Monday, January 28, 2019

Deer Hunting in February.

         Again this year I got a call from a representative of the Missouri Department of Conservation asking me to hunt deer on my place because they want to thin down the population and check more deer for transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, which they and most deer hunters call chronic wasting disease.

         Whether you call it CWD or TSE, the possibility of controlling the disease by killing more deer is not very realistic. They have tried that in Wisconsin. The result…some parts of that state have 50% of the deer population infected with those TSE prions in the brain. In time Missouri’s whitetail deer will show similar numbers.

         I am going to select a buck from my place, not because I think I have any kin of population there, I don’t. I’m going to shoot one because a nearby family with five kids can sure use the meat.

         I didn’t hunt deer this year during the regular season. I am just not as excited about hunting deer with a gun nowadays, but I do like shooting them with a camera.

         I will kill a buck or mature doe because young deer are far less likely to have CWD or TSE than older ones. Research in other states has shown this to be true. If I were betting, I would bet that few deer under the age of two years are found to have prions in their system. In fact tests done in selected deer farming operations seems to show that it is three and four year old deer that are more likely to be infected than younger deer and bucks seem to be more likely to have the disease than does by about a three to two ratio.

         When I kill a deer I will use rubber gloves to gut it, and an MDC representative will come and take lymph nodes from the neck and within a week or so they will know if it is free of prions. Then I will give the meat to the family nearby.

         At my place there is no heavy population of deer but they don’t know that. Anyone who spends as much time in the woods as I do can easily gauge deer numbers in the winter by the number of rubs and scrapes, and just by seeing the number of does and young deer which herd together in bad weather.

         To the northwest of my place, which lies in the southeast corner of St. Clair county, I can see evidence of too many deer, but in the 200 acres or so around me there has been a great deal of illegal hunting in the past and numbers are where they should be.  The old man who owned the land before me killed four or five deer each year and traded them to some Amish folks living a few miles away for firewood-cutting labor.  He turned in a neighbor who had arranged several tree-stands over active corn feeders for friends and family. Together they likely accounted for a kill of 20 or so deer each year.

         It’s different though with wild turkey.  Their numbers have declined everywhere I go, for the last five or six years, to a point where I think it is a serious problem. I think needs to be addressed right now, perhaps by cutting the legal limit from two per spring season to only one.
         Ten years ago here on Lightnin’ Ridge in central Polk County, I photographed seven mature gobblers at my corn feeder in February.  A year or so later there were 3.  This year there are none.  And I haven’t killed a gobbler on this wooded ridge-top in the last 15 years.

         The biggest enemies of the wild turkey are great horned owls and bobcats. Both of those have increased substantially in ten years, but not enough to be responsible for the wild turkey’s problems. You can blame heavy spring rains which kill young poults, but not a factor for consecutive years like this.  It is possible that a disease could be responsible, as ever-increasing big poultry operations springing up everywhere have seen thousands of chickens die almost overnight from one disease or another.  But I figure what is responsible for this alarming decrease in wild turkey numbers is the same dilemma faced by quail, woodcock and whippoorwills--- overwhelming numbers of ground-foraging egg-eaters… raccoons, skunks, possums and snakes, and something unseen here 30 years ago….armadillos.

         Whatever it is, I don’t see anyway to change things.  Any ground nester is going to be hard pressed to exist in the future in the numbers we want.  Landowners need to declare war on armadillos especially.  And if you get feral hogs on your land, set a pair of chicken eggs out in a protected area where they thrive and see how long those eggs last.

         I read this recently from a study being done in Minnesota.  Notice what they say is of the biggest concern here.

----“CWD, caused by mutated proteins called prions, already has crossed species to macaque monkeys that were fed infected meat in laboratory tests. Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and an expert on infectious diseases, puts the human danger bluntly.
"I do believe that it is not a matter of if, but when, CWD crosses to humans,'' Osterholm said.
To which Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program group leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, replied, "That's the biggest scare with this disease — what that would do to deer hunting and wildlife management!”

