Monday, March 23, 2015

New Book Available Now....The Prince of Point Lookout

My new book, which can be ordered directly by mail for $12.95 postpaid from 
Lightnin' Ridge, 
Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613

A Grand Surprise

Bass with sores...

A crooked fish....
Mourning Cloak Butterfly
Fishing for smallmouth bass in a favorite spot on the river, I caught a little smallmouth with big sores on its body. Any broken spot in the scales on a fish can be a spot targeted by a fungus, and it usually will kill the fish in time. The sores I saw might have been the result of a gig back in the winter, or perhaps of a larger predator like an otter.

Sometimes a great blue heron will stab at a fish and leave such wounds. Whatever does it, I always catch several in the spring with those open sores, and every smallmouth I see any more is filled with a parasite, a small worm known as a yellow grub. They do not affect humans of course, but those grubs are a good reason to return the smallmouth bass you catch to the stream.

This smallmouth bass species is hard pressed, and bigger ones, the fish above 17 or 18 inches in length, become fewer each year. I caught a real oddball fish that day, a 10 or 12-inch brownie with an S-curve in its lower body. Who knows what caused it? At any rate, he swam away just fine, but he sure did look strange.

Walking through the woods a few days ago, doing some deep thinking, I was surprised to see a beautiful butterfly flutter along beside me and then drop down into the brown leaves before me, situated there as if to boost my spirits and add beauty and color to the brown landscape of late winter. I don’t know if I ever saw one before. One of its common names is the Grand Surprise butterfly, and for me it certainly was a surprise.

You don’t expect to see a brightly colored butterfly in mid-March. It is more commonly known as Mourning Cloak, and it is about 3 inches across, with velvety purple or burgundy wings, with yellow borders and blue spots just inside the border. I am trying to get a photo of one on my blogspot, so you can perhaps see it there, along with the two fish I was talking about. That is

Probably this is a good place to point out that we are trying to create a new website, where you can go to order my new book or any one of my books or the Journal of the Ozarks magazine we publish. I shouldn’t say ‘we’ as I have nothing to do with it. I know nothing about computers, and what I know is all I want to know. But it is wonderful that there is so much information about nature and wild creatures so readily available.

I see nothing wrong with knowing all you can know from books, but I firmly believe you do not become an authority in the outdoors without being out there to see the things books cannot tell you. The idea of people calling themselves ‘master naturalists’ from a week of classes and reading books or referring to Internet material is pure silliness.

If you want to be a naturalist, live with nature, go out and spend years in the woods and on the waters and watch and listen and learn. You will be surprised how many times the books are giving you information which do not precisely go along with what you learn through your own experiences.

It is a problem I see with outdoor writers today. Too many live in suburbs and try to write about a world that they only occasionally visit. It is easy to write about the outdoors from what you have read in books, but if you can’t walk the walk and live the life, what you write gets stale, and just repeats the same thing others have written.

That is so evident when you see the turkey hunting experts in the pages of outdoor magazines, and read much of the pure baloney they write about turkey hunting. Few of them are out in the woods in February and March chasing wild turkeys. But now is one of the best times to take a camera and a turkey call and get some great photos. In doing so, you see and learn about everything living there awaiting spring. There are birds being hatched, baby animals being born, already.

And you may be walking along and happen across a Mourning Cloak butterfly, which isn’t even suppose to be here, according to those who write about them. They are supposed to be common in Europe, Canada and in the U.S. north of Iowa, but not in the Ozarks.

If you want to learn while in the woods, don’t forget we are taking another trip via pontoon boat to a very isolated and natural area on Truman Lake on April 4 and again a week or so later, where we will take a good long hike before dinner and after, and maybe we will see something you and I have never seen before. If you want to join us, just call my office for details. My executive secretary, MS. Wiggins, will help you if you call 417 777 5227

I hope to see many of you readers at our swap meet this coming Saturday. We still have 45 tables filled now, and I am really looking forward to it. Out here all alone on Lightnin’ Ridge, I don’t get to talk to anyone but my Labrador very often. I could talk to Ms. Wiggins on occasion if I didn’t try to avoid her while she does her nails. And all she wants to talk about is her Mexican boyfriend and how close he came to getting caught lately!

