Sunday, July 26, 2015

Red Wasps, Yellow-jackets and Black Vultures

                        The black vulture, an emerging menace for Missourians

            I want to warn all you readers about something… red wasps!  The whole month of August and much of September are the days in which they become most aggressive, as their larvae grow closer to maturity in the paper nests they make around nooks and crannies in sheds and around porches.
            The same can be said of yellow-jackets, which have nests in the ground.   But nature has an answer… in August and September the country is full of green tomatoes, and nothing soothes any kind of sting like a green tomato, cut in half and applied to the sting, squeezing juice onto the area.  If you have multiple stings, use duct tape to hold cut small green tomato halves against each.  I don’t know why they are so efficient for stings, but they are.  Maybe I have a reader who can explain the chemistry of it.

            How far into north Missouri have armadillos and road-runners actually advanced?  A reader near Lake of the Ozarks told me recently that this summer he has seen several road-runners on his place, at least three or more.  Armadillos, which are the scourge of ground nesting birds, are in the show-me state now by the thousands.  Recently there has been an outbreak of leprosy in Florida and some other southern states, attributed to the abundance of armadillos.

            It has long been known that the animal is a carrier of leprosy.  Just last week the Missouri Department of Conservation acknowledged that as on of their media specialists said on television that everyone should avoid handling dead or live armadillos!  I second that… it is a brilliant piece of advice, perhaps the result of their extensive scientific studies!

            I am afraid what is coming next is a plague of black vultures.  They are becoming common in the very southern fringe of Missouri and terribly overpopulated in northern Arkansas.  Last January I saw more than a hundred of them at a big chicken raising facility along the James River south of Springfield, I suppose feasting on piles of dead chickens dumped just above the river.
            In January, they should be long gone from here, as they winter in Mexico and Central America, but they seem to disdain migration now. They seem well fed because of changing land use and the question is, how far into Missouri will they go?  I’d like to hear from readers on this.  The farthest north I have seen them is Truman Lake.

            Down in the White River area of north Arkansas many hundreds of them have being killed through special permits given by the Game and Fish Commission. They are a real problem for boat docks where they congregate in big numbers. But it seems you can’t kill enough of them.  These birds will kill young calves… that fact has been documented. I don’t think turkey vultures have ever been known to do that.

            Another Missouri reader told me he witnessed a single black vulture pecking at and bloodying the ears and face of a newborn calf before he could drive it away, and then it came back to continue its assault.  He called the MDC and reported it, and he was transferred to someone who told him no vulture would do such a thing. They will!

            Black vultures even attack things they can’t eat.  A dozen or so of them attacked a new pickup parked on Norfork Lake a couple of years ago and scratched an pecked it so badly they did several thousand dollars worth of damage to it.  There have been several instances of them damaging vehicles and no one can understand why.
            These birds are devilish.  They, along with the armadillos, should be killed anywhere they are found, but, for some idiotic reason they are protected by federal law under the migratory bird act.  It would be interesting to know how far north they have come so if you are sure you have seen one anywhere north of Stockton Lake, let me know.
            You can easily tell a black vulture from a turkey vulture.  They have no red on the head, they are smaller, with grayish patches beneath the wings.  You can see a color photo of one on my website…

            When it gets this hot, there isn’t much you can do outdoors during the day. A couple of years ago, I took outdoor writers Jim Spencer and Jill Easton on a July float trip when the temperature rose to 102.  We spent as much time in the water as we did in my johnboat, and we kept everything wet in that aluminum boat.  When I was a kid, and floated in wooden johnboats, you couldn’t burn yourself by hopping out of the water onto a seat. You CAN burn yourself on a dry, super-heated aluminum boat seat.
            At the end of the shoals that day, we would wade out chest deep and fish the spots where the water slowed and deepened, and we actually caught a good number of bass.  I use to float those rivers at night and use a jitterbug to catch bass, and at the same time catch a sackful of bullfrogs.
            As you get older bullfrogs aren’t as good to eat, partly because there are more problems found on a river at night; slick rocky shoals too shallow to float, bugs attracted to your headlamp, the humidity, the discomfort of gravels in your shoes, and the fact that good bullfrogs aren’t nearly as plentiful as they once were.   A friend of mine blames several things for that, primarily the over-population of great blue herons.  There are far too many of them, but then, there are more otter, more mink, more raccoons, more of everything that likes to eat bullfrogs.

