Monday, December 29, 2014

Wise Use Makes Sense

I have been called a hunter and fisherman quite often, and really I am no more such than a million other Ozarkians. I was born a conservationist and naturalist, and I will always be. I was taught by a grandfather and father who knew more about conservation than any man I ever met. No, they didn’t go by the fish and game laws, newly imposed when they were young. They went by the laws of ‘wise use’, which is what ‘conservation’ once meant.

My grandfather was the most knowledgeable riverman and outdoorsman I ever knew. He taught me more about the workings of a natural world and wild creatures than books could ever could have. But my dad taught me how to live in the outdoors, enjoy its bounty and still be the kind of creature on this earth that he felt a man should be.

I recall like it was yesterday the time we were floating the river in December hunting ducks, and we drifted slowly past a gravel bar where two young raccoons were caught hunting for crayfish and mussels. They scurried up a nearby sycamore tree. I was 11 years old, and excited about the prospect of shooting, more than hunting. I wanted to blast the two of them, take the hides home to grandpa, who still trapped and sold furs at that time.

Dad lowered my gun from my shoulder by telling me that if I shot them, I would have to do the skinning, and clean them both and eat them after Mom had baked them. I had eaten raccoon, and I got to thinking I would rather eat a squirrel, if I had the choice. Why waste one of my eight 16 gauge shells on something I would like to eat less than a squirrel or rabbit? Those shells had to last me until the local Western Auto store had another broken box so I could buy ten more.

We stopped to eat sandwiches on that gravel bar, as the young ‘coons watched from high in the sycamore. Dad always built a small fire beside a log, and cut three-pronged forked saplings we could place sandwiches in and heat them. While we sat there on that log, he told me that every man should develop a reverence for life, something he used in his relations with other men and wild creatures too.

He told me that day that I should never kill a wild creature without feeling that reverence for life, something God gave to men in order that they could be what He meant them to be. It meant that you never created a tame creature with cruelty, and you never killed a fish or a bird or a mammal without feeling just a little sadness at its passing. He said that when you ate fish or squirrels or ducks, you were enjoying the bounty given by the Creator, and all lives, even of the smallest of his creation, had value and purpose.

“A boy yearns to kill something, and thinks of little else when he is just a boy.” Dad told me. “But a grown man who lacks that reverence for life has a weak soul, a lack of knowledge about who he is and where he fits into life, and he lacks any understanding about who God is and what is expected of him by the Lord.”

The impact of that powerful talk on the gravel bar of the Big Piney River has stayed with me. I have never been the same since. Oh yes, I forgot it briefly when I killed that robin with my sassafras bow and when I shot a chipmunk while alone in the woods a year later.

Grandpa is the only one who ever knew about the robin, and he helped me clean it and eat it, but no one ever knew about the chipmunk. As I held it in my hands that day I shed the last tears I ever remember and promised God that if he would forgive me for wasting that little life I would never ever do anything like that again.

We should all learn to live with that reverence for life that Dad taught me to find within myself. I can forgive about anything, but I am not a good enough person to not feel an awful wrath for someone who is cruel to an animal, or hurtful to a little child. If you took someone like that out and hanged him, I am afraid I would help you find a rope.

For such a person, who would for no reason create unnecessary pain and suffering for a poor creature, or harm a woman or child, I cannot have passion, and I cannot find forgiveness. What I feel for such a person is not in keeping with what God would expect of me, but I just can’t help it.

A reverence for life is the center of the word for wise use… conservation. If you hunt or fish, remember it. If you do not, remember that anyone can practice conservation. I think of that word when I shave, and I can’t keep the hot water running. Saving water today in a world that will have very little of it in 100 years is wise use… ‘conservation’. I turn it off and on as I need it, and while I use it on my garden, I have never watered a lawn in my life. What a useless waste!
My family recycles paper, plastic, glass and cans and anything else we can recycle. Gloria Jean is in charge of that, she hauls the bags of refuse to a recycling center a few miles away once every month or so.

My grandfather never had anything to haul off, he found a use for everything. Old match boxes were kept by all his neighbors for grandpa to use to sand his sassafras boat paddles and the furniture he made from scrap lumber. Remember those rough patches on the sides of the boxes? His rocking chair was made from the leftovers of johnboats he built, sanded smooth with match boxes! He used every can he emptied, and every paper bag.

What kills me is the way we throw old tires in the river, or dump them on back roads. Our government could give 50 cents to everyone for an old tire at the tire shop and end the increasing number of old tires thrown in the rivers. We also should pay a nickel or so for every plastic bag you get at Walmart or the local grocery store. Charge a nickel for each, and then pay a nickel back for those returned.
Only in the past year have I learned about one of the greatest conservation businesses in the Ozarks, a grocery store named Aldi’s. If you haven’t been in one, you have not been conserving your money. I checked out a list of food and grocery items in Aldi’s compared to the local grocery store and found that for every 100 dollars I would spend at that store which distributes thousands of plastic bags to be found all over the Ozarks, I will spend only 88 dollars at Aldi’s, and the food is better.

Best of all, Aldi’s stores have no plastic bags… you bring your own containers or put your stuff in cardboard boxes the store sets aside after emptying them. And you put a quarter up for the shopping cart and when you put it neatly back where it came from you get the quarter back. None ever have to be collected from the parking lot. That is a way to save money and practice conservation even if you never get outdoors.

