Monday, July 9, 2018

Promises Made



         When any state conservation agency anywhere starts setting up regulations that can’t be enforced and make no sense whatsoever, they begin to lose credibility with country people.  The rule the Missouri Department wants everyone to follow now is the elimination of feeders and mineral blocks, thinking they are doing something to keep the dreaded deer disease from spreading.  I cannot for the life of me figure out how they think they are going to make that work.  In the winter I will ignore that, as thousands of other landowners will, but if it actually made sense and would indeed change anything, I would be the first to advocate it.

         My Panther Creek Youth Retreat, with a total acreage which can be used numbering about 90 acres, has a number of natural salt licks and I have put in several small food plots, not so much for deer but for quail, rabbits, turkey and doves.  In the teeth of winter, I feed them all and will continue to do so. 

         I know that 90 acres very well and there isn’t anything close to an overpopulation of deer.  Still, the conservation department people tell everyone that deer in that county are heavily overpopulated.  I don’t have any neighbors that feel that way, but every suburban deer hunter from Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield will believe them.  And that is why the MDC gets away with so much corruption and mis-management, millions of people who know nothing about the outdoors believe anything that department tells them. And much of it comes from people who have no idea what they are talking about.  For example, a media specialist on television announcing that the spring turkey hatch was up one percent.  If that figure doesn’t bring a laugh or two, you are one of those millions.

         At the beginning of the year a young man called me who works for the MDC and asked me to kill a couple of deer off that land I own in St Clair County, though all the legal seasons were long past.  I could bait them, spotlight them… whatever.   I asked him why!

         He said they wanted to reduce overpopulation in that area, (which does not exist), and they also wanted to test more deer for CWD.  I started asking him questions.  First, he didn’t hunt deer, secondly he grew up in a St. Louis suburb and knew nothing about how you go about determining how many deer might exist in a 90 acre tract.  His biology degree came from a small college in Kansas City and his office was in Kansas City.  When I began to tell him about things you could look for to tell you how many deer you might have on a given farm or even a public area; which he was amazed to hear it.  He didn’t get out of the office much and was just doing what his superiors told him to do.
 
         One evening just before dark, I sat on my back porch at one of the cabins and watched a nice buck come to a feeder beside a natural mineral lick, and I looked at him through a camera lens. He was a beautiful creature, and he is still there. I was not about to cooperate with something so silly. 

         Not all that far away two agents went into a hunter’s home without a search warrant, pretending to be there on a friendly visit.  They then wrote him a citation and confiscated several deer mounts because they claimed the five acres he thought he owned was a fraction of an acre less… only 4.8 acres.  Since then, a number of people have come forward to tell me similar stories, and in the fall issue of my outdoor magazine I will print their stories, giving the MDC the opportunity to answer them.  They won’t.  I have given that opportunity to them before and they refuse.

         One story I will print concerns a conservation agent holding his pistol on a woman and nine year old girl, who was crying hysterically, to keep them from joining the husband as they investigated him.  You need to read that, and all the other stories about what is happening to innocent people who have something the agents wish to confiscate.


         My meeting with the director of the MDC, Mrs. Sara Pauley, in mid-April was a complete waste of my time.  It covered about three hours and everything Mrs. Pauley agreed to went out the window shortly afterward.  Since then I have heard nothing from her, and she may have gotten in trouble just for meeting with me. But as she sat there talking with me, I suddenly realized that most of what I was talking about went right over her head.  SHE HADN’T HEARD ABOUT ANY OF IT.  I don’t think she knew about the millions of dollars and free labor given to Bass Pro Shops, nor was she aware of the fact that a number of judges and lawyers were having their property taxes paid by the MDC.  She certainly had never heard about the quarter million dollar gift Judge Kelso had been given, to the agent who had the shed full of confiscated antlers he calls his ‘retirement fund’. 

         If Mrs. Pauley knew that the MDC had lost a million dollar lawsuit because several agents had broke into a home and barn without a search warrant, she didn’t act like it. She didn’t fully comprehend what was happening to thousands of acres of public land her agency ‘manages’ where wildlife habitat is being destroyed to make more acreage for tenant farmers, and contract logging is stripping the timber on dozens of areas we all own on a regular, rushed process to bring in large amounts of money which they waste. 

