Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why Everyone Ought to Hunt Squirrels in the Summer

This boy, who loved squirrel hunting is a grown man today, and said to be very honest and cheerful and trustworthy.  More proof of the value of hunting squirrels.

       Just outside my screened porch, there are white oaks well over 200 years old, and they are loaded with acorns.  Just after dawn this morning I sat there watching pieces of acorn rain down from high limbs as a grey squirrel ate his breakfast.  Those white oak acorns bode well for a wide variety of wild creatures this fall and winter.

       A few yards away there’s a hickory tree also loaded with nuts, and I’ll bet the squirrels get on them within a couple of weeks or so.  Usually they are cutting the hickory nuts up here on this high wooded ridge-top by early August.  Hickories are important to squirrels because the hard hulls help wear down their teeth. Like other rodents, their teeth constantly grow, and have to be worn off on the ends because of it.

       If you were an Ozark country kid back in the good ol’ days you likely hunted squirrels.  I have found that anyone above the age of fifty can be judged by whether they hunted squirrels or not when they were kids.  The men who didn’t may not have good character, prone to be grumpy and ornery, maybe even mean to their dog. 

       Those men who hunted squirrels as a boy are men to be trusted, and you’ll find them to be happy and generous to a fault… a lot like me!  I think it was squirrel hunting that made me what I am today.  If, when you were young, you had a good squirrel dog, you are likely a successful and happy and avoid politics and politicians altogether.

       Studies done at the University of Missouri when I was there trying to get my wildlife management degree clearly show that the best of our presidents, including Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman and Reagan, all hunted squirrels as boys and were honest to a fault.  Can you imagine any of those men coming home and telling their folks that some hunter on a nearby ridge had shot at them and caused them to duck and run for cover that very afternoon? 

       Truthfulness!  That’s the mark of an old time squirrel hunter and that’s one reason why this column is so honest.  Honestly, there are a bunch of walnuts up here loading the walnut trees on Lightnin’ Ridge, enough so that I will most likely be able to load up fourteen or fifteen dollars worth of them in the back of my old pickup in just one afternoon if I can get Gloria Jean to help me. 

       Gloria Jean certainly did NOT hunt squirrels when she was young.  She lacks the ability to understand why a pick-up load of walnuts is worth the work.  But that pick-up load of walnuts, hauled over to Hammons Walnut factory in Stockton, will buy me a box of three-inch magnum, twelve gauge, number three, Winchester steel-shot duck loads.  If I convert that box of shells into four or five big old greenhead mallards in December, that means that the walnuts wind up providing two really good suppers, that don’t cost a dime. 

       Only four or five mallards is a worse-case scenario.  I have been known to kill 20 or so mallards with one box of shells, all flying, or just about to fly.  My grandpa insisted that we did not shoot sitting ducks when I was a kid.  He said to always shoot them when they were “about to fly”.  That way they all had their heads up and you didn’t waste as much shot.  If grandpa could have sold walnuts back then like I can now, he probably could have eaten ducks every day of the week for two or three months on just one pick-up load.

       But duck season is a long way off, and so is walnut picking weather.  There will be a lot of them this year because if you have noticed, squirrels will not touch a walnut with a green hull. That should be easily understood; just taste a green walnut hull sometime!  Green walnut hulls can be used to stain a white t-shirt so dark you can wear it when you squirrel hunt.  In fact, back before we had Mossy Oak and all those different kinds of camouflaged shirts you can now buy at a sporting goods store for two pick-up loads of walnuts, old-timers I knew used walnut hulls to permanently dye their hunting shirts, which is what each shirt became after it was too worn to wear to church. 

       And there’s something else you can do with walnut hulls.  You can take a washtub down to the crick and fill it with fresh water, then throw mashed up walnut hulls in a little eddy and watch sunfish and minnows of all kind come to the surface.  Walnut hulls make it impossible to breathe underwater!  If you grab them quick and put them in the fresh water tub they will recover and you can use them for late summer trotline bait. But if there is a bass or two in that little hole you dump hulls in, you had better get him upstream quickly or he will die.  So will frogs and crawdads. This would not work now on the creeks I knew as a boy because most of them have dried up.