If they ever start paying fifty cents for tires and a nickel for plastic bags, I can give up writing and spend all my time outdoors, just like I did as a kid. When I was nine or ten I would make some pretty good money picking up pop bottles that were worth three cents each.

This year folks, try to find ways to practice conservation… ‘wise use’. And teach your kids the ‘reverence for life’ my dad taught me. If you will, it would make Dad proud to know his life was worth so much.

The article I wrote years ago about New Years Eve in the wilderness is on my website… Several people requested that I reprint it for them.

The Passing of an Old Year…

I wrote this as a newspaper column about ten years ago, and several readers commented that they liked it then. So I will send it out again in hopes that new readers like it as well, with the knowledge that old readers like me don’t remember it.

There won't be any New Year’s Eve party here on Lightnin' Ridge. Things will be about like they are almost every night. Before midnight, a pair of raccoons will be ambling along the small creek that leads down to the river, looking for food that is becoming harder to find because the crawdads are in deep water and the frogs are buried in the mud, just as it has been for hundreds and hundreds of years.

A great horned owl will leave his perch at the edge of the meadow and sweep down upon an unsuspecting deer mouse without a sound other than the rustling in the grass when he pins it against the cold earth with sharp talons. A great horned owl’s wings still make no noise, just as it has been for who knows how long. Unfortunately for the mouse, he won’t live to see the new year, but he doesn’t even know that there is one coming. He didn’t see the coming of the last one. He has lived only 10 months, and that’s a long time for a mouse. The field where he has lived is a home for dozens of field mice, voles, cotton rats, and shrews; nearly a dozen species of small ground mammals, some of which spend the entire winter beneath ground in hibernation. Fortunately for the owl, and other predators, there are some species of small mammals that do not hibernate, but remain active throughout the winter or at least much of it.

Inside the big oak where the owl sat, a pair of fox squirrels sleep in a small, protected cavity. They will miss the dawning of a new day and a new year if the temperature is well below freezing for a good while. Squirrels do not hibernate throughout the winter, but in periods of extended extreme cold, they will sleep for days, in a semi-hibernation much like the raccoon, the skunk and the opossum.

There are some big sycamores along the bluff over the creek, and several wild gobblers spend the eve of the new year asleep on their branches, their forms plainly visible in the moonlight. Three are big old toms, but there are five jakes, which have never experienced a new year’s eve before. They sleep through it, with tightened tendons in their legs securing their toes to the limbs of the sycamore like the grasp of a vice. Their ancestors weathered the passing of hundreds of new years in much the same way. Change is not clamored for amongst wild creatures. It is a resistance to change that ensures survival of the species. It is sameness that gives security in wild places.

In a cedar thicket, buried in the grasses, a covey of bobwhites form a ring, ten of them in all. There were nearly twice as many in November.  The new year brings little for them to celebrate. With their bodies huddled together, warmth is passed to the weaker members of the covey by the stronger and they preserve heat as feathers fluff and insulate. When there are too few and the temperature plunges, there is less chance of survival. As the new year begins, smaller groups find birds of another covey and join them, in greater numbers finding greater strength to resist the cold.  

Huddled beneath the cedar, they are unaware of the grey fox, which passes as the new year approaches. His is an eternal quest for food, and if he only knew they were there, what a New Year’s Eve party he would have.  But like the owl, he will settle for a few small ground mammals on this final night of an old year.

A half dozen mallards spring to flight as a bobcat streaks across the river gravel bar where they rest, upstream from the mouth of the creek. He leaps high to grasp a slower member of the flock with his forepaws and pulls her down, taking that weaker, slower individual for a new year’s feast. The hen mallard is a substantial meal for the bobcat. The rest of the flock circles in the moonlight and will settle into another hole of water upstream.

The last protests of the quacking hen breaks the stillness, but other sounds of nature at midnight are subtle. A buck snorts from a cedar thicket above the creek.  A dying rabbit shrieks from the field across the river, as a mink ferrets him from a brush pile. Smaller than the rabbit, the mink can go anywhere, and he wraps his body around the cottontail’s neck and hangs on, his teeth buried in the soft fur as the life and death struggle which marks the beginning of a new year is just as it has always been.

Here where the creek joins the river, where the woodland breaks into meadow, where thickets of briar and cedar stand as they have since men first came to change and scar the goes on. There is no celebration. It is only the passing of another night, the coming of another day.

And I know that for some it is necessary on this night to group together and make much of the ticking of a clock, where alcohol flows and the noise grows to a blaring crescendo.  But I’ll walk that quiet wooded ridge above the creek at midnight, and treasure the silence, listening for little more than the distant yodel of a coyote. I’ll survey the river bottoms in the moonlight and be thankful for the stability of unchanging nature...wild creatures living as they always have, evidence of God’s unchanging laws which even man will eventually answer to.

There is perfection here...thank God we haven’t ruined it all. We will in time, I suppose. These mushrooming numbers of human beings will destroy it all eventually. But maybe not this year… On this little Ozark ridge-top, there is life continuing as it always has. There’s nothing special here at midnight, no observance of anything different or new.  And I will not celebrate the coming of a new year while I linger there. I will mourn the passing of the old one. I draw nearer each eve of a new year, to the year which will be my last.  

It has been a good year, one to give thanks for. None of us are guaranteed there will be another one. This quiet wooded ridge overlooking the moonlit river, is a good place to ask the Creator to allow us all to enjoy one more year, to ask that the coming year be a good one as well.... a year wherein wild things and wild places continue to exist.

