Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Too Many

 

       



       I have noticed that there are more skunks in the Ozarks than I have ever seen before, and I want to remind readers that skunks often get rabies, likely carriers of that disease second only to bats.  If you see one during the day, or have one around your home that acts strange any time of the day, shoot it. A skunk killed instantly will not spray its scent.   Don’t take a chance by ignoring them!  Killing skunks will not harm species numbers. From what I see now, there are likely twice as many skunks across the Ozarks as there should be, many more than what is a normal population. 

       I think I wrote about black vultures years ago and their migrations northward.  I notice that people in the Conservation Department are just now talking about what a problem they might become.  Those birds should be shot on sight, and you can only do it with a rifle, because they are very wary, not often approachable with a shotgun.  The problem is, there are so many armchair naturalists out there who are incensed about shooting any wild creature.  They have no idea what Ozarks ecology is and what species like skunks, armadillos, black vultures, cormorants, coyotes and other species can do to that ecology.  

       Invasive species never, ever fit in the Ozarks, and many times native species go wildly out of control as well, like raccoons, beaver, possums and now skunks.  And you never talk to people about the connection of armadillos to the dreaded leprosy disease. In the southeast, humans are contracting leprosy because of that animal.

       I hear constantly from snake defenders who do not want poisonous snakes killed and are upset because I recommend it.  I was a contract naturalist who studied wild areas in the Arkansas Mountains and undammed rivers.  In those areas, I did not kill any snakes, and I came across many timber rattlers, copperheads and cottonmouths.  But if I find them out of that wild habitat, around where humans were found, I kill all I come across.  Last February, Sonya Cansler, who lives near Bull Shoals Lake, enjoyed the several different days of unseasonable 80-degree temperatures, so she went on a walk. On the second day of that month, sat down on a log and was bitten on the hip by a large copperhead. Do you realize that if she killed it, she could have been cited for breaking a Missouri Department of Conservation law?  

       I will have her story in our summer magazine.  She called the MDC and was told that the venom of a copperhead had never killed anyone. Folks need to know that is simply untrue statement.  The MDC put out a color publication about snakes years ago that stated that no one has ever died from a copperhead bite.  At Missouri’s Sam A Baker State Park, a man got the publication and believed it.  A day or so later a copperhead got in his tent and he picked it up.  It bit him and he did not seek medical attention.  He died from the venom a day later. The same year, I think, another man died from a cottonmouth bite. 

       If anyone is bitten and seeks medical attention as Ms. Cansler did, there are antivenin injections today that will save your life.  As a park naturalist for the State of Arkansas and later on the Buffalo River as a naturalist for the National Park Service, I made it a point to interview many elderly people born in the 1890’s and early 1900’s.  I was surprised that many told of people they knew from the past era they lived in, who died or lost limbs from the bite of a copperhead.  It was a time when medical attention for snakebite, didn’t exist. The venom kills if there is a sufficient amount injected.

       In this day of young biologists who grew up in cities, there is much information given out by them that is not correct; that assertion about copperheads being one of them.  The ineptness of people being hired for jobs they have little knowledge about is the reason for many incorrect statements which are taken as the gospel.  See it for yourself in the proliferation of otters, stocked with no forethought.  That is also the reason that wild turkeys have declined in the past years to about 40 percent of what we once had.  Young, city bred biologists in Missouri claim we have 1200 or so bears in the Missouri when the number is likely half that.  But whatever today’s conservation departments say is never questioned by the public nor the news media.  

       That is wrong!! But I can’t see any change coming.  If the people of the Ozarks believe the MDC’s false information about poisonous snakes, there will be more deaths from copperhead bites and cottonmouth bites in the future.  Ms. Cansler didn’t believe what she was told, and she recovered.  In that magazine story, she will tell you what she went through.

       Read about the progress on the Big Piney River museum and nature center, which I believe will open in May, and the big Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet in March on my facebook page. You can email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com, or write to me at P.O.  Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 656132.  If you want a table at that swap meet, call me at 417-777-5227,  spaces are filling up fast.

