and time actually make money for the writer.  They ALL make money for the publisher.  Remember those two sentences.  And remember too that the term ‘writer’ is really overused, sort of like the word ‘professional’.  Try this experiment… write four good articles and start sending them to “paying” magazines. DO NOT SEND MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS!  If any or all send them back, send them out again and again and in time you should sell them all.
            No one can really teach you to be a writer, you have something in you that makes you want to write and write and write,   That’s All you need.  Write like you talk, and write from the heart.  Even if you aren’t a good writer, you might do good at it if you know more about the subject than most anyone else.
             If you do good at it, then you can call yourself a writer, but really, I would just as soon be known as a top notch boat paddler or a great duck hunter, or a great Labrador breeder.  I have made a fair living writing stuff for more than fifty years, magazine articles, weekly newspaper columns and books.  I’ve done good at it.  But to tell the truth, I ain’t never considered myself a writer neither!  But who would know?

PS.  You can join our Lightnin’ Ridge Writers Group, forming soon with no membership charges.  In fact you can make a little money at it, because we will meet at my place one night a week and shoot pool and snooker and bet a dime on each game.  We will also drink coffee and eat donuts and throw darts and play shuffleboards.  Might get a t.v. put in for those who want to watch football.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Dove Fields Versus Squirrel Woods

--> too cute to shoot?  no…  good meat to eat! 

                                  waiting for a dove or two
            It is a nice time to hunt squirrels because there are lots and lots of them, mornings are cooler, and the understory vegetation is thinning a great deal.  There are still plenty of ticks of course, and this time of year there is one thing a woodland wanderer has to deal with that drives me crazy… spider webs. Down in Arkansas there are those doggone timber rattlers. 

            In the big trees behind my porch up here on Lightnin’ Ridge, there are fox squirrels and grey squirrels alike, and they give away their presence by dropping pieces of hickory nuts and acorns from the boughs above in the mornings as I sit out there and drink coffee and watch birds.  

            For every fox squirrel, there are about 5 or 6 grey squirrels.  The woodland habitat of the two is comparable, but different.  Gray squirrels do not like to leave the confines of what we look at as brushy woodlands, lots of vines and small trees mixed among the bigger ones.  Fox squirrels prefer a more open woodland.  But then, if you ever hunted squirrels, you know that.

            This week, a great deal of attention will be given to dove hunting.  Comparing dove hunting and squirrel hunting isn’t often done, but I like the shade of the woods much better than the open sunlight of a sunflower patch where it gets hot in a hurry.  Early dove hunting always finds me itching and sweating because dove hunters usually are hiding in the weeds.  

            But if you have done much hunting, you know that in the cool of the evening as the sun sets, you can hunt water holes with barren banks where doves will come to water before going to roost. Doves like to alight several feet from the water’s edge and walk to get a drink. And they do not like to roost in trees filled with foliage if they can find the barren branches of a big dead tree close to the fields where they feed or small ponds where they water.

            Once years ago I was fishing Bull Shoals lake when I noticed that doves liked to come to a shallow point with bare or short grass ground behind it late in the evening, because some trees which had been killed by high water years before, stood just up the bank aways and were perfect roosts.  On opening day, about dusk, without another dove hunter within twenty miles, I killed a limit, and my Labrador got some great experience retrieving them, some from the water beside that point.  I didn’t go back there for two weeks, and then some new doves had moved down and I got a limit again.

            I have often written about hunting doves at a little pond north of Columbia Missouri when I was a student at M.U.  I took a rod and reel with my shotgun and caught several catfish while waiting for birds to come in, and finally just figured out I couldn’t do both at once.  A catfish seemed to always bite as I reached for the shotgun and doves wheeled over the pond when I was trying to land a fish.
            I have written about embarrassing times too, like the morning when I took Ol’ Rip, a black Labrador that a north Arkansas hunter had given me when I lived there.  She bolted at each shot, so I tied her leash around my boot.  Boy was that a mistake.  Imagine firing one shot and then being jerked into a milo field by one foot, trying to aim at another dove.  I never did get Rip to stay when she saw a bird, so she didn’t go hunting much, but she started me in a lifetime of raising hunting Labradors with a beautiful litter of puppies.

            Maybe the most embarrassing thing I remember is the very first dove hunt I was ever on.  Of course we never hunted doves on the Big Piney.  September was teal time, and smallmouth time and trotlining time and squirrel hunting time.  My dad thought dove hunters were right up there with fly fishermen and skeet shooters!

