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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That vulture is one ugly bird!