Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Reporting From Here in the Woods



-->      It is Thursday morning and I am sitting in one of my old deer-stands high above the ground on a beautiful fall day, writing this column in a little tablet.  I don’t do much writing from the woods any more but I use to do it a lot, in the time before computers. Back then I would hand-write something and take it home and let Gloria Jean type it for me.  I sold lots and lots of magazine articles that way.  Gloria Jean is by far the best wife I have ever had for that reason alone; disregarding the fact she isn’t much of a cook.
         I have never bragged on her cooking unless she was right there and I had to do it.  There are times a husband has to lie, you understand.  But I am not lying when I say that when she was 18 she was absolutely gorgeous… and very shy.  How many times, when you were young, did you meet a beautiful girl who was quiet and shy?  But in addition to that, she could type more than 100 words a minute and not hardly ever make a mistake!  About three months after I met her I asked her to type a very important manuscript for me that I had written out in the woods the previous turkey season.

         Some college girls had offered to type that manuscript for 4 or 5 cents a word and Gloria did it for nothing.  While most guys back then jumped into marriage without giving it a thought, I considered all the pluses and minuses to it.  Here I have met this beautiful and quiet girl who thinks I am the greatest thing since the electric typewriter and she will type my stuff free.  I got to thinking that in my writing career I might write a million words and she might save me whatever a million nickels are worth.  On the minus side, there was the cooking difficulty, but back then you could get Colonel Sanders chicken dinners for a buck seventy-five.
 It was a good move on my part.  Gloria Jean can type better than ever and she is still fairly good looking considering all these years of typing and organizing and trying to help me keep track of my socks. That first manuscript she typed went to Outdoor Life magazine and it brought me fifteen hundred dollars.  It was chosen by a big New York publishing company as the best outdoor article of 1973 and published as the only outdoor article in a book of award winning sports stories.  The book publisher sent me another fifteen hundred dollars and from that point Outdoor Life and Field and Stream magazines bought everything I sent them, typed and looking extra professional all because of Gloria Jean's typing ability   

      Can you imagine what it was like to some Ozark country boy whose biggest payday was on a hay-crew, to see three thousand dollars for something he had written in an hour or so leaning up against a tree waiting to hear a turkey gobble. That story was entitled, “Old Paint, the Story of a Wooden Johnboat.  You can read it a book of short stories I published 15 years ago entitled, “Ain’t No Such Animal”.  If you write ‘enquiring’ about ‘acquiring’ it, you may get information about all nine of my books in a neatly typed letter from Gloria Jean!  The only trouble is, she sells all my books way too cheap and with my autograph no less.  She says that after all these years, she ought to know more than anyone else what my stuff is worth!


Doggone it, I was so intent on writing that I let a deer slip past me.  Still, it has been a good day.  A bluejay lit only feet from me on a hickory branch.  Thankfully he didn’t give that dreaded alarm call bluejays are famous for.  He put forth a musical double note something like ‘O-link’, and then flew away.  When you see one that close it is amazing how magnificent they are in color and size.  I also see a group of wild turkeys off in the trees a hundred yards or so away.  There are 6 or 7 big ones, so I think all of them are gobblers.  It is easy to track their movement, since one is snow white.  I would like to see him closer to see if he is a true albino, but I doubt it.
         The white ones, the gray ones, are no more than the result of tame turkeys crossing with wild ones.  If you hear someone say they are a result of wild genetics, they are full of baloney.  If you go into the deep mountains of Arkansas where the genetics are purer than any I’ve ever seen, you will never see a gray or white turkey unless it is indeed a true albino. You also won’t see any 24 pounders!