          I asked her to meet with only three innocent people who have been targeted by agents, and she agreed.  I was to bring them to her office.  She broke that agreement, as I was soon notified by the MDC lawyer that any such meeting would have to go through her.  Her name is Jennifer Frazier, and her job is to cover the MDC’s… uh…little mistakes!   What a joke that was.  

         At any rate, the three conservation project proposals I sent to Mrs. Pauley as to her request, have been ignored. They are solid proposals, easy to accomplish. On the other hand two biologists called to say that they wanted to show me what they experimenting with on some land near Truman Lake, because I had agreed to do a story about something positive the MDC is doing for wildlife.  I promised I would print a story on such a project when I talked with Mrs. Pauley.  And I will… I keep my word!  Mrs. Pauley ought to go by that old Ozark practice of doing what she says she will do.

         I figure she has some bosses who nixed all that.   I don’t know, and neither do you, who is actually pulling the strings at the MDC. But they are powerful because they completely control the news media in this state.  And this column cannot be printed in most newspapers! Only a few are left who will allow readers to see this.

         Keep up with what is going on in the outdoors by reading the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor magazine I publish, or seeing my website, larrydablemontoutdoors.  You may email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613. To talk with me in person, call my office phone… 417-777-5227.
        

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Memories of Crooked Creek



Norten and I guiding Hee-Haw's Grandpa Jones (left) and his friend in 1975

         On my way to speak to a group in Mt. Home a few nights ago, I crossed Crooked Creek near Yellville.  For some reason it cause my heart to ache a little for another time.  I lived in north Arkansas for about 25 years, and Crooked Creek was a special place, the little river where I spent hours and hours, the best smallmouth stream I have ever cast a lure into.

         I first floated it in 1970-I think, or maybe it was ’71.  My dad came down from my hometown of Houston, Missouri and brought one of his wooden johnboats. We put in where the highway crosses the creek east of Yellville.  It was in April and the water was higher than normal and not at all clear—a green, wild little river that was full of brown bass, and shoals that required a floater to be efficient and careful.

          I had just taken the job of outdoor editor for the Arkansas Democrat newspaper in Little Rock, and eventually I would float all the streams of north and west Arkansas. Crooked Creek wasn’t all that scenic.  The bluffs weren’t high and the Missouri Big Piney I had grown up on put it to shame in beauty and volume of water.  But it didn’t compare to Crooked Creek when it came to catchable, hard fighting smallmouth.  And when it was bank full it was something of a rodeo ride because of the gradient, oramount of fall on the shoals.

          I looked through old black and white photos the other day showing my dad and I and other friends from those days, and that has a lot to do with the longing for those earlier times.  As I wrote about it, and the populations of north Arkansas grew in Harrison and Mt. Home, the fishing began to fade.  The gravel companies helped to fill many of the deep holes, and habitat for the big bass began to disappear.   A railroad runs alongside much of Crooked Creek, and I think it was in the 1980’s that a derailment emptied a chemical into the river and killed thousands of fish.

         I have learned not to go home again.  The upper Big Piney I knew is a wisp of what it was, and Crooked Creek, still a good stream to fish, doesn’t have the deep holes and 4 to 5 pound smallmouth I saw and caught in the seventies.

        My Uncle Norten floated it in the 1950’s, usually guiding other fishermen. In his book, “Ridge-Runner” he talks about an old man he grew to love, who considered Norten to be his personal fishing guide.  If you haven’t read his book, you need to get it.  The old fisherman he spent so many years guiding had never caught a bon-fide 5-pound smallmouth.  On his last fishing trip he caught one late in the day, and died shortly afterward.

         Uncle Norten and I guided fishermen together on most all of those Arkansas streams, the Kings, War Eagle, Illinois and Buffalo, to name a few.  They were all exceptional streams back then in the seventies and eighties, but when it came to big smallmouth, none equaled Crooked Creek.  I think I caught several 5-pound bass from the stream, but who knows?  I never kept any and never weighed any.  But I’ll bet, over the years and a hundred fishing trips, I caught a hundred bass twenty inches or longer, and 3 that were more than 22 inches.

