Tuesday, October 15, 2019

We CAN do Something

Whippoorwill on her nest

         To follow up on last week’s column I think someone somewhere had better begin to think about finding ways to raise whippoorwill fledglings in a captive environment for release into the wild. That may be the answer in the wake of constantly increasing numbers of woodland predators that eat the bird’s eggs. As I pointed out last week, birds which nest in woodlands face problems from opossums, skunks, armadillos, black snakes, weasels and raccoons.

         I believe that in 20 or 30 years, whippoorwills will likely be unknown in all of the Ozarks. Such a thing has happened before, with ruffed grouse, once plentiful throughout the Ozarks.  Their disappearance was due to other factors, but likely they will never be found here again.

         Ornithologists need to start tackling the likelihood that woodcock, whippoorwills and other woodland birds will follow in the plight of the grouse, and it needs to be done right now.  But truthfully, in a future generation of Ozarkers, the presence of many of our ground-nesting birds may not matter.  The reduction of those small predatory furbearers seems to be impossible.  Even the major diseases that once held them in check is not doing much to affect them now.  Distemper often runs through raccoon populations in deadly proportions but it seems to have no long-range affect.  They bounce right back and numbers keep rising because fur prices keep dropping, and coon hunters and trappers are as rare as whippoorwills now.
         We should have biologists talking about the problems facing wild turkey right now, as well as those other ground nesters.  But no one is.  Biologists in another time would have been, I think.  And I don’t believe the problem is hopeless and unsolvable.

         Could we eliminate the armadillo in the Ozarks?  Not likely!  But making folks aware of what is happening might help in keeping the number of those non-native intruders down to about a third or even a fourth of what we have now, and that would certainly help. On my place I feel I could do better than that.
         I don’t know that I have the only answers to the problem and I won’t write about this again for those of you who would rather read something more encouraging.  But this is a problem too with the wild turkey, reduced in number for about 8 or 9 consecutive years in much of the Ozarks. Wild turkey reductions will affect turkey tag sales. A prospective loss of money usually brings a response from our state conservation department. Some serious reductions need to be made in hunting seasons RIGHT NOW, or there will be few gobblers where there once were many.
         What would my solutions be?  I would end the fall season on wild turkey until numbers rebound, cut the spring season to nine days, which allows two weekends beginning after April 25 to allow maximum nesting attempts. I would allow each hunter only one gobbler each and because of all that I would cut the cost of a spring turkey tag. I would end the youth season entirely for awhile.  In a future column I will talk more about that youth season and what is happening with it. A youth deer season is fine, but a youth turkey season is a problem now and I will tell you why next spring. Any youngster who is taken turkey hunting by an adult during that special youth weekend, can also be taken on such a hunt the first or second weekend of a regular April season.
         You can express your own views on all of this, and what we are seeing with decreasing numbers of wild turkey and other woodland birds and what we might do to change things. I will use reader letters in my winter outdoor magazines, whether you agree with me or not. Send those to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613. Or email me your opinion, at lightninridge47@gmail.com.

Deadfall trigger
        I have had some questions from landowners about the use of deadfalls, as a means of killing skunks and possums and especially armadillos.  The reason they were outlawed years ago is because they are so
Bait is tied to the end of the trigger then the large, heavy rock is placed on top.
dangerous to smaller house pets, cats and dogs.  Deadfalls do not kill large dogs or coyotes nor bobcats, unless they are set with a great deal of weight involved. You can make the triggers for 20 deadfalls in very little time and there is almost no cost involved. You likely cannot afford enough live traps to make a difference.  When deadfalls were used by my dad and uncles in the 1930’s they were baited with fish heads.  But if you use them for armadillos, control the weight. It is easy to set 20 deadfalls, using large flat rocks, or even shallow wooden boxes filled with rocks.  Be sure that such a deadfall is no threat to medium sized dogs. As for cats, if they are found in woodlands deep in your forest, they are likely feral cats and they are as much of a problem as any other predator, perhaps more so.  Deadfalls are tremendously effective for skunks, opossums and armadillos, and it takes no great knowledge to use them. I am not one to break laws. Once upon another time they were necessary and made sense. Ninety percent of them still make sense and should be followed.  But the deadfall law only makes sense around places where pets are endangered by their use. The threat from great numbers of armadillos and these skyrocketing populations of egg-eaters is something we have to deal with as best as we can.  A recent report from national ornithology groups which actually hire qualified ornithologists, naturalists and biologists, says that in only a matter of a few years, numbers of wild birds in our nation have decreased by 30 percent.  And I think it is likely that 60 percent or more of Americans today really don’t give a darn. They live in cities, towns and suburbs where they feel birds aren’t too important.  Most of the ones they see are pigeons, sparrows and starlings, and there are plenty of them. It is likely that birds will survive best on the acreages of country folks who value them greatly and want to do something to keep them. People who treasure wild things and wild places. I would like to someday restock whippoorwills on my places.  But to make it work I have to do what I can do to wipe out armadillos if I can, and reduce numbers of predator furbearers to a level we had back in long ago times. 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Reposting -- Telecheck Letter, MDC, original letter