I could wish you a happy new year but wishing it for you will not make it happen. We should pray for each other’s good health, and work together to make the coming year a good year for the neighbors, friends and family that we know and love.

In living our lives with others in mind, we create happiness for ourselves. If you have seen many years pass, you have learned that. If you are young and have it to learn, may this be the year it comes to you. And may you end this new year with more friends, more peace and more wisdom than you began it with. Those are the three things no man can ever have too much of.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or e-mail me at lightninridge@windstream. net My website is

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Little Christmas Poem

Christmas has come and Christmas has went, and all my money has now been spent.
But I’ll get it back, and maybe more, when I return my presents to the WalMart store.
I know no one will mind a bit, ‘cause they bought me clothes that wouldn’t fit.
It’s not gonna wind anybody’s stem, ‘cause I done the same darn thing for them.
We’ll meet at times at the gift-return line, me with their gifts, and them with mine.
It makes you wonder if there might come a day, when we all quit treating Christmas this way!
When we won’t shop for hours in cold built to freeze us, 
and just gather together for the birthday of Jesus.

Actually, buying big sack-loads of presents at Christmas is a goofy thing we have all been hooked into. Well, not me so much, I just go out on Christmas Eve and get some stuff they have thrown on sale. One year though, I was hunting ducks on Christmas Eve and had boat motor trouble and didn’t get in until midnight, so I had to give my wife and daughters money. They said it was the best Christmas ever. But my wife and daughters really like it when I make them something with my own hands for Christmas gifts. That necklace I made Gloria Jean years ago out of turkey spurs is something she treasures. She doesn’t even wear it for fear it might get stolen or broken. And that painting I did for her twenty years ago of the wolf chasing a rabbit, well shucks you couldn’t buy that for anything less than five dollars! A couple of times a year she takes it out from under the bed and cleans it with a dry cloth and some windex.

 Christmas might have been better a hundred years ago when all the folks in the community couldn’t fill the general store if they all came at once. When my dad was a boy, he and his little brothers got cap guns for Christmas with several rolls of caps. They ran around for a couple of days playing cowboys and outlaws popping those caps at each other and when the caps ran out my grandmother would gather the guns up and put them away until the next Christmas.
That way all they had to do was buy a few packs of caps the next year when Christmas came around and break out the same guns they had for years. I imagine many of our younger readers have no idea what those “caps” were. 

I usually got a new gun and holster set each year when I was 6 or 7 and started going to the Saturday matinees with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and Lash Larue.  If dad and mom had a little money left after paying all the bills, I might get a two-gun outfit… maybe a Tex Ritter autographed holster to hold ‘em. 

Some people today object strenuously to giving little boys toy guns for Christmas, but last summer I saw a little kid in the back room of a local office where his mother was working and there on a big TV screen he was playing one of those video games using a gun to mow down hundreds of people in a matter of minutes. 

I am glad I had woods and fields and barn lots and pond banks to play on, with outlaws I only blasted in my imagination as I rode my imaginary horse. That kid sitting in that little dark T.V. room has gotten cheated in his boyhood. And if a gun and holster set and imaginary Indians and outlaws would have turned him into some wild-eyed murderer in his adult years, what might that video game do to him with all of it’s bullets and blood and bodies.

I just see so many people stressed out and meeting themselves coming and going before Christmas. They are just meeting themselves coming and going to get to that day when we observe the birth of Jesus, who told us to live life different than that. 

In the week before Christmas, I will spend two or three days at least, out in the woods or on the river. Everything is so still and quiet this time of year, as if the natural world knows the significance of that birth more than 2,000 years ago. 

More people ought to be relaxing a little, with spirits soaring and hearts light. And that may be what they are doing in the cities, in the midst of holiday traffic and in the middle of crowded shopping malls, but it sure didn’t look like it, when I have been there. 

But it was a little like that when Jesus was born, people gathering in the city of Bethlehem in big numbers, no room anywhere for a woman about to give birth. I’ll bet Joseph was about as stressed out as someone could get and he wasn’t a bit worried about whether he could find a good present to give Mary. 

Then here came wise men bearing gifts and you might wonder if they were all stressed out trying to find the best gift to bring, then hurrying through the traffic of camels and burros everywhere! I’ll bet the two with frankincense and myrrh were a little envious of the one who had brought the gold. Then that little baby in the manger grew to manhood and taught us that those who have the least may often be the most blessed. It is a fact that once a woman who only had a penny gave what Jesus considered a great, significant gift because she gave all she had. 

I have just lost interest in gifts as I get older and older. That little boy who wanted a gun and holster set every Christmas never dreamed he would have so much more than he needed, never imagined being so blessed, contented and happy. 

The real gifts in life are given to those who have finally figured out what Jesus wants of us, his blessings bestowed on those who try their best to use their talents and health and wealth to help those who need us most. The Christmas season allows for that more than any other time of year. Men are changed by it. There is a tremendous amount of happiness on Christmas day, even if it is because the stores are closed and the cooking has been done.

This week after Christmas is a good time to go shopping for crappie, or trout, or ducks. Every time you catch some fish this coming year, find someone who you can give some of them to, all cleaned and ready to cook. Tell them to consider it a Christmas gift.

Merry Christmas everybody, and if you didn’t get the card I sent I am sorry. I sent you one. The doggone postal service must have goofed up again!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


In the winter I feed everything up here on this wooded ridgetop I call Lightnin’ Ridge. I feed squirrels and birds, deer and turkey, even a fox and bobcat and on occasion… and an eagle that comes up from the river.  Only a hundred yards from my office window, there is a little pond and a corn feeder.  In the winter, there must be a hundred doves that come to it, and down past the pond this year, the covey of quail that have numbered from 9 to 16 over the past ten years, is a whopping 25 or so this winter. 