         One old photo I found from 1975, I think, was of Norten and me and country music legend Grandpa Jones.  That day is a story in itself, as quite often Grandpa Jones sang as he fished and big tears rolled down his face.  He was having a hard time getting over the death of his old-time fishing buddy from the Hee-Haw television show, known as ‘String-Bean, who, along with his wife, had been murdered at their home outside Nashville.

         I hesitate to float the streams from the day when we used those wooden johnboats and the very first Grumman square-sterned canoes we obtained in the late seventies. After Don Tyson and his chicken-gut plants ruined the Kings and War Eagle and after the water levels began to drop on most all of them, it has been a hard thing to go back and be depressed by what they have become.

        But I have an old friend from Harrison who fished the Creek with me often, and I intend to make perhaps one last trip down Crooked Creek with him, stop on a gravel bar and talk about the good ol’ days.  And maybe we won’t catch as many big smallmouth as we did back then, but I will bet a dollar I land just one that is 3 pounds or better!  Just one will be enough.


        You can read a bunch of great old time fishing stories in Uncle Norten’s book.  Of the ten I have published, his outsells them all.  Much of it is about his time at Bastogne, as a 101st Airborne Paratrooper who was a war hero, in my book. 

         In 2001 as I recall, he was given a commendation by Major General David Petraeus, who invited us to Ft. Campbell Kentucky just before he and his troops went to Iraq.  Petraeus also put Uncle Norten’s photo on what they call the Wall of Fame for the 101st Airborne’s World War Two 327th division, actually nearly wiped out at Bastogne Belgium.
Significant…?  There are only 26 paratroopers on that wall.  Norten was the 26th one.

         But the book covers nearly 70 years of guiding float-fishermen in the Ozarks, and the great stories that go with that. It is filled with laughter!  He started when he was 11 years old on the Big Piney and made his last trip on the Niangua River when he was 88.  He was in great health at that age and could have had more years on the river but for a state agency known as Social Services, who helped his wife and his own brother put him away and claim his bank account.

         But that is another story too, to be told in another book sometime perhaps. If you want to read a book you can’t put down, call me and I will tell you how to obtain a copy of ‘Ridge-Runner’, 324 pages recording an unbelievable life … another time in History. I still have several that are numbered and signed by my Uncle, before he died in 2013. That phone number is 417-777-5227.  My email is lightninridge47@gmail.com… mailing address Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613

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Monday, June 25, 2018

More Regulations


        
         The Missouri Department of Conservation has recently handed out new regulations for the upcoming fall deer season which includes telling anyone who puts out mineral blocks, salt blocks or wildlife feed that they can no longer do so.  Good luck with that!
 
         Such a regulation shows just how far the MDC has moved away from common people and common sense.  In the winter, I buy corn for the wild turkeys on my land and will continue to do so.  Turkeys are hard pressed now and winter flocks can use that feed. So can quail, though I feed them differently! With quail feed should be scattered, with turkeys it can be put out in feeders.  I will however put a sign up beside the feeder telling deer to leave the corn alone.

         The MDC is afraid such a thing will help the spread of CWD, the ‘chronic wasting disease’ which amounts to the invasion of the brain by prions.  Prions are said to be an abnormal protein which affects various mammals, INCLUDING HUMANS. Doctors I have talked with can’t really describe them but they all know that prions have killed people.  How many cannot be known.

         On my place there are two natural mineral licks, and I am wondering if the MDC might want to come in and bulldoze them!  They might also want to come and cut away those branches right above the scrapes found here and there in the fall.  Deer sometimes urinate in those scrapes, lick the ground and lick and bite and rake the branches above the scrape.  Sometimes you wonder if they have the slightest idea what they are doing.  You can’t tell all of us who live in deer habitat that we can’t feed turkeys in the winter, or squirrels or quail or doves or rabbits.  I am going to do that, as I have for 20 years.  And those natural mineral licks will stay where they have always been.

         The deer disease, CWD, originated everywhere because we allowed greedy deer-pen operators to bring sick deer and elk into various states, and wild deer were therefore infected as well.  Some deer pen owners actually released sick deer into the wild just to get rid of them easily. Where were all the regulations then?  Too much money involved to stop that!