            I wonder sometimes if when a raccoon gets older if he is content to just to eat corn and crawdads, and not work as hard as he might have to in catching a bullfrog.  I think sometimes that it is laziness that makes me hesitate to go frogging in the middle of the summer.  But if it cools down a little…I’m going to do it again!
            I keep hearing a couple of big bullfrogs bellowing in the pond down in the woods behind my home. I ought to go practice on them I suppose, just to sharpen up my reflexes.  We never did gig frogs, we always caught them by hand, freezing them by shining a bright light in their eyes.  That takes a quick hand and you have to focus.  You can’t be looking around to be sure there are no snakes to deal with.
            Once when I was a kid, I was about to grab a frog when a big water snake slid right over it.  That shook me up, but the frog didn’t move and I got him.  Come to think of it, I always liked fishing at night with a jitterbug more than frogging, which was a whole lot like work at times.  If it gets a little cooler some summer night, I might just forget the froggin’ and go jitterbuggin’!  Yeah by golly, I think that’s what I’ll do… some night soon… if it gets cooler…

            Readers can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Pig-Riding Cat

High on my list of the most fascinating Ozark creatures, the bobcat is fairly common, but seldom seen in daylight hours.  A large mature bobcat can and does kill small mature deer, but that usually only happens during the lean months of winter.  I have only seen it happen once, in deep snow during January. But they can be deadly on young wild hogs, and wild turkeys.

            I guess I am just getting too old to continue the things I like to do.  I have quit my morning jogging altogether because I keep spilling my coffee and I am afraid that if I continue to hunt and take pictures from my old tree stand this fall I will have to nail steps to the tree!  People my age just aren’t good at shinnying anymore!

            The other day I was watching a red-tail hawk in flight when some kind of little bird a bit smaller than a robin dived down on him and actually clung to the hawks back, pecking away at his head. He wasn’t flying, he was just sitting there on that hawks back letting him have it.  It reminded me of the time I saw a bobcat riding a pig.  I know that sounds like something you might hear from someone who is returning from their moonshine still, but I was stone cold sober.

            It was in November or December, I was hunting deer, sitting against a big oak deep in the woods late in the evening or real early in the morning and I can’t remember which.  Anyhow, I heard a ruckus back on the other side of a cedar thicket and I thought I was about to see some deer when I heard a gosh-awful squealing.  Having grown up in the rural Ozarks, I knew the sound was a distressed wild pig.  Sure enough, here he came, a young shoat maybe 30 inches high at the shoulder.  He was moving on, and on his back was a bobcat with its teeth sunk in the top of that pig’s neck and his feet dug into its side, straddling the poor pig like a jockey on a racehorse.

            That of course reminds me of a good story about the time when I was in the first grade and had some little workbook sheet that asked silly questions that any normal kid could answer like, “what can fly farther, a bird or a billy goat?”   One of the questions asked which I thought about for a long time was, “What can run faster, a pig or a horse?”

            The reason I circled the pig was that the weekend before, my dad and his friend Charlie Hartman and my Uncle Norten were chasing some young pigs in a barn trying to catch them, and either Charlie or Uncle Norten made the comment that those pigs could run faster than a horse!   Of course, I thought the two of them were the smartest men in the world, so what would you expect me to choose when some schoolbook wants to know which is the fastest?

            At any rate, no horse in the world could have kept up with that young pig with the bobcat on its back, running through that brush.  I’d sure like to point that out to my first grade teacher!  I have several other good bobcat stories that I will relate sometime, but few people will believe any of them.  You had to be there!

            It might be easier to believe that there will be some outstanding fishing on Ozark streams when the water recedes.  I am not speaking here of the big streams which carry the ‘chaos and capsize’ canoe crowd but the smaller headwater creeks and rivers which might be too low for most folks to float in July and August during normal years.   When the floodwaters recede first in those small streams, they will be well stocked with bass, and if you can stand the heat, they’ll be suckers for topwater lures and buzz-baits.  I don’t mean that you can catch suckers of course on topwater lures, just bass that are gullible, like a… well you know what I mean.

            It is time I guess for me to urge all fishermen who fish the rivers to release each and every smallmouth they catch, because our rivers, annually degraded by poorer water quality and eddies continuing to fill in with gravel and silt, have fewer and fewer of them of any size.  Smallmouth are hosts to those little yellow grubs that infest the meat in good numbers, so why would anyone choose to eat a smallmouth.   Keep the Kentuckies, also known as spotted bass, and the largemouth, if you want to eat fish, but release smallmouth, so that those who fish the rivers may continue to see a few good-sized ones on occasion.

