About fifty years ago, while I was a student at School of the Ozarks, I met a true conservationist who had worked for many years for the old Missouri Conservation Commission in the forties and fifties. In the 1960’s he retired and became a teacher at the college. His name was A.R. Mottesheard. I took every course he taught, and one of them was a wildlife management course where he had students take 80 acres of land and draw up a management plan for the imaginary plot, which could be whatever we wanted it to be.
Mine was about two thirds timber and one-third bottomland along a creek that I was planting for small game, deer and turkey. I thought to myself at the time that it was a real dream, because no kid as poor as I was would ever own any land whatsoever.
I remember the wisdom of Mr. Mottesheard, who often said that conservation departments never really manage wildlife; their job was just to make the needs of the various species available, for breeding and raising young, for escape from predators and for an available diversity of plant life needed for food. He said that Conservation Departments were more responsible for ‘managing’ hunters, and managing the harvests of game, and making sure that hunters and fishermen took available excess without cutting into brood stock.
I never thought I would be involved in the ‘managing’ of a tract of land to feed protect and propagate wildlife, but it is what I am doing now to make the Panther Creek youth project near Collins, Mo. an outdoor education center, a haven for birds and furbearers, turkey and deer, where there is a good balance as close to nature’s way as possible. I am particularly interested in the propagation of quail and rabbits, and it seems as if those things I learned from Mr. Mottesheard are paying dividends.
A quail flock of about 18 bobwhites from last February seems to be much larger this winter, and on this tract of 50 or 60 acres, there is a plan now to have plots of late winter food for them, good winter cover and escape areas. I am beginning to turn my attention to the control of predators, as we have far too many of three species… skunks, possums and raccoons, all of them known to eat all the eggs of any ground-nesting birds they find.
The armadillo, a no-account illegal immigrant from way south of us, has established a foothold in the Ozarks, and I will completely wipe them out if I can. I will pray that feral hogs don’t invade the place. Right now, hawks are not as serious a problem along Panther Creek as in other parts of the Ozarks, but there are way too many otters, and I will eliminate at least three fourths of them if I can. Any of those predators in the above paragraph are a problem for rabbits or quail or both.
As for deer and turkey, they are abundant on the Panther Creek tract I ‘manage’ but not much will hurt the numbers of either, unless the place has a year or two of no acorns. There will be no logging here, so that shouldn’t be a problem. I wish I had saved that big spread-out plan I fixed up for Mr. Mottesheard way back then. I would like to see if I had any ideas as a 17-year-old kid that I could use now.
But when you push through a small patch of milo and millet, and a dove or two takes to flight, and then you watch a cottontail feeding on clover at the edge of a big patch of sericea lespedeza, and hear bobwhites calling from a thicket between the timber and the creek at dusk, you feel good about working the land. I’m not looking toward a harvest of grain, as farmers must do, but toward creating something lasting for wild creatures, and young people who may see something when they visit that they will never have an opportunity to see in the pavement and concrete world where they have to grow up.
Did you know that bobwhite quail roosters often take over a hatching brood and stay with them for weeks until they mature, while the hen who laid the eggs goes off and mates with a new cock and brings off another clutch. Biologists learned that by putting little transmitters around the body smaller than a dime, and following adult birds. If a nest of eggs is destroyed, the hen usually will lay another nest full, and some hatching occurs as late as mid-August. But… young quail hatched after August begins will have a very poor survival rate in the late fall if the weather is bad. They do not develop enough body weight and fat to survive if cold persists in October and early November.
If you see my old pick-up sitting in front of a flea market or antique store with my old Labrador in the passenger seat waiting patiently, I am not in there looking for dishes. Some of those places have mounted deer heads and antique guns and duck decoys… and fishing lures made in the 1920’s. It wasn’t too long ago that I bought three Outdoor Life magazines published in the ‘40’s for only ten bucks!
I suppose if I had more money at one time in that billfold of mine I might actually go to Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops and look around, but honest to goodness, those high-priced sporting goods stores are boring after you’ve wandered the aisles of a flea market and spied a pocket knife just like grandpa used, and a genuine complete set of 1950 Ford hubcaps.
I’m just saying, if you are a grizzled old outdoorsman and you can’t go fishing, you might go look through some flea markets and antique shops. Call me if you find any good old wooden decoys!