I will sell the very first copies of my new book that morning at the swap meet, just off the press, and inscribe them for you. But I think people are going to be amazed to see several hundred old 1930 and 1940 Life magazines there, selling for about half what you can find them on the internet for. They are amazing looks at history.

If you have an old gun or an item or two you want to sell, we will place it for you and maybe you can sell it. But remember that if you think you have antiques lures or fishing gear, we will have an extremely knowledgeable person available at his own table to tell you what it is and what it is worth.

I was watching the news the other evening when a young lady reported that someone had caught a 140-pound paddlefish, said to be the biggest fish ever caught in Missouri. Then she said that she was surprised to hear it had been caught on a hook with no bait whatsoever. And she wasn’t even blonde!!!  All over the Ozarks that night there were fishermen laughing as heartily as I was.

I am sure those T.V. people would think I am the dumbest person in the world when it comes to their computers, technology and life in the city. At such things, I’ll bet that young lady and her associates are marvelous, but they know nothing of the outdoors, and it so often shows when they try to report on conservation and the natural world. 

Why would you reckon a paddlefish that large might be caught on a hook with no bait? If you know, then you have a familiarity with the outdoors they need at that station.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at Miss Wiggins can email you the details of our swap meet and a map on how to get there.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

An Excellent Job

Someone sent me editorials from both of the two largest Ozark newspapers castigating legislators who are trying to pass legislation restricting the heretofore unstoppable spending by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Both editorials say the department is “doing an excellent job”.

Keep in mind that such editorials are written by people who sit in offices and never venture into the outdoors, never see a wildlife conservation area the MDC manages.

So I just want to invite them, any or all of them, to go with me to take a look at the real “excellent job” that is being done.  Put some boots on fellows, and take a little trip with me and let me show you where there use to be coveys of quail and rabbits which now are gone because of the MDC’s excellent job.  If you are a reader who wants to learn, you can come too.

Come and go with me and let me show you where the forests that belong to all of us have been stripped of trees by private logging companies contracting with the MDC.  

Let me show you what a den tree is, let me show you what pileated woodpeckers are, what flying squirrels are, what a screech owl looks like.  I will assure you, those editors praising the MDC’s excellent job have never seen any of those creatures.  They have never seen one of those public areas.

The editors who boast of the MDC’s excellent work, how many of them actually came from Missouri?  I am betting none of them grew up outside some major city suburb in another state.  A few years ago when I was simply trying to get a letter published in the Springfield News Leader about the MDC concerning an attempt by that agency to take land from three landowners in Wright County, I was refused by an editor who said he came from a city in the Pennsylvania. They would not use the letter.  And this column cannot be published in any form in the larger newspapers of this state.  It is taboo to criticize the great MDC.

Now I do not mind them becoming a spokesman for the Conservation Department, but I only ask that they do what newspapers were once known for…show two sides of the story.

I wrote for many years as an outdoor columnist for the Springfield News Leader when it was a local newspaper. In 1999 it was purchased by the very liberal Gannett company from back east, and shortly afterward I received from the new editor who told me her name was Kate Marymount. 

She told me that the newspaper and the Missouri Department of Conservation had met that week in the News-Leader offices and made a deal in which the MDC would supply material consisting of photos, columns and features completely free.  She said five words I will never forget… ‘We have made a deal’. 

It was followed by the statement that the newspaper would publish no criticism of the MDC from that point on, unless it was Okayed by the ‘editorial board’.  That policy continues.  Think of one thing you may have seen in that newspaper since that time which spoke of something the MDC might not have approved of.  It became clear that dissenting views could not even be placed in the ‘letters’ section.

So I ask one simple thing.  You editors who think you must publish praise of the MDC, come go with me and look at what they have done, what they are doing.  Let see if there is a big pay raise the director has given himself, and what the salaries are for those who sit in Jefferson City.  Lets look at the commissioners, what they do for a living, and how they got appointed.

Let’s look at some of those million acres the MDC manages for all of us who own those acres and are suppose to be able to use them to enjoy.  Lets take a look at the quarter million dollars the MDC gave to a judge for his personal use.  Take a look at the tax payments they make annually and ‘in perpetuity’ for a few of their friends.  Maybe they will agree to pay your property taxes too.

