Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Weed Patch and the Hawk

     My Panther Creek tract of land is only 50 acres or so, but a beautiful tract of land with big trees and a great variety of wildlife. In the five years I have worked on it, I have attempted to make it an outdoor education center, where small churches can bring underprivileged children to spend several days enjoying the outdoors, which most of them have never experienced, free of charge. But now that it is winter, it is a secluded and wild spot where you can feel that you are the only person on earth. 

     I headed out early one morning to spend some time there along a wooded ridge-top, and found such peace and contentment there I wondered why I ever leave. From the point of the ridge I looked down on the bottomland where huge oaks, walnuts, sycamores and hackberries line the creek. Open ground between the creek and the wooded ridge supports two wildlife food plots about 60 yards across. Each is a bright beige color, with little left there but heads of millet to feed wildlife. Next to one of them is a patch of ground completely gray and drab looking. It is a growth of dead ragweed of some kind or another, growing about three feet high, covering nearly a hundred yards of ground in two directions.

      As I walked up to it, I saw a small sharp-shinned hawk come soaring in, and with erratic and swift flight he came to the ground in the middle of the tall gray growth like a feathered dart. As he did, likely a hundred birds took to flight, birds of all species, flashes of varied colors in the bright sunlight. Sharp-shins seldom miss their target, but he flew away a few seconds later with no prey in his talons. Walking into the weeds, I flushed dozens and dozens of birds, and realized that almost all of them were feeding on the ground, picking up seeds that had fallen from the dead plants.

     My food plots, filled with almost nothing but millet would shelter and feed some rabbits and quail, but those seed heads were high above the ground. Doves, in particular, and some other winter birds, feed only on the ground. I need to mow some swaths through that plot to put it seeds on the ground, and will, later this week.

     Landowners like me are fooled into thinking that an expensive food-plot mixes from the feed store will give wildlife a variety of crops that will grow well, sown into worked ground. It doesn’t work out that way. The percentages given on the bag show you soybeans and sorghum and this and that. But I saw none of either in my food-plots that were planted last May. All you get is millet and almost nothing else. If you want something else it has been my experience that you had better not put a lot of money in those bags of wildlife mix. Next spring I will plant nothing but soybeans in one food plot, something else in the other, but no more “wildlife mix”.

     Clearing ground in fall and winter is something you do not do for wildlife survival. That tract of ragweed will be there all winter to provide escape cover and food. Rabbits and quail will use it, but that bottomland will not have any bare, plowed ground during the winter, and that is why I have coveys of quail and an abundance of rabbits. A wildlife management area about five miles from my place is many times larger than my Panther Creek Outdoor Retreat but it has no rabbits and no quail. We ran five beagles across it recently and didn’t find one rabbit.

     The area manager there told me that his only instructions a few years back was to make the gate to the area much, much bigger so a tenant farmer could get his equipment in. When they told him they wanted to eliminate some thickets to make a larger area for that tenant farmer to plow under and a greater amount of income resulting from that, he resigned, and now works in Wyoming. Anyone who wants to visit our wildlife preserve along Panther Creek is welcome. Truthfully it is a bird-watchers paradise, and a super place for wildlife photographers.

     By the way our Christmas issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge outdoor magazine is available now.  You can get a free copy just by calling our office at 417 777 5227.  The postage is all you’ll need to pay for.  

            Before you eat venison this year, go to this website and get the info on transmissible spongiform disease which has caused so much confusion.  The site is You’ll see a deer biologist tell you all he knows about what we call chronic wasting disease.  You need to see it before you decide to eat any venison that is given to you by someone else.  In that interview, he refutes the idea that human beings can’t get the disease, and gives numbers of deaths recorded from it.  It may be that hundreds have died from it, diagnosed incorrectly as something else, like ‘alzheimer’s disease’.  Just learn what you can and then make your decision based on that knowledge.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Sitting Still Ain’t Fun Anymore


The older you get, I think, the less a dead buck appeals to you, and venison isn’t as good to eat.

