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.

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