         So let me say something good about this bunch of ..uh.. expert biologists.  This fall, deer hunters will have various sites around the state where they can get their deer tested for chronic wasting, or the prion infestation which can and has killed humans.  That is a great step. Take advantage of this to be safe. I would never eat untested venison and I would warn all hunters to follow suit, because people WILL die this year from that disease.  In their news release the MDC states… “There have been no cases of CWD infecting people. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends having deer tested for CWD if harvested in an area known to have cases of the disease. The CDC also recommends not eating meat from animals that test positive for CWD.”

      That first sentence is just a lie.  If you take away the CWD and  insert ‘prion disease’ or spongiform disease, then they couldn’t say that.
 
         This is something you need to know…  If rabies was called ‘Rabies’ when it affects skunks and small mammals, and called ‘Mad-Dog’ disease in dogs, foxes and coyotes, then named ‘Horrible Water Aversion’ disease in humans, then you could say no humans have died from Rabies.  It is the same way with chronic wasting disease.  I have talked to many people who have lost loved ones who died with disease, so horrible that the Center For Disease Control would not allow them to be taken to a funeral home, and rather, had them cremated immediately.
         One research project, in Colorado shows that 78 people in that state have died of the disease in recent years, and they suspect 48 other people also died from it, whom   were not tested because of family objections.

         Another medical research project showed that the brain tissue from 31of 320 people who were said to have died from Alzheimer’s disease actually had those prions in their brain.  In humans, the prion disease is named Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

         You can read five pages of research on this disease in my spring Lightnin’ Ridge Magazine, simply by sending a self addressed envelope with two stamps on it. People everywhere need to eat no venison which has not been tested.  And if you feel in the dark on this disease, let me send you that info on what has been learned in recent months, information that the MDC will never tell you. I don’t know why they are taking the stance they are taking because of ignorance or in order to insure they do not lose money in deer tag sales.  But you can be sure of this… In 2019, as in 2018, people WILL die from prion infestation of the brain.

         Chances are good that these five pages I have assembled, written by top medical research people, can save a few lives… from a disease with affects too horrible for you to imagine.

         But if you are going to believe in the testing of deer you kill, you have to believe it is 100 percent reliable.  I have to wonder about that.  We are being asked to believe that out of thousands of deer tested, only 75 have been found to be diseased.  In the four counties tested along Missouri’s southern border, biologists say there were no cases of CWD found.  But Arkansas biologists say more than a hundred diseased deer have been found in a four county area on their side of the line.   That seems strange to me. Diseases in wildlife or people do not stop at an invisible border.

         Don’t stay uninformed about this… learn all you can from those who are not worried about losing money if the facts are known fully by all of us.

         My office phone, where you can order any of my ten books or my outdoor magazine, is 417-777-5227.
Write  to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo.65613  or email lightninridge47@gmail.com. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Unbelievable!! MDC At It Again!! AND A Sac River Surprise!




  a doe and tiny newborn fawn are seen along a steep bank next to the water... the doe climbs up the bank, the little fawn can't make it. we motor to the bank to make it flee the right direction where the doe is waiting,






but it sees us and comes racing up to the boat, wanting us to help... even jumps in the water and swims around the boat wanting to get in, crying like a little baby .
 christy gets out, picks it up while it is crying pitifully and carries it to a less steep spot, boosts it up to the waiting doe. 


  

      You get to thinking you have seen everything in the outdoors when you get to my age, but this past week my daughter Christy and I were on the river when we saw something way out of the realm of reality.  There was a doe and a newborn fawn along the shore, beneath a high bank and the doe bounded up over the top of it, leaving the tiny fawn desperately trying to follow.  He wore himself out, falling back to the shore again and again, with his tongue hanging out, crying pitifully.

      I figured if I paddled over to that bank he would run downstream and find a better place to join his mother, who was watching us from above.  When I reached the bank, instead of fleeing he came running up to me, looking me right in the eye, only a couple of feet away, as if begging for help.  Christy got out and he ran right up to her, crying much like a little child. She picked up the little guy and took him downstream aways, boosting him up a slighter bank to where his mother waited.  The photos I took tell the whole story, and you can see them on the website I have, larrydablemontoutdoors, or on facebook.   We didn’t catch many fish, but it was a day neither of us will ever forget.     


