Monday, August 31, 2015

What You Can Do With September

 This late August buck still has velvet covered antlers.

  Too green, too warm…This doe can't believe it is bow season already.

        There are some bow-hunters who will hunt deer in a week or so, when they open the bow season way to early. If they hunt the last week of the season they will indeed be pursuing their favorite pastime in two different worlds, as different as September and January.
         You begin in 80-degree heat, mosquito's and flies and spider webs.  You watch for copperheads as you walk to your hunting area, and strain your eyes to look through a green canopy from your tree stand, unable to see what you can hear so close.  In the final days of the archery season, you will bundle up against the cold, carry a hand warmer in your pocket and treasure whatever is hot in your thermos, whether you prefer soup or coffee.  If there is a deer 150 yards away, you can see him well through the barren branches. You can watch the sun set...early in the evening.

          I love bow-hunting, when the fall colors are bright, and the groundhog is fattening up for a long sleep. I love bow-hunting when there's frost on the ground, and geese passing overhead.... and I love bow-hunting when there's about two or three inches of snow on the ground, and you can see a buck's breath when he snorts.  I like to hang a dressed deer from the oak tree in my front yard and let him season in temperatures which only rise into the forties in the afternoon.
          But I don't love bow-hunting in September, so if you are out there when it opens you are about half crazy.  Maybe all crazy, I don’t know...  because of what you will be missing. There is still some great float-fishing for smallmouth who love topwater lures in September, and catfish to be taken on a trotline, and crappie which cannot get enough to eat.

          If you do hunt deer in September, you will need to get any deer you kill cleaned quickly and skinned and cut up, so the flies and insects don't have a chance to get to it.  The only way a September deer should be allowed to season is in a cold meat locker. 
         And though I won't join you just yet, I understand your obsession with a few hours in a tree stand, it is a fascinating way to see the ways of living creatures close up and interacting in a woodland environment so far from what most people ever see, even in September, when you can’t see anything very far away.

          In late September, bow-hunting can be fun if you hunt from the ground and hunt young turkeys, which are chasing insects in the field edges.  Young turkeys aren't so bright, and you can get well hidden on the ground and watch them come close enough for a fairly sure shot.  If you are good enough, you can bring home a young Jake, which weighs ten or twelve pounds.  But you still have to be wary of copperheads and check yourself for ticks when you get back home.

                  I’ll be exited if I draw an arrow on another buck this year, sometime in late October, or November or just before Christmas.  But not in September.....  I leave that for the younger, more specialized outdoorsman, with all the gadgets on their bows.  There are still those other things to be done.... first things first.

         Dove season opens this week too, followed next weekend by the opening of teal season.  With me, dove season is a ho-hum affair, which I find myself a little ashamed to be a part of.  And yet every year I find myself being a part of it anyway, swearing never to do it again. If I am out there in the weeds sweating over a little patch of sunflowers, and some passing hunter asks if I am that outdoor writer they occasionally see in the newspapers, I deny it. I use an alias for the first weekend of September. 
         And it isn't that I do not respect the morning dove.  As a game bird, he is beyond reproach, responsible for the sale of more shotgun shells than the quail, the pheasant or the mallard combined.   If you get a good platter of doves on your table baked in some kind of gravy or fresh from a crock-pot with mushroom and celery soup, and you can keep it all to yourself, you'll have a meal right up there with any wild game dish.
         But you'll need to see to it that there aren't many hungry people at your house, or you won't get enough.  Doves are small!  That small size is part of why so many shells are fired by so many hunters to acquire so few of them.  Of course, us grizzled old veteran outdoorsmen don't have so much trouble hitting doves, but there aren't many of us who are top-flight shotgunners.  Sure we are!
The early part of dove season is often very hot and very hard on dogs…hard on hunters too.
         Dove season attracts more greenhorns, neophytes and would-be'ers than any pastime except deer hunting.  The farther south you go, the more it becomes a social event, with numbers of hunters joining to hunt grain fields where doves congregate. It's so easy that fathers take their kids out to hunt doves years before the kids can hit a can on a fence post.  You don't need much....shells, shotgun, and a bucket to sit on.   And water.... Be sure you have water for everyone, and for your dog if you take the poor thing out there in that heat.