 

 

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Caves, and a Swap Meet



 

      A strange thing is happening out in    California, where people are starting to live in caves.  If you remember, I wrote about my grandfather and I staying in caves on the Big Piney River in the sixties.  We found all kinds of arrowheads and pieces of clay pots, and even an ivory artifact in one.  I wrote about him telling me that someday people would live in caves again. 


      Undoubtably, if you consider the thousand of years behind and before us, millions of humans lived in those caves, likely as many as there are humans living in houses today. As a state park naturalist in Arkansas in the 70’s I once talked to an elderly lady who was born in a cave near Devil’s Den State Park.  It had been walled up by her father in the late 1800’s and her family lived there while they built a log cabin.  

      There are hundreds of caves on the Big Piney and Gasconade Rivers, and my grandfather showed me some that were nearly impossible to find. He had spent many nights in them, running the river in years past as a winter trapper. Grandpa and I stayed overnight in some of them, but there was one he wouldn’t enter because he said in a dream that he had met and talked with people who lived in them thousands of years ago.      


       My cousins and I explored many of those caves when we were young.  There is one in particular which has the 3 foot long jawbone of some kind of creature embedded in a cave wall.  

      My grandfather’s predictions often came true.  He told me that about a hundred years from the first atom bomb dropped in Japan, there would be one explode in the United States.  He also talked of the horrible 1918 disease that killed so many, and he said I would see it come back someday to kill many many more people.         

       Grandpa told me to never live in a city and to be independent enough to live without the conveniences of those things most men would die without.  He hated electricity, called television evil and despised what he often referred to as ‘frigidaires’. He said that men were sacrificing their freedom and the quality of their lives to own such things.

      He talked on occasion of our enemies living amongst us and killing thousands and thousands of people in one day!  I really thought he was a little bit crazy at times.  I realize today that he was extremely bi-polar, but back then no one knew what it was.  Now I remember some things he said then that seemed ridiculous and today they are coming to pass.

      But what I most remember as we sat in a Big Piney cave before a warming fire as a storm raged outside, is how he said that someday men would live there again.  And now, the news that in California, thousands of homeless people are living in caves, once again.  I hope that is the last of grandpa’s predictions that comes true.I am going to float the Piney again this year and spend a couple of nights in one of the caves where he and I sat before a fire and listened to the storm as it passed.


*.         *.         *.         *.         *.         *.         *.               

 

            For about ten years or so, we had an annual Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet in the Brighton Assembly of God Church gymnasium on a Saturday in March. With that, we always raised a few hundred dollars for their youth program. Each year, hundreds would attend the free get-together. About four or five years ago that church got a new pastor, and he put an end to the annual get-together for whatever reason. 

      We  found another church which welcomed the event but the  Covid pandemic ended that idea.  Now we are going to revive the Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet on Saturday, March 9 at the Noble Hills church that is located on Highway 13 about 5 or 6 miles to the north of Springfield. The whole thing is being organized by outdoorsman Steve Johnson.  Steve and I once did an outdoor radio program for station KWTO in Springfield, and we made a fishing trip together a few times, so I know him well and promised I would help.  We need vendors to set up their tables there and bring outdoor items for sale.  

      In a few weeks I will tell you some of what you can find there.  But for now, call Steve to reserve a table before the space is all gone.  His number is 417 414 3128. My number is 417 777 5227 if you need any help or information I can provide. I am going to be there selling my outdoor books and talking to readers of this column, and am anxiously looking forward to it.

      My email address is lightninridge47@gmail.com.  The word ‘lightnin’ has no ‘g’ on the end of it.  You can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The Prayer Duck. and new MDC controversy

 


       When I am hunting and fishing now I am almost always alone and I have conversations with myself. Some say that when someone does that, it is an indication that they are crazier than a pet coon, but I ain’t.  Crazy people ask themselves questions.  I don’t do that.  I did sometimes when I was younger, but I could never answer any of the questions I would ask myself so I gave that up.

       I often take a notebook out in the woods with me and write something while sitting up against a tree waiting for a squirrel, or while sitting in my boat when the fish aren’t biting. When I walk in the woods or paddle downs the river, I sing songs beneath my breath, quite often making up my own songs or poems. So here is what happened folks and I swear it is the truth.