It doesn’t take much to make me happy… that covey of quail just plumb tickles me to pieces.  The corn this year is under five dollars per fifty-pound bag, and that is another thing that makes me happy.  The last couple of years it has been about twice that.  So I have stocked several bags, and the feeder is full. 

I set up a game camera to show me what comes there when I am not watching, and what nighttime creatures I might see.  My Chocolate Labrador, Bolt, who is the third or fourth best Labrador in all the world, eats everything you can imagine. I have seen him eat tomatoes, pickles, candy, potato chips, you name it. 

On my game camera I learned he also eats a lot of corn! That rascal waits until I am not looking, and he makes a beeline for my feeder where he gulps down my corn. Here I have been buying bags of dog food that costs four times what a bag of corn costs, so I can’t get too disturbed about it, as long as he doesn’t chase away any turkeys.

Night-time game camera photos show that foxes love corn too, most everything does.  Bobcats come to a corn feeder on occasion for a different reason I suppose…  looking for prey that the corn might attract.  I would as soon the bluejays and squirrels didn’t eat so much corn, but what the heck, maybe it will keep them away from my birdfeeders.

This has nothing to do with the outdoors, but I have to write about what I saw at a book signing I attended in Osage Beach last Saturday.  In the back of the bookstore there was Santa Claus, posing for pictures with little boys and girls who were scared to death of him or fascinated with him, or anxious to tell him what they wanted for Christmas. 

I remembered the days when my little girls went to see Santa.  And I thought about how all of us who see this season as the birth of God’s son, and want to see that be the center of everything, too often get critical of the commercialization we see at Christmas.  My eyes were opened again, when I saw those parents and grandparents and little children talking to Santa.

Jesus would have been smiling too!  It is absolutely wonderful to see that innocence, and happiness and joy and peace.  There will be plenty of time for those little ones to learn about what Christmas means for all of us. 

My grandmother took me aside at Christmas time when I was about ten, and told me that people give gifts because it is a symbol of the gift that God gave us through the birth of Christ, a gift of hope, of peace and happiness.  A gift of a greater and better way of life, and a place called heaven for all of us who believe, whether we are ‘naughty or nice’.  It wasn’t anything complicated, just a simple explanation that Santa Claus wasn’t real, but the Jesus was, and even people as poor as we were, could attain a better life through Him. 

As I watched those little children, it occurred to me that even the grizzled old outdoorsmen grandpas there had smiles on their faces bigger than they might have when they caught a big fish or opened a Christmas package of a pair of socks or a pocket knife from a grandchild.  It was Jesus who taught us how to treat little children.  And His blessings are often overlooked, when they are simply given to us in the smiles and happiness of a little child. 

But then there was little Jimmy, who was not smiling…  he didn’t like Santa Claus at all, and he let the whole store know about it through his wailing.  I remember… I felt the same way when my grandma took me to see Santa that one time when I was only 13. Scared me half to death!

I get a lot of letters and emails from readers, and believe me, some are venomous. There are those who do not like what I write.  I thought I might print a few I received one day last week.  The first one was sent from a false email address somehow, and I took out the bad language and the last name tacked to it. Jeremy or whomever he was, says he has a degree, but his grammar and sentence structure doesn’t show it.  He writes worser than me!  Still, he has a right to his opinion too.   Here are the letters…and Merry Christmas to all of you… even Jeremy…

First letter, from Jeremy…

Please stop. I accidentally stumbled upon your literal horse ____ praying it was the lone result of a long, sleepless weekend fueled by Canadian Mist but I was wrong. Because to my surprise there was many, many more story's. I have hunted and fished for nearly two thirds of my life. All the while trying to show people that we can be educated, law abiding decent people. Yet with a few extremely slow pecks on the old "smart box," you stuff us all back into the backwoods, ______   _____  good ole days by which you obviously still live.
I _____ away too much time reading or better yet trying to decipher that crap so I felt obligated to show you what a degree can do.....Get your point across and make sense concurrently.   
In closing I ask again,  please stop. Do us all a favor and climb back into your mud hut have a nice bowl of road kill stew and disappear. Forever. 

Then this one from Robert Moore….

Every Sunday I read your column in the Harrisonville Democrat-Missourian.  My son always saves the Sunday paper and the local paper is always in there.  When I read your column there is always something that reminds me of the "good ole days"!  I'll be 89 years old in a few days, still in good health, and still love the outdoors.  I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy your column and relive some of my past when I read about your adventures.  Thank you, Robert E. Moore

And this one from Jim and Marcia Morelan…

We look forward to your columns every week in the Steelville Star-Crawford Mirror. Most the time, we agree with you on the destruction of the old ways of doing things.  What are we going to do, if you retire? Thank you for all your years of enlightening us and painting pictures of so many intriguing wild places.   Thank you! Thank you! 

And this one from Dean Harper….

Love your articles in the Camdenton newspaper. I am sending pics of white buck seen at the Lake of the Ozarks. You sound like a guy I would like to hunt and fish with someday. I like the idea of walking thru the woods with someone with your knowledge that could show me a thing or two with little words spoken. 