Lets go look at the Bass Pro Shop land which is privately owned by one of the countries richest billionaires and ask the MDC why they would do days of work on those lands completely free of charge, work that all of us citizens paid for.

Lets go out and talk to people who have been victims of conservation agents who trampled on their constitutional rights.  Lets go talk to the ex-agents who have much to say about what they saw.  Let’s find out why one agent sued the MDC for a million dollars and won, just because he was fired for reporting illegal activities by other agents, one of whom is today an MDC supervisor.  Why did a story like that never make one single newspaper?

Let's just go do what newspapers are supposed to do… show another side.  Lets talk to some of those legislators, and hear what they have to say. 

Recently I got a call from a lady who works for the MDC and she was so frustrated because in March, her department goes out and buys equipment like four-wheelers which are not needed or used, just to use up the budget money.  “If we do not use all of our budget,” she said, “then we may not get all the money we ask for next year.  So we waste it, we just give it away.”

The only way the Missouri Department of Conservation can fool, and keep the support of, millions of Missourians who live inside major cities is through the complicity of major newspapers like the Gannett-owned News-Leader in Springfield which help them suppress the truth.  While I am volunteering my time to take their editors or reporters out to really see and report on another side, I know good and well they will not do it.

I want you to reread this column.   What have I said here that you might find unfair or untrue? I grew up in the Ozarks, and have written outdoor columns for fifty years. I have published hundreds of articles about conservation and the outdoors in national outdoor magazines and dozens of major newspapers, with a degree in wildlife management from he University of Missouri.  I have been awarded ‘conservation communicator’ awards in two states.  I am a conservationist, the same kind of ranting raving lunatic that John Muir and Aldo Leopold were.

All I want is to see the truth known.  I want to see all conservation departments stand for wise use… for preservation, for the management of our areas for all creatures besides just the deer and turkey which in this day and time require no management at all.  Non-game mammals and birds, many of which are in decline because of the destruction of their habitat, are worth something too.
I want the rampant corruption I have seen in the Conservation Department controlled and corrected, because no matter who you are, where you live in this state, even if you do not partake of any outdoor activity, you pay the Missouri Department of Conservation one-eighth of a cent in tax on your ordinary daily purchases.  It is our money and it shouldn’t be wasted.  Our conservation department receives somewhere around 175 million dollars a year.  Why shouldn’t our legislators try to stop the waste and the wild spending going on there? Why shouldn’t questions be asked?   Why shouldn’t the other side of the story be given a space in our newspapers?

Maybe you editors and reporters think there is no ‘other side’.  If so, come go with me and lets take a look, far from your carpeted plush offices that you never leave.  Come with me to interview the director… come talk to the chief of the enforcement division with me, and just listen.

Put on the boots and lets go outdoors to see just what they are doing.  If you won’t do that, just put a sentence inside the next editorial that reads… “There may be another side to this MDC story but we refuse to print it.   Years ago  ‘we made a deal’.”

