Friday, May 20, 2016

Terror on An Old Log … 5-9-16


--> Only a few seconds from sudden death via heart attack… there I was about to step down on him. --> And there he was longing to bite me on the leg.  

         It was perhaps the worst turkey season I ever saw or seen or heard about!   I won’t venture a guess as to why, but the late morning gobbling which I have enjoyed so much in past years just was non-existent.  I usually kill gobblers that gobble a lot after ten o’clock, and there are always plenty of them. That way, as I get older I don’t have to get up before dark anymore. Not this year.  I should have got up before daylight and shot one off the roost.  They deserved that kind of treatment!

         In my region of the northern Ozarks, the gobbling was poor, the gobblers seemed fewer and I actually missed one.  I know that is hard for some folks to believe, seeing as how I am a grizzled old veteran outdoorsman and professional turkey hunter and champeen turkey caller.  I couldn’t believe it myself!

          I did have lots of excitement however.  Late one morning I pulled my boat over to the bank of the Sac River to tie it to a log on a small sand bar.  Wild turkey lived in the woods beyond and though it was getting up late in the morning, I had fished enough in a tributary to the river, and it was high and colored in the wake of a good rain the day before.   I didn’t catch nothin’!  Likewise with the turkey hunting… I hadn’t kilt nothin’!

I have seen several really big cottonmouths…. this is one of them.
    About to step from the bow of the boat with my shotgun and turkey call I looked into a crevice in the log and there was a terrifying sight… one of the biggest cottonmouth snakes I have ever seen.  My foot was right above him!  My balance was just about to shift forward!  I was close to limping around for weeks and being able to write about being bitten by a cottonmouth!

         Due to extraordinary reflexes and sheer panic, I stayed in the boat.  I only had two high-powered turkey loads or I would have killed him deader than Uncle Jake’s mule.  As it is, he or she, whichever, still lives.  But someday I will go by that log again with more shells.

          I have seen cottonmouths all over… in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana.  The biggest one I have ever seen was on Truman Lake a few miles west of Warsaw.  He was a monster in girth, but no cottonmouth gets very long.  When people tell me they saw a four or five-foot cottonmouth, I know they have seen a non-poisonous water snake. There are places to the south where common water snakes are huge.  They bite too, if you are dumb enough to fiddle with them up close and personal, but they don’t have the fangs nor the venom. 

        This cottonmouth was in the top five of any I have ever seen, about two feet long and as big around as a mink! Fatter than a bullfrog! The Sac River, which I have traversed often from one end to the other, has more cottonmouths than I have seen on any Ozark river.  Their venom is as deadly as a similar sized rattler, and they are often more aggressive than any rattler or copperhead you have ever seen, especially during that late summer molt.  For me it was a close call, the nearest hospital would have been an hour or so away.  And remember that last year a man in good health died from cottonmouth bite here in the Ozarks. 

         But I saw more pleasant things while turkey hunting.  There was a nighthawk on the branch of a small tree that flew as I walked by and landed on the limb of a big oak, so I could get a good look at him.  As he flew or maybe I should say ‘fluttered’ away, those bright white bars on his wings looked like white pinwheels.  Nighthawks are much like whippoorwills and chuck-wills-widows in that they lay a couple of eggs on the ground with no nest whatsoever and all three species are declining because of the number of egg- eaters roaming the woods; ‘coons, skunks, possums and worst of all… armadillos.

         They all feed in flight, on insects.  Nighthawks do not sit on tree limbs very often.  The little short-billed, long-winged bird sat still and watched me watching him, and it was something special that morning, as the three old gobblers I was trying to call had ignored me. I should have left the shotgun at home and brought the camera.  Nighthawks range all over North America, all the provinces in Canada, down into Mexico.

         Whippoorwills and chuck-wills-widows overlap in Missouri and Arkansas, but the former lives and nests to the north and east of the Ozarks primarily while the latter dwells to the south and east.  Lordy I love to hear them on a summer night, as it brings back so many memories from my youth, camping on river gravel bars, and just living amongst them in the woods.  There are fewer and fewer to hear.

         Along my place on Panther Creek, there’s a nest of fish crows… and they don’t sound anything like a regular common crow.  They are about twenty percent smaller, and they warble and squawk and make sounds that really puzzle lots of folks.  If you look in the bird books, the range maps show they come as far north as the Oklahoma-Kansas border and up the Mississippi to about St. Louis, but they aren’t suppose to be in the Ozarks at all.  They weren’t when I was younger.  They just began to show up about ten years ago up in the northern Ozarks, maybe 15 years ago down in north Arkansas.

         They do indeed eat fish, and they DO NOT nest on ridges… they nest along the waterways, small creeks and rivers and marshes.  Here on Lightnin’ Ridge, I don’t think I have ever heard a fish crow, but on Ozark streams, I have heard plenty of them.  The sight of them won’t give you a clue to what they are, as they look so much like a common crow, but when you hear one you will know it.   That’s all we need… something else moving in that likes to eat fish!

         Fish crows make some of the strange sounds that Canadian ravens make but the raven doesn’t get down this far to the south, preferring to stay in the northern reaches of northern states, Canada and well down into the mountain states west of us.

         If you would like to come and visit our place on Panther Creek and hike our trails and see the fish crows, don’t forget our fish fry on May 21. If you come, bring water containers to fill from our artesian well, flowing out from nearly 500 feet below the ground.  The water has been tested and it is cold and clear and full of healthful minerals.  Actually I don’t even know if it has any minerals but I have been drinking it and it has made me look handsomelier and younger day by day.  I know it is the water, as nothing ever worked before.

         But we need to know who is coming to our fish fry and dinner, so just call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, located in our executive offices here on Lightnin’ Ridge… 417 777 5227.  Ms Wiggins doesn’t drink enough of my spring water, as she is perhaps homelier than she has ever been, and crankier.  She constantly complains about my Labradors having the run of the office and my big chocolate male, Bolt, sometimes growls at her.  She says that he bit her once, but Bolt says that she bit him first!  I believe him because he has never lied to me and Ms. Wiggins has!

         You can email me at or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613

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