         As I watch that white turkey gleaming through the trees, it makes me realize that he likely is going to have a hard time surviving with that bright white color.  Too easy to be seen by bobcats, owls, etc. Of course he should do well when it snows!  But somewhere in his ancestry, some wild, ne’er do well wild gobbler convinced a gullible tame white turkey hen that life was better in the woods, scrounging for acorns.  I understand that… it is sort of what I did with Gloria Jean.
         Someone asked why, since I am so critical of ‘trophy hunters’ that I would shoot bucks in preference to does.  Usually I take one of each during the season.   But on my place in St. Clair county, I don’t shoot does at all because the deer numbers there are not strong.  That’s a result of the old man who owned it before me shooting everything that he saw, well more than his limit.  He traded those extra deer to some local Amish people for work, or furniture.  He shot many of them out of his window, and they were all does or young of the year.
         The deer population there need to build back a little. One or two bucks are capable of siring fawns with a number of does, so if you kill a buck, you do not harm the potential to increase deer numbers. But where I hunt in another county I see a thriving deer herd where it doesn’t hurt a thing to shoot a doe for the venison.  When you start talking about ‘managing’ a state deer herd, the whole idea is a little bit ridiculous. A landowner knows what deer numbers he has and two tracts of land several counties apart are entirely different.  Deer numbers go up and down, and the late summer blue-tongue disease can really affect that in some regions, as it did a few years back.
         Our Department of Conservation had that big doe kill-off about 10 or 12 years ago because insurance companies were so upset about car collisions with deer.  They all insisted that it was due to an over-population of deer.  No one even talked about a 30 percent rapid increase in auto traffic.  That attitude back then really hit some deer populations hard, as a lot of hunters killed 8 or10 does per season.  But deer numbers bounce back in time if a landowner wants them to.  On my place, there will be more deer next year and the next because I know how to make it happen.  You do not ‘manage’ a statewide deer herd; you manage smaller pockets of deer on defined tracts or farms.  If you are an on-the-land manager, it is easy to do.

         Well I think I am going to climb down and go home, deerless BUT...NOT DEARLESS!  

The Days of Weeds and Rises

Freckles hunting pheasant & quail with me in the '70s

         I drove into southern Iowa a day or so ago and a flood of memories came as I passed exits to Mt. Ayr and Creston.  Those are some of the places near where I have hunted quail and pheasant many years ago. I thought of the time when my cousin John McNew and I stopped and asked permission to hunt a tract of land, and the farmer advised us that there had been quite a few pheasants around an old hog lot which hadn’t been in use for years.

         John had a Brittany Spaniel that was surely the best bird dog I ever hunted over.  Her name was Troubles.  Just out of the kennel, Troubles ran up and down the muddy lane and then turned into the ditch by a small broken-down fence.  She instantly froze on point, her nose nearly into the hog wire.  I crossed the fence beside her, ready to shoot with my new used shotgun, a lightweight Model 12 Winchester I had bought from John’s brother the day before.  It is a rarely seen Model 12 which has two barrels and a slightly different mechanism at the end of the magazine tube that allow a quick change from one to the other.  I had removed the tighter-choked barrel and chose to hunt with the open-choke.

         Usually I wouldn’t have done that because often, pheasants flush wild and are long shots of 35 or 40 yards.  But that day the wind was blowing hard out of the north and something told me they might just hold tight. I knew Troubles would not bump any birds, getting too close.  She was that good.  I had seen her point birds holding tight forty yards away.

         Somehow, my cousin got hung up in the fence and he laid his shotgun on the ground.  From the weeds beside the little broken down hog-shelter before me, a big beautiful rooster pheasant came up cackling, as he rose straight into the air.  I snapped the little Model 12 featherweight to my shoulder and dropped him with one shot at a distance of about 20 yards.  As he dropped, a pair of roosters and a several hens came up ten or fifteen yards farther away in a commotion of fuss and feathers.  I pumped the shotgun and busted one rooster as he rose, then ejected that shell to push my last shell into the chamber.  The third rooster had leveled out, but he turned slightly as headed into that strong wind and I lead him just a little.  As I fired he plunged into neck-high weeds in a small creek bottom beyond the hog pen, and Troubles went in after him.  John was still trying to get across the fence!

         What a memory… something a pheasant hunter seldom experiences with those unpredictable big oriental birds that Iowa was known for back then.  We took photos and gave Troubles lots of attention.  Thinking back, I don’t ever remember killing my limit of pheasants with three shots, as I did that day.  Two years ago, Johnny died of throat cancer at the age of 59.  A year or so before, his brother Lonnie, a dedicated outdoorsman and Marine, veteran of the Viet NamWar, had died at the age of 59 from a lung disease.  The two of them lived to hunt and fish together and they had done so since boyhood.  Unfortunately they had also smoked cigarettes since boyhood.  I sincerely believe if they had not, they would be alive today and we would still be hunting pheasants and ducks together in Iowa.

Freckles on point at sunset
         I also remember a day with a brand new shotgun in southern Iowa, hunting with the publisher of Gun Dog magazine, Dave Meisner, one of the finest men I ever knew.  He brought his young wire-haired pointer, Max, and I had my little English setter, Freckles, both exceptional dogs.  The new shotgun was an expensive over-and-under which a gun company had given me for a time, wanting me to write good things about it, hoping to see a photo or two of the shotgun in some of my upland bird hunting or waterfowl articles in Gun Dog.  It had some gold engraving and was so pretty I was worried sick I might put a scratch in it.  I had never even fired it and if you have done much shooting you know that over-and-under doubles have a different drop in the stock than a pump gun has.