       I was walking along a crop field at the lake waiting for some ducks to come into my decoys.  It was late afternoon and there had been no ducks all day so I went out in that field to look for arrowheads.  I find a lot that way, most of ‘em broken.  I just never have been lucky like some people.

       As I walked, I worked on a poem… “Lord please give me just one mallard drake.  I’d druther have that than a chocolate fudge cake.”

        Let me say here that I am bad addicted to sweet stuff, and I would almost never put something ahead of a chocolate fudge cake or peekan pie, or a donut with icing on it. Or a strawberry cheesecake! Geez, do I love strawberry cheesecake! But that is neither here nor there… as I continue to search for arrowheads and work on the song I am singing.   

       “ Dear Lord, you ain’t never granted me much luck, (going back to those broken arrowheads) but I’d thank you anyway if I just got a duck. One big old greenhead is all I need, just let one fly by at an extra slow speed.”

       What I am praying for is not just a shot at one, but an easy one I can hit, and take home and eat. I really like grilled breast steaks off a mallard duck, with banana cream pie afterward. 

Still walking I get really stumped with a verse I come up with. If any one out there knows a word that rhymes with mallard, I would sure like to know what it is. So here is verse three…

       “So Lord I ain’t asking for much but a green-head mallard, 

even a small one, skinny and squallard,”

       And I was going to continue with verse 4, 5, 6 and 7, but folks I will say this with my hand on my grandma’s Bible and no fingers crossed…honest as I can be or ever was! Just after that last verse, looking at the ground trying to think of a word to rhyme with aggrevated, sitting between a row of Milo stubble, right in front of my front boot… there was a beautiful green-headed plastic mallard drake decoy!!!  Kinda makes the skin stand up on the back of your neck, don’t it?

       I am not going to say it was an act of God, but what would you call it?  I have always thought the Creator has a sense of humor.  But then, I have a lot of duck decoys like that one.  I wonder if I should have asked for a goose!

 

Now for something very very serious.  The Missouri Department of Conservation has just entered into an 18 million dollar contract with a private company to restore the Schell Osage waterfowl area.  An engineer for MDC told me about this.  Apparently there were no bids taken for this project.  This needs to be investigated, but it will not be.  The MDC has all the equipment, millions of dollars of it, and the personnel to do this themselves.  A few years ago they built a private waterfowl hunting marsh along the Sac River for a judge, on his land.  It is a great hunting marsh for him and his friends.  Read more about this and see photos of the historic Schell-Osage Area  on my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors. It is quite a story.  I wrote and article about it years ago for a national magazine. The story about what is happening cannot be printed in many newspapers because of MDC disapproval of the facts being given to the public. Something is bad wrong here.  Eighteen million dollars would build a dozen such waterfowl marshes and hunting areas!  How long can a state agency get by doing this?

Contact me via lightninridge47@gmail.com to learn more.  I am forming an organization we have named Common Sense Conservationist.  I would like to have you join us.

By the way we are having a new Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet on Saturday, March 9th.  Get info on that at the above website.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Getting’ Here Late



        On the first day of January I went looking for ducks on some of the many ponds and ranch lakes in my region of the Ozarks. As one old-timer in the pool hall once said about honest politicians on the ballot… “They wa’nt none!”

       I have never seen a time in 32 years of living here, that there have been no ducks here in late November and early December. Until this year! That is something of a catastrophe to me and other duck hunters who hunt in the Ozark section of the state.


       Usually gadwalls start showing up here in the southern zone about a week before Thanksgiving, which is a week or so after the wood-ducks leave. Mallards usually right on the pale yellow heels of gadwalls, a week and a half behind them. I love to hunt the rivers of the Ozarks for ducks but the awful drought we have had made it next to impossible to float most of the stretches I like because of low water.  What a fouled up fall and winter we have had.



