Friday, February 15, 2019

The Pet Deer... and MDC

       Common sense isn’t used much anymore.  I was recently involved in something of a comedy that could have used a little common sense. It happened just after the gun deer season closed.  A farmer from Halfway Missouri by the name of Larry McCarthy called me to say that there was a big buck in his field wandering around and he was afraid he might be sick, perhaps with  the dreaded cwd he had heard so much about.   He said he had called the local conservation agents and they had advised him to just shoot the deer and let it lay.  McCarthy didn’t want to do that because he feared if it had that chronic wasting disease (actually known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy) that it might affect local livestock.  He asked if I would come and look at it and I did.  Was I ever surprised!  What a set of antlers the buck had!  I walked up close to him and took several photos.  He wasn’t sick at all… he was just another tame deer and I have seen many of them. I knew immediately what was going on.  I have seen several bucks with cwd or tse, whichever you want to call it. And I have also seen a bunch of pen-raised tame deer!   That is exactly what that buck was. He showed no sign of any problem at all acknowledging me with curiosity, and then he went about doing what buck deer do, eating and walking about looking for a better mouthful, browsing from here to there.  His coat was clean and healthy and he was fat, very well fed.  He had been raised somewhere from a little fawn, and had no fear of humans. When I went back to where Mr. McCarthy waited by his pick-up, I told him the deer wasn’t sick, but tame, likely pen-raised somewhere close, by someone who had raised him from a fawn and wanted to make money from him by selling him to a hunting enclosure somewhere, where he would be killed by a hunter paying a considerable amount of money.  I asked if there were many Mennonites or Amish landowners nearby and he said, “Maybe that’s why so many of them have been buzzing around here this morning so interested   in this buck.”  Sure enough there was a Mennonite deer pen not far away.

       “The buck is healthy,” I told Mr. McCarthy, “and his head and antlers are worth a lot of money to some wealthy trophy hunter.  They are exceptional, not often seen in wild deer.”

      A conservation official arrived then and I took a photo of him just in case someone doesn’t want to believe this.  He looked like a swat team member after a shopping mall shooter!  He had ear phones, and a plastic face mask at first; and an automatic assault rifle, with a special uniform and military boots. He saw that buck and it is my opinion he couldn’t wait to shoot it, even after I told him it was tame, not sick.

       Mr. McCarthy didn’t want to believe me.  A buck deer that acted like a pet calf had him spooked.  He wanted it gone.  I suggested he go to town and get a landowners archery permit and shoot the deer with a bow or crossbow so that he would get to keep the antlers and perhaps sell them after having the head mounted.
     He started to think about that, but the MDC shooter didn’t want any part of that.  He was sure the deer was sick and I think he wanted to try his weapon on a 100-yard shot.  I told him that since anyone could walk up and pat it on the flank, he could allow Mr. McCarthy to shoot it with a bow or crossbow, tag it and possess it AND THEN HAVE IT CHECKED FOR CWD, like all other hunters were doing.

       The shooter wasn’t buying that… he said he was going to shoot the buck and take it with him.  That’s when Mr. McCarthy said ‘wait a minute’.  I told him how an area taxidermists were insisting to me that they had dealt with some local agents who confiscated big deer antlers, had him mount them at cost, paid for by the MDC,  and then sold or kept the deer head for themselves to sell for some big money.         I said “Mr. Mc Carthy, the Missouri Department of Conservation Enforcement Division They should not get that deer head. It is on your land, not theirs.”  To my surprise he agreed with me, saying that they had targeted him a number of times over dove hunting, even hand-cuffing him at one time.  And thinking about that, he told the MDC employee that he wanted the antlers.  The  MDC’s shooter said ‘no’.
       Mr. McCarthy said there would be no more done until he knew he would get the antlers.  So the swat team fellow goes to his vehicle and gets on the radio and talks awhile and comes back and says an MDC official somewhere said McCarthy could have the deer head after the buck was tested.  I left then, imagining the sound of automatic rifle fire behind me.  And though I heard the MDC shooter tell Mr. McCarthy he could keep the skull and antlers, I would bet he never ever sees them.  And by the way,  a young boy living up the road from me told me about the Mennonite deer pen operation nearby.  I have yet to be able to find and talk with that Mennonite deer pen operator about whether one of his deer or several, had broken out of their enclosure.  I know his name and would like to know if his operation is all legal. I know this, he lost a bundle of money when that MDC shooter refused to take the time to go ask if the buck had escaped from his place. And I know I could have wrapped a rope around that bucks neck and carried a bucket of food before him and he would have followed me anywhere.  What a beautiful animal he was.  But he was the victim of a complete and total lack of common sense, and the fact that big deer antlers, created by feeding pen deer a diet of bone and meat meal, are worth so much money to those sick people who are looking for ‘trophies’.

