Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Turkey Season of 2018


My opinion may not count for much, but it comes from many more hours in the woods than in an office… I think there are less than half the gobblers in the Ozarks than there were 10 or 12 years ago.

        I don’t know if we have had a worse wild turkey season than this past spring season in Missouri and Arkansas in the past 40 years. And I think eastern Kansas could also be included in that observation as well.

              The hunting was poor… darn poor. And you can blame part of that on the late season and cold. But mainly the problem is an alarming decline in wild turkey numbers which has been easy to see over several years, if you spend a lot of time in the outdoors in the winter. 

         That is when turkeys group together and are easy to see and count. Over the past several winters that decline in numbers seen in individual flocks has really been obvious. At the end of the 20th century, wild turkey numbers were good. Around 2005 there were seven mature gobblers feeding at one time at my corn feeder in the winter.  In April of that year, I stood on my back porch and heard 11 different gobblers around me one morning. This past spring I heard two or three on the best mornings and they only gobbled a short time. Over the past winter, no gobblers came to my corn feeder!

              Turkey hunting success always depends on the numbers of two- and three-year old gobblers. If you went back in time you might be surprised to know that what we have now probably would have been thought to be a lot of turkeys in the fifties and sixties, when stocking programs were going on.  How good could it get, biologists wondered. Would those men, most of them passed away now, have been surprised to see a harvest of 60 thousand turkeys in 2005?  That year it was unbelievable! I heard 2 gobblers fighting only a hundred yards into the woods behind my home in the spring and in the fall of 2004 I watched a flock of 30 to 40 young turkeys feed across my back yard, just a few yards from my back porch.

         Within a couple of years a decline began, and it has continued until it came to the situation we have now. It isn’t that we have only half the wild turkeys now that we had twelve years ago… I believe we have a little less than half. I was happy to see some young poults in the fall, but there were so few compared to what there have been.  And mature gobblers, the two and three year old toms which make up the bulk of the spring hunter kill, were just as scarce as I have seen them in many decades.  The same thing could be said of jakes, and that is what I think should worry us the most.

         According to telecheck numbers, from a harvest of 60 thousand gobblers in 2005 the last few years has given numbers of 44, 43 and then 42 thousand.  This spring that number really crashed, down to about 35 thousand.  Missouri Department of Conservation people aren’t going to do anything about this, but one answer would be to cut the season to two weeks instead of three, and delay it at least a week to ensure a greater degree of mating.
         Oh yes, that would make it a little harder to get a gobbler, but it no doubt would create a better hatch, even if the weather hurts it, as it has for two or three successive springs.  And as for me, I would readily accept cutting the limit from two gobblers to one.

         One thing the MDC does recognize is that there are more and more hunters refusing to use the telecheck system which gives them a handle on turkey harvests and populations.  My friend Darrell Hamby has a friend who is a conservation agent, and that agent was complaining about that recently, wondering why so many hunters do not call in deer and turkey they kill.  Darrell, one of the best hunters and overall outdoorsmen I have ever known, has an answer they don’t want to hear.  He says hunters are learning that the telecheck system is a way that they can be targeted for some penny-ante technical offense.  In the winter, deer hunters who describe big antlers with lots of points are often the ones who have their deer heads confiscated weeks later over some technicality.

         And if you have one of those flimsy little turkey tags notched as they are supposed to be, calling in the gobbler you took at eight o’clock in the morning later in the day seems unnecessary after the turkey has been cleaned, with carcass discarded and the breast in the freezer.  As hunters begin to learn what is happening with that telecheck system, more and more are beginning to ignore it.  One hunter told me that it seems to him it is often nothing more than giving the conservation department all the info they need to find a way to fine you for something that amounts to nothing.  If you bag a big buck or a pair of nice gobblers, he feels it is better just to keep it to yourself.

         Still, you don’t need a telecheck system to tell you that wild turkeys are declining in Missouri and north Arkansas.  Maybe there is a poultry disease having an affect on wild turkeys, much like what happened 80 or 90 years ago.  The youth season is a problem, which will never be acknowledged.  It comes too early, disturbing mating, allowing too many adult hunters to take a kid out and kill a gobbler for him, well before the regular season opens.  If you have to have a youth season, make it after the regular season, not before. That would help tremendously in allowing a greater mating season. When 5,000 gobblers are killed mostly in one day of the youth season, and only 35 thousand are taken over the regular 21-day season to come later, there is a big imbalance there.  Shouldn’t that tell somebody something?

         Biologists, most of them spending more time in an office than outdoors, talk often of turkey ‘management’.  But there is no such thing today.  What you do is manage hunters and hunting!  It isn’t ‘wild turkey’ management at all that affects their numbers; it is the management of people. It is time the conservation departments look at what is happening,-- a steady decline in turkey numbers for many years,-- and start trying to do something about it.  Delay the season, cut the limit from two to one, shorten it by seven days and set the youth season the next weekend after it closes. It would be wise to eliminate the fall turkey hunting gun season until wild turkeys get a little bit of a boost from a good spring hatch.  In addition to all this you might pray for a perfect weather situation next spring.  But even if you don’t get it… those changes will help bring back gobbler numbers. Then you can go back to what has been done in the past, which has helped create these low numbers of toms.  If proposals like those upset you, then remember what hunting was like for you this past spring.

