Monday, December 28, 2015

Winter Water is Wonderful 12-22-15

--> Is it 2015 or 1950 or 1840.  who cares.  you can't find peace like this in downtown anywhere.
A mallard drake is fortunate that I put down 
the shotgun and picked up the camera
Bolt waits to see if he will be needed after the shot
        You know what a duck hunter loves?  Lots of water in the winter, that’s what. It has been awhile since we have enjoyed enough floodwater in backwater places to get up to the top of my chest waders. By golly, we have enough now, and ducks have become plentiful in the Ozarks again if you know where to look.
-->          So just a few days ago I loaded the boat and loaded Ol’ Bolt and off we went to a favorite spot from years gone by.  --> There they were, several hundred mallards back in flooded timber just off the lake.  Bolt, who is the third or fourth best Labrador in the Ozarks, was awfully excited.  He hasn’t been involved in really great conditions for teaching the art of retrieving to a young dog.  That was about to change.  I hid the boat, covering it with camouflaged decoy bags and other material made for that purpose.
          Last week, we knew we had hit the jackpot. You could see he was nearly as excited as I was.  We threw out a dozen decoys.  Well actually I did that, Bolt just found a trail in the woodlands above us and investigated that.

         Then the ducks began to come back.  I sighted a drake and three hens out over the lake, and they made a beeline for those decoys.  I don’t know if anything is more beautiful than mallards coming into decoys with their wings cupped and red legs extended, the bright sheen of blue-green heads and russet-colored breasts of the mature drakes glistening in the sun as they sail in.  I don’t shoot hens… not ever.  If you do, you aren’t much of a duck hunter.  You might as well pot-shoot quail or shoot turkeys off the roost.

         While I never shoot hens, some of my duck hunting buddies would say I don’t shoot the drakes all that well either.  As you get older, ducks are faster, and an old shotgun like I have doesn’t pattern as well.  But I got that first drake that day and he fell dead about thirty yards out.  Bolt came hurtling down through the woods, skeptical, but willing to give me the benefit of the doubt.

         The wind from behind us was drifting the dead mallard out into the open water, and I thought it would help him if I threw a rock out that way to give him the direction.  However, there were no rocks around so I threw a stick, and Bolt charged into the water with the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning, plowing a great plume of water in his wake, and he had that stick in a matter of seconds.

         I realized the stick idea wasn’t going to work. So I waded out toward the drifting duck and tried to give him a hand signal.  The duck had drifted behind a stump, Bolt was confused.  In my office, he does good with hand signals.  I’ll hide sock somewhere and he finds it pretty easily, but there’s never 50 yards between the big Lab and the sock! My socks have perhaps more scent when 15 feet away than a mallard has at 50 yards.

         When the dead duck reappeared, Bolt saw it.  You could see it in his eyes, the expression on his face… “Hot-dang, that’s a dead duck way out there.  The boss finally got one!”  He swam out and retrieved that mallard in a flash, and I was standing there like an idiot cheering him on while more mallards came in and flared.  I couldn’t care less. Bolt and I had a drake mallard!

         Ten minutes later, my poor shooting, which I assure you is just a recent thing, resulted in a drake mallard fluttering down with a broken wing, swimming out about two hundred yards and taking refuge in a flooded brush pile.  The two of us walked up the bank and Bolt caught wind of the cripple, though he couldn’t see it.  He swam out and flushed the mallard drake and both of them headed for the middle of the lake.  At that point, I couldn’t shoot it again because Bolt was too close.  The mallard eluded him by diving four times.  The fourth time my eager retriever nailed him and brought him back to me.

         We were standing there, with me yelling and hollering and bragging on my dog as duck hunters often do, while another flock actually sat down in the decoys 200 yards away.  Well, if you wonder why I treasure days like that, and if you think being out there in the wilderness all by yourself with your dog sounds like the last thing you would want to do, I am glad.  Really, I kind of like the fact that most people would rather be hard at work in some city office.  Maybe that’s why ducks are coming back a little.  This year there are more mallards than there has been in quite a few years.

         We got another fat drake, Bolt and I.  Then I got my camera out and took pictures and for awhile the two of us went up in the woods and explored a little, while other mallards came in with a rush of wings over water, combined with that little chatter wild ducks give forth as they settle in that makes its own special music.  Bolt will retrieve lots of ducks this winter, even if I spend too many hours muzzle-loader hunting for deer this week.  Some days, we might just do both!
         I watch the news on occasion and hunting makes me lots happier. At times, I want to withdraw from this messed up, cock-eyed world.  The way to be happy is to never turn on a television.  