       Then the intense cold hit the Midwest in early January and the ducks came to the Ozarks, finally.  But almost everything was froze-up, a duck-hunting term that means there ain’t nowhere to hunt.   But experience has taught me that shoals and flowing riffles on the river never freeze, and there is food there for ducks.  I went to the closest shoal on a nearby river and there they were, about a hundred mallards and gadwalls and even a few green-wing teal.  The thing I have learned to do is, go in and flush them and throw out a few decoys and wait, because quite often the flocks will return in an hour or so.  But really, you don’t need the decoys and you don’t need a duck call.  Without using either, I waited in the weeds high on the bank and they began returning, a flock of 20, then 6 or 8, then in scattered pairs.



         You should have seen the shots I made on a pair of mallard drakes!  Finally about 2 months after the start of duck season in the Ozarks, I got some mallards for supper.  And later I dropped a drake gadwall too, which is an algae-eating duck not nearly as good to eat as mallards or teal.


       That last greenhead came back up over me and fell in the weeds behind me.  Both were stone dead.  I hate to cripple a duck, which is what happens if you don’t lead them well.  You might deduce from that, that I am a good shot, which I sometimes am.  I never write about the sometimes that I are not, which is far too often.


       I know there are those readers who feel sorry for the ducks I brought home that day, but you have to realize that each winter, duck steaks grilled on a spit with onions and green peppers is a big part of my diet.  My daughter, who is a doctor, told me that in order to stay healthy, I have to eat a dozen or so before February is over because it is good for me.  Not necessarily the duck meat is good for me, but the exercise I get building blinds, struggling through the water in hip boots or waders, and trying to get a fire built when I trip and get a boot full of cold water.


       At School of the Ozarks College a lady botany professor, Dr. Alice Allen Nightingale often talked to me about plant evolution being a slow change, which she believed, was only God continuing His creation.  I think I see that in nature often in other wild things.  Ducks are a good example.  How they have changed since I was a boy hunting them on the Big Piney. I will go into that in a later column, but the change I see is tremendous in waterfowl.

 

       Here is another question for readers, which I will answer in the next column.  What is the fastest flying duck, with speeds clocked at about 70 miles per hour?


       Answering last weeks question about the skunk’s greatest predator… it is the great-horned owl. Birds do not have any developed sense of smell so I guess that is understandable. But why it doesn’t affect an owl’s eyes I cannot understand. I once had a pet owl and its eyes were huge.  If anything else gets skunk scent in the eyes, it is torment.


        I have written more about skunks and owls on my Internet site… larrydablemontoutdoors.  Go there if you are interested.  And I will finish the duck story in next week’s column and tell you how the Missouri Department of Conservation is giving 18 million dollars to a private company to try to refurbish one duck marsh!   Unbelievable story! Email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com or call me at 417-777-5227.  I usually get in from duck hunting about dark.

Of Owls and Skunks

 



 


       Great horned owls are one of the deadliest Ozark predators because they hunt at night with special wing feathers that keep the sound of their wings completely silent.  For some reason they obviously have a sense of smell that is nonexistent in most winged predators, which allows the owl not to be affected by skunk scent.  Since that spray burns the eyes of men and dogs, many wonder why it doesn’t seem to affect owl eyes.

 

         In the 1930’s and early 40’s, my grandfather’s chickens were often killed by great horned owls. Since the chickens were important to his family, he would cut the top out of two or three cedars nearby and set traps on the bare wood of the trimmed top.  He would put a squirrel or wood rat on the trap, and run a wire up to it.  Owls who fell to that trap would be on the ground at daybreak, held by the trap and wire.  For many years he and other farmers and trappers would get a fifty-cent bounty for each pair of owl feet they brought in.  Very often, those owls would smell like skunks!

 

 

A black skunk caught on game cam in Georgia

        In the ‘30’s, the pelts of skunks that my grandfather’s sons (my dad and uncles) caught in deadfalls brought a dollar or two at St. Louis fur houses.  But when they came across a ‘star-black’, which was a totally black skunk except for a small white patch on the forehead, the pelt was worth about twice as much.  So my grandfather tried using shoe polish on the white backs of ordinary skunks to make them more valuable.  Fur house buyers saw right through that, and had a good laugh the first time he tried it.