My daughter Christy with a buck she killed last year

     It has been a long time since I was not out in the woods somewhere as deer season began, but truthfully… I never did enjoy it much. The idea of an orange costume, and sitting and waiting with a scoped high powered rifle that you can hit an acorn with at 200 yards doesn’t thrill me much. I am impatient, and I like to be moving slowly and seeing new things when I am outdoors.

      Same way with fishing. I don’t like sitting in one place in the lake tied up to a tree or anchored when I can be floating down a beautiful river casting a lure to a new spot all day. Of course if you are hauling in crappie or big bluegill hand over fist that changes things. Sitting and waiting for a bite any longer than 20 minutes isn’t very appealing to me. The exception to that is watching a bobber.  Bobbers on a still surface mesmerize me. I expect there are many of you out there who feel the same way.

      Seeing a bobber dip and dance a little brings excitement and anticipation. And when it just disappears beneath rings of surface water reacting to the swiftness of a hard strike, you can hope the fish beneath it is a lunker. But even if it isn’t, you are happy about pulling it in. If you are that way, you got that way most likely go back to a time when you sat on some pond bank watching a bobber with anticipation that is hard to explain unless you have been there. When next summer gets here, I will do a lot of fishing, but I will certainly spend some time sitting in a shady spot watching a bobber. There is an addiction to it.

      There is anticipation too when I sit in the woods and watch for squirrels in the treetops, or sit with my back to a big oak waiting for a deer to appear, or a gobbler to gobble. It is great to be in a tree-stand watching for a buck, but a friend of mine defined deer hunting that way as fifteen seconds of excitement brought about by three hours of boredom. I cannot possibly sit three hours in a tree stand, waiting. I can handle an hour of it, but no more. I want to walk, moving slowly against the wind, hoping for a miracle of a buck with nice headgear stupidly following a doe. That has happened lots of times, because a buck in mating season, with his neck swollen in a heavy ‘rut’, is dumber than a stockyard steer.

      I learned all about that as a kid when the old veteran deer hunters came in on a cold November night and bragged about their deer hunting and the latest set of antlers.

        It was old Bill Stalder who filled me in about that, when I was only 11 or 12. He hunted with what he called his ‘guvamint forty-five seventy, a military rifle with a stock most of the way up the barrel. He hunted in deep woods, brush-country usually, watching a deer trail and facing into the wind. Bill wanted a rifle that would shoot through a one inch sapling and would still be just as effective if it fell out of the bed of his truck, or spent a day or two in a pouring rain, or a mud-puddle. None of those old timers used a scope. What an insult that would have been if they had been accused of such a thing. Few ever took a shot that wasn’t within fifty yards.

      In Bill’s long-past years, deer were not at all plentiful. When he was in his twenties they were almost all gone, because times were hard and folks who didn’t own free-ranging hogs or cattle needed them to eat. They restocked whitetail deer for years just after I was born and opened the season again when Ol’ Bill was in his forties. He was ready for that. He was my grandfather’s trapping partner and he knew all about the outdoors. He said there wasn’t much to know about deer, and he was right.

      I can tell you one thing, the situation was far different then because deer didn’t become nocturnal after the opening weekend of the season as they do today. Call that evolution maybe. At any rate, it just isn’t rewarding anymore to hunt deer and I am done with it, except for using my camera. I’ll bet I will shoot two or three nice bucks that way, but I know a great deal about transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, what they call ‘chronic wasting disease’ in deer, and what I have learned makes me want to never eat venison again.

      I hope to get the word out about that disease, and the word out about using the telecheck system and what it might result in for innocent hunters, by directing readers to my website, where much information is given on each that cannot be printed in newspapers. That internet site is But I am not through hunting at all I will hunt ducks as hard as I can with my Labrador this year, maybe go pheasant hunting in Iowa. When the duck season closes I will chase around after a pair of beagles. And on some warm winter day I’ll go fishing even if I can’t catch a thing.
      If you wish to get more information about my upcoming Christmas magazine, just call my office.. 417-777-5227, or email My post office address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo.65613