         I don’t want their ‘diversity’ and their ‘tolerance’.  I want to see the best of God’s creation and it lifts my spirits when I am a part of it.  My soul soars when I can walk through big timber, or paddle alone down a river, or watch the wild creatures over a marsh.  I want to be around people who feel like I do, people who never imagined that a time would come when wrong is right and right is wrong.

         I long for the way of life I saw as a boy here in the Ozarks and wonder if there is a place anymore for men like me. I want to see leaders like Abe Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan.  Now we choose between people like Clinton, Obama, Bush and Trump.  We will have the president which NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and Gannett want us to have.  You and I both know who that is!  She never ever hunted ducks. 

         Thank God today’s news people weren’t in charge of America in World War II.  We could never have won. I don’t think the bulk of those journalists of our new era care if Christianity, country and conservation remain.  

         But when I am in the woods or on the river, far from those great herds of people who live more and more in confusion and chaos, I hear a voice saying not to worry because He is still watching, still working, still waiting.  Television may make you think otherwise, but there are a lot of good people left in the Ozarks, and still a semblance of God’s perfection which hangs on in remote places.  You cannot watch a flock of circling mallards, or see a mink play along a stream, and give any thought to what is going on in places like Los Angeles or Chicago or New York. 

         And I might add that grilled duck breasts, when done just right in the peaceful solitude of the back porch of my little cabin on Panther Creek, are better eating than the best steak at the Waldorf Astoria.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Weekend for Boys

A group of boys admire the view from one of the cabins.


most of the crew working on the nature trail were fascinated by this huge hollow sycamore along the creek           

         We ate three squirrels here on Lightnin’ Ridge last week, two fox squirrels and one gray.  Fried, with gravy!  Hot dang was that a good meal.  Since I have owned many, many pet squirrels, you might think I would have an aversion to squirrel hunting but I don’t.  I like to eat them so much that at times I even thought about eating those pet squirrels, when they did things like making a hole in my screened porch or dumping a whole hummingbird feeder. 
         At one time in Ozarks history nearly everyone ate squirrels.  But changing times have put an end to that.  As an example, my dad and grandfather would cook the squirrels with heads intact and crack open the skulls to eat the brains.  We know now that eating the brains of squirrels is not wise, because of the chances of contracting something called ‘encephalitis’.  I never, ever ate squirrel brains.  Grandpa said it was a sign of rebellion in our youth, and he said it was a sight how young Ozarkians were changing, refusing to eat squirrel brains and no longer wearing over-alls to school. Of course, we didn't live during the depression.d

         But I cling to old ways and I love hunting squirrels.  This fall and early winter, there has been plethora of squirrels.  Grandpa never once said ‘plethora’.  He would describe the situation we have, with abundant numbers of squirrels, as them being “thicker than possums in a dead cow”.  I started out hunting squirrels with my dad’s Winchester 97 pump shotgun.  It was near about more than I could carry and even with low-powered shells it gave me quite a jolt when it went off.  But few squirrels got away. 
         Then for my eleventh birthday I got a small 16 gauge Iver-Johnson hammer single shot, and we ate squirrels until Mom refused to cook any more.  Now, I just love to hunt them with a .22 rifle, but I kill fewer than if I would use that little Iver-Johnson which hangs on the wall in my office right beside my dad’s old 97 Winchester. 
         Things do in fact change… once upon a time most every kid I knew could skin a squirrel.  Those days are gone, and Dad and Grandpa are gone too.  But there are still lots of squirrels, and they still are really, really good to eat. If you are going to teach your boy to hunt, you might try them, and walk back into the hardwood forest of yesterday.
         At this point in time, there isn’t much hope in changing anything in the future regarding our forests and streams and wildlife.  Our ever-increasing and overwhelming numbers in our country combined with unchecked immigration, will destroy all that is natural and beautiful someday, unless we destroy ourselves first.  But it is rewarding for me to be able to teach young boys that there is a better life than pavement and concrete and shopping centers and computers.  That’s why we planned and worked so hard to create our boy’s retreat on the fifty-acre tract of land north of Springfield about 40 miles. 
This is where the beaver swam out!
         This past weekend, I watched it all come to fruition as for the first time, 16 boys and 4 counselors came and spent two days.  It was everything I have hoped for.  We used both cabins, one with lofts for sleeping, and the big 5-bedroom “lodge” on the hilltop and in doing so, had plenty of room for everyone.  On Friday evening, we all went down to a gravel bar on the Creek, built a big bonfire and roasted hot dogs.  Several of the boys were sitting on a high bank looking down into the water about dark when a beaver swam out below them, only a few feet away.  You have to remember these are boys without fathers who have never been out of the city, never dreamed they would see a wild animal that close.