   It is a fact that probably 90 percent of all dove-hunters will hunt only the opening weekend for doves and not again the entire season.  Only a small percentage of dove hunters hunt water holes in the evening, and it is my favorite ways to hunt.  It is cooler then!  Doves come to small ponds, which have an open, clean bank, or sometimes lake points of similar description to drink water before flying up to roost.  I have trained many a young Labrador over water holes, where they have plenty of water to keep them quenched, wet and cool.

         Sometimes there is excellent dove hunting in the last half of the season because early in September, so many doves remain up north.  At times in late October I have seen up to 100 doves watering at a small pond on my place, with some roost trees nearby which they use as a migration stopover.
         But as you read this, I am already looking forward to the blue-winged teal season.  It is a challenge made for the real hunter, not some guy with a 5-dollar box of shells and a bucket to set on.  And a flock of teal makes doves look like dickey birds when it comes to flying...they are little rockets, gone before they even get there.  If you ain't a grizzled old veteran duck-hunter, you'd best not get interested in teal hunting, you'd best hunt doves again next weekend.  But truthfully, you’d be much smarter just to go fishing.

         If you would like to tell me I don’t know what I am talking about, as so many do, just write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email me at  You can call our office to talk to my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, a woman so spacey at times she’d make a good dove hunter.  That number is 417 777 5227, in case you’d like to order one of my books or get a sample copy of our magazines.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Spider and the Fly

From now until well into the fall, the woods become full of spider webs.  They are amongst the fiercest of predators.  I saved one fly from one of the meekest spiders I ever saw.

       I learn a lot when I set on my porch watching the birds and rabbits and squirrels.  Every now and then a deer passes through, or something like a raccoon family or a coopers hawk.  If an armadillo comes around, he is a dead armadillo!  But I watched a life and death struggle just the other morning.  The participants were very very small.  A housefly somehow got his leg stuck through the screen wire and couldn’t get it out.
       His struggles were epic, sort of what you might expect if you could go back in time and see a wooly mammoth stuck in a mud bog, just on a smaller scale.  His predicament attracted a tiny spider, which likely was about half the size of the fly in body weight.  The spider could see the possibility of a great feast, and he would get about a half inch away from the fly, which would go berserk at his approach, and then the spider would get scared and run up the screen a few inches to get his nerve back.

       That went on for a while, the fly screaming obscenities at the spider and begging for his buddies to help.  Well I don’t know that, I just suspect it.  If I had my leg stuck in something and a spider was approaching, it is what I would do.  What a spider does to a fly is awful.  When one is caught in a spider web, or any other insect is caught, a spider bites them and injects a little bit of venom into its body with little tiny fangs of a sort.  It puts the fly to sleep.

       The spider has no chewing teeth so then it just sucks out the body fluid and soft matter, leaving the outer shell.  If you ever come across a fly skeleton, which I never have, you will know he was set upon by a spider!

       Anyways, I sat there and watched the whole thing and just couldn’t stand it any longer so I pulled the fly out of the screen, which pulled his leg off.  I know that must have been very painful, on a small scale, so I put him out of his misery.  Not long ago I came across an electric fly swatter that looks a little like a tennis racket.  It has batteries in it and if you push the button on the handle, the metal strands inside the frame receive an electrical jolt that kills even horse-fly or a wasp.  I sat the tortured fly on it and pushed the button, electrocuting it and putting it out of its misery.  The spider, seeing the whole thing, hot-footed it off away and out of site rather quickly.

       With all that over, I sat back to watch one young gray squirrel chase another all through the branches of a chinquapin oak, apparently unaware that mating season is months away.  I assume that the one in the front was a female, who well knew when the mating season was, and the one in the rear was a male, who couldn’t care less.  He has not learned yet what most of us grizzled old veteran outdoorsmen found out many years ago.  You don’t chase ‘em, you bring them flowers, you read them poetry and you find an after-shave lotion they really like.
       I know that many of you readers are far from Lake of the Ozarks, but permit me to take a short piece of this page to inform everyone of a get together at Climax Springs they are calling the Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s Luncheon.   This is a dinner that will take place on Wednesday September 16 at 11:30 a.m. at the towns Civic Center. 