 
Thousands of dead and dying crappie, catfish, sunfish, perch, bass...all kinds of fish
    
Mike Matzke, who lives near the Schell-Osage Wildlife Area, called to tell me that here in the heat of the summer the Missouri Department of Conservation has decided to drain a five hundred acre lake on the publicly-owned property.  He says it was drawn down in a manner to keep all the fish from going into the Osage River.  Why?  Does the Osage, full of everything that swims, needs to be protected from what is in a lake right beside it?  What have they got in there, crocodiles?


      What gives you a good picture of what the MDC has become, is Mr. Matzke’s assertion that game wardens are giving tickets to anyone taking more than a limit of crappie, bass and catfish found dying along the shore!  And of course you have to have a fishing license to take anything out of that putrid water you might want to eat. So thousands of fish therefore are being wasted, and the stench is horrible. But hey, it is at least giving game wardens some work, and making a little money for the MDC out of this mess.

      Matzke points out that the lake has been a good fishing lake for lots of folks over the years. He says there is a news organization called Fox-4 Television, possibly out of Kansas City, there today photographing the mess and talking with MDC people.  When it is all over, the news media will likely show you how this is a good thing and we should be proud of the MDC for providing a valuable conservation service to us all.  After all, they are trained professionals.


      The meetings I had with MDC Director Sara Pauley in April were a dismal waste of time, as most figured it would be.  Mrs. Pauley said some things that had me hopeful, agreeing to meet with some people on a personal basis in her office.  She instead turned it over to their lawyer and that ended it all.  I found she knew almost nothing about what has been going on with her agency, and would not back up anything she had told me.  The MDC lawyer, Jennifer Frazier, will always do her best to cover up what is happening.  I had to laugh when she emailed me telling me she was going to do an ‘investigation’ involving a couple of matters.  If the public could just find out the truth… but they won’t, with Ms Frazier on the job.  See my summer and fall Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazines if you want to read the truth about what is going on with that corrupt agency. 

My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email lightninridge47@gmail.com.  To see the fawn photos, and the photo of that putrid scene at Schell Osage, look on my website, larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com

     

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Problems Wild Gobblers Face



      This weeks newspaper column... answers some face book friends who have disagreed with the idea of reducing hunting pressure on wild turkey. 
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       In my column last week I wrote that in view of what has been happening to wild turkey populations the last few years we need to ease off the hunting pressure somewhat by re-arranging the youth season--- by setting it after the regular season instead of before.  We should think about shortening the regular season somewhat, and, until we see an increase in the 2 and 3 year old gobblers, cutting back to one tom per spring instead of two.

       Of course that upset some readers, especially those who take young hunters that special weekend. One fellow pointed out that it is the one time he gets to take his son out into the woods and have special time with him.  In a way, that really irks me. When I was a boy seven or eight years old, and for many years to come, there was no turkey season. So I guess it follows to reason that Dad and I never spent any time together. But on that weekend that is now the “youth turkey season” we were on the river fishing for goggle-eye, bass and green sunfish. On weekends before and after, all year long, he taught me how to set trotlines for catfish, how to shoot by taking me out to hunt squirrels, rabbits, ducks and quail. Dad looked down on deer hunting because it was a time for the red-clad crowd to descend on the Big Piney country from the city. On such times, he and I might build a johnboat together. The point is, when someone says that having a ‘youth season’ makes it a time for fathers to spend time with their sons, I wonder what the heck is wrong with them. I will tell you a little about the youth season… it is a time in many situations each spring, for a man to take out a boy and shoot a turkey or deer illegally, while the kid watches, and in some cases doesn’t even go. The grown-up finds a field edge he can bait with corn all winter, set up a store-bought camo blind and just about insure that gobblers will be there.  Sure, I know it likely is a minority of men who shoot deer and gobblers during the youth season, but it is darn sure too many.

       If the special youth seasons for deer and turkey are the times you spend outdoors with your son then you are not much of an outdoor dad. My father worked at a shoe factory 15 miles from our home, but often he would get home in the evening and we would go down to the Piney and bait a trotline which I would run the next morning. Some evenings we would seine bait or dig nightcrawlers, or prepare some traps with my grandpa for an upcoming trapping season. We were together outdoors constantly, with no deer or turkey in mind. If the youth season for turkey in the spring is all you have for your son, you don’t have much.

