Monday, April 27, 2015


"Came easin’ up through the woods with that ol’ red head stickin' up, thinking he was about to get him a new woman."

                                                              Photo by Jim Gaston


             As I drove up to old Wooley’s house, I could see a big gobbler hanging on the porch, and he was sitting there in his rocking chair.  His name wasn’t really Wooley… it was a nickname of some sort I suppose… apparently the only name the old men at the pool hall knew him by.  But brother, was he a turkey hunter.  He made little box calls and they were as effective as any I have ever used.  I had sat on mine that morning and broke it, and I thought maybe he would have another I could buy for a dollar.  It was the spring of 1974, and a dollar was something you didn’t waste.
            As I walked up to his porch, Wooley didn’t give me a chance to say much.
“Now there’s a tough one for you,” he pointed at the dead tom, with a good long beard sticking out of it’s breast feathers and long sharp spurs above his feet.

            “Where did you get him?” I asked as I sat down in a rickety chair on his porch.
            Wooley ignored me.  “Wouldn’t gobble,” he said.  “Never did make a dad-blamed sound.  Took him two hours to come up off his roost down on the crick… but by dang, I reckon I outfoxed him.  I jes’ sets there hid real good an’ he couldn’t resist that call of mine.  Came easin’ up through the woods with that ol’ red head stickin' up, thinking he was about to get him a new woman… but there he hangs.”

            “Looks like he’ll go better than twenty pounds,” I said.  “Don’t you figger he might?”

            Wooley ignored me again.  “They won’t gobble no more like they us’ter.  It ain’t like it was years back when they would set on a limb at daylight and sound off a dozen times.  It’s on account of the damn hunters ever’where, too much callin’ an’ none of ‘em knowin’ what they’s doin’.”

            I heard the screen door slam and turned to see Wooley’s old wife, Lottie, bringing me a cup in one hand with a coffee pot in the other.  “Seen you drive up,” she said, “guess you’re visitin’ your folks whilst yore up here huntin’ turkey’s?”

            I told her I was, and she told me she had seen them both at church on Sunday at Christmas.  She asked how Gloria Jean and my little girls were doing.  “You just have a real prize in that young lady,” she told me, “I just love her so much…”

            I played devil’s advocate. “I don’t know, ma’m,” I said, “she never has killed a turkey, and she can’t make squirrel and dumplin’s like you can… I’m beginnin’ to wonder if I didn’t get pretty bad fooled in pickin’ a wife.”

            Lottie laughed, and started to say something, but old Wooley was talking over her, telling me about that gobbler. “I sets down there in the first gloamin’ this mornin’ and I calls three or four times and that gobbler, he don’t say nothin’. I sets there and I hoots like an owl when the sun starts comin’ up and that old gobbler, damn his hide, he don’t say nothin’.  But I knows he’s there cause I seen him fly up on that sycamore limb last night.  He’s there all right, but that sunuvabench, he don’t say nothin’.”

            Wooley began to get wild eyed, and loud.  “I’m tellin’ you boy, I calls him perfect, I calls him better’n any hen could do it… and damn his eyes, still, he don’t say nothin’.”  Lottie came back out with some sugar for my coffee and some home-baked cookies..
            “Wooley,” she yelled, “Quit yer cussin’.” She turned to me with an aggravated look on her face and said, “Tomorrer he’ll be sittin’ there in church waggin’ that hymnbook back and forth and singin’ at the top of his voice, and here he sits the day before cussin’ like a sailor.”

            “It’s okay ma’m,” I grinned and thanked her for the sugar and cookies, “God don’t mind Wooley cussin’ a little bit at home, if he sings good at church.”  She mumbled something about how he could cuss a lot better than he could sing, and when the screen door slammed behind her, a gobbler sounded off a couple hundred yards down in the woods.  “Did you hear that Wooley?” I asked.

            He never answered… he just went on griping about how there were too many people any more.  “Them turkeys, they ain’t dumb,” he said.  “They’s figgered it out now.  ‘Don’t gobble’ they says to each other, or your li’ble to have some greenhorn city hunter chasin’ after you wearing them camelflogged clothes and squawkin’ away on them store-bought turkey calls…”

            The turkey gobbled again.  “Doggone it, Wooley,” I said, “he sounds like he’s only a little ways down in the woods.”