            So my first job was in Little Rock, Arkansas as the very first outdoor editor for the Arkansas Democrat newspaper.  I was only 21 at the time and when dove season opened, six months after I got there, a fellow who worked in the printing shop asked if I wanted to go dove hunting with him some evening after work.  I bought a box of dove loads and grabbed my old Model 12 Winchester, and off we went.  

            He took me to his favorite spot, a shallow little waterhole next to a junkyard and as I recall we hid behind a rusty old piece of farm equipment.  The doves were thick that evening and I was proud that I wasn’t missing many when I caught sight of a bird flying around behind me to my left.  I knew when I pulled that trigger that I had goofed up.  The bird I dropped behind me was a robin!

            The guy told me later he was a little surprised that I had done that, considering that I was an outdoorsman who had been published in Outdoor Life magazine.  But he said he was impressed by the fact that I cleaned the robin and counted it as one of my limit.  Truthfully, I didn’t much like the habitat we hunted that evening, but the company was good and Gloria and I made a good meal of the doves. When you are just starting out, any free meal is worth something. 

            I told her the robin was just a smaller dove!  She said it had a different flavor than the others.   Even today, I do not like those cut grainfields in early September, nearly as much as I like walking a wooded creek bottom with a .22 rifle watching for chewed up hickory hulls and falling acorn bits. You cannot beat a small-bore rifle when it comes to hunting squirrels.  

The light rifle is more of a challenge than hunting with a shotgun, as I always did as a boy, but I definitely cleaned more squirrels when I took my little 16 gauge Iver-Johnson. A squirrel, cut up and marinated and grilled over mesquite charcoal, is better eating than a dove. You can pressure cook the older ones for awhile to make the meat tender, but this time of year most of the squirrels are younger, probably 6 or 7 young to 1 old one.   

            It is best not to kill older females because they will produce lots of young squirrels.  Here are some tips to help you identify older female squirrels… 1. They are a lot fatter.  2. They really do a lot of barking and chattering.  3.  They watch TV all afternoon!   ---Just joking about that, a little humor there!
            Well, when these city folks go home after Labor Day, I think I will go fishing.  When it gets a little chilly later on, I may take ol’ Bolt and waste some shells on doves. Then I think I’ll go out and bag a squirrel or two amongst the yellowing leaves announcing the coming of the greatest of all months… October.  But shucks, I love the woods in September…except for those danged spider webs.

Monday, August 29, 2016


One of my newspapers refused to print this, calling it a rant.  What do you think!   I believe that no newspaper should censor something that offers solutions to problems.

I cannot understand why we can’t join forces and do the simple and easy things here in the Ozarks to make the natural world better.  Our rivers are in such a declining state, and it doesn’t have to be that way.         We can do this.  Why don’t we?  In fact I can do some of all by myself if the MDC will just agree to put up the money that those landowners must initially spend.  And it amounts to so little to put in water wells or buffer strips of native grass or young trees. You cannot possible spend time on our Ozark rivers and not see the problem as it grows each year. It is time to go out there and participate in turning this problem around now.  In a matter of years it will be too late and on many of our smaller rivers…it already is. 

There is another idea I have that I don’t think has ever been looked at before.  Right now the Missouri Department of Conservation manages about a quarter of a million acres of land we citizens own.  It is our land, but if they wish to remove all the large trees on any tract of it, they just do it. Much of this land being destroyed was given to the Department by people who thought it was the way to preserve it.  The department of conservation only profits from the cutting of these big trees because the logging companies pay them a percentage of the money the trees bring at the sawmill. 

         Why then couldn’t citizens raise the money, with the help of large conservation societies and wealthy people in our state, to match the bids of the logging companies to preserve those trees, many of them between 200 and 300 years old?  That way, the trees stand, and the MDC can still have the money they want.
         Then the den trees which are virtually worthless as lumber, the ones discarded when logging crews think they are just in the way, could remain there, dens for dozens of songbirds and furbearers.

A logged-over forest has very little value for any kind of wildlife in Missouri.  Anyone who tells you different is lying to you.  Those trees will not return in any consequential form as a forest for more than 100 years.

                  So I wonder, if I had enough money to buy those trees and the MDC could make just as much or more from me than the logging companies will give them, WHY COULDN’T WE MAKE THAT WORK FOR THE BENEFIT OF DOZENS AND DOZENS OF BIRDS AND MAMMALS AND PEOPLE WHO LOVE WILD PLACES?