       But back to squirrel hunting.  If you are a kid reading this and you want to amount to something when you grow up, you might want to hunt some squirrels now before you outgrow the urge to eat fried squirrel or try squirrel and dumplings.  Getting old enough to afford ham and beans will do that to you. 

       Well into the early fall, you can go out in the woods early in the morning and find squirrels with your ears.  Just listen for the sound of squirrel teeth gnawing away on a hickory nut.  This is something you kids can hear a hundred yards away if you haven’t started hunting ducks yet and firing off those high-powered duck shells.  Remember too that after you get a car and put in those big loud speakers and play that awful stuff kids today call music, you aren’t going to be able to hear a squirrel twenty yards away if he is sitting on a limb blowing a moose call!

       So hunt squirrels before you get a drivers license, and the effect of it will be to make you a better man.  One of the reasons for this I think is the fact that a kid in the woods alone talks to God.  I did.  I remember asking God to help me get a limit of squirrels, just once, or to help me find my way back home, or to please keep anyone from stealing my bicycle where I had parked it off some gravel road next to the squirrel woods.  I asked him to help me get a girlfriend and to help me win the snooker tournament. 

       Little by little we got to talking about some more serious things and I got the idea that I was talking to someone real, that knew all about me.  If it hadn’t been for those years as a boy in a johnboat on the river all alone, or hunting squirrels all alone I don’t know that God and I would have ever had a really serious conversation just between the two of us and I might have ended up being so honest.  I might have become a lawyer, or maybe a politician.  Come to think of it, most all politicians started out as lawyers.  You can find parallels to that in the wild, like a skunk and a polecat here in the Ozarks… they are the same thing.

       I hope I have influenced some young country boys with all this.  The message is, hunt squirrels in the hickories late this summer, talk to God a little while you are out there and listen.  Listen for Him to talk to you.  At the very least you will hear squirrels chewing on hickory nut hulls.  As a result, you’ll tend to be honest as you grow older and therefore the chances of you becoming a lawyer is very, very slim.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Tale of Two Outdoorsmen

Robert Murders hunting turkeys many years ago.

  Robert Murders fixes some breakfast on my camp-boat before dawn, 
                   on a Truman Lake turkey hunt.

         Born in the Ozarks of Southern Missouri, I moved to the Ozarks of Arkansas in 1970.   In 1990 I moved back to the Missouri Ozarks.  That first spring I was exploring new country, hunting wild turkeys, when I walked upon a young hunter sitting against a tree.

         I felt bad about interrupting his hunting but I am glad that chance encounter took place. That young man was one of the best outdoorsmen I have ever met, and he became a good friend of mine.  We got to hunting and fishing together and he worked with me helping me get my new place together up here on this high ridge and most recently at our youth retreat up north on Panther Creek.  I introduced him to duck hunting, and he couldn’t get enough of it.  I never met anyone who loved the outdoors more.

         I recall one cold December day when we set out duck decoys in the back of a deep lake cove. My young friend sat there hunting ducks while I walked back into the woods to hunt deer with a muzzle-loader.  While there, I watched four or five Canada geese wing over me at tree-top level, easy shots if I had brought a shotgun.  My hunting partner had a better story.  Sitting there on a log watching for ducks, he heard a buck grunting, and turned to watch two bucks cross the draw behind him in easy muzzle-loader range.

         About 18 years ago, my friend Robert and his wife had a little boy.  They named him after Roberts father, whom everyone called JD.  I laughed when I watched Robert haul that little boy around in a special backpack he had made for him, out in the woods.  I loaned him a boat back when JD got to be 10 or 11 years old and father and son would float the river.  Robert was always teaching him.  When JD turned 16 years old he loved duck hunting more than any kid I have ever seen, and he borrowed some goose decoys from me on occasion.