         Their counselors, headed by Mark Powell with Farmer’s Insurance in Springfield, do a great job of explaining to these boys what God expects of them.  I got to talk to them about alcohol and tobacco, and what I have seen it do, and I got to mention to them that all young men are born with talents and gifts endowed by the creator, and that a life lived in pursuit of fulfilling such special abilities is far more rewarding than just trying to make as much money as possible.
         They can see a great example of that right there.  On my land is an old iron bridge that was built in the 1880’s for horse and buggy traffic.  I am trying to figure out a way to have it donated to the state’s historical society in some manner, and give access to it through so many can see and enjoy it.  Meanwhile a man across the creek, said to be a large landowner, once a local politician with lots of money, is trying to get the county to tear the bridge down. He is doing so, I believe, with an eye on making lots of money from selling the bridge for scrap metal.

Hard at work, making a winding nature trail along the creek

Almost too high….

         On Saturday morning, for three hours, the boys and counselors and I built several hundred yards of nature trail along the creek, in what is the first stage of a trail we hope will wind for about two miles through the bottoms and ridges, where giant trees more than 200 years old can be found, an area full of birds and wildlife.  By spring, we hope this trail will be half finished, and these 16 boys can recall, as grown men, how they started it in December of 2015.  We still have much to do, with a trout pond and sports field to be built.

A drink from the artesian well, soon to be used to feed a trout pond where they can catch fish 


         I figure that each year we will have to come up with about 4000 dollars to pay insurance, taxes and electricity.  We’ll have some special events to raise money, and always list our donors, sending a once-a-year accounting for where each dollar comes from and how it is spent.  Already one man, on his own, has found and donated three bunk-beds by going to garage sales in the Ozarks, and he not only gave them to us but spent hours fixing and painting them. 
         I want for us to always spend each year just a little more than we get in donations, so there can never be those who are suspicious about what we are doing.  I also want as many people as possible to see this place and understand it’s potential for changing young lives of underprivileged children.  So this spring we will have another weekend get-together and a fish fry there, most likely in April.  I also want to encourage history buffs to come and see that 125-year-old iron bridge high over Brush Creek, and give me advice for saving it from a very greedy man who wants to tear it down.

        Pass the word to churches or organizations that work with underprivileged children that this amazing place is available and free to whomever would use it.  

         You can still order subscriptions to one of my magazines or one of the books I have written for a Christmas gift.  Just go to Lightnin' Ridge Publication web site for details.  I have worked up a good sales pitch, and last week I talked one fellow into ordering all of my books for his wife.  What a happy lady she is going to be on Christmas morning?!  My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Beautiful River and an Awful Mess

One of the prettiest bluffs along the river, marred by the tattered pieces of white plastic.

Pomme de Terre is a French name for the river meaning, "Apple of the Earth".  
                 What would the French name be for “River of White Trash”?

--> -->
         As I looked around me, I couldn’t help but think, “How could one human being be this inconsiderate, this uncaring… this worthless!”

         As it could be, the Pomme de Terre River is a beautiful little stream, way up above the Lake it forms.  There are high bluffs, caves, a wide variety of wildlife, and migrating waterfowl.   If you’ve never fish it, you would be surprised how good the fishing is, even though otters have taken their toll upstream.

         Each year, at a certain time of the spring, a few of us who know where to find them and how to catch them, enjoy some of the best smallmouth fishing you can imagine on this little river.  The size and number of smallmouth to be caught, if you know how to find them, is remarkable.

         But let me describe for you what the stream looks like today, due to the actions of just one man.  At every point, no matter where you are in a ten mile section, you can look around you and see tattered white plastic, in the water, on the banks, and up in the branches of trees.  You see them the size of bed sheets, you see them the size of handkerchiefs and all sizes in between.  There aren’t ten or twelve of these to be seen wherever you are, there are perhaps a hundred.  All down the river, they mar it and destroy its natural beauty… thousands of huge chunks and small fragments of white plastic.

         “He doesn’t like floaters or fishermen,” the caller told me.  “And he sees the river as little more than his dump.”  He was talking about a rancher along the river upstream from Highway 32, between Buffalo and Bolivar, who wraps his round bales of hay in white plastic.  As he uses them, he takes the plastic to the river.  Oh no, he doesn’t throw them in the river, he piles them on the bank where he knows full well the rises caused by routine rainfall will carry them away! And on occasion, he adds bags of trash.

