Thursday, March 29, 2018

Come October

Readers… please, please let me hear your opinions...  I want to send them to Rob and other editors.

         To everything there is a season, and in my life, winter has arrived. But heck,  I like winter too. The ducks and geese I once followed south are soon to make their trip without me.  The yeller suckers I waited for below flowing river shoals each spring will soon come there not knowing I ever watched the clear cold water for their arrival with such enthusiasm.  I hope so anyway, but there are far fewer of them each year.

         I have written an outdoor column since I was 18 years old for some newspaper or another.  Over the years my columns on the outdoors have appeared in more than 220 newspapers in five different states.   I don’t think I have missed a single week since then, sending a column to someone, sometimes two per week.  There have been, since I started to college, about 4,600 of them. Maybe that is enough!

         It is easy for me to write a newspaper column, I likely could do two or three a week, columns about what I have seen in the woods or on the river, or columns to make readers laugh. But I have also done it because I felt I had a message of conservation to get out. However, now journalism has changed so much I cannot be a part of it and a message of conservation is of no value.  Almost all of today’s outdoor writers live inside the city limits somewhere and there are tons of them. They consistently write what has been done to death…’take a kid fishing’ and what the new technology is in bows, or fishing reels, or what new shotgun Remington is putting out. They tell you how to filet a crappie, how to train your dog!

         I never did live inside city limits anywhere, even in college.  I got my degree in wildlife management from the University of Missouri, but I learned about the outdoors IN THE OUTDOORS.  I was naturalist for two state agencies in Arkansas, paid not to sit behind a desk but to explore the wilder places in Arkansas, and make reports on the areas I felt should be protected.  I was also a paid naturalist for the National Park Service on the Buffalo River.
         No newspaper I have ever written for ever questioned whether or not I knew what I was writing about.  But now, most all of them question if it has any importance or not, whether or not anyone cares any more.  “Sure, you had a great time on the Big Piney when you were a kid fishing and hunting with your grandfather and dad," one editor told me, “and you could drink the water and catch 40-pound catfish on trotlines.  But your grandpa and dad and uncles are all dead, and soon your generation will all be gone too.”

         He went on to say that readers today couldn’t care less if the holes in the Buffalo or Current or Big Piney are filling in with silt and gravel.  If there is coliform bacteria from cattle in the water, they don’t see it, and if slime covers the rocks in the river and the lakes it is of no importance to a thirty year old that never saw it like I did.  There’s a lot of truth in that.  Today’s river floaters don’t seem to mind toilet paper or a few beer cans on gravel bars, if the water is flowing fast and they get a good ride.  A hellbender or flathead cat doesn’t mean a thing to 90 percent of them, because they don’t know what they are, never saw one. “In 20 years,” he said, “no one will care about what you are trying to save.”

         He was brutally telling me that my life trying to save something of the wild Ozarks through my writing was wasted.  If the concept of conservation isn’t dead, it has turned 180 degrees. I have tried to be voice for the ordinary common Ozark folks who have been unjustly targeted and prosecuted by a corrupt Conservation Department.  I have tried to point out that public owned areas which the department owns are being stripped of timber by contract private loggers, and that public owned upland game tracts are being destroyed by contracted farm interest… all for a percentage of the money.  It mattered once, but most of those readers are dead now.

         Am I wrong to believe there is something in such places more valuable to a future time than the money derived from ruining them? It might be that I am.  Will any 13-year old kids grow to manhood wishing there were coveys of quail to hunt?  Will there be any of them wanting to hunt squirrel and rabbits in the Ozarks, or catch a goggle-eye?

         So it all comes down to this… I am not going to stop what I am doing to write fluffy articles about what to put in your bird feeder or how to filet a crappie.  So maybe, as a writer who points out what the Conservation Department is doing that they do not want you to know, I am not what today’s newspaper readers want to read.  Certainly I am not writing what newspaper editors want.  From many of them you will not see this column again.

          One of the old-time editors I respect very much is Rob Viehman with the Cuba and Steelville Mo. newspapers and he told me that his readers tell him they are not interested in my views about the Conservation Commission or what they are doing wrong so he only uses what that group does not object to.  For many years the MDC has been asking people who are oblivious to what they do, to complain about what I write.