         We had been in the field twenty minutes when Max came down on point on a grassy slope above a wooded draw.  Dave waved me up behind her and watched as a big, long-tailed rooster came cackling into a clear blue sky.  My shotgun roared as the pheasant reached a distance of thirty yards and then just kept going much to my surprise. I had just flat missed it. No problem… at thirty-five yards that second barrel would solve the problem.  I squeezed the trigger, the blast echoed from the south Iowa hills and the pheasant just sailed away, all feathers untouched and intact.

Freckles hunting with Dave 
         Can you imagine the embarrassment?  Here I was, a writer who helped filled the pages of his magazine with stories written by a supposedly experienced hunter and gun dog man, and I had missed two of the easiest shots you have ever seen.  It was the gun, and I used that as an excuse as Meisner nodded, trying to hide a grin. His dog Max sat there and looked at me as if he had never seen a rooster fly away before.  I hot-footed it back to the pick up, placed that beautiful shotgun in its elaborate case and pulled the old pump gun out of its ragged cover.  It took me awhile to find Meisner and Max, whom I believe were trying to hide from me.  But I could hear Dave shooting and when I found them, they had a pair of nice rooster pheasants.  Freckles was with them and she looked at me as if to say, “Let me hunt with these guys for awhile.”

         Dave became perhaps the only close friend I ever made in this outdoor writing business.  Despite his business success, which was enormous, he was a down-to-earth plain old country boy like me and he knew the outdoors, as most people in this field today do not.  We hunted and fished together for two more years and laughed a time or two at memories of that embarrassing day… and the thousand-dollar shotgun in the hands of a two-dollar pheasant hunter like me.  I got a call one fall morning that Dave had been found dead from a massive stroke in a local workout gym at Adel Iowa, where he lived.  He was only 53 years old.

        Pheasant hunting in southern Iowa is only a shell of what it was then.  You can thank the new modern farming methods for much of that.  I looked at huge harvested, barren cornfields as I drove on toward Des Moines and remembered those times of dogs, and pheasants and men I will never forget.  Those days, those memories, are worth everything to me.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Similarities of Goats and Bucks

  I am curious as to how those doe-scent manufacturers collect that much urine to fill the millions of bottles. Is it really necessary?  This doe, only a few feet beneath my stand didn't seem to notice my scent on the path I had taken only 20 minutes before.

         I am growing  a little tired of deer hunting!  It amounts to sitting in a tree stand wasting hours waiting for a few minutes of excitement.  Unless of course you see things you have never seen, like the time I saw that battle between the bobcat and the crows.  So what I do is, I take a pen and notebook and catch up on some things I want to write.  On occasion, I am so engrossed in what I am writing that I am surprised by what is happening in the woods below.  But while in a deer stand, I reflect on important things.  Like politics, religion and deer scents.

         Do you reckon there are enough doe deer in captivity to provide enough urine for those millions of bottles of ‘doe-in-estrus’ attractants which so many hunters buy because they don’t have the slightest idea what might work and what don’t?  I wonder, while I am setting there watching a male gray squirrel chase a female gray squirrel all through the branches of a big hickory tree, if there are people who make a good living running around in a pen full of tame deer with a bucket, collecting doe pee. 
         Frankly, I think that there may be some unscrupulous people selling goat urine as deer urine.  That makes me think, setting in that tree, about wild goats in the Ozarks.  Once, we had quite a few along the bluffs of the lower Big Piney River in the Mark Twain National Forest.  In November and December Dad and I would float that stretch of river a lot, hunting ducks in our wooden johnboat.  The goats were wild as anything, shaggy and white.  

         One of the times I remember the best was the cold, clear day when we floated through a shoal and heard what we thought was the sound of a rifle ahead, high on a wooded, rock-strewn hillside below a high bluff.  We drifted downstream, and there on the steep incline where a man could scarcely stand up, was a pair of big rams, backing off a few feet and then launching themselves at each other, bashing horns with a force that you would kill them both.  Several ewes and young goats were standing around watching.  The battle just went on as we passed, and we could hear that crack of horns coming together as we moved downstream behind our floating blind.  We saw them often for a few years in the sixties.