         I am going to tell the remarkable story of his father, Robert Murders, someday in one of my magazines.  I didn’t know what a great story his life was until one day when he and I were driving back from Bull Shoals and there was time to ask a lot of questions and hear it all.  Robert was an Oklahoma athlete, and he played football at his high school, where he led all running backs in the entire state in yardage gained back when he was a senior. 

         He did that in spite of the fact that he had been shot in the stomach by a school mate while hunting squirrels when he was about 13 years old, and it took years to completely recover.  Robert loved baseball, and had a chance to sign as a catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies until at the age of 19 he lost his parents.  Robert put his family’s welfare above his own, and quit college, where he had an athletic scholarship. He returned home to care for younger siblings.

         His son, JD had one heck of a baseball coach in his father.  The kid was quiet and respectful and worked hard.  I remember when he came over and worked for me to make money to buy baseball cleats.  Wish I could have hired him full-time.  JD, the youngster who loved to hunt ducks when the baseball season is over, was offered a full scholarship to play shortstop for Texas Tech University in Lubbock, one of the powerhouse college teams.  Can you imagine how proud his parents were?

         But the plans got side-tracked.  JD was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and now is playing professional baseball in Florida.  He did so in part because the Cardinals promise to put young signees through four years of college when they want to leave baseball.

         This winter, JD and Robert will surely get to hunt ducks again and I hope they’ll take me with ‘em.  Roberts duck dog is a litter-mate of my Chocolate Labrador, Lightnin’ Ridge Bolt.   Will JD be playing someday in St. Louis?  Beats me, I don’t know much about baseball.  I’d not bet against that kid, because I know his dad.   The story of JD Murders is well known around here, and will be told often if he makes it to the big time. But someday, when he will let me, I am going to tell Robert Murders extraordinary life story in one of my magazines and folks will get to know all about a remarkable athlete and outdoorsman.

         I have another outdoorsman friend here who has decided to run for State Representative.  Rick Vance and his brother Ron grew up hunting and fishing in the Current River country because their dad, Danny Vance, was a Baptist minister there. 

          Danny and I became good friends long ago because he took it upon himself to help our family when we first arrived back in Missouri.  I never knew a better man.  He loved the outdoors and we did a lot of fishing together.  On occasion we would take six or eight men from his church out night-fishing on my big pontoon boat.  Danny’s son Ron and Ron’s wife Laura became doctors and they work today with my eldest daughter who is also a doctor, at a family doctors clinic here.

         Rick, who was big and athletic, became a conservation agent.  In a few years, he resigned, for various reasons. But it was mainly because he was asked to lie by a supervisor who was actually violating the department’s policy.  He felt that as a Christian, he could not do what the MDC wanted agents to do. 

         I don’t know a lot about politics, but I know that Rick Vance is an honest man.  That probably eliminates him as someone who can work very long in our state legislature.  Besides that, he is an accomplished outdoorsman and I suspect working in Jefferson City will take away too much time from the things he loves most. 

         Still, I will vote for him because I know he is honest, and in the world of politics, few men even start that way.  And I ask myself, how many of those soft and greedy, large-bellied politicians, can set a trotline, or know how to catch a walleye or call in a wild turkey.  Good luck Rick, and if you win, please stay honest.  And spread the word about what you saw as you worked all those years for the Conservation Department.  This state needs to know the truth about them.

          Remember the article I wrote a few weeks ago about the nature center at Joplin, asking for donations from visitors to fix a trail made out of asphalt.  This is one of the Missouri Conservation Department’s partnership projects.  They want to spend fifty thousand on repairing that little trail. Supposedly wanting to pave it again.  Why would anyone want to pave a nature trail?  I still say I can take a crew of men who need the work, and do the job and make a much more natural trail for a fraction of that cost. 