         Rob Viehman has not seen the two-foot high stack of letters and hundreds of emails I have from readers who have asked me to do more to expose what is going on.  I am going to see to it that my friend Rob sees them.  Right now I would like for those who read this to send their opinions to me so I can send them to editors all over the Ozarks.  If you dislike what I write about the corruption and disdain for human rights I have seen over the years, tell me that, and tell me why.  If you think otherwise, tell me so..
I will use letters from both sides in my next magazine.

         On April 13 I will spend most of a day with the director of the MDC and I will write about that day and what she says about what I am going to show her.  But I want to hear from readers, and I will continue this column until October, when I will likely fade off into the sunset, having outlived my purpose as an outdoor writer.

         Many if not most, of this regions newspapers won’t use anything they feel the MDC doesn’t want known.  Some newspapers would rather use something the MDC sends them free, and that is the problem.  This department controls so much of the news media, you will not much longer be able to read anything they disapprove of.

         My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 and the email address is  Readers… please, please let me hear your opinions...  I want to send them to Rob and other editors.

Monday, March 19, 2018

You Have a Right to Know


         I am looking forward to our outdoorsman’s swap meet this coming Saturday, and hope to meet and talk with many of the readers of this column. If you want to get more information about it, call my office number at the end of this column.

         It is disappointing to write a column about what is going on today with the Missouri Department of Conservation and know that there are newspapers who refuse to print it because they do not allow any criticism of that agency.  What I wrote a couple of weeks ago is true and beyond dispute, about what amounts to questionable activity on the part of department agents, but in some newspapers today, it cannot be printed, usually because only one person disapproves of it.

        On April 13 I will spend most of a day with the Director of the Conservation Department, and it is likely that what I write about that day will not be published by some of the 45 or 50 newspapers who receive my column weekly.  But what we talk about and agree to will be in our summer Lightnin’ Ridge outdoor magazine and on this blogspot.
         The public has a right to know what an agent can and cannot do when it comes to entering a home and taking your possessions. And fishermen need to know what they need to do to escape citations and fines for technical violations.  For example, a lady from Long Lane, MO called me last spring to tell me that she and her husband were coming back from a crappie fishing trip to Pomme De Terre Lake, when a pair of game wardens pulled them over. One took her to the front of the pickup and began to interrogate her, as if she might be Bonnie Parker herself.

         The other one hauled her husband back to the boat and demanded that he open the live well so the crappie therein could be counted. There were seven. Obviously neither had caught their limit. But the agents smelled the possibility off a technicality citation, so they demanded that both fishermen tell them exactly how many that had each caught. The wife, who was mad as a hornet, said she didn’t know how many were in the live well and didn’t care, because she hadn’t caught any. The game warden started giving them both the third degree because two crappie fishermen have to always keep their fish separate until they get them home.

         So that is something to remember, Missouri’s conservation agents, maybe the same in Arkansas and Kansas and Oklahoma, in an attempt to find away to fine fishermen who have done nothing wrong, travel in pairs and will often do just what they did to that lady and her husband. They will give you a ticket in a minute if you cannot identify the fish you personally have caught. If you have only six or eight crappie in your live well, you can be forced to pay a fine IF YOU CAN’T IDENTIFY WHAT YOU HAVE CAUGHT. It is the same with white bass, black bass, walleye, etc.

         Since few fishermen keep their fish separated, and since all fish are often kept in one live well, the answer is a pair of small scissors or clippers you can use to clip the top or the bottom of the tail fin to mark you fish, sort of like the old time hill people did to separate mark the ears on free-ranging hogs. Then you crappies are easy to tell, because they are marked. Fishing partner Joe can clip the bottom of the tail fin on his crappie, and Bob can leave his unmarked.

         Then when the game wardens pull you over and digs into your cooler or live well, they can’t fine you because there is no question what each of you caught. Just be sure that no fish fall beneath the length limit. If any game wardens insist your fish is too short, lay that fish beside a ruler and take a picture before he takes it.  If he refuses to let you do that, he is violating your rights.
         Have a witness! In southern Missouri, I have seen crappie fishermen pay fines because the conservation agent insisted that a ten-inch crappie is only 9 ¾ of an inch. In courts, you cannot prove he is lying unless you have a photo. And they do lie on occasion. The MDC paid a million dollars out in a lawsuit only a few years ago because several of their agents were proven to have lied. A retired agent has also told me that he objected to being told by a supervisor to lie in order to convict someone. So do everything you can to be unquestionably legal, and to do that you have to know what the fishing regulations are, totally and completely.