         As angry as this makes me at this slob, I can’t help but wonder what kind of political power he possesses, because the caller says he has contacted the sheriffs department and local conservation agents who feel the whole thing is not within their jurisdiction.  They don’t float the river, they don’t see it and they have bigger fish to fry.

         So while this rancher will do this until he dies, we don’t have to see the river destroyed with his white plastic.  Twenty-five or so canoes and boats can make a big dent in this ugliness by floating down the river and cleaning it up as best we can.  We can name this man, show the amount of plastic involved and ask him if he will let us pick it up every month and destroy it so that it won’t wind up in the river.  In spite of the fact that he wants to willingly and single-handedly destroy this stream, maybe he will agree to stop, if we can organize that kind of cleanup and put some pressure on him.

         Sometime this winter after the first of the year, when we have a warm weekend, and the Pomme de Terre is at the right stage, I want to try to make it look like a river again instead of a private dump.  I need your help.  You can bring your own canoe, or if you don’t have one, I might be able to loan you one of mine.

         We’ll have to do this on a spur of the moment, when conditions are right.  Just tell me if you want to join us, and I will keep your phone number and call you a few days ahead of the Saturday we choose.  I am going to notify two groups, the Missouri Paddlers Club and the group which calls itself the Smallmouth Alliance and ask them to help. Or maybe we can get some of the MDC organized ‘stream teams’ to go along.  And we can make this an enjoyable event by having a gravel bar fish-fry along the way using the opportunity to teach some people about the unique, special nature of an Ozark stream.

         As an added bonus, long-time float fishing guide Dennis Whiteside will join us, and teach folks who want to learn how to effectively paddle a canoe from one side, so that they don’t have to switch from one side to another constantly in a zig-zag course down the river.

         I am waiting from a call from MDC enforcement chief Larry Yamnitz, to find out why this big time polluter can’t be fined for what he is doing, but what I would really like to do as well is get some conservation agents to go along with us, so some of us can talk to them about the stream and how to make it better, perhaps how they can help us stop the illegal fishing we see happening every year.

         I am also going to invite rancher Jim Hacker to go along too.  Jim lives along the Pomme not far from me, and he is a bright spot in keeping it clean and natural.  Jim has set aside a fenced buffer strip on his land along the river, planted in trees and natural vegetation to keep the stream from eroding his land.  His cattle are fenced well away from the water and watered with drilled wells.  Much of what he has done has been paid for by a program through the Department of Agriculture reimbursing river landowners for the cost of conservation efforts.  I’d love to have Jim Hacker have the opportunity to show what can be done by someone who cares.

         The rancher who has one-handedly degraded this little river will never change, the caller I talked to assures me of that.  I thought of what might happen to me if I were caught throwing one small plastic shopping bag off that bridge there on Highway 32.  What kind of fine would I pay?  Why is there no consequence for a rancher who puts thousands of pieces of white plastic into the river intentionally?

         Again, I only need your name and phone number.  I can’t clean this up by myself, some of you readers out there have to help me.  In fact no matter what we do, we can’t get all of that plastic.  But we can tackle this problem and maybe we can end it.

         This weekend, the first boys will come to our Brush Creek Boys Project with counselors from a Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo.  There may be up to 15 or 20 of them, boys without fathers who have never been out of the city.  I am absolutely elated to see this finally come to fruition.  There won’t be any big newspapers or television stations covering this, but I would like to invite any of you who are curious as to what we are doing to come and join us on Saturday morning. 
         Churches interested in using these fifty acres of natural Ozarks, with cabins where under privileged children can stay for a day or several days, absolutely free, need to come and see it.  Call me to get details… 417 777 5227.  I’ll take lots of photos and we will do a story in the winter issue of my magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, about this first-time event.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Dennis Whiteside and his river bank buck, which is an old deer with small antlers.

       We were only an hour or two down the river when my hunting partner spotted a buck along the timbered bank.  We eased forward and the buck turned just a little to perhaps climb up out of the river bottom.   Dennis Whiteside lifted his rifle and took the shot, at about 80 yards.  Minutes later we were cleaning the deer on an adjacent gravel bar.  He was anything in the world but the young buck we would like to have had.  The deer had a grey and grizzled face, and later from examining his teeth I learned he was at least four years old.  And yet he had only small fork-horned antlers.  Another example of the fallacy of the four-point rule!  He was no trophy.

       We switched places and headed on down the river, and that afternoon we saw several more deer.  I got a shot at one doe, and missed her.  Later, a real “trophy” came along. I spotted two does about to cross a shoal and I was watching them through the rifle scope.  Both would have made great venison. 