       Mr. McCarthy told me later that from 30 yards, the MDC rifleman had missed the buck the first couple of shots, then gut-shot him.  It took the deer awhile to die.  It isn’t a pleasant story, but it is the truth, and in most newspapers, this story cannot be printed.
Contact me at or write me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613  My office phone is 417 777 5227.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Exploring Your Own Trail

deep inside a small cave, I found what appears to be a prehistoric petrified jawbone

        I have found the jawbone of a prehistoric animal in a southern Missouri cave.  But it is part of a limestone wall back in the depths where no daylight can reach.  In that cave years ago a friend and I found about ten or fifteen projectile points on the floor of the cave just within it’s opening.  Caves fascinate me.  I love to hunt for them, and I like knowing that I know where many are which few modern explorers have entered.

         If you think about it, today’s people who live their lives in the massive herd of humanity we have created, seldom see a day when they are completely alone in some far reaches of the outdoors.  Modern hikers walk trails that thousands upon thousands of feet have trod before them.  In the late 1970’s I myself was an outdoor hiker in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains of Arkansas.  I laid out and built some trails for the Arkansas State Park System but I never walked established trails. Some trails used today in the Buffalo National Park are trails I laid out. And I was there exploring the wilder places of the state as a naturalist for he Arkansas Heritage Commission. At that time in my life there weren’t many hillsides and ravines I couldn’t climb or navigate. Some of that country was the
 5-inch pink projectile point I found in a remote AR cave
ruggedest wildest mountain country I have seen in the Midwest.  And the things I found, sometimes a full day’s hike into the mountains, were astounding.  Caves and waterfalls, old home places and ancient graves, moonshine stills from another time, and names carved into flat rock knolls that were used by troops in civil war times… were among the things I discovered.  I will always remember walking into a south-facing cave with a dry floor, and looking down to see about a half inch of a projectile point sticking out of the floor.  I just knew it was the broken end of an arrowhead, but I took my knife out and began to scrape away the dirt to reveal a spear point nearly five inches long, a bright pink perfectly-formed weapon made perhaps thousands of years ago.  I stood there holding something that had been made by a man I scarcely could envision in my mind, a man who perhaps lived in that cave with a family.  Maybe nothing has ever made me feel as insignificant and small.

In such caves I also found evidence that early settlers had lived within sheltering rock walls, who knows how long ago.  I recalled times when I had spent nights inside a sheltering cave on the river where I grew up, sometimes escaping the cold, sometimes just staying dry  before a campfire while listening to a pelting rain and the crack of lightning bolts just outside the entrance. When I was in college I caught a pair of live ground mammals in a cave that turned out to be a species never known to have been found in my Ozark region.  That story is related in the spring issue of my outdoor magazine if you care to read about it.
But it may be that the caves of the Ozarks in three states will someday shelter families again as they did for hundreds and hundreds of years.  It could happen as our technology threatens a progressing, modern life in the future.  So many have springs flowing in the back of them, and controlled temperatures that give you a chance to stay warm in the worst of blizzards, or cool in the midst of an August heat wave.
For modern-day outdoor visitors it is probably best that you hike the worn trails of a thousand others who walked them in the few months before you, and photograph the same rocks and waterfalls and outcroppings that thousands have photographed before you.  But there are still, in the huge tracts of national forestland in Arkansas and Missouri and Oklahoma where you can make your own way following no trails at all, in semi-wilderness areas, seeing sights you may be one of only a few to see and experience.  
And you might find a remote cave this time of year where the only tracks across it’s dirt floor are of the black bear hibernating in a deep dark, confined passageway.  Or you may stumble into a small deep cave where bats are roosting by the hundreds, and there are blind crayfish and salamanders.  I have done both, and there isn’t a mapped, used trail I ever want to see again.

