Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Justice For a Grasshopper Murderer

             The fall turkey season has come and gone.  Every year I think it becomes less of a thing to Ozark hunters, maybe because the fishing is so good in October maybe because of beggar lice and stick-tites and a growing laziness in the populations of our tweeting and twittering young folks.
            I hunted a little this fall, but not much.  Late one evening a week or so ago, while most of the turkeys seemed to be across the creek, one old gobbler made the mistake of running across a scraggly food plot I had planted in the bottoms at my place on Brush Creek.  I saw him and he saw me.  He was easily 150 yards away and all he had to do was just run off into the timber and fly across the creek to the other side.  It was amazing how he was there one minute and gone the next.  He just disappeared at the edge of the open food plot.

            Being a grizzled old veteran outdoorsman, I have seen that trick before.  I owned pointing dogs for years and I remember dozens of times seeing my English Setters come down on solid point in high grass, only to be surprised with the flush of several wild turkeys around me.  They hide darn well.  And the fact that he did that very thing does not speak well of that old gobbler’s smartness.

            With my shotgun at the ready I walked to the spot where he disappeared, expecting him to flush in a great flopping of wings.  But again, he wasn’t a real smart gobbler and he decided to come up running.  He did good for about 40 yards but with me being one heck of a shotgunner, and due to a well spread pattern of number-six shot, he didn’t make it.

            If that causes a tinge of sadness on your part, you should realize that it is likely that this past summer alone he was likely responsible for the loss of hundreds of young grasshoppers.  It is a sad fact that several grasshopper families were decimated by the loss of family members who just never came back after an afternoon of innocent foraging, and their relatives mourned their passing, knowing their loved ones were stuffed in that old gobblers craw.  (The correct word is ‘crop’ but the pronunciation is ‘craw’).

            I felt bad for awhile myself, watching him flop around like a chicken with no head, something that use to happen often on my Grandpa McNew’s farm when Sunday dinner loomed.  What you like to do is kill a young Jake in the fall and leave the old gobblers to make the hills echo in the spring.  You know, as you stand over an old tom in October that there is one less gobbler to strut and blow amongst the emerging blossoms of spring, to come all huffed up and gobbling to your call.

            But the encouraging thing is, in mid October, one evening before a storm, there were gobblers gobbling on the roost in the evening and the next morning, like they thought it was April.  There seemed to be a lot of them.  So the old timer with long spurs and a twelve-inch beard may not be missed so much.

Mike with 400 lb male black bear he killed with a bow
            Speaking of wild turkeys, my old hunting partner Mike Dodson, from Harrison, Arkansas, was quite a turkey hunter.  He and I once guided novice turkey hunters each spring in those forested mountains for many years together when I lived in north Arkansas.  He is one of those men that loves the outdoors and tackles everything with enthusiasm and gusto.  We hunted and fished for everything and often lamented the fact that there just wasn’t enough days in the year to get all the hunting and fishing done we wanted to do.
            Now Mike has given up everything for his devotion to bear hunting.  He killed another black bear with his bow, in early October.  It was in a wild and wooly section of the Arkansas Ozarks on private land that borders the National forestland where so many bears now thrive.

            On a game camera which Mike sets up early in September, he has gained photos of 15 or 16 different bears, which are drawn to the area by hundreds and hundreds of pounds of old bread and popcorn.  “There’s nothing they like better than the popcorn,” he says, “and you might think a big old bear would just gulp it down but they don’t.  They just take small bites and eat slowly.  But they put away a lot of it over the month.  I have popped so much popcorn and hauled out so many pounds of old bread you wouldn’t believe how much that bunch of bears eat.”

            Mike and his hunting partner have rigged up a zip-line from the canyon rim down into the bottoms and send down the bait in barrels.  He says that going down into the area is a chore, as the bluff is steep and rocky.  The bear season opens in early October and Mike says you don’t have long to hunt.  “When the acorns start to drop in the fall, they disperse and eat acorns and ignore the bait,” he says.

            Mike isn’t just a trophy hunter looking for another bear skin rug.  He and his partner dress out their bears and eat the meat over the winter.  He says that no matter what anyone says, bear meat is good to eat if properly cleaned and prepared.  But bear hunting is work, according to his description of descending and ascending that steep terrain three or four times a week for a whole month, filling up a bait barrel.  I asked him if he ever used day-old donuts but I remember too well the old days when the two of us would have eaten all the day-old donuts we could collect.

            “We have tried a lot of bait,” Mike told me, “but believe me, a bear would rather eat popcorn than anything else he could get… at least until he can gorge himself on acorns.”

            Please join us to dedicate the boys ranch for underprivileged boys near Collins Mo on Sunday afternoon, November 8th.  You can see a map, and read all about it on my website, larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.  We will show everyone the whole set up and the cabins, spring and old 1890’s bridge across the creek.  This setting is the most perfect situation you could ask for, where counselors and churches can come with groups of children for several days at no charge.  We’ll have trails, a trout pond and a sports field.

            We want to concentrate especially on city boys without fathers who need to learn about the outdoors, and about character and solid values from good men.   I have a flyer about this also which I can mail you, which explains the afternoon of November 8th, with a map of how to get there. In order to help raise money to pay insurance and electricity for the place, we will be selling hundreds of items on that day, an old antique tractor, many other antiques, and furniture, appliances, etc.  See a list of those things we will be selling on that website.

            We’ll have plenty of cake and coffee, and I would love to show you personally what we are trying to do.  Churches in the Ozarks should send representatives to find out how they can use this fifty-acre tract and the cabins for their youth, free of charge.  For more information, call me at 417-777-5227. To make this work, I need lots of help. We will have a workday to get ready for it all on Friday, November 6 if you would like to join us that day to help.

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