            Wooley ignored me and the gobbler.  “I calls ever now an’ then, sweet an’ low, an’ that ol’ tom, he don’t say nothin’.  He’s a foxy one, he is, but he’s lovesick, an’ fin’ly he jus’ comes up there with his old red head high, lookin’ for me,” he said, squaring his shoulders a bit as he leaned back in the old rocker.  “But I was hid and I was ready, an’ there he hangs!”   I started to say something, but it was useless..  Wooley banged his fist against the arm of his rocking chair. “Dad-gum it, it ain’t like it use to be though… they jus’ don’t gobble much no more.”

            Lottie came out again and refilled my coffee.  “You have to get him to look at you if you want to say something to him,” she said, “He can’t hear worth a darn!”

            I tapped Wooley on the arm and he looked at me as I said, “There’s a turkey gobblin’ down there in the timber.”

            “Huh?” he said, “What’s that?”

            I knew he was right.  Things ain’t like they use to be.  Turkey hunters get old as the spring seasons pass and they can’t see and hear like they once did.  And the gobblers, in time, just don’t gobble like they use to.

            If you want to have a good time this coming weekend, May 2 and 3, come to the Pomme de Terre River just below the dam south of Hermitage, Missouri. There they will have their annual “Rendezvous”, a weekend of old-fashioned muzzle-loader shoots, lots of music and country craft and food booths for a half mile or more down the banks of the stream.  I am going to be there on Saturday only, with an assortment of outdoor oriented artwork, lures and fishing gear to sell, and magazines to give away.
            I will bring one of my Labrador puppies with me, trying to find it a good home, and I might even bring its daddy with me… Lightnin’ Ridge Bolt, who is the third or fourth greatest Labrador in the world.  Bolt and his wife Hallie Lula had a beautiful litter of puppies back in February, and there is only one left.  I will also have all of my books there, including the new one and I will sign and inscribe one for you. I would love to talk to you if you are a prospective writer, as we are looking for Ozark writers, artists and photographers for our magazines.
            My website is and my email address is   You can right to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


            A pair of spring plumage blue winged teal pass through the Ozarks on their way to nest in the northern prairies.

                        I found this vicious snarling creature inside a hollow tree along the river...

             No one is going to believe this and I know it.  I can’t hardly believe it myself. So I am not going to write about it because it just sounds too far fetched!
            Oh what the heck… I do have witnesses.  My two fishing friends ‘seen it themselves’.  The two of them often go along with me in my boat, getting free access to some of the best fishing either of them could ever have due to my experience and adeptness at finding fish in hard-to-get to places.

            Despite that, despite the fact that I have taught them so much, the two of them are constantly making derogatory remarks about the expertness of my fishing ability and underestimating the size of my fish.

            There was no underestimating the size of the walleye I hooked though.  He was a dandy, five or six pounds at least and maybe bigger.  You could see him easily as I fought him alongside the boat, with Rich whackin’ at him with the dip net, something like a great blue heron would stab at a sunfish.
            I just didn’t have my drag set properly on my reel.  Most generally that is something I do at the beginning of every fishing trip, I check the drag on whatever I am fishing with.   When using heavier casting gear it isn’t so important, but when you are using four-pound line with light spinning tackle, that drag better be set right.  I am just getting too darned old to remember everything I guess, and I forgot to check it.  When that walleye saw my fishing partner waving that net around like he was a highway department flagman, he really got wild, and he made a huge lunge for deep water and broke the line.

            The lure was nothing of great importance, it was a Wal-Mart special, one of those one dollar four- or five-inch minnows that look like the old Rapala minnows, one that you can jiggle around on the surface or yank down under maybe three feet or so.  I was catching some really hefty white bass on it, had maybe eight or nine good ones and one walleye just a little better than fifteen inches long.  Then that big walleye came up from the depths and engulfed it and the fight was on.  He won, with the help of Rich and that doggone dip net.

            I don’t mourn the loss of one of those lures; I bought several of them back in February when the Wal-Mart sporting goods department put them on sale.  It was gone and forgotten because I just tied on another one.  And I didn’t throw my hat on the boat floor and utter an expletive and cry about that lost walleye like my fishing partners have seen me do before.  A fisherman with my experience gets use to losing big fish on occasion when using four-pound line and a switch for a fishing rod.
            You don’t become a grizzled old outdoorsman like me without watching big fish disappear in the depths on occasion, leaving you limp-rodded.  You just figure God had a better purpose for that fish than a sizzling destination in my frying pan.  You have to occasionally blame the Great Creator for your dirty rotten luck as a fisherman, unless you want to blame yourself for not checking the drag on your reel or not replacing old line.

