Monday, January 4, 2016

The Wind-Worn Hunter 12-28-15

Vision of myself when I am muzzle-loader hunting.

         Remember that day a couple weeks back, when the wind blew so hard that we got a new batch of flying squirrels from Oklahoma?  That day I went deer hunting with the old muzzle-loader. I put the boat in the river and floated down to a favorite crossing and by two o’clock I was sitting in some big timber behind a huge fallen log, dozing off, dreaming of shooting acorns off an oak tree with Daniel Boone.
         My muzzle-loader is the kind he used.  I have a couple of good friends who use those in-line modern ones and during the muzzle-loader season I hardly even speak to them.  Both these guys were in my wedding years ago and made no attempt to talk me out of it, so I have good reason not to get along with them.  But I forgave them that failure and have hunted and fished with both for many years.  But it is hard to forgive someone for using the muzzle-loader season to hunt with a modern weapon.

         Both these guys have scopes on their muzzle-loaders!!! Kent Caplinger, my old friend who grew up at West Plains, even uses a shooting stick!!! And now that the rules allow a hunter to hunt during the muzzle-loader season with a pistol, he packs around a forty-four pistol with a scope on it!  Caplinger thinks he will bag a nice buck with it some day.  When pigs fly… without the wind of course.

         This all upsets me so bad I don’t want to talk about it.  I just want to remember what a good afternoon I had sitting up against that giant log watching a very large red-bellied woodpecker try to find something to eat on the east side of a big tree. Every time he peeked around it the wind blew his topknot up so far he looked like a parrot.

         Then there were the turkeys.  There were 20 of them, all hens.  Did you ever hear of such a thing… two or three broods together maybe and every one a hen?  Three of them came up on the backside of the log.  I had my cap off, which I forgot was against the law, and the hens could only see that thick head of hair of mine over the top of the log.  Because of the cold, and the protection a heavy beard and hair gives me against the cold.  I haven’t had a haircut in three months, and the wind was blowing it around, making it appear to those turkeys that a miniature wildcat was sitting atop that log. Those three, likely wanting to roost in an nearby sycamore, did about 20 minutes worth of their almost panicky ‘put-put’ hand-wringing act while only ten feet from me, and then ambled off to join the others.

         For a while I watched a buck and two does feed in a little opening about 120 yards away. He was a dandy, but I have no idea how many points he had. I thought they might come my way, but as the sun set there was a commotion across the river.  Five deer jumped in to cross on a shoal just below my boat.  They came into that timbered flat above the river at a trot at about 60 yards away.  The first four were does, with a buck behind them. I had a doe-tag to fill so I picked out a nice sized deer with no antlers and aimed that long barrel at the one which looked like it would be the best eating deer. The valley roared as I pulled the trigger and the smoke from black powder hid everything before me.

         The wind howled and the woodpecker flew off with it to the east about 80-miles per hour and the turkeys panicked and scattered and that big buck ran past me headed back across the river.  The fifty-caliber slug did its job and the deer, shot through the heart, wound up being a button buck of about 150 pounds, one of the largest I have ever seen.  I had a heck of a time getting him in my boat and the wind blew my deer tag into the river and I haven’t seen it since.

         It was dark when I paddled back up the river, and the moon dodged behind clumps of clouds being swept along by the wind.  When I got that young buck into the pick-up I was so darned worn out that I could have sworn off deer hunting for good. It’s the wind that wears you out, my age had nothing to do with it! But I got to thinking on the way home I would come back the last three days of the season to that same peaceful spot in the big timber along the river and haul that buck off in my boat.

         As I write this, that little wooded bottom is flooded with several feet of water and probably that log has floated all the way to the Missouri river.  I hope the deer haven’t all drowned!        

         I talked last week with Missouri Department of Conservation Enforcement Chief Larry Yamnitz about a 23-year old lady who killed a buck with monstrous antlers, followed every step of the rules in calling in her deer. She made the mistake of putting a picture of it on face book with her boyfriend by her side.
         In only hours, a conservation agent somehow found out where the woman had taken the head to be mounted.  He went to the taxidermist and confiscated it, and then hours later called her and told her he was investigating the whole thing because he thought her boyfriend might have shot it.  Yamnitz agreed there is something fishy about it all, and said he would look into it and call me to give me what evidence there was against her.  He agreed that no agent should seize a deer head before even talking with the hunter.
         We also agreed that it is worth a lot of money because of the antler size but he assures me that if the antlers are illegal they will be cut up at an MDC facility.  Sure they will!  I ask him if I or any other journalist could witness that.  I got an emphatic “NO”!  And I told him what I suspect.  I suspect that when large and valuable antlers are confiscated that none are ever “destroyed”.
         I say this because of what taxidermists tell me about seeing seized deer heads winding up in the homes of agents.  I am aware that no one in any capacity will investigate this, but big sets of antlers are worth thousands of dollars. I think many are kept and sold by people within the MDC.  If any were ever destroyed, why would no one be allowed to witness that?  Is that a fair question?  For what reason would it be kept confined and secret?
         We will see if this lady, who has hunted with her .708 rifle for several years and killed other deer without being accused of letting her boyfriend kill it for her, ever gets this very valuable deer head back.  If Yamnitz ever does call me back, I will report on the situation in my next Lightnin’ Ridge magazine, because the larger newspapers I write for will not allow me to put criticism of the MDC in their pages.  I will tell readers in my magazine what some taxidermists have told me about the sale of confiscated antlers deemed to be worth 5 or 10 thousand dollars and sometimes more.  Pen-raised bucks with similar antlers often sell for 20 to 30 thousand and even more. This needs to be investigated, but it won’t be.  If you have seen similar confiscations of deer antlers, or if it has happened to you, please contact me.
         My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at  

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