Mr. Harper’s photo of the white buck, truly an albino, can be seen on my website,  And you can email me at, or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Voice in the Deep Woods


     I promise this will be the last column this year in which I mention deer hunting. I intend to go fishing soon and write about that. But before I go on to something else, I have to tell you about something that got me to thinking about the good old days and missing those times gosh-awful. I was hunting deer on my little place off in the middle of nowhere, and I came back to my cabin about dark. The fire had burned down in the stove, and it was a trifle warm, so I stepped out on the back porch, looking down on the creek. The moon was fairly high and bright and it was so still you could have heard a coon cough. Down the creek I could hear an old hound on the trail of something. Its deep baying was mournful, and beautiful in the still night. It made me wish I was sitting on a gravel bar somewhere, before a roaring fire, with a few of those old-time coon or fox hunters who would rather listen to the baying of distant hounds than listen to the music of the finest choirs or orchestras.
Oh I know that if you have never heard it, you can’t imagine it, or appreciate it, but baying hounds in the night are a kind of music you can become addicted to. I have never owned a coonhound or foxhound, but my dad and uncles had some and I cannot forget what a sound it is when they are trailing something through the hills of the Ozarks. Every man knows the sound of his own hound, no matter how large the pack.
Hearing that one made me feel something so nostalgic and fine that I didn’t want to leave. In time, he faded off into the darkness way off to the west, and I wished I could follow. Ozark houndsmen are the last of the breed of real outdoorsmen.
This week is the time many of us who hunt wait for, the season for muzzle-loader rifles and old timers who just get sick of the trophy hunters and the blaze orange crowd. I’ll be hunting with my muzzle-loader, not so much to bag a deer as to walk through the woods where there will be no one to interfere with my exploring. I don’t like the idea of being told to wear an orange vest and cap in my own woods. Daniel Boone didn’t! With muzzle-loader hunters, I doubt you need to worry about your own safety. The range of those black powder rifles is short and the men who use them are a different breed of woodsmen. And with only one sure shot, I won’t cock that hammer on my old Hawken rifle until I know I am about to have to use my skinning knife.
I am a little mad at myself because I already killed a buck with my rifle at the end of the regular gun season. But I can still kill a doe and I intend to pick a really good one to put venison steaks in the freezer. There won’t be any grinding it up for hamburger. Anything that won’t make steaks will be used for stew meat. The buck I killed will provide plenty of hamburger and jerky meat. I will take along something the old-timers didn’t mess with… my camera. I might find an arrowhead or two on woodland trails I walk, but I sure hope I don’t run into any Indians!!
I had to interrupt this column because two conservation agents just came to my door to see if the buck I killed and wrote about two weeks ago had points that were an inch long. This is getting ridiculous. One of those agents was the one who sat all day at a boat ramp the opening day of deer season several years ago in a pick-up with the motor running, and wanted to give my daughter a citation because she had left the boat having left the other half of her deer tag in her coat pocket back in the boat. He stood on my porch and called me a liar today. Then he said that if I couldn’t tell if a deer antler point was an inch long or not at one hundred yards I should pass up the shot. These people need to spend more time in the woods alone instead of running around in marked pickups in pairs. Ninety percent of the time, you can’t even see a one-inch tine on a deer. The problem is, some big wide antlers are only six pointers and some little spindly antlers are 8 pointers. It is the dumbest law the MDC ever passed, and they do not like it when I say so.
The other agent who visited my porch was once out in the woods with me and couldn’t walk fast enough to keep up because of an old basketball knee injury suffered in high school. Again, with their pickup twenty yards away there were two of them trying to cite me for breaking their ridiculous four-point law. That is the way of things today. If they can find a way to charge me with something, they will do it, because of the articles I have written critical of them. There are four smaller points on the nine-point buck I killed, and at least two are an inch long by the way I measured them. The question is, will they measure them the same way. I gave the antlers to a taxidermist in Joplin, and instead of being out trying to find real violators, they are on their way to Joplin.
The Missouri Department of Conservation feels that if they can show me to be a violator of some sort, they can cause newspapers in the Ozarks to stop using my column, and therefore, stop the things I write about them. In years I have never written a word I cannot back up, not a word that wasn’t the absolute truth. What I have gone through over the years because of their attempts to discredit me boggles the mind. I intend to someday write a book documenting what I have learned about this powerful agency, that thirty or forty years ago was something to be proud of.
A few years ago conservation agents illegally searched a home, barn and freezer of people they wanted to arrest, and an agent who was with them that day reported the incident and was fired. He proved the whole series of violations in court and won a million dollar lawsuit against the MDC. The victims of that search were gone that day and never knew of it, and still today do not know what the agents did in violating the law and their constitutional rights.
Something needs to be done in our legislature about the direction of this agency! What is happening is wrong, and there seems to be no check on them whatsoever. Truthfully, I have always known they will someday succeed in discrediting me in some manner with something I have overlooked. They are too powerful for someone like me to mess with, and most of the larger news media are either intimidated by them, or have made agreements with them to not criticize them in order to get free material from them. I am tired of going through what I have gone through over the years just because I write what they do not want known.
We need good articles for our Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazine and the Journal of the Ozarks magazine. If you want to try your hand at writing a hunting and fishing story or a story on the Ozarks, send it to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or emailing it to You may get a sample copy of each magazine just by sending two dollars worth of postage stamps for the mailing. My website is

Monday, December 1, 2014

An Odd Duck, and a Weird Deer

Most of you who read this column on a regular basis know I don’t fiddle around much on a computer. If God only gives us a certain amount of hours on this earth, and we can still hunt and fish and cut firewood and fix a garden and raise a few chickens, isn’t it a real waste of those precious hours to be sitting in front of one of these little boxes that all of us know is evil and deranged and ruins lives? It is akin to sitting in traffic each day wasting that hour or two when we could be doing something productive with our already too short lives.