Email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com or send letters to Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.  The office phone is 417 777 5227 in case you would like to obtain the new summer issue of my Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazine or one of my books.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Mr. Wilson of My Boyhood

           In January, I came in to load my boat after dark and was surprised by a man standing there in the darkness.  He identified himself as a Missouri Conservation agent.  “Now what?” I thought to myself!
            He was young, he was alone, and his vehicle was nowhere to be seen.  And everything he did was exactly what he should have done to do his job.  If I had been a violator, he would have caught one. That is something today’s MDC enforcement agents seldom do-- catch actual violators.

            The young man wasn’t belligerent at all, but there to be sure I had my appropriate federal stamp, a hunting license, steel shot, a plugged shotgun and a legal limit only.  I couldn’t believe it; he thanked me and proceeded to talk to me as one man would talk to another, with respect.  I’ll bet he wasn’t 25 yet.

            I thought of the time when an old-time agent by the name of Bland Wilson showed me again and again how a ‘game-warden’ should do his job.  I was about 11 or 12 and he was one of my idols.  I went with him on occasion because I wanted to be in the outdoors all I could, and wanted to be a game warden someday myself.  My grandfather was his friend and adversary.  Grandpa never knew about the times I paddled Mr. Wilson down the river in one of his hand-made johnboats.

            Bland Wilson told me that my grandfather was the best riverman, trapper and outdoorsman he knew.  Grandpa grudgingly admitted that Bland Wilson was his equal, when it came to knowledge and ability in the outdoors.  “He’s like a %@#& Indian,” Grandpa said, “and he’s liable to be anywhere!”

            Grandpa was a conservationist too, in a different way.  He took what his family needed, in a day before I was born.  And when I was young, and we hunted ducks, we stopped when we had all the ducks he felt was needed.  But we picked the feathers up to the base of the skull and to the feet and to the first joint of the wings.  That whole duck was eaten and the downy feathers saved for mattresses or pillows.  But if we hunted ducks and the limit was six apiece and we only got five apiece, grandpa figured we should get that extra duck on our next hunt.   With Bland Wilson out there, it became a contest that grandpa looked forward to.  If he got a couple of ducks too many, he would stash them along the river and come back in the middle of the night, walk in to where he left them, and bring them home, figuring Bland was asleep.

            I remember once when we were floating down the lower Piney River and grandpa stopped on a gravel bar to count our squirrels and ducks.  He looked up toward a towering bluff and said, “That ______ Bland Wilson is probably up there on that bluff watching me right now with his lookin’ glass.”  His respect for Bland Wilson was great, his thinking bordered on paranoia.  But never, ever, did grandpa or dad ever waste anything.  Thinking about it today, I remember grandpa butchering hogs for neighbors just for the head and hide.

Bland told me about several times when he could have arrested my grandfather for little things, and my Uncle Norten was constantly telling the story about how Bland Wilson showed up on the river bank asking for a ride downstream when he and his pop had an illegal bass, by only one day, in the live-well.  If you haven’t heard that story, you can read it all in the book about Uncle Norten’s life, entitled “Ridge-Runner… From the Big Piney to the Battle of the Bulge”.

            Bland retired when I was still young and replaced by the best conservation agent I ever knew… a man by the name of Ron Roellig.  I related a story about him and the kind of man he was in my book, “The Prince of Pt. Lookout”.  Roellig was what every agent should be, he worked alone, and he was after one kind of person, intentional violators of hunting and fishing laws.  I will write more about him in the future.

            The Big Piney, after Roellig, was plagued by a couple of rogue agents.  They broke the law big time, because they made money by doing it.  Law Enforcement Chief Larry Yamnitz told be that as a young agent in Cabool Missouri, he rode with one of them when he conducted a private business in a state vehicle in his uniform on state time.
Yamnitz apparently went along with it because he feared that if he reported it he would be fired.  About 10 or 12 years ago, agent Kyle Carroll reported two other agents who broke the law while on duty, and sure enough, Carroll was fired while the other two kept their jobs.  It all backfired on the MDC though, as Kyle hired a lawyer, it all came out in court and the MDC had to pay him a million dollars when the truth came out.

I hope to finish several books in the next couple of years. One is entitled, “The Demise of Conservation… the truth about the Missouri Department of Conservation”  The other is the story of my boyhood entitled, “The Life and Times of the Pool Hall Kid”.  Another that is nearly ready to publish is “Recollections of an Old Fashioned Angler” and after that…“Memoirs From the Big Piney”.  I have ten books finished and for sale now…. I hope I live long enough to finish ten or twenty more. Call my office if you need to talk with me…. 417-777-5227. Our new summer issue of my magazine is available now.  Email lightninridge47@gmail.com or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

MDC's Sara Pauley at Panther Creek Youth Retreat

      I have had a number of readers ask me about my underprivileged kids ranch… Panther Creek.  Recently a church from Owensville Missouri reserved the place for a weekend in June and will be bringing more than 20 kids.  Panther Creek amounts to a 60-acre outdoor education center with a lodge and 2 cabins, absolutely free to any group wanting to use it.