         There is so much to know. Don’t be caught with a walleye after a certain time in many of the streams in the evening in the spring, even if you caught it at noon.  Know all length limits too!  For instance if you are fishing in the river above Stockton or Truman or Bull Shoals, the nine-inch crappie you catch is legal. But if you run down into the lake to load your boat, those shorter fishing are perhaps illegal. It isn’t so much where you catch them, but where you take them. And remember that length limits in different waters are not the same.

         One of the advertisers in my magazine told me that this past winter he went to fish for trout on Lake Taneycomo and was checked at a boat dock by two Missouri Conservation Agents who said they had come down from Stockton Lake area. “When they got ready to leave the dock,” he said, “one commented to the other… ‘Lets get out there and find us some victims’!

         The young man became very angry and he said he told them as much saying, “Those victims you are after are the people who support your agency and pay your salary.”

         More of us need to speak up against this type of attitude. Many of the state’s ‘game wardens’ operate this way, looking for any little technicality they can use to write a citation to fishermen who have no intention of breaking any law.

         Remember that and don’t allow yourself to be another of their “victims”. 

Contact me at P.O. Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. or email me at  The office phone number is 417 777 5227.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

One More Free Swap Meet


      I think that our first Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s swap meet took place about ten years ago.   But whenever it was, a woman about 80 years old decided that her husband’s fishing gear might make her some money so she brought a bunch of it to the swap meet and sold it all.  Some of the lures that she priced at 3 dollars each were worth 50 dollars or better. 
She sold some of his old Ambassadeur casting reels for five dollars each, and an over and under Browning Beretta skeet gun for 300 dollars.  I suppose it was worth about 1500 dollars at the time.

     That happens often, because the folks who bring stuff for sale just want to get some of it out of the attic or the garage, and much of it is antiques that are quite valuable.  We are unlike most swap meets in that we have free admission and the tables are free to ‘vendors”.  Therefore we fill up the place with hunting and fishing gear from ordinary folks and not a bunch of folks running businesses.  I was thinking the other day about all the things I have seen at that swap meet, and there isn’t enough space here to just hit the high points.

     We don’t allow the selling of assault rifles or large quantities of ammo for those guns, but we see a lot of older hunting guns, some very valuable and some worth less than 100 dollars.  This year there will be a 16 gauge ‘stage coach gun’ made by Parker brothers, maybe the most valuable collectors gun ever sold there.  It is a short, light hammerless double-barrel made in 1913. There will be more fishing gear than everything else, hundreds and hundreds of lures, some old and very valuable, but hundreds that are new and priced at just a dollar or so, lures that would cost better than five dollars each at most tackle shops. 

      I expect there will be a hundred or more rods and reels, new ones and old ones, some valuable as antiques. There will be old steel rods and newer graphite rods, reels from 100 years ago and some new ones still in boxes… bamboo fly rods too, I think.
     I am going to part with many things I used when I was just a boy on the Big Piney, two 1950’s era reels, one made by Shakespeare and South Bend, one my father’s and one mine, the very first casting reel I ever used.  It still has braided line on it, as it did the day I caught my very first fish on a store-bought rod, a black perch, (green sunfish) just below the bridge at Simmons, Missouri on the Big Piney.  I was only eight or nine years old.
There will be some modern duck decoys, mallards and pintails, which are ready to use next fall, and some shell goose decoys and 8 or 10 Bigfoot Canada goose decoys, the best ever made.  And there will be some wooden duck decoy blanks for wood-carvers. Speaking of carvers, I think we will have two on hand showing their carvings, some of it on beautiful driftwood from Arkansas and carved cedar walking sticks as well.

     There will be a table full of leather works, belts, holsters and such, a table of wildlife art and a table of hats and other items made of furs, and a table of handmade hunting knives and collectible pocketknives.
     With turkey season so close, we always have some folks who bring handmade turkey calls.  I intend to make some of my own, the little western cedar box calls which are autographed, dated and inscribed to whomever buys them. These little calls are all I have ever used, and with them I have called in more than 200 kilt gobblers in the past 45 years.  They are said to be the greatest turkey calls ever made, even though it was me who said it.   I don’t know how many I can get made so come early if you want one.  They are a little bit primitive, but cheap!
     Of course there will be a large variety of handmade wooden items like birdhouses, and cutting boards. And there will be minnow traps and camping gear and traps and a great deal of that kind of used but good outdoor gear at a bargain.