         I built nature trails for years in Arkansas’ state parks when I was a naturalist there. Wouldn’t you think the MDC would take me up on that?  Less money, no pavement.   Look what happens to asphalt when the floods come!  When they spend the fifty grand to repave it, it will in time happen again.  It is just a matter of common sense that it doesn’t take fifty thousand dollars to rebuild an existing trail.  It will be interesting to see who gets that contract.  Some company is fixing to make some big money.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Young Visitors To Panther Creek Youth Retreat

Kids from Bethel Church in Pittsburg, MO spend a few days
at our Panther Creek youth retreat. Although they enjoyed the entire experience, it was hard to keep them out of the water.

If anyone knows of a group of young people interested in using the facilities...lodge, cabins, kayaks Panther Creek Youth Retreat, Free of charge, contact us at 417-777-5227.  We have accommodated up to 20 youth and 5 adults comfortably with room to spare.

Bonfire, hotdog roast with s'mores on Creek gravel bar

Kayaking on Panther Creek

 View of the 1890s Iron Bridge from the creek below


Meals at the lodge

       The girls meet in the lodge for discussion and Bible lesson 
If anyone knows of a group of young people interested in using the facilities...lodge, cabins, kayaks Panther Creek Youth Retreat, Free of charge, have them contact us at 417-777-5227.  We have accommodated up to 20 youth and 5 adults comfortably with room to spare.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Where the News is All Good


Residents of Panther Creek..

        The trails are cleaned off and well marked, the cabins neatly arranged, and the food plots so green and full of crops that deer and turkey are easy to see. Rabbits are everywhere and there are dozens of species of birds, nesting throughout. 

       The gravel swimming beach is shaded and the swimming-hole inviting.  Kayaks and canoes rest there on the creek where kids can learn to paddle and actually kayak up the creek to view an 1880’s iron bridge from below. 

       We have a bunch of kids coming to the Panther Creek Youth Retreat this week.  

         There are big thickets of ripening blackberries that I have mowed around, and snipped away the berryless branches so the ones with the berries are easy to get to.  I think they are going to pick a bucketful and go down to the gravel bar next to the swimming hole some evening and make blackberry cobbler in a Dutch oven. 

       I want to see kids enjoy themselves here, but I also hope they will learn a little about conservation, and nature and a world rapidly becoming foreign to those who live where television and computers rule.

       Considering the fact that we just began working on this project last September I am awfully pleased that so much has been done, and there is so much there for kids that want to come.  There is so much they can learn here that contradicts what this awful world teaches them in a land of concrete, pavement and a lust for money.

       This project for kids without fathers and underprivileged kids is free to any group or church that wants to bring them.  We even help with the groceries.

        On this land along Panther Creek, and the ridges above it, our wildlife management does not include making any money whatsoever. No one is ever going to profit from this place in dollars and cents.  But oh what rewards can be found there, for those who long for quality above quantity.

       I have big timber all right, but it will be here long after I am gone.  There will be no contracts with logging companies which butcher the forests as is being done today on much of our public conservation areas. And we will not clear the rich creek bottom fields and thickets to create acres and acres of lifeless ground, so that some tenant farmer can take a bundle to the bank and give us a cut of it.

       It is hard to explain how happy I am when I am there all by myself, working on wildlife food plots or nature trails or a new photographers platform I am trying to make.  Just me and an old Farmall Cub tractor made the same year I was born.

       It gets me a long way from the television newscasts which tell us that the future is bleak for this country. The news at this secluded and remote little spot is that the blackberries aren’t quite ripe, and that a new fawn is visiting the mineral lick at dusk.  The news is…three turkeys roosted last night in the big white oak beside one of the cabins and there are fresh bobcat tracks in the sand down by the boat launch.