            Those who remember that as a boy I grew up guiding fishermen on the Big Piney river in my grandpa’s wooden johnboats will appreciate the fact that I treasure more the memories of guiding hunters and fishermen over the last fifty-some years than anything else.

            I was born to be a guide, which is what I was basically, during my years working as a National Park Service naturalist on the Buffalo River and years that followed, guiding fishermen and hunters all over Arkansas and Missouri with my Uncle Norten. Teaching others about the outdoors as a guide, seeing their face light up as they catch a good fish or see an eagle or a mink, remains in my blood, and I will continue to do it until I can’t use a sassafras paddle any longer.
            In September and October, I hope to take a few fishermen with me to Lake of the Woods in Canada, hopefully those who have never been there.  It is a different world. Fall on Lake of the Woods one of the few times and places where you can catch anything… smallmouth and largemouth, northerns and muskies, and walleye and lake trout and crappie on the same day.

            In late September Lake of the Woods is spectacular with fall color and a special beauty not to be found anywhere else I have ever been.  You know why most fishermen from the U.S. don’t fish it much as October comes on?  Because you can be there and be caught in a weather front with rain and gale winds which keep you in the cabin for two days, or trying to fish some sheltered bay while trying to stay warm and dry.
            But when the skies are blue and air is so crisp and cool and clear you can see across green waters for miles to distant shores of yellow, orange, red and green, you hate to leave.  At such times I am a fishing guide again, as I will be this September on Lake of the Woods, delighting in seeing someone who has never been to Canada land a walleye big enough to swallow a muskrat, or a smallmouth as wide as a paddle blade.

            My August-September issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor magazine, which came out last week, has a story in it about a little Ontario lake where you can catch a boatload of muskies, and there are some color photos that show you a little of what I am talking about.

E-Mail me at or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613


 In September, it is relatively easy to catch a good-sized muskie in Canada in some of the smaller fly-in lakes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New partner and Director for Lightnin' Ridge Publications

Cindy Davis, from Norfork Lake in Arkansas is the new Director and Assistant to Lightnin' Ridge Publishing. We are glad to welcome her aboard.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Late Night… or Early Morning?

An old photo of Uncle Norten with a 1980's bass taken at night on his favorite lure… the spinner bait.

         It was a pretty angry strike. Angry, vicious…  That bass wasn’t hungry, it was mad!   It took that big spinner bait close to my boat and nearly wrenched the rod and reel from my hands.  Honest to goodness, I just about lost a good Ambassadeur reel and a graphite rod that my uncle Norten had given me.

         It was about three o’clock in the morning and I hadn’t felt anything like a nibble for more than an hour.  I could have curled up in the bottom of the boat and went to sleep, but that fish woke me up in a hurry.  He was good one, and he was off the ledge of a Beaver Lake bluff, down about ten or twelve feet.

         Two or three cups of coffee and my Uncle’s stories about catching bass at night on Ozark lakes hadn’t chased the drowsiness out of me like that fish did.  But it wasn’t long until I was sleepy again.  About thirty minutes later another one woke me up a lot like the first one did.

         That was the middle of July, back somewhere in the late 1980’s.  I only caught six or seven bass that night between three p.m. and sunrise.  But they weren’t small, every one was a beauty, between four and seven pounds.  Uncle Norten loved that kind of fishing, and he never seemed to get sleepy, as I did. 

         We wouldn’t have had much success during the day, with the sun high and hot, the temperature in north Arkansas soaring to a degree or two under a hundred.  In that clear water, we would have to fish vertically in very deep water during the day with spoons or jigs and Norten didn’t like to fish that way.  He caught a bunch of bass late at night on those huge spinner baits of his over the years.
         I didn’t mind fishing at night, on Crooked Creek or the Buffalo or Kings River, but I used a jitterbug, and by three in the morning I’d be sound asleep at home or on a gravel bar.  Bass on the rivers that slurped up jitterbugs from the surface weren’t big enough for Uncle Norten… he wanted 8 to 10 pounders, and he caught a bunch of them in his lifetime that were in that range.  In the summer, he caught them at night. 

         As knowledgeable and experienced as anyone concerning the outdoors, talented outdoor writer Jim Spencer reminded me of something recently about summer fishing at night.  He lives near the White and Buffalo Rivers, back in the National Forest a few miles from Calico Rock, Arkansas, and fishes Norfork Lake a lot.