      Outside we usually have some of the Amish-made furniture and several boats. This year we will have a 22-foot antique aluminum johnboat with a serial number 0001. Made in 1954 for the Missouri Conservation Commission to run on the Current River it is the first aluminum johnboat made in the Ozarks.

     There will also be a 17 and a19-foot square-stern Grumman Canoe, and an 18-foot Lowe Paddle John designed for Ozark rivers. Some antique outboard motors and trolling motors will be there as well, and two foot-control Evinrude trollers as well. This year for the first time I am going to sell some of my grandfather’s stuff… sassafras boat paddles he made in the twenties and thirties to an old double-barreled muzzle-loader he acquired in 1902.  With that gun I will sell his little .22 Steven lever action Marksman rifle which has likely killed more rabbits and squirrels in it’s time than all the shotguns I ever used. I have no sons or grandsons to leave these to and the money from them will go to help pay the annual bills at our Panther Creek Youth Ranch for underprivileged kids.  I know my grandfather would be proud to know he contributed to that project.
      I will also sell a brand new Browning 12-gauge pump-gun which is still in the box. I have only fired it three times.  It has bagged one gobbler and two mallards for me.

     There will be some other authors there signing outdoor books and of course my old college roommate at School of the Ozarks, Woody P Snow, who is now a well-known song writer and radio personality, will be there to tell you all about what a fine student I was back then.  He will be selling and signing several books and some remarkable original paintings which have become very popular.  His latest book is a dandy, a novel about Alf Bolin and the bald-knobber outlaw gang from the Ozarks which he led more than a century ago.

     This all takes place in the spacious gymnasium of the Assembly of God church at Brighton Missouri just off Highway 13 about 16 miles north of Springfield and 6 miles south of Bolivar.  The youth of the church will provide coffee and biscuits and gravy in the morning, then a variety of sandwiches and desserts at mid-day.

     For me it is an opportunity to sell and sign my outdoor books, nine of them now, and meet with readers of these newspaper columns.  Every year we give away a lot of copies of my magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor journal, and take subscriptions for future issues.  Most of my profit from this swap meet will go to that free children’s retreat already mentioned.

     There are a few of the fifty tables set up and available, for free, if you’d like to bring something for sale, including boats for the lot outside.  If you have questions, just call me at 417-777-5227 or email me at
Remember this all takes place from 8 o’clock to 2, on Saturday March 24.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Your Home is Your Castle

         I don’t know how many times I have written that Missouri Department of Conservation game wardens are the friends of no one they choose to visit.  When they come with hat in hand and ask, all friendly like, if they can come into your home for a visit, don’t be fooled. They are there to see if and how they can find a technicality which can hang you.  TELL THEM THEY CANNOT COME INTO YOUR HOME OR ANY OUTBUILDING WITHOUT A SEARCH WARRANT!!  Use your head-- they are there to nail you on something that involves a technicality you never dreamed of.  They are not your friends.

         With this weeks column I am going to tell you about a perfectly innocent hunter who learned that the hard way.  But first I want to say that I had a long conversation by phone with the MDC director, Mrs. Sara Pauley, who has surprised the hell out of me.  Mrs. Pauley has agreed to come down to the Ozarks to meet with me and see some of the things I have been writing about.  I have met with and interviewed five different MDC directors over the years with tremendously disappointing results. Most of them were merely puppets, and couldn’t have cared less what happened to Missouri’s wildlife, forests and streams.

         For some reason I cannot explain I feel a little bit of optimism in this new director’s words.  She asked me to meet her halfway on some of the problems I have seen and written about, and want to see corrected.  I told her I would meet her 90 percent of the way, and I intend to do that. I will give the MDC’s side of any story, but I have said that often. They do not want to try to defend the things they do and I don’t blame them.  Defending some of their actions calls attention to what they do not want known.  If any readers want to send me questions to ask of Mrs. Pauley, I will try to get the answers you seek.