Now is the time to go where others do not, when vegetation isn’t heavy and you can see farther and better and there are no rattlesnakes and copperheads to watch for. In such places, your cell phone won’t work, so plan well and be sure you don’t end up needing something you could have taken in a backpack.  If you want to see and feel the best of it, take camping gear and food light enough to pack and spend two or three nights.

Email me at, write  to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or call our office at 417 777 5227.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Deer Hunting in February.

         Again this year I got a call from a representative of the Missouri Department of Conservation asking me to hunt deer on my place because they want to thin down the population and check more deer for transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, which they and most deer hunters call chronic wasting disease.

         Whether you call it CWD or TSE, the possibility of controlling the disease by killing more deer is not very realistic. They have tried that in Wisconsin. The result…some parts of that state have 50% of the deer population infected with those TSE prions in the brain. In time Missouri’s whitetail deer will show similar numbers.

         I am going to select a buck from my place, not because I think I have any kin of population there, I don’t. I’m going to shoot one because a nearby family with five kids can sure use the meat.

         I didn’t hunt deer this year during the regular season. I am just not as excited about hunting deer with a gun nowadays, but I do like shooting them with a camera.

         I will kill a buck or mature doe because young deer are far less likely to have CWD or TSE than older ones. Research in other states has shown this to be true. If I were betting, I would bet that few deer under the age of two years are found to have prions in their system. In fact tests done in selected deer farming operations seems to show that it is three and four year old deer that are more likely to be infected than younger deer and bucks seem to be more likely to have the disease than does by about a three to two ratio.

         When I kill a deer I will use rubber gloves to gut it, and an MDC representative will come and take lymph nodes from the neck and within a week or so they will know if it is free of prions. Then I will give the meat to the family nearby.

         At my place there is no heavy population of deer but they don’t know that. Anyone who spends as much time in the woods as I do can easily gauge deer numbers in the winter by the number of rubs and scrapes, and just by seeing the number of does and young deer which herd together in bad weather.

         To the northwest of my place, which lies in the southeast corner of St. Clair county, I can see evidence of too many deer, but in the 200 acres or so around me there has been a great deal of illegal hunting in the past and numbers are where they should be.  The old man who owned the land before me killed four or five deer each year and traded them to some Amish folks living a few miles away for firewood-cutting labor.  He turned in a neighbor who had arranged several tree-stands over active corn feeders for friends and family. Together they likely accounted for a kill of 20 or so deer each year.

         It’s different though with wild turkey.  Their numbers have declined everywhere I go, for the last five or six years, to a point where I think it is a serious problem. I think needs to be addressed right now, perhaps by cutting the legal limit from two per spring season to only one.
         Ten years ago here on Lightnin’ Ridge in central Polk County, I photographed seven mature gobblers at my corn feeder in February.  A year or so later there were 3.  This year there are none.  And I haven’t killed a gobbler on this wooded ridge-top in the last 15 years.

         The biggest enemies of the wild turkey are great horned owls and bobcats. Both of those have increased substantially in ten years, but not enough to be responsible for the wild turkey’s problems. You can blame heavy spring rains which kill young poults, but not a factor for consecutive years like this.  It is possible that a disease could be responsible, as ever-increasing big poultry operations springing up everywhere have seen thousands of chickens die almost overnight from one disease or another.  But I figure what is responsible for this alarming decrease in wild turkey numbers is the same dilemma faced by quail, woodcock and whippoorwills--- overwhelming numbers of ground-foraging egg-eaters… raccoons, skunks, possums and snakes, and something unseen here 30 years ago….armadillos.

         Whatever it is, I don’t see anyway to change things.  Any ground nester is going to be hard pressed to exist in the future in the numbers we want.  Landowners need to declare war on armadillos especially.  And if you get feral hogs on your land, set a pair of chicken eggs out in a protected area where they thrive and see how long those eggs last.

         I read this recently from a study being done in Minnesota.  Notice what they say is of the biggest concern here.