       I have a covey of quail on the hillside that numbered 18 in February and I believe I can triple that number this fall.  The secret is what old-time biologists called ‘edge and interspersion’; smaller sections of diverse crops and native plant life, brush piles and nesting cover, escape cover, winter food and summer travel lanes. To me, wildlife management should include all wildlife, not just deer and turkey.  That means flying squirrels and pileated woodpeckers and foxes are valuable too. 

       Only a couple of miles from this little wildlife management area of mine is a state owned Conservation area they call “Birdsong”. There are no ‘bird songs’ to be heard there—no birds.  It is big fields of uninterrupted cropland to be harvested this fall. Last year four of us hunted it for two hours with several beagles and didn’t jump one rabbit. A former manager of the area said recently that his main responsibility was widening all the gates so that the tenant farmer could move larger tractors and equipment.  Recently a row of small trees there were poisoned to make more room for crops to be harvested this fall, leaving barren ground where nothing can live.

       There’s not much edge or interspersion in such a place, nor birds and rabbits!  I’d love to have you come and visit the two places to see how little wildlife there is at one, and how much there is at the other.

       We are hoping to complete two projects at Panther Creek before this year ends. First there’s a trout pool 20 feet by 10 feet, four feet deep, fed by the constant flow of cold artesian spring water which will flow in and flow out.  I can do much of the rock-work and cement work myself but would welcome any help from a few professionals and would gladly pay them for their expertise.
       Secondly, we have an old pond that will not hold water and if I can find the right bull-dozer operator we want to level it and make a flat sports field for softball, soccer etc.  Kids will love such a field.  Trouble is, it is too small a project for most heavy equipment operators who don’t want to get involved in half-day projects.  We have the money to pay for this, if there is someone with an old dozer who can get it here and level out the ground with it.

       Be sure and check my website next week to see photos of the kids visit this week. It is found on the computer at  The youth retreat project is free to disadvantaged or underprivileged children brought for a day or several days. Remember that its purpose is to teach and create an appreciation for a natural and secluded world.

       Any church or organization that works with such kids can arrange a visit by calling me, and I and some other naturalists who work with me will come to help if desired.  I think we have enough bunk-beds in our lodge and two cabins to take care of 20 kids or more.

       For all those who have helped us in any fashion, or for those who want to see this project, we are planning another fish fry there on the third Saturday of October. We have a new big dining hall and plenty of room. If you can come and join us you are going to get to see what we have accomplished and enjoy a great fish fry at the same time.  But please let me know if you are coming.  I need to know how many fish to catch in September.  Call 417 777 5227 and put your name on the list with my executive secretary Ms Wiggins.

       We have increased her pay to more than three dollars an hour and Ms. Wiggins has tried valiantly to be nicer to folks. But I have said before that callers need to realize she isn’t the sharpest needle in the pine tree, so to speak.  Her carbuncle is healing nicely though (therefore her disposition improving nicely as well).  But please don’t ask her where it was!
       You might ought to just ask for me. Or you can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email me at

       And if you are a writer with a good fall story, you should type it and send it to me for my Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazine’s fall edition because we still have room for a good story or two.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

On a Gravel Bar Long Ago

Grandpa floating on the river he loved...The Big Piney... in one of the many wooden johnboats and with a sassafras paddle that he made


Grandpa loved trot lining for big flathead catfish.  He caught this one in a storm the night I was born.