       Those who do not want to see any turkey season restrictions often cite weather or predation as a problem, and they are right. My old friend Darrel Hamby sent me a note that said the biggest adverse effect is the fact that nesting turkeys ‘have no friends’ citing the crows as destroyers of so many nests. He is right. They are intelligent enough to watch hens and find nests. I think right now we have more raccoons, skunks, possums and weasels than ever before in my lifetime. Add armadillos to that and you see why the number of eggs per spring is declining. Then figure the growing numbers of feral hogs. It is surprising how few turkey hunters know what feral hogs do to turkey nests. But it isn’t only turkeys that all these critters affect. It surprises me when I talk to most of today’s outdoorsmen, that so many never even hear whippoorwills in the world where they live, but that bird, a woodland ground-nester, is ever decreasing in number because of egg-eaters, number one and two among them being the armadillo and feral hogs, which weren’t even found in the Ozarks when I hunted wild gobblers with such success 20 or 30 years ago.

       Hunter numbers rise every spring and big trees are being leveled everywhere. Yes the big problem is weather and nest predation…. But if you blame every thing else but hunting pressure, you aren’t looking past your own nose. ALL OF THESE have contributed to what I see annually as a problem for decreasing numbers of turkeys.  We can’t do anything about the weather, but we can indeed do something.  We can take a good look at hunting pressure, and accept the fact that it is indeed part of the problem and it needs to be addressed somehow. And we CAN do something about feral hogs…  I will talk about that in next week’s column.

       In the meantime if you are a father wanting to spend time with your son, instead of taking him out to set at the edge of a green field in a blind, take him to the Big Piney that week-end and fish for goggle-eye.  You won’t have to buy a special tag, and of course that will mean less money for the conservation department.  But with their 200 million dollar budget, they can absorb the loss.

       I am busy this month managing brown-headed cowbirds, the birds which destroy the eggs of songbirds which have open nests, then lay their own eggs for robins, cardinals, etc. to incubate and raise.

       They are more numerous here on Lightnin’ Ridge than ever before and my management tools consist of a very accurate 22. rifle.  But don’t get the idea that I am killing them. Heavens no, I am just frightening them away!  It is just as illegal to kill one as it is to kill a copperhead or a woodrat in your shed or a crow in your garden. Because as that MDC agent recently kept reminding us on a local radio station… “If we don’t say you can, YOU CAN’T!”

       I will relate in next weeks column what my get together with MDC director Sara Pauley amounted to, to this point. I urge you to find a copy of the summer Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazine, now on news-stands, where you can read about things concerning the MDC that I have discussed, which many newspapers are hesitant to print.  

      The summer issue of THE LIGHTNIN' RIDGE OUTDOOR JOURNAL is on the news stands. If you can’t find the magazine, call our office to obtain one.  The number is 417 777 5227.  Email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com  The post office address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613

 
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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Turkey Season of 2018


        




 
My opinion may not count for much, but it comes from many more hours in the woods than in an office… I think there are less than half the gobblers in the Ozarks than there were 10 or 12 years ago.

        I don’t know if we have had a worse wild turkey season than this past spring season in Missouri and Arkansas in the past 40 years. And I think eastern Kansas could also be included in that observation as well.



              The hunting was poor… darn poor. And you can blame part of that on the late season and cold. But mainly the problem is an alarming decline in wild turkey numbers which has been easy to see over several years, if you spend a lot of time in the outdoors in the winter. 

         That is when turkeys group together and are easy to see and count. Over the past several winters that decline in numbers seen in individual flocks has really been obvious. At the end of the 20th century, wild turkey numbers were good. Around 2005 there were seven mature gobblers feeding at one time at my corn feeder in the winter.  In April of that year, I stood on my back porch and heard 11 different gobblers around me one morning. This past spring I heard two or three on the best mornings and they only gobbled a short time. Over the past winter, no gobblers came to my corn feeder!

              Turkey hunting success always depends on the numbers of two- and three-year old gobblers. If you went back in time you might be surprised to know that what we have now probably would have been thought to be a lot of turkeys in the fifties and sixties, when stocking programs were going on.  How good could it get, biologists wondered. Would those men, most of them passed away now, have been surprised to see a harvest of 60 thousand turkeys in 2005?  That year it was unbelievable! I heard 2 gobblers fighting only a hundred yards into the woods behind my home in the spring and in the fall of 2004 I watched a flock of 30 to 40 young turkeys feed across my back yard, just a few yards from my back porch.