       About twenty or so really good-looking ladies came up with the idea of raising money by inviting men to come to a really great dinner and charging them 10 dollars each, then using the money to pay winter utility bills for some of the areas elderly people.

Isn’t that a great idea?  They have asked me to come and give a thirty-minute talk about conservation and the outdoors.  While the dinner costs ten dollars, the talk I give which will involve more humor than seriousness, is completely free.  In fact I am going to bring a bunch of my outdoor magazines to give away, free of charge.

       They tell me that there in the Climax Springs Civic Center, where the dinner will be on the second floor, they will have vendors on the bottom floor selling things like art, fishing lures, turkey calls, etc., so outdoorsmen should enjoy the event even more.

       One of the reasons I bring up this event is to let people know that I would rather speak for a group that is raising money for a cause than anything else I do.  God never gave me any great talent or ability, but one thing He gave me was the ability to talk to people and I like to use that.  I think it springs from the years I spent as an interpretive naturalist at state parks in Missouri and Arkansas and for the National Park Service at Buffalo River.

       I speak to groups often; churches, outdoorsmen’s groups, conventions, wild game dinners, civic clubs, schools, writers groups, etc.  I do it free of charge even though many of those places have what they call “honorariums” which means they have a check for speakers.  Since I can generally sell enough of my books at such events to pay for the gas to get there, I return that money.  Here’s why… At a big Assembly of God church in Columbus Kansas a few years ago, a four-hundred-dollar honorarium I returned, used with money donated by the audience, bought dozens of pairs of shoes for children at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in the Dakotas.

       At a Baptist church in Mountain Grove Missouri I spoke to a big congregation just before a Sunday dinner there, and returned a five-hundred-dollar honorarium, which I placed in a collection plate, and asked the congregation to pass the plate and put in a handful of change or a dollar to make it grow.  That money would be given to the local schools to buy coats for underprivileged children of the area.  The congregation really responded.  We ended up with nine-hundred and eighty-one dollars. 
       I remember the amount well, because while I never saw any of the little kids who benefited, a teacher called me to tell me about a little 8-year-old girl so proud of her new coat she wouldn’t take it off in the classroom for more than a week. Then there was a little boy who needed glasses to be able to see the blackboard, which his parents couldn’t afford, and his teacher nearly cried when she described the big smile on his face because for the first time in his life, he could see clearly as a result of that Sunday morning.

       I don’t spend five minutes on planning the talks I give… because it seems that God lets me know what to say when the time is right.  I can hear the skeptics laughing at that, but it is the truth!  Mostly, I like to tell stories and experiences from my life to make people laugh.  But it serves a higher purpose, and gives my life a true purpose…someone who grew up so poor I thought I would never be able to help anyone, raising thousands of dollars to help hundreds of people.  When you consider how easy this has become for me, it is something of a real miracle.  In high school I couldn’t even stand up in class and give a book report.  If you have an event which raises money to help others, and you need a speaker, just let me know.

My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 and the email address is  Or you can call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, at our executive office at 417-777-5227.  If she is doing her nails you will just get a message- and I will call you back.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Not Much Tolerance


A pileated woodpecker searching a tree behind my porch in the dead of winter.
He isn't at all tolerant of other woodpeckers.


Chances are the dove population throughout Missouri will remain stable, but…they would do better and hunters would do better, if the hunting season was delayed two or three weeks.


       I sat on my grandfathers screened in porch when I was a boy, looking down on the creek as he relaxed in his rocking chair, one that he had made himself.  It had a hand-sewn cushion full of wild duck feathers.  Everything grandpa had he made himself. He built his little three-room cabin and the porch, which was enclosed by screens taken off old screen doors.  I couldn’t be near as happy without my own screened porch, and I sit out there each morning with a cup of coffee, watching the birds and other wild creatures in the woods below.
         Yesterday a young squirrel scurried up a hickory tree just to the south end of the porch.  I have never believed fox squirrels and gray squirrels will interbreed, but this one puzzles me. His face and body are just as any other fox squirrel, but his tail is that of a gray squirrel.  He is a strange looking squirrel.  He sneaks out to the end of several low branches looking for a hickory nut and there are none there, so he climbs higher to a point well up in the hickory tree where he cannot be seen, above the roofline. 