       I was about to take a shot when I could hear Dennis whispering something, but the roar of the shoal below us made it impossible to take the shot.  The does became uncomfortable with the movement in the river before them and they turned to retreat up the timbered hillside.  I didn’t shoot because I couldn’t tell what my paddler was saying.  As it turned out, my attention to the does through that scope kept me from seeing a buck up the hill, following them.  At 80 yards distant through the brush and trees he wouldn’t have given me a good shot.  Dennis said he was a dandy; eight points, maybe ten, maybe more, who could say.  At times like that I would like to have the MDC commissioners who passed that four point rule sitting beside me so they could see how impossible it is to count antler points on a moving buck 60 or 70 yards away when you only have a few seconds for the right shot.

       It was 49 years ago this month that Dennis Whiteside and I first floated the river, hunting ducks with my dad, sitting side by side on the front seat in our wooden johnboat behind a blind while dad paddled up on flocks of wood ducks and mallards.  Somewhere I have some old photos of the two of us back then and if I can find them I will put them on this blogspot.  

River hunting is a great way to hunt, but in the dead of winter, it isn't for novices.
Floating a river is a great way to hunt deer, and ducks and turkeys and squirrels.  Not many do it because there are few people today who can quietly maneuver a boat down the river behind a blind using a paddle from one side, never taking the paddle blade from the water.

       And I will caution most people not to try it in a seventeen-foot double-end canoe.  It is much too dangerous on a swollen winter river if you aren’t really experienced.  I would as soon try to hunt from an air mattress as one of those capsize and chaos specials!  In the summer, they just get you wet.  On a cold winter day, they can get you dead from hypothermia or drowning.

       Today’s paddlers switch sides constantly to maneuver the river in a splashing zig-zag course, and that won’t get you close to anything, no matter how good your blind is.  But there once were Ozarkians who could slip down the river so quietly that they could sneak up on anything.  They are rare today. 

       Fortunately for me, my old friend Dennis Whiteside is as good with a paddle as you can get.  When the muzzle-loader deer season is here, we likely will hunt on the river again with me up front with my smoke-belcher.  For both of us, there isn’t much of anything we would choose over floating a river in December, because it is one of the greatest ways to find peace and solitude. 

       Duck season is upon us, and I think because of the water conditions, better than we have had in years, and a plentiful number of ducks hatched up north last summer, we will have a very good year for those of us who like to see flocks of ducks on cupped wings, dropping into decoys from grey skies promising snow.

       Maybe it is a good time to mention that things are going well with our plans to create the outdoor education facility on Brush Creek near Collins.  You can see photos of our 50-acre tract in the winter issue of my magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, with a more extensive description of what we want to do there for underprivileged children, boys without fathers, etc. 

       I need to get the word out to churches around the Ozarks that we have this for them, completely free, for one day or several days, with a half dozen of the best Christian counselors you can find.  One underlying theme we have is making sure that every kid who comes is made aware of the awesomeness of God’s creation, and convinced that he or she is someone special, with a talent and gift that is unique and valuable to them as they grow to adulthood.

       We have raised about 800 dollars so far, to pay for our greatest annual expenses: insurance and electricity.  Early this spring we will have a big fish fry at the creek bottom kids ranch to raise money.  Read all about our fund-raising efforts in that magazine article.
I have made a promise that 100 percent of the funds we raised will be used to make this work for underprivileged children. No one will make a cent from this project, no administration costs, no money being hidden.  We’ll set up a special bank account that anyone can see, and send a receipt to all donors who request one.  We’ll also let people know where their money has been spent.  All the counselors I have lined up are top-flight outdoors people who will draw no pay.  I will include photos and biographies of them in that winter magazine article.

       We’ll also raise some money at our big Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet, to be held again next spring at the Brighton Assembly of God Church gymnasium, THE LAST SATURDAY OF MARCH.  As we have done for years, we will charge nothing for vendor tables, and no entry charge.  If you have outdoor-oriented stuff to sell, you need to reserve your free space early.
       I get questions about my books and magazines available as Christmas gifts. You can get a one year subscription to the Journal of the Ozarks, or the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal for anyone, and we will send a Christmas card and a magazine about a week before Christmas.  Same thing for my inscribed and autographed books.  I have 9 of them, and YOU CAN FIND A DESCRIPTION OF EACH BOOK IF YOU WILL TYPE: LIGHTNIN' RIDGE PUBLICATIONS ON FACEBOOK. You can also get the details for having one or more sent out for a personalized Christmas gift by contacting me at 417-777-5227 or email me at