            But now we are coming now to the unbelievable part.   I tied on that other lure, just like the other one except different, and almost an hour later, down the river about a half mile, I made a cast and when I reeled the lure back, it had hooked and retrieved the one I lost. 
            That’s right, when I brought it back in the boat, the one which had been broken off, last seen in the toothy jaw of that big walleye, was dangling from the back hook of the new one I tied on to replace it!!!  It sounds goofy doesn’t it, like something an outdoor writer might make up?  But honest, I swear on my camouflaged War-Eagle boat.  If I am lyin’ may it have a hole in the bottom of it, and may my Ugly-Stick break right in the middle!!

            Rich and Dennis both ‘seen it themselves’, and you can ask them, a couple of the most honest men I ever met!  But we hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.  Wait ‘til you hear this!  I tied that lure back on, and reset my drag so that it was perfect.  And I started catching big white bass again.  It was a drizzly, dark afternoon and Dennis caught two walleye that were 16- to 19-inches in length, fish that my previously lost lunker might have sired in his earlier days.

            And nearly two miles down the river from where I lost that big walleye, and a mile and a half from where I miraculously recovered my lost lure, I cast it out into a deep eddy below a shoal and a huge fish engulfed it only four or five feet from the end of my rod.  He looked like a monster coming up from the depths.  He stripped four or five feet of line against the drag and I told my fishing partners I was about to lose that lure a second time in two hours!

            But this time, Rich done good.  He got the net under that big walleye and it was mine.  I don’t know how much it weighed but it was 25-inches long and hefty.  I knew that the Almighty was trying to let me know how sorry he was that I had lost the first one.  Maybe the fact that I am trying so hard not to cuss as much when I lose a fish is paying dividends.  Or maybe he just decided it was that second big walleyes time to finally sizzle in my frying pan, as he will, soon.
            Maybe that second lunker wasn’t as deserving as the first, I can’t say.   But that two hours and the course of events in which a lost lure was found, and a second lunker walleye was hooked on it, certainly makes a man think, something I don’t do a lot of.

            If you don’t believe this story, I don’t blame you.  But I can show you that lure. It has big tooth marks all over it!

            I have made myself a couple of new turkey calls, and will be out there this week hunting gobblers and mushrooms, and fishing for crappie.

              I don’t have to work for a while because both my spring magazines are finished.  But if you can’t find them on the newsstands and you aren’t a subscriber, send six dollars to my executive secretary Ms. Wiggins and she will send you either the Journal of the Ozarks or the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, whichever you prefer. If you send twelve dollars she will send both. And for 14 dollars more you can get a copy of my new book, a humorous account of my first years in college at School of the Ozarks, entitled, “The Prince of Pt. Lookout”.

            Please see the photos I got this past week, whilst outdoors here and there.  They are in color on my website, which has been renewed recently.  I am proud of those photos.   The website is 
Email me or Ms. Wiggins at or write to us at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


     The best place to hunt a wild gobbler is back in the middle of nowhere, where it is calm and peaceful and natural, where there are no snakes, no ticks, and no ATV's

            Probably nothing you do in the outdoors involves less skill than turkey hunting.   If you are really patient, you can become an expert turkey hunter in a hurry.  Despite wariness that will rival about any wild creature, a spring gobbler will occasionally do some really dumb things, because he has such a little brain.  If he isn’t close to any hens, he might just run like a racehorse to some beginner using his box call for the very first time. 

            The guys who call themselves ‘professional gobbler getters’ try to make it into some kind of art, almost a science.  But truthfully, if you can’t kill a wild gobbler you lack either patience or a good place to hunt.

            As the years go by, I have become less intense in my pursuit of wild turkeys in the spring. I have been there and done that, lots and lots and lots.  I won’t even tell anyone how many gobblers I have killed because it sounds like it is a lie.  But outdoor writers who get a chance to hunt in five or six states each year over a period of 40 years ought to bag a lot of gobblers, even if they are an impatient klutz like me.

            I like to hunt gobblers where I can fish.  One year I camped on Stockton Lake and got a photo of a nice tom with a stringer of crappie before noon.  It seems like only yesterday I floated the Big Piney with a kid by the name of Mike Widner and caught goggle-eye and smallmouth in the afternoons and watch him kill his very first gobbler just after the sun came up.  Mike Widner became an expert too.  He spent much of his life as Arkansas’s wild turkey biologist and he knows more about them than any person I know.
            Now there’s a place to hunt wild gobblers-- the mountains of Arkansas.  In west Arkansas, south of the Arkansas River, I saw some real wilderness way back there a few decades ago.  We would camp near the Fourche La Fave River and wear ourselves out fishing the river and hunting wild turkey from dawn to dusk. 

