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.

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