Gloria Jean says when I get to talking that way she thinks she ought to ask my daughter, the doctor, to have me medicated. Gloria Jean, of course has nothing better to do with her time because she never cuts any firewood or hunts anything other than my other sock. You know how most women do not really do a lot of the physical work that needs to be done, leaving it to the men in their lives.

So Gloria Jean does that ‘Facebook’ thing. The other evening I heard her laughing hysterically about something and I went into the office to see what that was all about.

There it was, for all to see, some lady throwing a house shoe around the lawn, and a big old tame mallard duck chasing it and retrieving it over and over, as fast as he could run! That is something akin to teaching a goat to mow the lawn! I have never seen anything like it. She said it was on something called ‘Your Tube’, or something of that sort.

I went and got old Lightnin’ Ridge Bolt, my Labrador, and brought him in there and had him watch it. It embarrassed him a little, I think, seeing a duck retrieve with much more enthusiasm than he does. Bolt’s job of course is to retrieve the ducks I shoot, and he looked at me as if to point out that the duck would likely not retrieve another duck from ice-cold water.

I suppose that is true, but you never know. I think the whole thing might make Bolt do a better job of retrieving when we are out hunting ducks. Still, it fortifies what I have been saying about computers. They accent what isn’t normal, and that duck, racing around the lawn after that old shoe, certainly looks evil to me. I didn’t laugh, because I see it as a warning of things to come!

So on the last afternoon of the regular deer season, I went out to my little cabin on the creek and walked up over the hill into the woods and climbed up into my tree stand. It is the same one where I had missed a buck at a distance of about 30 yards last week, on account of, I was using my daughter’s rifle, which I wasn’t use to and the sights were likely messed up.

Last week, in a half hour or so, a nice deer walked past me and I put my scope of my other rifle on him, and almost shot an illegal deer. I thought he was a doe, but he had two little 3- or 4-inch spikes sticking up, hidden by his ears. Many hunters, lacking my sharp eyes, would have never seen them.

I sat there for three hours, enjoying myself and watching woodland life take place around me until about a quarter past four at which time a healthy-looking buck walked through the woods before me, representing a good 75-pounds of venison for the freezer.

Across the county line three miles to the south of my cabin you can shoot a buck no matter how many points he has in his antlers. But where I was, that ridiculous four-point law is in effect. The buck I was looking at had lots of points, but I couldn’t count them in that wooded landscape, with lots of small trees and brush between us. It looked like he was either a six-pointer or a twelve-pointer!

In a case like that, using a 3-power scope, it is impossible to accurately assess the number of points on a walking deer. I can’t and you can’t, and neither could the idiots who came up with that law, hoping it would make the MDC more money in time with no other reasoning behind it.

When the buck reached the opening where I knew I could make the shot I needed to make, I only had a couple of seconds to judge his antler size. He was about 110 yards away. This time I did good. I hit him in the heart and he went only a few yards before falling stone dead.

And then came the sad part. He would have easily been a “four-points on one side” that silly regulation requires but his brow tine was broken. The brow tine has to be at least an inch long, and the one on my deer was maybe three-quarters of an inch long if you stretched it. The other antler was all deformed, nothing like I have ever seen. It actually had five or six points but two of the three were skinny and pointy, and also not quite an inch long. Problem was, I had no tape measure!

That demonstrates the absurdity of that regulation! You gotta’ carry a ruler in your pocket! There isn’t a hunter in the state who can tell you if a brow tine is an inch long or not at 110 yards with a three-power scope when you have about two seconds to make a decision and take the shot you have to take. It will eventually be rescinded, when it is realized that it is biologically unsound and does little except to make violators out of people who do not want to break the law.

Of course, in this day and time, you can check a fork-horn buck by phone and claim he has is a ten-pointer if you want. Some just dress out and butcher their deer in the woods and bring home the quartered body, leaving the head in the woods. Our conservation agents do not go out in the woods like the old ones did, they drive to your home in pairs and try to get you to admit your deer had a shorter brow tine than they allow.

I don’t know what they will do with me now, I just hope I don’t get thrown in jail. I could have reported him killed here on Lightnin’ Ridge, where the law allows your deer to have a little tiny set of antlers.

But I did it the way I am suppose to, and as far as I am concerned my buck had nine or ten points. Some just weren’t long enough, because the stupid deer broke a couple off. If he ain’t legal, it is his fault, not mine! I see the day coming when all bucks will be breaking their antlers off just to be illegal!

If you want to see the antlers from my deer, one of the oddest I have ever seen, go to my website to look at the photos. It is

Venison is really good meat, and in next week’s column I will tell you how I work up deer meat here on Lightnin’ Ridge, to make it taste as good as beef or pork, and to waste very little of it. If you intend to kill a deer, then spend the time to utilize the meat, all of it. It might get you away from that evil computer.

Our winter magazines are out. If you would like to know how to get one, call my secretary, Ms. Wiggins at 417-777-5227. You might even catch me here if I am not out cutting up firewood or cutting up deer. My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. Or you can email me at

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thank You God…. For everything but persimmons…

Hunting deer this week, I came across a persimmon tree loaded with persimmons. I ate several and left the rest for deer and raccoons and possums. Every time I eat a persimmon I get the feeling that God made them for wild creatures and meant for man to leave them alone. The seeds are large, and too many. The skin makes your mouth feel like you ought to drink a quart or so of water. You can eat them, and you can even eat white oak acorns.

