Monday, May 23, 2016

Becoming a Farmer, For Wildlife – 5-23-2016


My daughter Christy was talked into spelling ol' Dad for a round or two on the tractor.  Didn't last long… she kept thinking it was about to turn over!

A deer antler and two arrow heads found at Panther Creek Ranch. Only a few of the treasures youth may have the experience of finding and learning about at the ranch.

         In all my life, I never drove a farm tractor until just recently. I spent most of the day last Sunday on a 1948 Farmall Cub disking up four different plots of ground along our Panther Creek bottoms.  My maternal Grandfather, Bert McNew told me once that riding a tractor working on the farm was a great way for a man to talk to the Lord, because it was something he did all alone.  He was right!
         It is another way for a man to get his mind away from this messed-up world. I have spent my life escaping to the woods and the river as a naturalist, hunter, fisherman, guide, and explorer, but never did I try to work the land as a farmer.
         My recent experiences on that little red tractor of mine have nothing to do with harvesting grain for sale.  I am putting in wildlife food plots strictly to feed wildlife. Six miles from me there is a Conservation Department wildlife management area of considerable size that has no wildlife.  They have recently killed some of the smaller fringes of trees there with herbicide, and expanded gates to facilitate the machinery of a tenant farmer so he can harvest a large crop, of which the MDC gets a percentage.

         A year or so ago, a friend and I turned loose five beagles there and in more than an hour of hunting, we didn’t see one rabbit. That place, owned by all of us as public land, is basically an ecological desert.

         My place has rabbits and birds in abundance.  I have been taking care of a big covey of quail.  Going into the spring, there were 18 of them and I hope the careful combination of these small plots of food, escape cover and nesting cover, plus the control of egg-eaters like armadillos and possums and skunks, will allow these eighteen birds to expand their number.  Wildlife is increased by what is known as edge and interspersion.  I am creating that. 

         There was a time long ago when state-owned public wildlife areas were managed to produce edge and interspersion, and rabbits and quail, deer and turkey, and furbearers and birds.  These places are now for producing bushels of grain, or harvested logs, all for maximum profit, not wildlife conservation.  My intention is to make this small 50-acre tract an example of what can be done, when preserving wildlife is the goal. I am planting one of them with turnips and clover for deer and turkey, and another is planted in a wildlife mix, some sunflower, milo, soybeans, millet and others.  This will help feed my quail and rabbits.
         On Lightnin’ Ridge, where I live when not working on this Panther Creek project, there is nothing to plow and plant except the garden.  It is a high ridgetop of big trees, and they will not be cut down by contract loggers as so many landowners seem anxious to do today.  My office is a museum, and I have a long trail built through those big trees that I have opened for anyone to hike.  Visitors seem to enjoy it.

         We have similar trails along Panther Creek Bottoms and on the timbered ridges above it.  If you have been reading this column you know we are proud to be making the place a completely free retreat for underprivileged children of all ages.  We are in bad need of someone who owns a bulldozer to create an athletic field there.  That is one of our last projects left unaccomplished.  About everything else I have been able to handle with that old Farmall Cub tractor.
         The big fish fry we had last Saturday to show the place off, let over 40 folks see what we have to offer with our lodge and two cabins, enough room for a church wanting to bring 20 or 25 kids.  We had representatives from several churches show up to see it.
         When a church from Springfield brought seventeen boys for a weekend of fun at our place, I wrote about it, and got a phone call a few days later that I will never forget.  The lady who called me was crying, and asked me if she could get her little boy into such a group.  I explained that she needed to contact that church and likely they would include him.  Then she went on to say that he needed help, because his father had left them and he was becoming morose and difficult.

         I hope that lady is reading because she and other parents like her can enroll troubled young boys in a week-long stay at our Panther Creek project, running from June 13 to June 16, four days and three nights.  I will have on hand four other Christian men, whom I have known for years and years, as counselors.  There will not be a time when any boys will be alone with me or anyone else.

         We will act as a group, building trails and hiking, learning to swim, handle canoes and kayaks; hunting arrowheads and shed antlers, and working on daily classroom assignments involving our biggest purpose there…nature and  conservation.
         For those whose parents give permission, there will be a hunter safety course for their boys, teaching the safe handling of firearms and involving shooting clay pigeons with one twenty-gauge shotgun and one .22 rifle at stationary targets.  We have White River guide and fly fishing expert Jerry McCoy, from Arkansas, coming up to spend an afternoon teaching boys to fly-cast and use fly-rods right there in the creek.
         What I intend to do with these boys involves teaching them self-worth, emphasizing that God gives us all certain talents, and that each of them have some special gift they should pursue as the grow into men.  We’ll emphasize the evil lurking in the use of drugs and alcohol and the health aspect of using cigarettes.  It isn’t intended to be just a week of play and fun.  They will indeed have fun, but they also will LEARN.

         If you want to send your son, my email address is or telephone me at 417-777-5227 and we’ll have you fill out a form which tells us all about him, especially any physical or medical limitations. We’ll be glad to show you our place and explain what we will be doing. I should point out that later in the summer we will do this again if we have more than we can take during this first camp.  And we will do the same thing for girls at some time in the summer and fall, with women counselors, if there is an interest.

         I will be glad to furnish references for all of our counselors and myself.  Our purpose is to show the outdoors and the best of God’s creation to boys, to steer them towards interests they might have as individuals…  our purpose is to use nature and good men to change young lives of many boys for the better.



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