 

         Skunks are easy prey for the owls because they are not a very smart animal and are an easy target.  They hunt by scent and can’t see very well.  I had a pet great horned owl when I was a kid and they aren’t all that intelligent either.  I have written many articles about my experience with him.  No bird of prey makes a good pet… except crows.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Two With One Shot

 




       The last few days of deer season are tough. Those final days for me occur at the close of the ‘muzzle-loader season” when whitetail deer are almost finished with the ‘rut’ and bucks  are returning to normalcy, not acting so much like the sex-crazed idiots they are in October and November.


       In January, deer gather together and ‘yard up’ and lean toward being nocturnal.  When you find them they are apt to be in heavy cover during the day, coming out at night to feed and move from one spot to another, then finding cover for bedding down, just at daylight.


       My daughter Christy went with me to see if my old muzzle-loader would really kill a deer, and that tendency of deer to ‘group up’ displayed itself.    That cold morning we were walking slowly down an old fenceline in the middle of the woods and I saw about 10 or 12 whitetails coming toward us about to cross the fence.  Two or three jumped over it, and I drew a bead on a doe, and fired.  

       The old rifle belched smoke and fire and she dropped in her tracks about 40 yards from us.  Then came the surprise… a second deer had also been hit, and it too was dead, right behind her.  That .54 caliber slug had hit each deer through the heart.  I hadn’t seen the second one, but they had to be standing perfectly side by side.  Christy had already used her tag by then, but the second deer was not wasted.  A friend of mine tagged it.  Both were the best of venison, each one a three-year old doe.  Amazingly there was a hillside behind them where I dug out the slug and I have it on a shelf in my office.


       Killing 2 gobblers at once happens on occasion but I never knew of killing two deer with one shot.  Anyway, I have a witness, my daughter tells the absolute truth, no matter how often I have asked her to exaggerate just a little.  Strange things happen in the woods, and over the years we have both witnessed a lot of them.

       During the muzzle-loader season, which just ended, I came across a totally black skunk scurrying about in the woods in mid-morning as they sometimes do in the dead of winter when food is scarcer. It was pure black, with just a white patch on its forehead. Long before I was born, my grandfather was a river trapper after mink, beaver, raccoon and muskrat.  His young sons ran dry-land deadfall lines. Those produced feral cats, possums and skunks. Killed by a deadfall, a skunk almost never released its scent. In the thirties and early forties, a trapper could get a dollar or so for a possum hide.  A skunk with the white stripe was worth about 2 dollars, but any skunk that was totally black was worth twice that.  

 

      At fur houses they called those rare individuals ‘star-blacks’ because they always had a little white star on the forehead.  None of the trappers in the pool hall ever had seen a complete total black skunk without that little white star.  I thought I had finally found one that day in the woods but not so.  When he finally turned I saw a little white star not much bigger than a silver dollar.  If I had anything but my muzzle-loader I would have been tempted to shoot him, knowing how many ground nests he will destroy this spring; quail, woodcock, meadowlarks and others, including the wild turkey.  And I would have skinned him out and have the hide tanned. I would like to have put his unusual pelt in my upcoming museum. Star black skunks only made up about 1 out of 50 skunk-hides at fur houses long ago.


    There is only one predator that will kill and eat a skunk with no concern for the skunk scent it will be blasted with. I will bet that only one out of 50 readers will know what that deadly predator is.  I’ll give you the answer in next week’s column… with a humorous story about my grandfather’s attempts to sell more of those star-black skunks in the 1930’s. 


       Please read other columns I write on the Internet at www.larrydablemontoutdoors.  Much that I write cannot be printed by some of the 40 newspapers or so that use this column so I put them on that website.  I want you to see a photo I took recently that is one of the most amazing pictures I ever got.  It will be on that website and you won’t believe it.


       I will also have some new information about my “Big Piney” museum that I hope to open in the spring.  You can see some of our recent progress. We are about to put a roof on it when it warms up a little. I intend to open it about the first of June, and it will be free for everyone to enjoy, no charge!