         But in twenty years, there were no goats to be seen along the Piney’s high bluffs.  Dad said he figured those blankety-blank hunters from the city had killed them all.  My dad did not like deer hunting and he had little use for those red-clad hunters from the city who descended on Texas County from the city.   That stemmed from a time when we were floating the river and bullets whined over our boat, the result of three half-drunk deer hunters shooting at whiskey bottles in the river downstream from us.

         Dad was really mad and he told those three they were nothing less than gold-plated idiots for shooting high powered rifles at the surface of the river.  It seemed as he was awfully brave or awfully dumb, giving heck to three guys standing on the bank with rifles in their hands. 

         We didn’t hunt deer when I was smaller because Dad didn’t like venison at all.  We ate everything else you can imagine, especially wild ducks.  When I was in college, when Dad and I floated the river and hunted ducks, he agreed to let me take a 30-30 along and shoot any buck we might sneak up on. 

         When I was really young, legal deer season, bucks only, was a fairly new thing and deer weren’t very plentiful. In our pool where I worked as a boy… there were a few avid deer hunters. The most successful was Ol’ Bill Stalder, Grandpa Dablemont’s friend and trapping partner who often brought in his buck in the back of his old red International Harvester pick-up, to show everyone in the pool hall.  I was so fascinated, I always read deer hunting stories in Outdoor Life and Field and Stream, and here in our pool hall we had one of the best.

         Bill knew more about deer than anyone in Texas County, and he educated me well.  Once he brought in an old military rifle that he hunted with and let me look at it.  He called it a ‘guvamint 45-70’.  Hunting with that rifle was similar to hunting with a shotgun slug.  Bill said that some of the modern rifle bullets were so fast they would deflect upon hitting a bush or twig.  He said his old rifle would just shoot through a sapling and kill a deer on the other side.  The bullets were big, heavy and slow.  But Bill hunted in brush country because he said that was the kind of country bucks liked.  He said that a deer hunter had to use the wind properly, and it was the wind that determined how and where he hunted.  I think he and the old boys who sat on the front bench and looked forward to deer season would have really hooted and hawed about a bottle of deer urine that cost ten dollars!

         In November, Bill said he would stuff his overalls with apples, and eat them while he was in the woods.  He would use a bucket of rotten apples or ripe persimmons to eliminate his own scent.  He would put the apples, nearly rotten, in a bucket and when he left his pick-up he would step in the bucket of soft apples with his boots until the apples were just mushy and his boots saturated with the pulp and juice.  I guess it worked.  I think he may have washed his long-handled underwear before a hunt, but I don’t know that.  He told me that the tobacco he chewed was a natural attractant to deer, but I couldn’t ever chew the stuff without getting sick.  And if you are in the woods, heaving away from your deer stand, you diminish your chances.  And good grief, the darned tobacco is nearly as expensive as a bottle of deer scent!

         The one thing I have in common with Ol’ Bill is the fact that you won’t see me spending ten dollars on a bottle of deer scent, whether it is from a doe or not. I will confess that many years ago a scent manufacturer came up with the idea of blowing doe-urine scented bubbles while sitting on a tree stand.  He gave me a bottle of it and I did indeed sit up there in my stand blowing bubbles on several occasions.  It was kind of fun, but I don’t know that it attracted any deer.  I know that if Ol’ Bill would have rolled on the leaf-strewn forest floor in laughter if he had seen me doing that.

         I also know this… if you can come up with goat urine a month before deer season, you can create a great buck-scrape beneath an overhanging oak branch by pouring it in the right spot, because bucks do not know the difference.  I don’t know that today’s deer hunters can tell the difference either especially those who have spent most of their lives in the big city, and come to the woods only during the deer season. And that is why, if you own some goats and have some little plastic bottles and don’t mind chasing your female goats around with a bucket, you might be able to make some good money this time of year.

         Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net.  Please see my website, larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com if you are a computer person.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Corn Coons and Critters Caught on Camera

                  This week I will get all my deer feeders emptied.  They have served their purpose.  Putting out corn for deer goes hand in hand with the craze in game cameras, the automatic cameras you strap to a tree which photograph any thing that moves in front of it.

They fascinate me because they show you how many raccoons we have nowadays and on rare occasions show a roaming mountain lion or black bear. But mostly they show roaming gangs of masked bandits… corn stealers!