         In short order I hear hickory nut cuttings pattering down on the leaves below, like a slow gentle rain.  It takes me back to my boyhood when I sat in wooded creek bottoms in late summer with my single-shot shotgun, listening to the sound of squirrels gnawing on hickory nuts.  It would be nice to do that again but it is too hot right now and I am less tolerant of ticks today and those hard rocks are harder to sit on.  I want to wait until it gets cooler.

         Last year we had a ton of hickory nuts in my area, this year the crop is skimpy.  I notice the big walnuts here on Lightnin’ Ridge do not hold many walnuts either.  But the white oaks are loaded.  A three-hundred-year-old oak, which grows up over my house at the north end of the porch, is filled with an abundance of big green acorns.  In October they will drop on the roof for days on end.   Nights too, making it a little harder to sleep when they are really falling.

         Sitting on my porch I note that wild creatures do not tolerate each other much.  The diversity men preach today is found in my back yard, but tolerance is not.  A red-bellied woodpecker chases a downy woodpecker away from a post oak trunk, and hummingbirds fight with each other at the feeders I have out.  Blue jays hate the cardinals, mockingbirds fight with the brown thrashers and if those hawks were smaller the crows would kill them all.

         I worry about the whippoorwills and chuck-wills-widows.   Once so plentiful here on Lightnin’ Ridge, they seem too be declining rapidly.  I blame the egg-eating armadillos, skunks and raccoons, all three at the highest point in populations I have ever seen.  Anyone who sees an armadillo should kill it.  They are not native to this region and they are becoming a plague.

         Doves nest here in abundance and there are pairs of them around my screened porch, feeding on the ground.  Dove season will open in less that two weeks, and I wish to gosh they would delay that opening date for at least two or three weeks.  I am not sure that biologists know it but there will be a few nests where young are not yet independent, and hunters will kill the parents, allowing the pair of young birds left in the nest to die.  Doves nest from February thru September, bringing off several broods, always two young at a time.  It is a given that the hunting season will result in the death of young birds not yet ready to fly.  Not many, but a few.

         Another reason I hate the September 1 opener is because the heat and humidity is so high.  It is really hard on a dog, and hard on hunters.  But since it is now considered a tradition that date will never change.  I have similar problems with the opening of the archery deer season in mid-September.  It is just too early, still summer in our area. If it isn’t cool enough to hang up a deer at least overnight, it is a poor time to be hunting.

         I went to an ‘Outdoor Expo’ in the Ozarks last weekend and there was a lady there with a bunch of snakes.  She of course, was telling people how gentle snakes are, and why you should never kill one.   She had a boa constrictor wrapped around her neck, and other exotic reptiles that give me the creeps.
         I go along with the advice not to kill most non-poisonous species…I don’t. I dispose of black snakes here on Lightnin’ Ridge because they are so hard on birds in nests and young rabbits.  If I had a dairy farm I am sure I would like them in my barn to kill mice.

         But I don’t tolerate copperheads up here on my wooded ridge-top.  That screwball law that you cannot legally kill a poisonous snake should be repealed, unless you want to make it illegal for anyone to kill red wasps, moles or mice as well.  I asked the lady, who was all wrapped up in snakes, where she had grown up, where she was from. I’d bet she had never lived on a farm, or in a country setting.  I was right, she said she came from Los Angeles!
         I asked her if she knew that two people had died in Missouri over the past year from snakebites, one from a copperhead and one from a cottonmouth.   She didn’t believe me! She proceeded to tell me how I could use a hook to move poisonous snakes from a lawn to a safe area.
         Boy would I like to take her down on the river with her hook, and let her try to move a big old 30-inch cottonmouth with it when he is good and mad, which he would be when she started messing with him.  She’ll do better back in Los Angeles with her constrictors, teaching those folks.  I heard that people from Southern California are easy to fool.  I heard somewhere that those pet boa constrictors and pythons have killed a few people in the U.S. too.  But only a few!

         I was in Iowa last month and visited a friend of mine, taxidermist Brad Coulson of Ankeny Iowa. He has been a taxidermist since he was a youngster and that was thirty years ago.  He has one of the nicest studios I have ever seen and he is as good at that type of work as anyone I have ever seen.  Brad told me he needs to hire a taxidermist to help him, because he can’t keep up with the work.  If you are a competent taxidermist able to move to Iowa, you should contact him.