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email  To enquire about my books or the outdoor magazine we produce, call my office at 417-777-5227.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Catch a Crappie, Climb a Mountain

         We just walked around on this big dock, dropping a small rubber jig here and there among the empty boat slips, hooking and landing some big crappie, from one spot and then another. It is easily the most comfortable winter crappie fishing I have ever seen and the crappie are big.  And  then we had a big basket of fish and had to climb that mountain!

        The mountain is actually a steep hill going up from the dock to Don Lawellen’s Three Oaks Resort on Norfork Lake.  Normally a trolley runs down the hill to the dock but the Lawellens are having it rebuilt and figure it won’t be ready until early March.  So if you want to catch crappie in the winter, you have to descend the mountain, not too difficult, and then ascend the mountain, which is a physical challenge.

         The reason that dock is such an unbelievable fishing base almost all  year long is that it sits over about 60 feet of water.  You may not realize how unusual that is, but there are few boat docks anywhere that have more than 10 to 20 feet beneath the dock.  In the spring and summer, boats going out at night to fish beneath lights, or in the winter to fish for crappie, do not seek out water that shallow.  Deep water makes winter crappie fishing, and Don’s dock provides it.  So I am going back, since I made it up the mountain last time, only stopping to rest just once.  It is worth the effort, because if you have ever caught big crappie from deep below you in clear water on an ultra-lite outfit, you get to a point where a 10-minute climb is tolerable.  And when you fry up winter crappie, you forget there even was a mountainside to navigate.

         If you get the urge to try it yourself, just call Don at the Three Oaks Resort, not far from the Arkansas-Missouri line on Norfork.  Stay awhile if you want, as he has beautiful cabins available now, looking out across Norfork Lake and he will tell you when the fishing is best.  I imagine that if you cannot handle that mountain on account of not being the grizzled old outdoorsman me and Don is… he’d take you around via boat.

There will be a time as spring approaches when that well-lighted dock is a great place for the night fishing which produces big walleye, stripers and hybrids, even bass.  By that time the new trolley should be in operation.

        When you spend as much time as I do out in the woods and on the rivers you
see some things that amaze you. I have indeed seen many things that I will never write about because no one would believe me. Something similar happened on the first Saturday after Christmas.

         I went a place I often go where there are thousands of acres of public forestland figuring that I might recharge my batteries a little and maybe shoot a young deer with my muzzleloader to provide some venison for a needy family I know. I covered a lot of woodland in an afternoon without seeing a deer. That isn’t unusual late in the year like this, as deer tend to bunch up in small groups. Bucks don’t move much because the rutting season is coming to a close. If you see a deer now, chances are good there will be several of them and it isn’t hard to choose a young deer still big enough to supply several pounds of venison.

        On a long ridge-top, there was the sound of chirping birds like nothing I have ever heard. It was a flock of migrating robins in numbers I have never seen before. I really believe that flock could have numbered well more than 1,000 robins.

         It was a ridge with big timber and big cedar trees, and robins filled every tree especially the cedars bearing their blue berries. I sat down beneath one and feeding robins dropped them on the bill of my cap and all around me. Along a small creek below they were watering, 100 to 200 birds at a time.  When they took to flight it sounded like waterfowl wings springing from a distant marsh, and a new bunch would replace them.  The little creek was alive with the activity of a mass of robins.

There was a time decades ago when folks in the south ate robins, and I thought about that as I sat there.  They say that they are just about the same as doves on the supper table, but perhaps a little better. Although I have never eaten one I am tempted to go back and get a couple or three to try.  They might still be there, but likely they have moved on.  Regardless, I never have seen anything like that before.

         To get in touch with me, write to Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email  If you have an interest in receiving one of my two spring magazines or one of my books, just call our office, 417 777 5227.  We can tell you all about them, or perhaps send you a sample.