                  The young man who is now suffering from trusting a pair of agents, is Jeremy Henshaw, an air force veteran and school board member living in Rushville, Missouri. He bought five acres and a home in 2005 and since then he and his wife have killed eight bucks on his land with landowner permits which are allowed  by Conservation Department regulations if you own five acres of land.
         Those two agents came to get those 8 mounted deer heads!!! The value of them may exceed 30 or 40 thousand dollars. They told Mr. Henshaw that they had done some checking and found that his 5 acres did not actually involve 5 acres, but somewhere around 4.86 acres.  He got out all his paperwork and like most tracts sold in the Ozarks, it doesn’t give exact acreage to the tenth of an acre.  The seller and real estate agent said five acres and Henshall believed them.  When he pays his property taxes, the acreage isn’t given.  He could never have known what those two low-life agent had found out.

         Can you imagine a pair of agents stooping this low?  Who is paying them to come up with those 8 deer mounts?  Someone is!!  Henshaw is going to court with a lawyer, but here is the problem there.  That judge may be one of many that has reaped rewards given to lawyers and judges by the Conservation Department.
         Do you doubt this assertion?  They gave almost a quarter million dollars to a judge in western Missouri named Kelso because he allowed high level MDC people to hunt his private refuge. And forever and ever, the MDC will use our money we give to them, to pay the annual property taxes on his private hunting preserve.

         Tim Ripperger, a deputy director with the MDC years ago finally admitted to me that fourteen lawyers and judges had received such payments to use at their discretion in developing their private hunting grounds.  One judge, of great political power, got the zone boundaries between two waterfowl zones changed to run through his land so that he could hunt ducks and geese in two different seasons just by stepping across a highway.
         On the private land of one of the state’s wealthiest judges, the Missouri Department of Conservation helped build a half-mile levee to create one of the best waterfowl hunting areas I have ever seen, only for that judge and lawyer friends to hunt. He never paid a penny for it, according to sources within the MDC who are incensed about it.  Isn’t it a surprise that members of the MDC also hunt there?
         Meanwhile if Mr. Henshaw could have this decided by a twelve-man jury, he would easily win in very little time.  I intend to go to that trial and look into possible involvement between lawyers of that area, and the judge, and the MDC.  It may be that his deer heads were doomed before he so graciously let those friendly agents into his home with no search warrant.

         You know, as do I, that those two agents did not find such a detailed legal description of Henshaw’s land on their own, without direction.  Where did that aid and direction come from?  And why has his lack of knowledge about his 4.8 acres not being the 5 acres he thought he bought, become such a serious issue 12 years later?  Those two agents ought to be ashamed of themselves, and perhaps look into the Bible to find some advice on how to treat your fellow man.  All men, in time, will stand before a judge and they are not exempt.

         I am very anxious to see if Mrs. Pauley is as concerned about this as all Missourians should be. Larry Yamnitz, chief of enforcement for the MDC, is of no use in getting any problems dealt with in a just manner. Over the years of meeting with him and hearing him promise a change, I have given up any hope that he can do anything about rogue agents.  I have seen such agents who are beneath him just ignore his directives, and he does nothing about it.  It is as if they are untouchable, out of control, and they know it.

         But remember that if agents come to your home and ask politely to come in, tell them politely to go obtain a search warrant first.  While they are doing that, hide any legally taken deer mounts or turkey mounts… because they are there to take them.

         Henshaw will lose his deer heads without ever going into that courtroom. He doesn’t have a chance.  It is already decided. Because there is a fraction of an acre he knew nothing about, his deer heads will be sold, or perhaps someday hang in the office of friends of the commissioners, judges or lawyers.  And as always, the MDC people involved in this will lie and say they are going to destroy those 8 deer heads, all forty-thousand dollars worth of them.  Baloney!! Ever wonder why no media can see that happen, why all witnesses to such an event are barred.  No one has ever seen that destruction of confiscated property occur, because it doesn’t happen.. never has!!

         After I attend that trial I will report back to readers, and after I meet with Director Pauley, I will tell you what we discussed, and her side of the story. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope that someday our Conservation Department actually serves to advance the notion of resource conservation-- and fair treatment of the state’s citizens who aren’t rich and special and powerful.  And I hope someday, that all men and women who wear a badge are held to the same standards as the rest of us, and can be prosecuted for breaking the law, perhaps sued for violating a citizens rights.

If you would like to order our spring magazine, any of my books, or for any other reason, you may call our office. Remember too that we still have free tables for vendors at our March 24 outdoorsman’s swap meet.    Call 417-777-5227