         If you are a writer, you should contact me.  We are looking for good stories about the outdoors: nature, hunting, fishing etc. for our magazine, The Lightnin Ridge Outdoor Journal.  Actually some of our best reading comes from outdoorsmen who have only one story, people you might call amateur writers.  If you think you might have a good article for our October-November issue, or a special Christmas issue, I would like to see it.  We are now paying for the articles we use.  My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613, my email address is

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Green and Blue… and Gold

   A view of wooded hills surrounding Bull Shoals Lake today, all public land.   When the master plan for the lake goes into effect, most of this will be gone, replaced by private homes and docks just above the high water line.

       I moved near Bull Shoals Lake in 1972 and it has been my favorite reservoir since then.  I don’t know how many acres around it was saved by putting them in public ownership, but it is a considerable amount, maybe 60 or 70 thousand acres set aside and preserved as is.
       It is all what they call “Corps Land”. Because of that the shore of most of Bull Shoals has been protected from the elite, from the developers and the people who live their lives for money.  Those developers, many of them who fought the preservation of the Buffalo, are now seeing silver and gold along the shores of Bull Shoals.

       Thank goodness, we always had Table Rock and Lake of the Ozarks and Beaver and most every other Ozark reservoir for them.  It kept their money grubbing hands off Bull Shoals for awhile.  Bull Shoals was for us common folks who disdained the shores lined with vacation homes and boat docks and trailer parks where you could see the water just below from your built-on deck.

       You know what Bull Shoals was?   It was a haven where no roads were built, and a natural shoreline with green buffer land above it. It wasn’t a place for the extremely wealthy to claim as their own and tell the rest of us to stay out.  It was a place where septic tanks didn’t drain, a place where big oaks and walnuts and hickories and cedars stood, where wild turkeys and deer traveled the same paths that all of us could walk as well.  It was a place where flying squirrels and owls and a myriad of species of songbirds lived. With another generation... that meant something.

       Now they are holding meetings down around Bull Shoals, especially in Mt. Home, Arkansas, where tens of thousands of retirees come to live the later years of their lives.  Most of them are glad that it isn’t another Branson.  At those meetings they are discussing the Corps new “Master Plan for Bull Shoals”.  What that means is, a plan to bring the money Branson and Table Rock are known for, to a fairly pristine area.

       I heard one guy on television talking about the money a new plan could bring in.  He makes his money out of tourism and he complained that they weren’t able to cut trees below homes already there, so they could see the lake.  “Tourist friendly” he called it. If a new “master plan” is adopted, he can cut lots of trees and he might make a few more dollars each week!

       Lawyer Jones can move down from Kansas City, where he made millions in courts he helped to corrupt, and claim a little of the acreage now owned by all of us, for his very own. He can build a million dollar place just above the high water line and he can expect the government to cut a mile long road into it, and work with developers to put in some docks which are his and his alone where no one can step foot on them without his permission.

              The “Master Plan” means this…. We take thousands of acres owned by all the people and we make it a place owned mostly by the few very wealthy folks who want to flee the big cities.  The “Master Plan” means you’ll soon see roads and homes and private boat docks by the hundreds along banks that now give a view of green hills and blue water.

       Then the real estate developers can really make some money. They are salivating in anticipation!  And oh yes, that fellow on television talking about making Bull Shoals “tourist friendly’; he can get more money for his fishing service and at his bait shop, cause he loves people like Lawyer Jones.  Maybe he too can buy a little tract where he can set a mobile home.
       It would be nice if I could get some of those television news people to go with me and spend a few hours there seeing the Bull Shoals I know.  But television people don’t do that.  I called and volunteered my time and a boat, and I can’t get them to return a call.  I know the country is too rough for them and they might get a tick.  And besides that, Bull Shoals developers would raise heck with them for showing another side to that story.

       Unfortunately Bull Shoals as it is isn’t making anyone enough money.  It has many fine resorts, but the bad thing is, those resorts were built back up on ridges away from the lake and you might have to drive a mile or so to a launching ramp to put your boat in.