----“CWD, caused by mutated proteins called prions, already has crossed species to macaque monkeys that were fed infected meat in laboratory tests. Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and an expert on infectious diseases, puts the human danger bluntly.
"I do believe that it is not a matter of if, but when, CWD crosses to humans,'' Osterholm said.
To which Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program group leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, replied, "That's the biggest scare with this disease — what that would do to deer hunting and wildlife management!”

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email  To enquire about my books or the outdoor magazine we produce, call my office at 417-777-5227.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Catch a Crappie, Climb a Mountain

         We just walked around on this big dock, dropping a small rubber jig here and there among the empty boat slips, hooking and landing some big crappie, from one spot and then another. It is easily the most comfortable winter crappie fishing I have ever seen and the crappie are big.  And  then we had a big basket of fish and had to climb that mountain!

        The mountain is actually a steep hill going up from the dock to Don Lawellen’s Three Oaks Resort on Norfork Lake.  Normally a trolley runs down the hill to the dock but the Lawellens are having it rebuilt and figure it won’t be ready until early March.  So if you want to catch crappie in the winter, you have to descend the mountain, not too difficult, and then ascend the mountain, which is a physical challenge.

         The reason that dock is such an unbelievable fishing base almost all  year long is that it sits over about 60 feet of water.  You may not realize how unusual that is, but there are few boat docks anywhere that have more than 10 to 20 feet beneath the dock.  In the spring and summer, boats going out at night to fish beneath lights, or in the winter to fish for crappie, do not seek out water that shallow.  Deep water makes winter crappie fishing, and Don’s dock provides it.  So I am going back, since I made it up the mountain last time, only stopping to rest just once.  It is worth the effort, because if you have ever caught big crappie from deep below you in clear water on an ultra-lite outfit, you get to a point where a 10-minute climb is tolerable.  And when you fry up winter crappie, you forget there even was a mountainside to navigate.

         If you get the urge to try it yourself, just call Don at the Three Oaks Resort, not far from the Arkansas-Missouri line on Norfork.  Stay awhile if you want, as he has beautiful cabins available now, looking out across Norfork Lake and he will tell you when the fishing is best.  I imagine that if you cannot handle that mountain on account of not being the grizzled old outdoorsman me and Don is… he’d take you around via boat.

There will be a time as spring approaches when that well-lighted dock is a great place for the night fishing which produces big walleye, stripers and hybrids, even bass.  By that time the new trolley should be in operation.

        When you spend as much time as I do out in the woods and on the rivers you
see some things that amaze you. I have indeed seen many things that I will never write about because no one would believe me. Something similar happened on the first Saturday after Christmas.

         I went a place I often go where there are thousands of acres of public forestland figuring that I might recharge my batteries a little and maybe shoot a young deer with my muzzleloader to provide some venison for a needy family I know. I covered a lot of woodland in an afternoon without seeing a deer. That isn’t unusual late in the year like this, as deer tend to bunch up in small groups. Bucks don’t move much because the rutting season is coming to a close. If you see a deer now, chances are good there will be several of them and it isn’t hard to choose a young deer still big enough to supply several pounds of venison.

        On a long ridge-top, there was the sound of chirping birds like nothing I have ever heard. It was a flock of migrating robins in numbers I have never seen before. I really believe that flock could have numbered well more than 1,000 robins.

         It was a ridge with big timber and big cedar trees, and robins filled every tree especially the cedars bearing their blue berries. I sat down beneath one and feeding robins dropped them on the bill of my cap and all around me. Along a small creek below they were watering, 100 to 200 birds at a time.  When they took to flight it sounded like waterfowl wings springing from a distant marsh, and a new bunch would replace them.  The little creek was alive with the activity of a mass of robins.

There was a time decades ago when folks in the south ate robins, and I thought about that as I sat there.  They say that they are just about the same as doves on the supper table, but perhaps a little better. Although I have never eaten one I am tempted to go back and get a couple or three to try.  They might still be there, but likely they have moved on.  Regardless, I never have seen anything like that before.

         To get in touch with me, write to Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email  If you have an interest in receiving one of my two spring magazines or one of my books, just call our office, 417 777 5227.  We can tell you all about them, or perhaps send you a sample.