         Within a couple of years a decline began, and it has continued until it came to the situation we have now. It isn’t that we have only half the wild turkeys now that we had twelve years ago… I believe we have a little less than half. I was happy to see some young poults in the fall, but there were so few compared to what there have been.  And mature gobblers, the two and three year old toms which make up the bulk of the spring hunter kill, were just as scarce as I have seen them in many decades.  The same thing could be said of jakes, and that is what I think should worry us the most.

         According to telecheck numbers, from a harvest of 60 thousand gobblers in 2005 the last few years has given numbers of 44, 43 and then 42 thousand.  This spring that number really crashed, down to about 35 thousand.  Missouri Department of Conservation people aren’t going to do anything about this, but one answer would be to cut the season to two weeks instead of three, and delay it at least a week to ensure a greater degree of mating.
  
         Oh yes, that would make it a little harder to get a gobbler, but it no doubt would create a better hatch, even if the weather hurts it, as it has for two or three successive springs.  And as for me, I would readily accept cutting the limit from two gobblers to one.

         One thing the MDC does recognize is that there are more and more hunters refusing to use the telecheck system which gives them a handle on turkey harvests and populations.  My friend Darrell Hamby has a friend who is a conservation agent, and that agent was complaining about that recently, wondering why so many hunters do not call in deer and turkey they kill.  Darrell, one of the best hunters and overall outdoorsmen I have ever known, has an answer they don’t want to hear.  He says hunters are learning that the telecheck system is a way that they can be targeted for some penny-ante technical offense.  In the winter, deer hunters who describe big antlers with lots of points are often the ones who have their deer heads confiscated weeks later over some technicality.

         And if you have one of those flimsy little turkey tags notched as they are supposed to be, calling in the gobbler you took at eight o’clock in the morning later in the day seems unnecessary after the turkey has been cleaned, with carcass discarded and the breast in the freezer.  As hunters begin to learn what is happening with that telecheck system, more and more are beginning to ignore it.  One hunter told me that it seems to him it is often nothing more than giving the conservation department all the info they need to find a way to fine you for something that amounts to nothing.  If you bag a big buck or a pair of nice gobblers, he feels it is better just to keep it to yourself.

         Still, you don’t need a telecheck system to tell you that wild turkeys are declining in Missouri and north Arkansas.  Maybe there is a poultry disease having an affect on wild turkeys, much like what happened 80 or 90 years ago.  The youth season is a problem, which will never be acknowledged.  It comes too early, disturbing mating, allowing too many adult hunters to take a kid out and kill a gobbler for him, well before the regular season opens.  If you have to have a youth season, make it after the regular season, not before. That would help tremendously in allowing a greater mating season. When 5,000 gobblers are killed mostly in one day of the youth season, and only 35 thousand are taken over the regular 21-day season to come later, there is a big imbalance there.  Shouldn’t that tell somebody something?

         Biologists, most of them spending more time in an office than outdoors, talk often of turkey ‘management’.  But there is no such thing today.  What you do is manage hunters and hunting!  It isn’t ‘wild turkey’ management at all that affects their numbers; it is the management of people. It is time the conservation departments look at what is happening,-- a steady decline in turkey numbers for many years,-- and start trying to do something about it.  Delay the season, cut the limit from two to one, shorten it by seven days and set the youth season the next weekend after it closes. It would be wise to eliminate the fall turkey hunting gun season until wild turkeys get a little bit of a boost from a good spring hatch.  In addition to all this you might pray for a perfect weather situation next spring.  But even if you don’t get it… those changes will help bring back gobbler numbers. Then you can go back to what has been done in the past, which has helped create these low numbers of toms.  If proposals like those upset you, then remember what hunting was like for you this past spring.

        
        
Email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com or send letters to Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.  The office phone is 417 777 5227 in case you would like to obtain the new summer issue of my Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazine or one of my books.


Monday, May 21, 2018

The Mr. Wilson of My Boyhood


           
           In January, I came in to load my boat after dark and was surprised by a man standing there in the darkness.  He identified himself as a Missouri Conservation agent.  “Now what?” I thought to myself!
  