You have to boil white oak acorns in clean water ‘til the water turns brown, then pour it off and boil them again and again until the water is clear after you boil them, and then you can bake them for ten minutes and roll them in cinnamon and sugar and eat them like little tiny donut holes.

But the Creator made pecans and walnuts and apples and blackberries and mushrooms and poke greens and plenty of other things for us to eat and I am not sure he didn’t mean for men to not be eating persimmons and acorns.

There are really good recipes for persimmon jelly and persimmon pie, but I’m darned if I wouldn’t rather have a good pecan pie or blackberry cobbler than a persimmon pie, and if I am going to put jelly on my toast I want strawberry jelly, not persimmon. However if you insist on eating persimmons, try this… remove the skin and seeds from about forty persimmons, so you end up with about a cup of the orange inside pulp with no seeds or skin. Put that in a bowl and sprinkle about a half a teaspoon of cinnamon on it, and then add a tablespoon of cream or whole milk. Then add one whole graham cracker, all crushed up.

Stir it all up and eat it and let me know what you think. I hope it don’t make you sick! I have never tried it myself, but it seems like it ought to be good. Every now and then, as an outdoor writer, I get carried away with the power to talk people into doing things like frying a coot or baking a chicken hawk, or trying to make something out of persimmons. I don’t know why I do that, but I reckon everyone needs to feel powerful on occasion.

Thanksgiving originally was a time for early Americans to give thanks for what they had grown and harvested, for what they had in a cellar or barn or smokehouse. Cellars and smokehouses are nearly non-existent now, and there are remnants of old barns sitting back in the weeds, falling apart, that tell us what country living was all about.

Only a small percentage of Americans still can give thanks for the harvest. Not many of us have chickens, grow a garden, or raise a hog or a calf to butcher in the fall. Not many give thanks for the catfish of the past summer, the meals of wild rabbit, wild duck and crappie. But I do.

I even thank God for giving us a good season for tomatoes and green beans and cucumbers. It was a great year for gardens. Maybe the acorns and walnuts weren’t quite as good, but there was a plentiful crop of mushrooms, apples, blackberries and persimmons.

For all that, I am thankful. And I thank God this week for good health for myself and family, for happiness, for the technology which stems from the knowledge He gives man and the good things it does for us. I hope you give thanks for the same things, blessed as greatly as I feel I have been.

But I thank Him often, all year long, when I am in the woods or on the river in the winter, when I am all by myself. Sometimes I am thanking Him for nothing in particular, but just for letting me be far away from people and the problems men create, where I do not need any change in my pocket, nor bills in my wallet. More and more there is that urge to just never go into a town anywhere but to try my best to get as far into the woods as I can get as often as possible.

I don’t know what I would give thanks for as I gather my family together on Thanksgiving Day, if I lived in St. Louis or Springfield or Detroit or Los Angeles. If I were confined to a life in Chicago or New York, how could I thank God for putting me there? I guess if I were there, and I asked, He would tell me he didn’t put me there, nor did he put anyone else there… he didn’t create us as puppets, he gave us the power to choose to make the earth what we want it to be rather than what He wants it to be.

Those who live in cities and suburbs often seemed trapped, but I guess they are happier there as long as the electric lines and the petroleum they have to have to live are uninterrupted. Without them, they aren’t going to be very happy. There are only a few of us who do not need electric lines or petroleum to have a great life, and I am thankful I am one of those few.

I can live just fine as my grandparents did, without any money. Think of how many people could actually live this coming year without making one single dollar. Think of how few people in our nation today would actually give thanks to God if that happened to them.

One of the things I thank God for at Thanksgiving is that those of us who find such tremendous satisfaction in seeing places which the hand of man has not altered are a small group. If the great masses who walk the worn trails on rare escapes from the city are happy with that, it spares the places where men like me go where there are no eroded footpaths, or vehicle ruts.

We need places too far and too hard to reach to become those calendar and postcard pictures, often visited, often photographed. One naturalist writer once said, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”  I might add, “In wildness is the continuation of life, mankind included.”

I keep giving thanks, all year long, when I find a new waterfall or a new cave, when I come across the track of a wild cat or a bear or a buck rub on a 6-inch cedar tree. It may not seem like much to give thanks for, but when I walk where there are no trails made by man, when I find some treasure far away from eroded footpaths, I know God is there, and he knows about me. I give thanks during all seasons, more than I ever did. And at Thanksgiving too, more than I ever did.

I also know that such days are limited for me. I am growing older as each season passes, and the coming and passing of that time of falling leaves and falling snow-flakes means I have less time to find places I have never seen. But advancing age may be a blessing for someone who cannot live without such far, wild places. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a time will come when there are no such places left and I don’t think people like me should be here when that happens.

I am thinking Heaven must be a big, big place, with room for saints and streets of gold and mansions on one side, and a vast beautiful wilderness on another side for those of us who didn’t wind up being good saint material and couldn’t care less about gold, or mansions.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email  My website, where you can leave comments, if you don’t mind giving your name, is

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Buck that Ran Away

I missed the son-of-a-buck… I can’t figure out how but it wasn’t my fault. It was dark because of the snow clouds, and he was behind me and he was walking in some brush and I wasn’t at all accustomed to the rifle I was using. So he’s out there somewhere and I have to keep on hunting all this week. Well something good comes from every bad situation, if you look for it, but really I think I’d druther be hunting ducks this week.