      I don’t know how old grandpa was then… but when I was 13, we were camped on a Big Piney gravel bar below the mouth of Hog Creek. Grandpa Dablemont taught me so much on those river trips.  He was the best outdoorsman I ever knew, descended from a Frenchman who stowed away on a ship when he was about 15 years old and came to Canada because his mother insisted he become a Catholic priest.  He thought it was a good reason to leave his home in the French Alps.
       That was a fitting place for him to originate.  The name Dableaumonte’ meant ‘dweller of the mountains’ in French.  In Canada he married a woman who was half Cree Indian and began trapping. Grandpa said his father killed two men who were trying to kill him and steal his furs.  So he fled the country and brought his wife to Randolph County Missouri, near Macon where he bought a farm.
       When my grandfather was about six years old, in 1901, the family abruptly left for the Ozarks, a farm on the Big Piney River to the west of Edgar Springs, MO. He came on a train ahead of his parents, and saw that beautiful Ozark river then for the first time.  He never left it.
       I never knew a man like him. Most people said that. Grandpa loved that river, and he made his living from the Big Piney’s flowing waters, as a trapper, fisherman, boat builder, tie hacker… hunting and fishing guide, you name it.
       That night on the gravel bar, in early July, we sat by a glowing campfire with trotlines set and baited, hoping for a big flathead catfish at dawn. We had a trotline set in the Catfish Rock eddy, above our campsite, and in the Fisher Eddy below us about four or five hundred yards. Grandpa said he just knew the Fisher Eddy would have some big flatheads because he hadn’t trotlined it for a while. He was right.

       When it came to the outdoors, and the river, he usually was right. Somehow he just knew things; when the storms would be coming, days ahead, where to find ginseng, when the first frost would be. He knew where there were dozens of caves, some of them so remote and hidden that no one could have found them. We went into some caves where arrowheads were found on the dirt floors. One cave that was hard to squeeze into became a magnificent chamber with a high waterfall and beautiful unbroken formations like nothing I have ever seen. It was so hidden I don’t know if I can find it again, but soon I am going back to try.

       Often, when we were trotlining, we slept in caves, always wrapped up in old musty-smelling quilts laid on top of a big canvas.  Grandpa gained those quilts, which would be worth a great deal today, by trading catfish to some of the ladies in town who made them. He loved to trotline, or to fish from some big river rock with willow poles and night-crawlers and minnows.

But Dad and I had some Shakespeare reels and fiberglass rods we would use to catch goggle-eye and bass and green sunfish, casting some little spinner baits called shimmy flies, or lures like Flatfish and Lazy Ikes and Lucky 13’s.  Grandpa never cast a lure in his whole life I don’t suppose, but he would often paddle for us, and I have never ever seen a man who could handle a johnboat like he could.

       I was learning. I had been making money paddling for fishermen. For the second year in a row, I had bought my own guides license and I would make fifty cents an hour guiding fishermen from daylight to dark on the Big Piney, Little Piney, Roubidoux and Gasconade.  Quite often I’d get a couple dollars added on as a tip.  At thirteen, I knew just what I was going to do for the rest of my life, I was gonna be a fishing guide right there on the river I loved.

       That night on the gravel bar below ‘Hog Crick’, Grandpa was very reserved, almost morose.  He was often like that, the happiest man I ever knew one day, and then so down in the dumps you’d think he had broke his best sassafras paddle. 
       “You don’t know what an awful place this here world is gonna be someday,” he told me. “The freedoms men once had is disappearin’ an’ there’ll come a time when you’ll wanna leave and get far off from it.”

       For some reason, he was bothered by something happening in Africa, where there was a big effort to take food and supplies to native tribes where starvation was resulting from drought and famine.

       “You can’t make it right,” he said.  “They live like all creatures in a natural world and it’s like this….  if you save all of the people there from starvin’ this time around they’ll reproduce like crazy and starvin’ times come back. There’ll be twice as many of ‘em to die or to save, and a time comes you just can’t do it. Folks nowadays can’t understand how the world is. We want it to be like we think it ought and it ain’t.”

       I heard him slurp a drink of that awful tasting hot coffee, and while I was gazing up at a sky bright with a million stars, he said something I will never forget. “See that johnboat of our’n, sittin’ there, boy. It’ll hold four, maybe five if I absolutely got to paddle it down the river in a flood.”