            He was young, he was alone, and his vehicle was nowhere to be seen.  And everything he did was exactly what he should have done to do his job.  If I had been a violator, he would have caught one. That is something today’s MDC enforcement agents seldom do-- catch actual violators.

            The young man wasn’t belligerent at all, but there to be sure I had my appropriate federal stamp, a hunting license, steel shot, a plugged shotgun and a legal limit only.  I couldn’t believe it; he thanked me and proceeded to talk to me as one man would talk to another, with respect.  I’ll bet he wasn’t 25 yet.

            I thought of the time when an old-time agent by the name of Bland Wilson showed me again and again how a ‘game-warden’ should do his job.  I was about 11 or 12 and he was one of my idols.  I went with him on occasion because I wanted to be in the outdoors all I could, and wanted to be a game warden someday myself.  My grandfather was his friend and adversary.  Grandpa never knew about the times I paddled Mr. Wilson down the river in one of his hand-made johnboats.

            Bland Wilson told me that my grandfather was the best riverman, trapper and outdoorsman he knew.  Grandpa grudgingly admitted that Bland Wilson was his equal, when it came to knowledge and ability in the outdoors.  “He’s like a %@#& Indian,” Grandpa said, “and he’s liable to be anywhere!”

            Grandpa was a conservationist too, in a different way.  He took what his family needed, in a day before I was born.  And when I was young, and we hunted ducks, we stopped when we had all the ducks he felt was needed.  But we picked the feathers up to the base of the skull and to the feet and to the first joint of the wings.  That whole duck was eaten and the downy feathers saved for mattresses or pillows.  But if we hunted ducks and the limit was six apiece and we only got five apiece, grandpa figured we should get that extra duck on our next hunt.   With Bland Wilson out there, it became a contest that grandpa looked forward to.  If he got a couple of ducks too many, he would stash them along the river and come back in the middle of the night, walk in to where he left them, and bring them home, figuring Bland was asleep.

            I remember once when we were floating down the lower Piney River and grandpa stopped on a gravel bar to count our squirrels and ducks.  He looked up toward a towering bluff and said, “That ______ Bland Wilson is probably up there on that bluff watching me right now with his lookin’ glass.”  His respect for Bland Wilson was great, his thinking bordered on paranoia.  But never, ever, did grandpa or dad ever waste anything.  Thinking about it today, I remember grandpa butchering hogs for neighbors just for the head and hide.

Bland told me about several times when he could have arrested my grandfather for little things, and my Uncle Norten was constantly telling the story about how Bland Wilson showed up on the river bank asking for a ride downstream when he and his pop had an illegal bass, by only one day, in the live-well.  If you haven’t heard that story, you can read it all in the book about Uncle Norten’s life, entitled “Ridge-Runner… From the Big Piney to the Battle of the Bulge”.

            Bland retired when I was still young and replaced by the best conservation agent I ever knew… a man by the name of Ron Roellig.  I related a story about him and the kind of man he was in my book, “The Prince of Pt. Lookout”.  Roellig was what every agent should be, he worked alone, and he was after one kind of person, intentional violators of hunting and fishing laws.  I will write more about him in the future.

            The Big Piney, after Roellig, was plagued by a couple of rogue agents.  They broke the law big time, because they made money by doing it.  Law Enforcement Chief Larry Yamnitz told be that as a young agent in Cabool Missouri, he rode with one of them when he conducted a private business in a state vehicle in his uniform on state time.
Yamnitz apparently went along with it because he feared that if he reported it he would be fired.  About 10 or 12 years ago, agent Kyle Carroll reported two other agents who broke the law while on duty, and sure enough, Carroll was fired while the other two kept their jobs.  It all backfired on the MDC though, as Kyle hired a lawyer, it all came out in court and the MDC had to pay him a million dollars when the truth came out.


I hope to finish several books in the next couple of years. One is entitled, “The Demise of Conservation… the truth about the Missouri Department of Conservation”  The other is the story of my boyhood entitled, “The Life and Times of the Pool Hall Kid”.  Another that is nearly ready to publish is “Recollections of an Old Fashioned Angler” and after that…“Memoirs From the Big Piney”.  I have ten books finished and for sale now…. I hope I live long enough to finish ten or twenty more. Call my office if you need to talk with me…. 417-777-5227. Our new summer issue of my magazine is available now.  Email lightninridge47@gmail.com or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613