         He said in a recent article he wrote for the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, that night fishing is still the way to catch the biggest of bass in July and Augusta and lots of them, but that most fishermen have the same problem I have.  In the wee hours of the morning, it is difficult to concentrate on working a lure without falling to sleep.

         Bass fishermen on the big lakes tend to fish late in the evening and into the early darkness, according to Jim, and I think he is right.  Bass         CAN be caught early on a summer night, but it seems to me it is never as good before midnight as it is after.  Spencer thinks the best of the bass fishing this time of year is the late hours before dawn.  I think he’s right.  Maybe what I will do is fix up a little place to sleep in my boat and set an alarm clock for four a.m.!

         Cindy Davis is my new business partner, the lady who is trying to direct the publishing of outdoor books and the two magazines I started years back.  She is a ball of energy and ideas and should do a much better job than I have.  My responsibility will be to accumulate good material for both, and turn it all over to Cindy.  She has worked more than thirty years for a publishing company in Arkansas, practically running the whole operation.  I told her that is what I want her to do for me… run things, so I can hunt and fish more and try to write a few more outdoor books.

         I think it will take a few months for her to get it all organized but Cindy is a welcome addition.  Writers and photographers and artists should continue to send their work to me and I will pass it all on to her. It won’t be long until you readers can meet Cindy at various functions like our Outdoorsman’s swap-meet and at the wild game banquets and church dinners where I speak from time to time.

         I don’t mind being computer illiterate.  The ladies who work for me, and Gloria Jean and my daughters can have those darn machines.  If I am going to waste my precious time, I want it to be outdoors, in the woods or on the water, watching and learning, catching stuff, and shooting stuff, more with a camera now than with my guns.
         Every morning I get up and watch the birds from my screened and shaded porch here on Lightnin’ Ridge.  There are bunches of them, and they sing their hearts out early.  The bluebirds, living in a house I made for them only about thirty feet from my porch, are working like crazy, feeding their youngsters.  I have to admire the male for helping like he does.  Folks probably do not realize that bluebirds not only feed their young, they also haul off their droppings.  And to think, I never once changed a diaper when my kids were little!

         I can hear all you ladies clucking about that but you have to remember that I made it so easy on Gloria Jean that she didn’t mind.  She stayed home with those babies, never once going out to get the worms and bugs to feed them, like that momma bluebird.
Gloria didn’t have to hold down a job when she didn’t want to, and I fixed her up one heck of a nice big nest to enjoy life in.

         Those little bluebirds keep looking out of that box and any day now they will leave, just like kids do.  By next spring, that male bluebird will have forgotten how hard he had to work this summer, and he’ll likely do the same thing all over again.

         Some good news to pass along.  The doves are thicker than flies up here on Lightnin’ Ridge and the other day I heard rain crows again.  Still very few whippoorwills to be heard, but at my little cabin on the creek, I saw an old hen turkey with four poults about the size of big chickens, so they haven’t all drowned. I wish there had been eight or ten. I still predict a very poor hatch of turkeys and quail this summer because of the heavy rains.

         I am connected to something called facebook! Can you believe that?  I don’t even know what it is… but Ms Wiggins, my executive secretary is helping me with it.  Seems to be a good way to hear from readers here and there.  Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email me at

         You can catch me at times in my office if you call 417 777 5227.  If you get Ms. Wiggins, don’t argue with her if she starts bragging on her boyfriend or Hillary Clinton.  The other day she got into it on the phone and they called her a ‘goose-eyed old battle-axe’, and she spilled her fingernail polish all over the desk.

Monday, July 6, 2015


The Summer Issues of THE LIGHTNIN' RIDGE OUTDOOR JOURNAL and THE JOURNAL OF THE OZARKS has had to be reprinted because of printing glitches.
Many thanks to our subscribers for their understanding and patience.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Escaped Minnows and Fat Crappie


  If you don't lose your minnows, crappie bite all night long

       Crappies are about my least favorite fish to catch because you can’t catch them on a Zara Spook or a Jitterbug or a Rapala Floating Minnow.  You can only get a good fight out of them on four pound line and a switch for a rod.  But I had some fresh crappie filets to eat this week despite the high water, fishing for them only because I like to eat them on occasion.
       Rich Abdoler and I went out on the Friday evening before the Fourth of July and fished for bass awhile.  Didn’t have much luck.  I brought a minnow bucket along with two-dozen minnows in it to use later for crappie.  While bass fishing I set the bucket out into the water, of course, to keep the minnows alive.  Minnows are expensive, those cost me two and a quarter per dozen.  That’s almost 20 cents apiece.
       When creeks and rivers are at normal stage, I can take a minnow seine and get about 60 minnows with two or three drags of that seine.  Figuring the cost of them today at a bait shop, that is twelve dollars worth of minnows in a few minutes.  If you want to keep seining, I figure you can collect about 200 dollars worth of minnows in less than an hour.   However, you can’t do that on swollen, muddy creeks. In such conditions you might drown!