For those who have not yet read this Telecheck letter, I am reposting.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Disappearing Wild Gobbler

         Wild turkey season opened a few days ago and I shot 6 gobblers with a camera.... three were jakes I think. I would urge hunters not to kill wild turkeys this fall, especially gobblers. Wild toms are down in much of the Ozarks, perhaps 50 to 60 percent in the past seven years. Most real outdoorsmen know that. There were 53 thousand toms killed in 2014... declining each year to a low of 38 thousand in 2018.Last spring in Missouri the turkey harvest was the lowest it has been in perhaps 20 years. When you consider that there were more hunters last year than ever before, does that tell you something? Some big changes in the spring season should be made, and fall season ended for a while. Biologists are not really as aware of the problem as they need to be.  They keep talking about the poor hatches due to wet weather.  But a ten-year decline like we have had in wild turkey numbers is not due to poor hatches. They are overlooking problems bigger than wet seasons.... again, they can't find answers on the Internet and in books, but if you actually live in the woods and see what is happening, you know the problem is monumental... far beyond the annual nesting successes or failures. Poultry disease has killed hundreds of thousands of chickens and turkeys in scattered giant poultry operations in the past few years, and egg-eating predator numbers have soared.

           I personally think that in the Ozarks we need to start a massive drive to eliminate armadillos, skunks, possums, raccoons, feral cats and black snakes.  Again, the average person may not realize how hugely overpopulated these species are.  If you live in the country you know, but young biologists who grew up in city suburbs have no idea of what these species are doing to woodcock, quail and turkey nests.  In woodlands where whippoorwills lay eggs amongst the leaves on the ground, that bird and closely related night hawks and chuck-wills widows are going to soon be nearing extinction in large areas of the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas.

         Last month I attended a wildlife expo in Arkansas where the Game and Fish Commission had a display.  I photographed a big board where they had several options to consider in bringing back bobwhite quail to your land. It doesn’t even mention the control of predation and egg-eating varmints, as if the mention of it will cause an outcry from those who believe all things should go uncontrolled so they can peacefully live unmolested.  I know there are some who have to have proof, so go out into the back forty somewhere and make yourself a little nest and place 6 or 8 chicken eggs in it.  Then set up a game camera and watch what happens.

          I know that few people who live in the country have trapping knowledge, and traps are expensive.  But my family lived on the furs taken by my dad and uncle when they were just small boys too young to use traps.  My grandfather taught them to set deadfalls which eliminated possums, skunks, and wild housecats, and the furs of each brought about 25 to 75 cents, which was a lot of money back then.  If there had been armadillos then, deadfalls would have eliminated more than we have killed on highways today.   Deadfalls are outlawed today just because they can kill small dogs and housecats.  But if you set them in backwoods areas away from developed areas, they are no danger to pets.  The conservation agents of today will never find deadfalls if you do not set them where they can drive a pickup.  They work, and today I feed some pretty good numbers of quail in the winter, increasing little by little.  Up here on Lightnin’ Ridge, blacksnakes, armadillos and small predators that eat eggs are not doing as well.

         But we have a problem now with a long-term reduction of turkey numbers, and a total disappearance of woods-nesting birds like whippoorwills and woodcock.  It is a major problem in a country where small birds are dwindling rapidly, and I do not know if anything can change the trend.  But the MDC better revise turkey seasons down to 10 days in the spring, allow only one gobbler instead of two and eliminate the youth season entirely, where many of the hunters who kill a gobbler or two in the regular season, use kids to get a third one.  My advice to the MDC is to assemble a group of older, experienced turkey hunters from rural areas, perhaps two dozen or more, and ask them what they think the problem is with wild turkeys, and what they think can be done about it.  They won’t do that, but this winter, I might. If you would like to be part of such a meeting let me know. I think that is how you find answers, and if you value the wild turkey to hunt or photograph or just enjoy, some answers need to be found sooner than later.