I missed him, and I guess confession is good for the soul, because too many of my readers think I never miss what I shoot at, and that all my fish are lunkers. Those of us who write about the outdoors, too often skip over the times we goof up and fall out of the boat or have a big fish break the line… or miss an easy shot.

Deer season began cold and cloudy and my daughter didn’t get up in time to be in her deer-stand by first light. I went with her about an hour after dawn, helping her get all her pack of snacks and thermos and safety harness and ammo and rifle back to the stand, which sets 15 feet above the ground. It is one heck of a place to hunt deer.

She has been in that tree stand every opening morning for the past ten years and every year she has killed a buck there before noon. None of them have been monsters, one eight-pointer, a couple of sixes, and at least three or four fork-horns. For about five consecutive years she killed a deer with one broken antler, the darndest thing I ever saw.

But neither of us are after antlers, I have so many antlers I can’t find all of them. Some of them have been gnawed severely by squirrels and mice. I like killing a year-and-a- half or two-and-a half-year-old buck because if you take care of the meat right, they are pretty good eating, with good-sized loin steaks and ham steaks.

Using a mixture of 40 percent pork and 60 percent venison in a meat grinder, you can make the best hamburger for spaghetti and chili and stuffed peppers. Really, the meat of a year and a half old doe is the best venison you can put in a freezer, but a young buck isn’t bad at all as long as his neck isn’t all swollen and he’s in the rut. Younger bucks usually aren’t early in the deer season.

­Christy had never killed a two hundred pound buck. But Saturday morning an older buck, I estimate about four or five years old, came past her looking for acorns or does, maybe both. She passed up the shot and he ambled away behind her. An hour or so later he came back and she called me on her cell phone telling me she would need some help hauling him to the pickup. He had three points on one side and four on the other.

With her little 30-30 Winchester carbine, she had made a good shot and I estimate the weight of that deer would have been about 220 pounds. We always hang our deer from the same spot, and most of the bucks hang with their feet twenty inches off the ground. This one was so big his back hooves touched the ground. He may be one of those deer destined for jerky, summer sausage, hamburger and steaks that have to be run through a tenderizer.

About noon, I headed for my little cabin on the creek, about 25 miles to the north. It was beautiful and peaceful, without a blaze orange jacket in any direction, on any horizon. Not a sound except the crackling of the fire in the fireplace. The creek was closed over in one spot by ice, open in other places. Where there had been two-dozen wood ducks or so for a week, there was white ice, colored by the spitting snow that went on much of the day.

By two o’clock it was 30 degrees or so. I relaxed awhile, opened a can of beef stew and made some coffee. It was too early for me to go climb up in my tree stand. I am by nature very impatient and I can only sit anywhere about three hours before I get the urge to walk and take pictures. I had forgotten the .300 Savage carbine I usually hunt with. But I didn’t worry about that. I had Christy’s little 30-30 in the truck and I would use it. “When you can shoot like I can, what difference does it make what you hunt with?” I thought.

A little after three, I walked slowly through the woods to a beautiful spot and climbed up in my treestand. The place I have selected for it is a spot made for an outdoor calendar, but my stand is new and I have never hunted there before. About an hour before dark I watched a couple of does angle out into a small clearing about 100 yards away. One walked off into the woods going the wrong way, but the other one, just perfect for the kind of venison I like to put in the freezer, came slowly my way, and passed to the right of my stand only about ten yards away.

I thought about it. If I take this doe, I said to myself, I probably won’t have a chance to hunt deer during the muzzle-loader season. So I just watched her walk away, down behind my treestand. About twenty minutes before dark, I could hear her in the leaves coming back around on my other side and I glanced back at her. I don’t think it was the same doe. About fifteen yards behind her was a buck with just medium sized antlers, probably about 180 pounds.

I watched him, and I just couldn’t tell if he was legal. My cabin sits just across the line where you can only kill a deer with four points, due to the most ridiculous law the Conservation Department has ever levered on hunters. Most hunters pay little attention to it if they want to shoot a buck on their own land; they just call in their kill as an eight-pointer or more even if they have shot a fork horn.

If you don’t transport a deer out on the highway where agents are found, you have nothing to worry about and everyone knows it. Since they passed that stupid regulation, hoping it would attract out-of-state trophy hunters and allow them to sell a ton of high priced non-resident tags, I’ll bet there have been thousands of 4-and 6-point bucks called in as 10-pointers.

But I don’t intentionally break any laws, so I watched that buck, straining to try to count antler points. It was impossible, as he walked through the brush in the dim light. When I finally was about 60 percent sure he was a small-antlered eight pointer, I aimed at his heart and pulled the trigger. He left, actually passing the doe in his haste to escape.

I have determined the sights on Christy’s little Winchester are all messed up. I actually cut a tuft of white hair off his chest. Six inches higher and he’d be hanging down by my little creek-side cabin right now. So I will hunt deer again this week, and enjoy staying off in the wilderness, at peace with the world, watching the fireplace a little when it gets too cold to sit in my stand, where cell phones won’t work, and computers are taboo.

Or maybe I will hunt ducks. Who wants to work at a time like this?

Write to me with your own opinion of the MDC’s four-point rule covering the northern one third of our state. I will use some of your letters, for or against it, in this column. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at The website, where I put my new photos each week, is