       “Put eight or ten people in it and it’ll sink and we’ll all drown.  What you got to know is… when that flood comes, some can get in the boat and float away and some got to stay an’drown. It’s what nature is for all wild critters and mankind is the same way. You can build more boats and save more people from the flood that’s comin’ but you can’t build enough to save everybody forever.”

       I don’t know that I thought about it much that night, but I do now.  We want to make this once-great nation into a packed gravel bar and there’s a big flood coming that is going to show how, eventually, nature’s laws are in charge of all populations, whether it is mice, rabbits or men. There were 180 million people in the nation then. Someday, if it continues like this there will be a billion people here. Our forests will fall, our water table will sink, our rivers will be dirty and lifeless. There will be no place to retreat.

       Grandpa retreated to heaven in 1970, the week my first daughter was born.  She became a doctor, and my two grandsons are as far from what I am as those stars are from the fire on the gravel bar that night.  I was much like my grandfather and his father. Men were like that for centuries.  No longer.  The best of what our ancestors were is going fast, what they knew is gone. Common sense has vanished.

       I recall something my father told me often. He said that in the Bible it said that someday men would not abide sound reason. That day has come, I believe.  It is a good thing you are not here Grandpa.  Today, just as you said, television has become ol’ Satan's great tool, and I don’t even want to tell you about something called the Internet and computers.
       The Big Piney is a shell of what it was. It has far less water today and is choked with slime. The shoal below the mouth of Hog Creek is too shallow to float in a johnboat. And you aren’t going to believe this but I swear it is true… women singers all sing and dance in their underwear!!!

       It was a great time back then, when you and I had that river and such a simple life.  I wouldn’t trade those times for all the gold and all the money in the world.  But today… most everyone else would.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Same Old Thing… Continued

One of the finest waterfowl marshes I have ever seen with what appears to be a half-mile of levee built by the Dept. of Conservation on land owned by a wealthy lawyer and judge