         There are launching ramps aplenty on Bull Shoals, but not nearly enough for Lawyer Jones who doesn’t want to drive a whole mile and wait ten minutes to put in his 250 thousand dollar boat.  He wants his own dock, a big one filling up a whole cove, with bright lights and a swimming platform.  And soon, he will have it.

       So now I have given you a sneak peak of the new ‘Master Plan for Bull Shoals’.   It has been the plan for some time now, and it will take that magnificent natural body of land around the lake from all of us and give it to just a few. They don’t have enough of such ground left on Table Rock or Beaver Lake or Lake of the Ozarks. Most of it is claimed. So Bull Shoals is next.

       If you doubt what I say, wait and watch. In the meantime you might want to go walk those wooded hills this fall.  You might want to go hunt it this fall while you still can. Much of it, like that Jones Point Wildlife Area near the Highway 125 ferry, is great hunting.  It will be a prime spot for roads and logging companies soon, and then the homes and docks.
       Those trees are are seventy or eighty years uncut, and big. They’ll make some loggers big money.  Most of the wildlife found there in that forest will survive to some extent as semi-tame.  Folks love to see birds and deer at their feeders off the back porch.
       Some species won’t survive, like the mountain boomers that live in the cedar glades.  But what the heck, those collared lizards aren’t worth anything...The land is.  You might be able to get up to ten thousand dollars an acre for much of that land if you are a developer.  All you have to do is take it out of public ownership.  And the Corp’s ‘Master Plan” is about to do just that.

       If you are just a plain old Ozark county person and this makes you a little bit sick, remember that we treasured such places as Bull Shoals in a wild setting because we are older than those who want it to be ‘tourist friendly’.  We remember a different time.  There were things we wouldn’t sacrifice for money.
       What voice do we have, those of us who have fished one of those remote coves at sunset in a 500 dollar fishing boat? Will our grandchildren care about seeing wild ducks circle above a cove in the fall in a golden sunset?  I doubt that kind of gold will mean much to anyone in another fifty years.
       That kind of gold has no value in a “Master Plan”. Present generations want big expansive lakeside resorts and plenty of fast boats and jet-skis.   And they want to see the water for the day or so they rent a cabin, they do not want to see trees that block the view.

       The public meetings are a joke.  Bull Shoals Lake’s future HAS BEEN DECIDED!   Soon a privileged few will own those green hillsides and what we knew will slowly disappear. And in time those of us who remember what that lake once was, will be gone and our memories won’t be of any importance.

       But I thank God he let me see it all those years as it is, as the forests grew, wild creatures thrived and it wasn’t just another Table Rock or Beaver Lake.  It belonged to us all.  The problem is… green and blue does not have the value of silver and gold.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Favorite Waters

   At one time Truman Lake was a haven for waterfowl.   Blue-winged teal in spring plumage stopped there by the thousands each spring, then again in the early fall.

30 years ago, quail were doing well on Truman Lake's western watershed and hunters often found numerous coveys in an evenings hunt.  Today, my estimate is that 80 percent of those coveys are gone.

       I am not going to write today about my favorite lake in all the world, Bull Shoals, where I lived and worked for twenty-five years.  That is going to be Part Two of this column, and I hope you won’t miss it.
       Truman Lake is my second favorite lake in the Midwest, almost two bodies of water behind one dam.   I have studied it, hunted it and fished it too, for more than forty years.  It is the most recently built lake in the Midwest, certainly the last big reservoir in the Ozark region.

       I have spent hours and hours on Truman, because it is a body of water that has a semblance of naturalness to it, and you can’t say that about many lakes.  Depending on how high the water is, Truman is surrounded by somewhere close to 120,000 acres of public land that is undeveloped.  It is land you and I can hunt on, or hike on, get lost in, land so full of a variety of wildlife and tree species it is amazing.
       Oh sure, it has deer and turkey in such an abundance that it boggles the mind, but the diversity of the Truman Lake watershed makes this a wildlife habitat like no other.  Both bear and mountain lion have been seen on the public land around Truman, and you can just about name any Missouri species of mammal, bird or fish and be assured they live here.  I doubt if there is an expanse of land anywhere that provides homes for more bobcats per acre than this lake.

