Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A New Book From an Old Naturalist

       Last week or the week before I asked if anyone could guess what bright red bird is commonly seen in the Ozarks during the summer besides the cardinal.  The answer is the summer tanager.  And if you occasionally see a bright blue bird that is smaller than a bluebird, with almost a metallic blue sheen, what is it commonly called?  Answer at the end of this column.

       I am proud to be publishing a new book on bobwhite quail which will be out this fall, written by one of the most knowledgeable outdoorsmen I have ever met.  His name is Michael Widner, and he was born and raised on an Ozark farm near Long Creek, north of Alpena, Arkansas.  He hunted quail as youngster, back in a time when quail were plentiful, and never could give it up, even as they became scarce.

       Lots of quail hunters just gave it up in the past 30 years, but there are some who love to work with dogs, who hunt declining coveys not to bring home a limit, but enjoy the satisfaction of bagging perhaps two or three birds and the opportunity to see a rare covey rise before a setter or pointer frozen on a beautiful point.

       I met the author when he was about seventeen years old, a junior at Arkansas Tech at Russellville, Arkansas.   I was only 22 at the time, just out of college and hired by the Arkansas State Park System to begin a new ‘naturalist division’ in four of the states largest and most visited parks.  I hired six young men that spring, and one of them was Mike Widner.  None had any more knowledge of the outdoors than he, and his grade point was about twice what mine had been, majoring in wildlife management as I had.         Mike had the purest Ozark accent I had ever heard, and he attracted park visitors like bees to honey.  They loved to hear him talk, and no one went on hikes with him, or attended an evening program he gave, that wasn’t impressed with what he knew, and what he taught them.  He was a true naturalist, an interpreter of the Ozarks natural world as good as any I have ever seen.

       A few years later, we worked together as naturalists on the Buffalo River for the National Park Service.  After a few years of that Mike applied to be a conservation agent for the Missouri Department of Conservation, and was accepted.  There after weeks of training, Mike graduated at the head of that class.
       He worked as an agent for a few months, but for some reason Mike resigned and came back to Arkansas.  He won’t discuss the reason why, but I have a hunch he found out the job was not what he thought it would be.

       Back in Arkansas he went to work to achieve a master’s degree in wildlife management and became the state’s wild turkey biologist shortly afterward.  Funny thing about that, when Mike and I were young, there were lots more quail than turkeys.  One spring when we were working for the state park system, he and I floated the Big Piney River, where I grew up, and camped for several days on a gravel bar, fishing and hunting.  Mike killed his first wild gobbler during that trip.  There were many, many more to follow.

       I know that Mike learned an awful lot about wild turkeys in Arkansas, through a dedicated study of the birds in the wildest parts of the state.  He used small radio transmitters attached to wild turkeys captured with cannon nets, and tracked them all through the year.  Turkey hunters in the Ozarks of Arkansas say the numbers of wild gobblers have steadily increased over the years. 
       I think Mike had more to do with that than anything else.  He retired a few years ago and has turned his attention to bird-dogs and quail hunting, and thus, this book, which covers fifty years of learning and experience in the field.  I can’t wait to get it out to all those who are so disappointed in the demise and steady decline of the greatest of all game birds.  You are going to learn a lot about the bobwhite quail.

       Widner won’t pull any punches.  Like me, he is disappointed that the quail means so little to state conservation agencies.  We both have seen young biologists come into their jobs with no experience in the field, just the basic knowledge of the outdoors and wildlife gained from books and classrooms.  Trouble is, almost no one educated in natural sciences now are country people from any kind of rural background.  Today’s biologists and conservation leaders, born and raised in a suburban setting, may have never hunted, or spent even minimal time in the outdoors.

     I have seen the opportunity to bring quail hunting back to the Midwest through the knowledge and experience of people the conservation Departments ignore, and if you want to read all about, be sure to order my Fall issue of   The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal.  You will be amazed at the outstanding quail hunting I have found right here in Missouri, and how it can be enjoyed by anyone. 
       Mike Widner knows where to find the best of it, in parts of Kansas and Oklahoma, but he says that eastern Arkansas seems to be as close to old-time quail hunting as he has found anywhere.  But there is a way to bring the quail hunting experience back.  It will take money to do it, and the MDC has that money, if they will just use it for something to make better hunting for the common, ordinary people they have ignored in the past, the people who pay a tax on everything they buy to provide millions for the MDC to waste. 
       This state’s Conservation Department has become as corrupt as any state agency I have ever heard of.  They rape our public areas and get away with it because the large scale media is in the hip pocket of the agency.  They will not print the truth about what is going on. They help hide it!

       Each year, contract loggers take millions of board feet of lumber from the big trees on public owned land managed by the MDC , and fence rows and thickets and small game habitat are bulldozed so that the department can turn larger acreages over to tenant farmers, who give back thousands of dollars for the harvest of crops.
       Enforcement agents are becoming thugs, concerned with making targets of innocent people, and incompetent biologists flail away with something of a trial and error attitude.  I will have more about this in the next column and I hope you will look for that.

The answer to the first paragraph question is the indigo bunting. 
Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65612 or email me at   Call our office to acquire our summer magazine or any of my books… 417-777-5227.

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