       Be that as it may, I bought the minnows and the boat gas and Rich didn’t contribute anything.  It all came out of my pocket, and I guess because I owe him some money he figures giving me more money is like throwing quarters in the lake, or even worse, comparable to buying fireworks, which most likely is the biggest waste of money ever for us grizzled old veteran outdoorsmen.

       But that isn’t important here, what is important is the fact that he is getting to where he can’t remember what he ought to, and when I started the boat to leave our bass fishing spot and go to the crappie fishing spot, he forgot that the minnow bucket needed to be brought into the boat.  So what happened was, the lid came open and we lost about three dollars and twenty cents worth of minnows.
       I counted what was left and there were only eight or nine.  Contemplating the loss of that kind of money, enough to by a couple of bottle rockets or a whole pack of firecrackers, I was really depressed.  But we went to a secret crappie spot as the sun sank behind a western ridge, a blood red ball through the haze. You could actually see it move.
       That’s worth something.  How many times can you look right at the sun and see it slowly dropping into the darkness while distant fireworks explode on the horizon in a variety of bright colors?

       We anchored, dropped the light into the water, and right off we began to catch crappie.  Rich caught two at one time.  What he did was, he tied a jig about two feet above the hook with a minnow on it, and I’ll be darn if one didn’t grab the jig just as one engulfed the minnow.  Quickly, I caught a nice fat crappie and though I tried hard to save that minnow it dropped into the lake as I hoisted the crappie into the boat.
       That left seven minnows in the bucket, but I was fortunate enough to save my next minnow through the landing of two hefty crappie.  When I counted the minnows again I found that Rich, who is not as conservative as I, had used two of them!  Five left!!

       I was really mad at this point, at nothing in particular.  It is just my luck that crappie would be biting and two thirds of the minnows I had paid good money for had escaped.
       Things never seem to work right for me.  I was born under a dark cloud.  As a matter of fact, you will remember that a gosh-awful storm raged the night I was born in that little Ozark farmhouse.  That night as I came into the world, lightning hit the old house my grandparents owned and killed a couple of chickens in just the other room.

       So in time, there we sat… each one of us with the last two minnows, one apiece.  And you know, this is strange, but we sat there for another hour and never got another bite! Even so, we had several nice crappies in the live well, enough for a really big meal or two, and that is worth at least ten dollars.  Since I got to keep all the fish, I figure I came out okay.

       As I drove home that night, I thought about how bad I would have felt if we had each caught great big nice crappies on those last two minnows and had none left!   But what would have been worse is if we had not been able to catch any more fish at all on the last three dollars worth of minnows.
       In such a case you have to just dump what is left in the lake, because they won’t live long on a hot summer night.  But if you can get home and get your bucket in the refrigerator you can keep minnows alive for a couple more days, even longer if you feed them crackers.

       I have done that a couple of times but Gloria Jean really gets mad about it.  She doesn’t realize the economics of it.  What takes more room in a refrigerator than a gallon of milk, which is worth only a couple of bucks?  On occasion, I have set a bucket of minnows in the refrigerator that was easily worth three or four dollars.

       To the readers of the magazines, the Lightnin’ Ridge Journal and the Journal of the Ozarks, I apologize for the summer issues being late.  We had a glitch at the printers and they are being reprinted and will be mailed soon.
       I have a new publications director on board now and she says she will get things straightened out and make the Lightnin’ Ridge magazines work like they ought to, soon to increase the number of issues each year and get things working on time.  I’ll tell you more about her soon if she can catch any fish.

       In the meantime, my new book, The Prince of Point Lookout, is doing well and if you would like to get a copy send fourteen dollars to us and tell me who to inscribe it to. The book is a humorous, factual account of my hunting and fishing adventures when I left the Big Piney for the first time at the age of seventeen to go to college at School of the Ozarks, down on Taneycomo Lake.  I now have nine books and I told Ms. Wiggins to arrange a little brochure telling about all of them, plus the two new ones I hope to publish this fall.  If you’d like to get those little info sheets on my books, write and let me know and I will send them to you. My address is Box 22, Bolivar, MO