            The new director of the Missouri Department of Conservation is Tom Draper. Truthfully, he has been the boss there for quite some time.  To explain that, I had an interview with latest director Robert Zeihmer, just a couple of years ago in his office in Jefferson City, and Draper sat beside him as if he were there to see to it that Zeihmer answered any questions as Draper wanted them answered.  Several times he interrupted to answer the questions I had on his own, without letting Zeihmer say a word. 
            Once, I asked Ziehmer if he approved of the situation down in Douglas County where a dying man had willed two hundred acres of land to the MDC.  Just after the man died the department sent in their surveyor and attempted to rearrange the boundary so that it would take about 25 or 30 acres from three neighboring landowners without ever notifying them.             
            This involved cutting trees from neighbors land, setting a new boundary and posting signs telling the real owners of the land to stay off the land they had owned for decades. The landowners had to pay lawyers quite a lot of money and go through a long legal battle just to get back that land.  In that interview I asked Zeihmer why they had done such a thing.  Draper looked at him as if to say, ‘keep quiet’ and then he answered with something that sounded as if he had written it down and memorized it.
            “The people of Missouri expect us to accumulate and expand land for them to hunt, or hike or otherwise enjoy,” he said. My next question was, “Do you think the people of Missouri collectively would approve of what you did there next to land a dying man gave you, a man who had long known and respected his neighbors.   If all Missouri citizens knew all about it, would the majority be happy with what you have done?”   There was no answer, and Draper asked if there was anything else I wanted to know, as if he was in charge of the interview rather than Ziehmer.    
            There was another question…  The MDC had paid, up front, one hundred and forty-five thousand dollars to a man who was a close friend of the previous director, John Hoskins, for a book he was to write about Missouri rivers. A book never produced.  The Missouri Auditor’s office had come out with criticism of the payout, and Ziehmer looked at Draper for approval, then replied…  “That was something Hoskins did for a friend of his as they both retired together, and we had no part in it, no knowledge of it until it was done.”
            I had an interview with MDC enforcement chief Larry Yamnitz a year or so before when Draper was there, and I felt as if Yamnitz had to be aware that his answers were approved by Draper.  Again, he even interrupted at times to answer questions I had asked of that Department Chief.
            So now he is the Director, and I assume that trees of any value on MDC managed public land will continue to fall to contract loggers. I am sure the upland habitat on others will continue to be obliterated in order to turn that land over to large scale tenant farmers who can only profit when the amounts of acreage planted in crops is considerable.  It has happened for years, and few Missourians know about it.
            That day in Jefferson City, I asked about some wildlife areas in the Sedalia area about which outdoor writer Gerald Scott had written columns, disturbed about fence rows and habitat being bulldozed, resulting in loss of quail and rabbits and song birds.  Again Draper answered… “We have met with Scott and his questions have been addressed to his satisfaction.”   That was it, end of conversation.
            The editor of the largest newspaper I write for will not allow this column to appear.  Nothing critical of the MDC has appeared there for many years. I have talked with her about it and she states that my writings about the MDC are merely opinions which are “unsubstantiated”. But finally she has agreed to come and spend a day with me, in which I want to show her the evidence of what I have written, allow her to talk in person with ex-agents, and people whom the MDC has unjustly targeted. 
            I intend to take her and show her a beautiful waterfowl marsh that the MDC has built on land owned by very wealthy lawyers and judges, at absolutely no expense to them.  All Missourians paid for that marsh, but none of us can go on the land without being charged with trespassing.  Each fall, high-ranking department officials hunt there with those lawyers. I am sure that editor will soon end the use of my column in that newspaper which I have written for nearly twenty years.
            But that is okay, no newspaper columnist can write about anything when what he writes must be completely in agreement with what one person approves of, despite what the readers think.  But when this editor sees what I have to show her, I wonder how she or any other editor can turn a blind eye to it.  Some of what I have turned up over the years is clear violations of the law, and yet the MDC is so powerful, they feel they need not ever worry about all this, they cannot be held accountable.  They are above the law, and can violate anyone’s constitutional rights.  They have many times… and once it cost them a million dollars.
            MDC officials often ridicule what I write, and they contact newspapers and try to get them to drop my column and use outdoor material written by their ‘media specialists’ offered free of charge.  Recently they went to a local chamber of commerce to have a weekly radio program of mine taken off the air.
            My greatest desire is to have Mr. Draper and as many of his associates who might want to be involved, come to one or several of their meeting halls and debate with me 6 or 8 things they have been involved in before an audience of Ozark outdoorsmen which I have written about. It will not happen, no matter what.  What Draper knows, and what the MDC has counted on for so long, is that if the truth can be kept hidden… it is much to their benefit.
            I can speak their language because I am not a journalist…. I have a degree from the University of Missouri majoring in wildlife management and conservation.  I know so much about what they do because they have plenty of good employees who believe in conservation as I do, and many contact me often to tell me things that the ordinary citizens will never hear. If it were known what they tell me, they’d be fired.
            The major newspapers, like the one in Springfield owned by Gannett, do not print anything that the MDC would not approve of.  They will not even use something I write in their ‘letters to the editor’ page.  Same thing with the Springfield, Kansas City and St. Louis television stations; never, ever a critical story about them.  A writer for the Kansas City Star wrote a page-long article about what the MDC was doing.  It was all true, but she was nearly fired because of it.  I would give anything if readers could hear what the MDC did to her merely because she wrote the truth.
            This practice of never allowing the truth to come out is just as bad as censorship.
Yet somehow, some way, I believe eventually the corruption and the mismanagement those top people are involved in will come out, maybe years and years from now.
            Maybe if enough editors and Ozark sportsmen keep after them, Draper, Yamnitz and other department heads will meet me for that debate.  What an event it would be!  If all I have written is untrue, they can end my career as an outdoor writer for good, and silence the only real critic they have.  If what I have written is something they fear that I can back up before a large audience, then such a debate can never happen. 
            All I want is for Missourians to know the truth!