      Everything is there a group might need.  All that needs to be brought to the place is food and clothing.  I’ve worked on it for 4 years now, and we have trap-shooting, kayaking and canoeing, a swimming hole, a gravel bar bonfire site, a historic bridge made in 1882, a softball-soccer field, pool table (which kids seem to be drawn to like a magnet) and a couple of miles of trails and photography platforms.  Our food plots ensure a lot of wildlife to be seen. We also have conservation projects kids can help us with while they are there.

      If you want to help with a charitable donation, I would welcome it.  The cost of operating the project is about 6 or 7 thousand per year.  But I want no one thinking we are making one penny out of our place. If you want to send a small check, you should make it out to our debtors, perhaps the St. Clair County Collector, Sac Osage Electric Company, the Hickory County Insurance Company or Doke Propane.  Those are our biggest costs.  I don’t want anyone making a check out to me.  If you have questions about the place, would like to visit and perhaps spend a night there, just call me at 417-777-5227.  We have never had newspaper or television publicity.  I am a conservative writer who they do not like much.  But this column and my magazine have been getting the word out well.  Still, we have a lot of open dates each year.

      As most of you know, the director of the Missouri Department of Conservation, Mrs. Sara Pauley, spent several hours with me a couple of weeks ago at our Panther Creek Retreat.  We talked about many of the things I write that the MDC does not want known, and we talked about some conservation projects to benefit ordinary Missouri outdoorsmen, which we could work together on.

      I blindsided Mrs. Pauley with a request to have help with our outdoor education center there on Panther Creek.  There is so much the MDC could do that would help hundreds of underprivileged children learn so much about the outdoors at our place.

      I told her I knew about the millions of dollars her agency has given to Johnny Morris and Bass Pro Shops…. Why not give us some help too.  I don’t think Mrs. Pauley knows that the MDC pays the annual property tax for a number of influential people, seemingly all lawyers and judges.  A western Missouri judge was given 235,000 dollars to invest into a PRIVATE waterfowl hunting marsh where MDC officials went to hunt ducks with some of Kansas City’s prominent athletes.  Each year the conservation department pays that family’s property taxes--nearly 1000 dollars to be paid “in perpetuity”.  That means forever.

      So I proposed that the MDC pay the Panther Creek property taxes… less than 500 dollars.  And in turn I would give the equal amount each year to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.  Mrs. Pauley smiled, but never answered.  When I brought it up again, she turned away and acted as if she didn’t hear me. Can you imagine why they would not do something so minimal in cost, and be so eager to give lawyers, judges and the richest man in Missouri, millions of dollars?

      I doubt that Mrs. Pauley can do much, but somebody in the MDC could make that happen easily.  No matter, I will give some of what I have to St. Jude’s anyway.

      I urge you to read more about the conservation projects I hope to get the MDC to help me with, in my Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazines summer issue being printed next week. If you want to get a copy, call that office number given above.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com.

A Turkey Hunter's Poem

I was fishing on the river with my shotgun in my boat, just in case I heard a turkey on my peaceful river float.

Stopped above a gentle current to cast my jolly-wobbler, when across the stream a good half mile I heard a turkey gobbler.

So I grabbed my old pump shotgun and behind a tree I hid, and started making hen talk with my cedar box and lid.

That old tom got excited and come struttin’ t’ward the stream, just like dozens more before him, hot and bothered, buildin’ steam

He visualized a sweet young hen, ‘cause my callin’ was so good, he was fooled so bad he hurried, didn’t see me where I stood.

He just jumped into the river, with his mating urges strong.  His beard was like a well rope and his bright red waddle… long.

His spurs looked like two switch-blades, as he gobbled loud and clear, in the middle of the river, thinkin’ romance was so near.

Well I lowered my old shotgun, cause I’d been that way before, and I felt a little sorry for that old wet paramour

So I wasn’t gonna shoot him, ‘til he looked down in the water, and saw a big ol’ smallmouth, and stabbed at it and got ‘er.

It seemed that he came all that way a gobblin’ and a struttin’, ‘cause likely for the last two days or so he hadn’t eaten nuthin’

When he seen that big fish there so close, he figured he’d have dinner, then find that sexy hen he’d heard and be a double winner.

But that bass, she was a fat one, two pounds or so I figger.  And it riled me something awful, cause I hadn’t caught one bigger.

And while I had a soft spot for that tom’s, romance wishes, the one thing I can’t tolerate is killin’ smallmouth fishes

Cause a smallmouth is the best of fish, if you all are askin’ me.  The pride of Ozark rivers, they should always be set free.

So across that river valley you could hear my shotgun roar, as I blasted that old gobbler, so he wouldn’t fish no more.

Now in my basement freezer I have ducks and squirrel and jerky, and some crappie and some walleye, and a smallmouth-poachin’ turkey

The moral of this story is, all poems ought to rhyme, and one thing about poets is… you can’t believe them half the time.