         When I was a boy, raccoons weren’t very plentiful.  Trapping and coon hunting was responsible for that but only because the pelts were worth good money back when money wasn’t so easy to come by.  Today, there isn’t much interest in coon pelts, fewer trappers than there has ever been, and coonhounds hard to find.  And those who think the raccoon is better off than ever because he is no longer subject to a trap or the sound of baying hounds across the hills on a chilly Ozark night… well those folks know little about distemper, and how it affects these little masked rascals who are so typical of timbered country where small streams meander.  Too many ‘coons brings on disease, distemper foremost amongst them.  Lots of raccoons are killed on the highway, but many more die of distemper and it takes a couple of days for them to die.



       I suspect that corn eaten by raccoons from my feeders will outweigh what deer and turkey put away in the fall.  But I tolerate it because there on my camera is an occasional buck deer with nice antlers, and a couple with antlers not so impressive.  If the biologists and rule makers just followed those cameras, and could see how often a small antlered deer stays a small-antlered deer, I think they might understand what foolishness their four-point regulation is for the northern two thirds of the state.   I think it is perhaps a short-lived regulation, as it doesn’t seem to promise the great increase in non-resident deer tag revenue they
once hoped for.  If you want to hunt places where the four-point rule isn’t in effect, just go hunt those six counties where they have found ‘mad deer’ disease right in the middle of north Missouri’s trophy country.

         In those counties they have eliminated that ‘trophy hunter’s rule”!  In a few years they will have to add many more counties as proof of the spread of the disease is gained.  In most Ozark counties, there is no such four-point rule, you can shoot any buck.  For hunters as old school as I am, trophies aren’t really a part of deer hunting.  The only buck I have ever hung on my wall is one with an average rack with one antler so mal-formed and crooked it fascinates me. I have antlers in the shed much bigger.  In fact, I see a couple of deer on my tree-hanging camera with bigger set of antlers.   

         One of the fattest and sleekest bucks has an eight-inch spike on one side and a forked antler on the other.  I think he is what I am after because he looks so healthy.  

             Here’s a photo of a nine pointer that was absolutely covered with ticks.

      With those game cameras, the trophy hunters have a big advantage now.   They can determine what an area’s bucks look like, and the times they pass through.  That’s not always regular, but often it is.  One of those bucks on my camera eats corn in the middle of the night and again at midday.  He will travel that same route; following does and tending his scrapes, for some time after the corn is gone.

         The idea of baiting should be legalized because it is done so often and today’s enforcement people only find it if someone tells them where to go.  And what the heck, it allows the taking of deer, of which they say we have too many, and the selling of more deer tags, of which they say they don’t have enough.  Most people who bait though, are hunting on landowner tags which don’t produce money for them.  I hunt legally, always, and so I won’t hunt over bait.  But it was there for quite awhile and the game camera tells me my stand is in a good place.  If I were indeed a trophy hunter and an illegal hunter, I could kill several bucks each fall and winter.  Problem is, I would rather hunt game birds and waterfowl, and fish during that deer-hunting period.  It just kills me when I am setting in a deer stand and a big flock of mallards come winging over at tree-top level heading for the creek, or when I hear wild geese high in the clouds.  Sometime the fall color reminds me of the days we spent in the sand hills of South Dakota hunting grouse and ducks.

         Truthfully, those pictures on the game camera are interesting enough for me, even if I wasn’t going to hunt.  I will hunt and kill two deer this year, for one reason… the venison it puts in the freezer!  There is nothing about a set of antlers that equals the rewards of a hundred pounds of venison in the freezer.  But if you are someone who would like to make some money, don’t hunt in Missouri.  Go hunt deer in Iowa or southern Canada where average-sized deer antlers make most of our ‘trophies’ look small.  Bring the antlers back, have a taxidermist who has a good cape in the freezer mount a head for you with those big, big antlers, and then tell everyone you killed the buck just south of Mt. Grove or west of Marshfield, or north of Eminence and some idiot will pay you enough money for it that you can finance another trip north next year.

         If you have never seen the bucks from the farm country of Manitoba, you need to take your game camera up there and get some photos.  If you are unscrupulous, you can show those photos around and tell them it from your Ozark farm and sell deer leases to those Kansas City and St.Louis hunters who will never know the difference.  But the easiest money is probably found in growing deer in a pen.  Little fawns born last spring, hand fed and raised half tame, can be sold in three years for tens of thousands to those folks who want a deer head over the fire place they killed in your back yard.  They will claim it was the result of a two-week trek into the wilderness.  Those kinds of people are the reasons I love hunting grouse and ducks.  The men who hunt them are a different breed of cat, and couldn’t care less about trophies.  On my wall there are pictures of great bird dogs I owned, on a point or Labradors retrieving a duck.  Now those photos are real trophies!