       The west end of Truman, made up of the Grand River, Sac River and Osage River tributaries, is as different from the southern arm, made up of the Big and Little Pomme de Terre Rivers, as a goose from a groundhog.  That western arm, flowing out of Missouri and Kansas prairie country is shallower, much more turbid, downright muddy much of the time.   Over the years the lake has filled in on that west end with silt.

       Forty years ago, we hunted waterfowl on the upper reaches of Truman, over closer to the Kansas border.  We would often wade out and hunt beneath pin oaks in the fall, and you have never seen better duck hunting.  This evaluation comes from an outdoor writer who has hunted ducks in seven or eight states and two provinces of Canada. You could find an equal to any place, including Arkansas on Truman Lake in the seventies and eighties!  What a waterfowl haven Truman was then, and to some extent, still is.

       Those pin-oak trees are gone now and the ground you could wade cannot be waded now because the mud and muck beneath the water in such spots is so thick from the years of siltation it will sometimes sink a hunters waders down to his thighs, and you can hardly move as it does so, sort of like underwater quicksand.

       I remember when there were enough coveys of quail in that region that it was nothing to find four of five coveys in a few hours of hunting. I would take my bird dogs out in my boat and we would hunt natural cover that now is little more than acres of cockleburs.  The quail are gone!

       The Corps of Engineers turned over much of that farmland found on the west end of Truman to the Missouri department of Conservation and they in turn, with the Corps approval, turned the land over to tenant farmers for large scale farming.  Where there was cover for quail and rabbits there now is blackened ground where no quail could survive and rabbits have declined and continue declining.  We now hunt rabbits on that public land by running beagles on private land adjacent to that tenant farmed land, because that’s where they have had to move to survive.

       I had a spirited discussion about this tenant farming with a good friend of mine who was a Corps Ranger at the time.  He angrily told me that there was no way to have farmers do what was best for wildlife on Truman because they couldn’t pay for their time and efforts unless they put large acreages in cultivation, a practice that ensured the decline of all wildlife EXCEPT deer and turkey, and that, he said, is what hunters want, not rabbits and squirrels.

       The management of that black, fertile ground for quail and rabbits is a costly, money-losing effort.  Years ago, I took the director of the Conservation Department out in my boat and showed him what was happening on Truman.  He’s the same person, who, in a speech before the Southeastern Game and Fish departments, said that Missouri would increase quail numbers in our state by ten thousand coveys.
       But when I showed him a tract of land where they actually could do that, through the preservation of escape and nesting cover, the elimination of cockleburs and the planting of crops in strips and rows which created what biologists have always referred to as edge and interspersion, he said the MDC just didn’t have the money for that.  A few years later they began to spend millions on restocking elk in a much smaller region of the southeastern Ozarks.

       On the Pomme de Terre southern arm of the lake, the ecosystem is far different.  It is rocky ground; the water is clearer and deeper.  Except for catfish and carp, I believe the fishing is better on that arm, and there’s still places you can wade out into the water when duck hunting.  But the Pomme de Terre arm is not good habitat for quail and rabbits, in general.  It is great habitat for squirrels, deer and turkeys and furbearers like beaver and fox and bobcat.

       Each spring and fall, I and that Corps Ranger, now retired, take a group of people out to a remote area of the Pomme de Terre arm, and conduct a day-long nature hike, teaching them what we have learned over the years about the lake.  This of course is on a small bit of those 120,000 acres of public land, and I can show them some of the biggest trees in that part of the state.  On that hike, punctuated by a fish fry at midday on the shore of the Lake, we show them eagle nests in giant sycamores, and one white oak tree that likely is well over 300 years old.  Giant trees of a dozen species are found there as are cedar groves that are filled with cedars hundred of years old.  It is a fact that on Truman Lake, core samples of a pair of cedar trees indicated they were 700 years old.  How long will it be before the demand for that valuable wood makes it so that the Corps of Engineers feels it necessary to turn that ground over to loggers?

       Then there is the other lake, Bull Shoals, just as magnificent, but so different, which is this week the subject of very useless public meetings in north Arkansas. The Corps calls it a new master plan for Bull Shoals Lake.  What it amounts to is a great deception that means the lake I knew for so many years is about to be turned over to development both on the water and above it. There is big money to be made in its demise.  I will compare Truman and Bull Shoals and what is soon to happen to each, in next week’s column. 

In the meantime, you can write with your opinions to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at