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Cardinal in the Snow

Photos by Lightnin' Ridge Editor Sondra Gray
It snowed eight inches up here on Lightnin’ Ridge last weekend. This is supposedly the highest point in the county, and it seems like we always get an inch or two more here on this timbered ridge than the weather people predict.
It was only about 20 degrees that morning after the snow ended, so I put on some boots and my duck-huntin’ coat and went out to survey the beauty of it. But I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of a lift to hear cardinals singing their song of ‘good cheer’ just like it was April.
They should sing, because on my back porch I have bird feeders I keep full. Yesterday there were seven or eight species out there making the most of it, one of them a Carolina wren.
The corn feeder down behind my office, above the pond, is a great attraction for doves and squirrels and deer and turkey, but I was amused yesterday to see a cottontail rabbit sitting there. Many people do not realize that a winter blast coming in February or March is much, much worse than the same situation in December.
That’s because wild creatures go into the winter fattening up in preparation for it. In the early half of winter, there is far more food than there is in late winter. Right now is the real bottleneck, the most difficult time to survive for wild creatures. Food is at its lowest level, and wild birds and mammals at their weakest, with less ability to resist cold ice or deep snow. So it is indeed the time you want to feed birds and keep corn feeders full.
It might be that the month of February just past, is the only month of February I can remember in which I didn’t catch a single fish. Because of that, I figure there will be more fish out there in rivers and lakes in March than ever before, so I intend to take advantage of it. While the late snow wreaks havoc on water temperatures, I think it makes it more likely that we will have a bumper crop of mushrooms in late April.
I don’t know why, but it seems that snow puts more nitrogen in the soil, and I think that must be the thing that mushroom seeds need the most. When I hear those cardinals singing like they have been, it really makes me think of mushrooms and poke greens and freshly fried fish. Don’t anyone write me this year trying to buy mushroom seeds! I sold all of them last year and had all kinds of problems with folks who couldn’t get them to grow wanting their money back. What happens so often is that mushroom seeds, which are so tiny you can’t see them with the naked eye, are often spilled before the buyers get them to the woods where they want them to grow. And when you spill a pack of mushroom seeds, you don’t have a chance in the world of finding them and picking them up!
When you see wild turkey in late February and early March, they are usually in huge flocks, because in numbers there seems to be a greater ability to survive. But the largest flock of turkeys I have ever seen in the Ozarks numbered about 75 or 80 one winter in a field along the river above Truman Lake.
I never thought there would ever be any flock like that one. But Gloria Jean, who does that facebook thing, called me in to look at a film on the computer showing what I believe was a wild turkey flock numbering 200 to 250 birds. They were an ever-moving mass of turkeys, going across a Nebraska field, coming out of a tree line like a stream flowing from a spring.
I can’t tell you how to find that, but if you are a computer person you know how. Those Nebraska turkeys are not the eastern gobblers we hunt here in the Ozarks. Most of them are Merriams gobblers, and perhaps they are crossed in some parts of that state with Rio Grande gobblers which are prevalent to the south in Kansas, but they are a different bird up there, not nearly as wild, and much much easier to call in. They have white or beige tail bands usually. I have called them up in the fall of the year, gobbling and strutting just like it is spring.
Several times in Kansas I called up eight or ten Rio Grande gobblers in the spring. And when they come to a call, they don’t fiddle around much. That’s why I have so long joked about those turkey hunters who boast of ‘Grand Slams’ in hunting wild gobblers. All anyone needs to get their ‘Grand Slam’, which includes the four best-known species of wild turkeys, is to have the time and the money to travel to where they are. If you can’t call in and kill a Rio Grande or Merriams gobbler in the spring, you aren’t where one can hear you.
I never thought I would see the day though, when there would be greater flocks of turkeys in a state like Nebraska or Kansas than flocks of pheasants or coveys of quail. Truthfully, I would much rather see the numbers of quail like they once were.
A word of caution to those turkey hunters about to buy shotgun shells for spring hunting… I got a hold of some bad shells last fall made by Federal Ammunition, with the ‘turkey thug’ logo on the box. They weren’t properly sealed and were leaking shot out into the box. I looked at about 20 boxes on the shelves of a local sporting goods store and found four or five with defective shells inside.
The store manager said they could not take back any returned ammo, but she let me have a new box of shells. From this point, after seeing what I have seen, I will buy Remington or Winchester ammunition, and I recommend you do the same thing. How are you going to be a good turkey thug with shells that have leaked their lead shot into your pocket?
Well we are less than a month away from our outdoorsman’s swap meet. You can still get a free table on that last Saturday of March if you want to contact us. You just need to be selling outdoor gear or related stuff that outdoorsmen would use, whether new, used or antique. We anticipate having some good buys on boats and motors and canoes and that kind of thing, so bring them if you have them for sale. We have a place set up in the parking lot for those to be displayed. If you can put up a few flyers in your area letting people know about this completely free event, I will send you some.
I have also had a great deal of interest in the daylong wilderness trip and fish fry in March, and even more interest in the mushroom hunting trip in April. If you want to find out the cost and details and get your name on our list to call, write or call us at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or call 417 777 5227 where my executive secretary Ms. Wiggins will be glad to help you.
My website is and the email address is