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.

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