            I pride myself in the fact that I can walk all day in the woods at my age, miles and miles.  I imagine that those days of climbing high, steep hillsides in the Ouachitas has a lot to do with that.  To gain one of those long flat-topped ridges high above some ragged little creek that flowed past big boulders you had to nearly crawl over, a hunter had to go up sheer hillsides where you could hardly stand. 

            It was worth it though.  Flocks of gobblers liked those flat mountain tops, some of them a half mile wide and four or five miles long.  I wrote an article for Outdoor Life magazine, years ago, entitled, “The Ghost Gobbler of the Phantom Ridge”, which has been reprinted in my turkey hunting book.  If you like reading about turkey hunting, I think you would like that book, “The Greatest Wild Gobblers, Lessons Learned from Old-Timers and Old Toms.”

            The ghost gobbler, which I encountered more than thirty years ago, had a bleached-out beard, and every time I went after him I would get lost on that ridge.  It was one of the weirdest things I have ever had happen.   Those Ouachita mountain gobblers were true strain wild turkeys, their genetics not at all watered down by the domestic turkeys which much of the Ozark’ wild turkeys contended with. They were smaller birds with shorter, darker tails.

            In those Ozark and Ouachita mountains of Arkansas, hunting gobblers was a challenge.  Except for a few old wagon roads you didn’t see much civilization, until the National Forest Service devastated so much of it in their quest for pine timber.  They sprayed and injected too much of it, trying to kill the hardwoods.  Forty years ago there were some giant beech trees in those areas and they killed all of them by injecting a chemical under the bark, one tree at a time. 
One year I was sitting up on top of an Ozark ridge-top down south of the Buffalo River, and I had a gobbler down on a steep hillside slowly coming up the incline, gobbling at me, maybe 250 yards away.  Shortly before noon I heard the whining of an ATV motor coming through the woods, and all of a sudden, there he was, riding that camouflaged machine, all 300 pounds of him.  This guy was only in his mid twenties or so, from Little Rock, determined to get himself a gobbler without much work.  He was decked out in the newest camo garb, using a mouth call that he couldn’t really master.   He said he had been trying to find a way to get his machine close to that gobbler, and he said he had heard the tom for two hours.  The reason he had heard him was because the bird was answering my call.

            Finally he left, whining away on that big wheeled, go-anywhere hunting device, and I leaned back and took a nap.  An hour later I got the gobbler going again and two hours later he came strutting through the woods 40 yards away.

            ATV’s have become too important to today’s outdoorsmen, many of them just too fat and lazy to walk very far.  I think about that guy today, wondering if he has started having heart trouble yet.  I wonder if he is out walking in a mall everyday or along some paved road following a doctor’s advice.  So many of those turkey hunters who never get very far from their ATV, will be intent on walking for their health as they get old.  You wonder, why don’t they do it now?

            I believe ATV’s should be used by those who are handicapped or disabled in some way, or by old men who would prefer walking but can’t. They are a great invention for those who have no choice but to ride them.  But if you truly want to be part of the outdoors, to blend in and fit in the woods, use your legs… walk!  It might be better to do it now in the woods than to have to walk in a shopping mall somewhere when you are only fifty years old.

            I have met some good turkey hunters in my time, hundreds of them.  But none of them were lazy!  And the ones who were really good at it were patient.  That patience thing is my problem.  I like to walk, and explore, and find mushrooms and take pictures and then hear some gobbler late in the morning that is a long way from a farm pasture… back in the woods and lonely.  And what I always hope is… that he isn’t any more patient than I am!!!

            It is okay to fish half the night for crappie or walleye and sleep late in the morning during the turkey season.  Turkey hunting at mid-day can be great.  One of the things that makes me all bleary-eyed and haggard this time of year is the fact that fishing for crappie and walleye under the lights at night is often at it’s very best during turkey season.  Besides exercise, us grizzled old veteran outdoorsmen need a little sleep. 

            We have received lots of orders for my new book, and the spring issue of our outdoor magazine will be printed in only a few days.  If you want to find out more about either, you can call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins and have her put you in touch with me. Ms. Wiggins has been a little sick this week from eating too many of those big red beefsteak mushrooms.   The phone number is 417 777 5227.  Email address..   and mail address is Box 22, Bolivar, MO. 65613