            While you are here and if you have not already done so, scroll down and read the letter about the telecheck system which is now being used to target deer hunters who take trophy deer heads. From time to time I discuss topics which the MDC doesn’t want known and many newspapers therefore can’t print.
           You can E-mail me at lightninridge47@gmail.com or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Mrs. Kelley and the Sweet ‘Tater Eddy


Mrs. Kelly and her son Teddy, who was killed in WW ll

       Myrtle Kelly was old, probably in her mid-seventies.  That doesn’t seem old now but it did then, when I was only 12 or 13. Like the old men in Dad’s pool hall, Mrs. Kelly was my friend… what a wonderful lady! A kid who spends so much time as I did in a pool hall has lots of friends who are old. I didn’t have many friends my own age. I came from a poor family, didn’t make good grades and wasn’t athletic enough to throw a football or shoot a basketball. Talk about a kid with three strikes against him! But I could fish and hunt and paddle a johnboat, and that made me worth something.

       Mrs. Kelly lived in a little farmhouse about six miles west of town on the best stretch of the Big Piney River. She and her husband Fred had been long-time friends of my grandmother and grandfather. They would set trotlines for catfish on the river, and play cards together and help each other whenever the need was there. Grandpa made sassafras paddles and a wooden johnboat for them every few years and it was kept chained up down on the river.

       When I knew her, Mrs. Kelley was lonely and cranky and sour at times.  She had lost her husband about ten years before, and her one son, Teddy, who had joined the Canadian Royal Air Force in World War Two, was killed piloting a fighter plane over the English Channel.

       I showed up at her little farmhouse often to use her johnboat to fish the river. I would ride my bicycle from home, five or six miles away, down that gravel road which ended at her place, my rod and reel and a handful of old worn-out lures and hooks, sinkers and bobbers tied to the handlebars. Behind her barn I could dig night-crawlers with her pitchfork or acquire some minnows down in the river with one of those old glass minnow traps

       Small and wiry, Mrs. Kelly told me one day, as she met me with a can of night-crawlers, that she was tired of working and decided she would go fishing with me. Cynical and cranky as always, she was the boss in the boat, telling me just where she wanted to fish. If there was one thing I was good at it was handling a johnboat, so she never had to pick up a paddle. For several summers we would go up and down the river and tie up to a log or root wad here and there, hauling in stringers of black perch, goggle-eye and bass.

       I remember with amusement how she had little use for modern ways, nor politicians. She and my grandmother were close, but she had little good to say about my grandfather. She said he was one of the smartest and most talented men she had ever known but he was also the most obstinate and ‘hard-to-get- along-with’ man there ever was on the Piney.  Every now and then she would get a little perturbed by something I did and would shake her head and declare that I was going to be just like him unless she could help me change my ways. But every now and then I would say or do something to make her smile and she would turn her head to make sure I couldn’t see it.

       If I had to ride my bike home after dark then I had to call her and tell her I had made it home safely. I always I insisted on carrying the string of fish up to her barn. I was starting to develop some pretty good shoulders and arms from paddling johnboats, and strong legs from peddling that bicycle. Inside the barn, one summer, I started to show her some new way to clean fish and I saw the tears in her eyes. She told me that I made her think of her son Teddy when he was a young boy.

       When I was 15, Mrs. Kelly’s niece came over from Oklahoma to visit for a week and I took her goggle-eye fishing one summer afternoon. I climbed the hill that evening in love. I had been in love several times since I was in the third grade but that afternoon I had actually talked to the girl I was in love with! Mrs. Kelly looked at our happy faces and went with us on the next couple of fishing trips, probably a wise thing to do.

       Just out of high school at the age of 17, I started to college at School of the Ozarks a week later, but I would come home on summer weekends to guide fishermen on the Piney, or work in the hayfields, and I would usually find time to visit Mrs. Kelly. I brought her some Taneycomo trout a couple of times that summer. She was no longer as enthused about fishing.

       I met a girl named Linda from nearby Cabool that summer and fell in love again. So later, as fall approached, I took Linda to meet Mrs. Kelly, and take her fishing in Grandpa’s johnboat tied up down on the river. I invited Mrs. Kelly to join us but she just shook her head and smiled. She told me that she was getting too old for that.

       “That little boy who paddled me up and down the river has grown up,” she said. “And I didn’t change you a bit. I’m afraid you are going to be Fred Dablemont’s grandson for good.”

       Later, I got a big beautiful photo from Mrs. Kelly in the mail that she had taken without me knowing it, a picture of my girlfriend and I down on the river where I had taken the old lady fishing so often, right near the sweet ‘tater cave. I have it in my office today. A year or so later she passed away and I didn’t get to attend her funeral. It was weeks before I knew it.

       I don’t know if there’s fishing in heaven, but I know that her husband Fred and son Teddy was waiting. And I am sure she isn’t cranky any longer.

Contact me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo or email lightninridge47@gmail.com…. Office phone, 417 777 5227.