Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Canadian cabin with 1985 note from Sam Walton

 sam lived only a few miles from me in north AR in the late 70's and one day i hunted quail with him and old roy, the setter. It wasn't a very good day as far as finding quail, and he didn't say a whole lot. But he impressed me as a common sense person. If he knew what his store was to become, i don't know that he would be happy about lots of it. if he were in charge, there would be changes made at walmart. 
this is a little cabin where i go in canada... the old cabinet has notes left from long ago...these two guys were there in 1985...sounds like Sam was anxious to get home. it is hard to believe believe, but 

Saturday, June 27, 2020


Dennis Whiteside with hard-fighting smallmouth

      We first fished together fifty-some years ago, when we were teenagers in college.  He was from the Current River country around Doniphan, and I had never been far from the Big Piney.  Today Dennis Whiteside is becoming a very popular guide for those who want to float the rivers of the Ozarks to fish for smallmouth or just see the streams before they are only a shadow of what they were.  I still guide a little on Ozark rivers too, but not nearly as often as he does.

      We spent a day on the river a few years back when I did something I had never done… I sat in the front of a canoe made out of something like plastic, or Kevlar or some such nonsense.  We floated not far from you, and the fishing was poor...until about 11:00 a.m. and then it got very good.

      The price we had to pay for such memorable fishing was something lots of folks won't pay nowadays.... we had to endure some mid-day heat that was pretty intense. But despite the heat, there are deeper holes in that river which have hungry bass, and we found them. 
      There was one spot where we left the canoe and I cast below a flowing chute into a deep pool with an old-time black Heddon tadpoly.  I was using a spinning outfit with six pound line, and I felt a strike... missed him somehow.  On the third or fourth cast, something solid nailed it, and I set the hook hard.  I felt the fish lunge deep, and cross the current.  I leaned back on him a little too strong and he snapped the line, taking my tadpoly with him.

      Because I was doing so much moaning about losing the old lure, Dennis came up with the crawdad-looking jig and told me how much luck he had been having with it.   I tied it on my casting reel, with 12-pound line, and began to catch fish on almost every other cast.  Some weren't so big, but some were, and I sat up in front of his canoe and had a ball.

      I am seldom in the front of a canoe or johnboat.  I kidded Dennis about how, when we were young, I taught him how to paddle.  But some people figure it out easily and teach themselves, and they become experts at running any river.  With the days and days that Dennis spends all over the Ozarks on many, many rivers, with paying clients he's about as good as you can get.

      He wanted me to go along that day in that 18-foot, plastic canoe.  He said that it would float shallow, and slide over shoals that an aluminum craft would not easily navigate, something like the old wooden johnboats once did.  It is a far different canoe than the narrow, unstable 17-foot canoes so common on our streams today.  Whiteside's 18-footer is much wider and more stable.  It has no keel, and while that makes it float shallow water a little better, Dennis says that makes it difficult to hold in a wind, less capable of holding a true course because of the absence of the keel.

      From that first experience I had in his canoe, I figure there will be no metal river-floating crafts made in future years, they'll all be made out of plastic.  I would love to see some small river paddle johnboats made out of the stuff, to see how they'd do.  Or, if the companies just knew to put two small plastic keels along the bottom, and square off the stern, they could make an 18-foot canoe that would be great for serious fishermen and rivermen like Dennis and I who want to carry camping gear, camera's etc, and want stability over all else.

           Two days later we floated a long, long, 10-mile stretch of river in my 19-foot square-sterned Grumman and I did the paddling. At the end of the day, I had landed one 20-inch smallmouth and a dozen between 15 and 18-inches.  The fishing was great, but we worked hard for it, and had to paddle through much of the water just to get there by dark.

      The big smallmouth, long but much too slender, was probably short of four pounds, but not by much.  It hit that jig before I had a chance to touch my reel handle, slammed it and took off with it before it began to sink.  I fought it for quite awhile and then released it, as we did all the smallmouth.  As the streams of the Ozarks decline in water quality and begin to fill in, smallmouth become fewer and smaller. If you keep one, you should be ashamed of yourself. Same thing for rock bass. If you want to eat fish keep the Kentuckies (spotted bass) and green sunfish (black perch).

      But I kept a big channel catfish, which hit a small plastic grub about mid-day, and strained the spinning outfit I had gone back to at the time.  It was a fighter, but I got over to a gravel bar and landed it.  I figure it weighed about six pounds, and when I guess the weight of a fish, you can bet it won't weigh much more than that.  "Some things never change", Dennis pointed out, thinking he had never seen me underestimate a fish’s weight.  I reminded him that much HAD changed in more than fifty years. For instance, on that trip, he caught nearly as many fish as I did!

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

A Different Kind of Bait - MDC fish regulations need an overhaul

       I spent a few days on Truman Lake a couple of weeks ago living on my camp-boat. It is a hard-topped pontoon boat, custom-built for me with no furniture on it and attachable canvas-type cover with screened windows and doors built in.  On board I have attached small cabinets and a big box that holds cooking utensils and sleeping bags and air mattresses.  It is a great way to live in something like a camper on the water. I have taken it to several lakes in the Midwest and Canada and it is a great way to get back into the far corners of any kind of water, and be there at dawn and at dusk when the fishing seems to be the best.

     Crappie were spawning on Truman that week, and it wasn't hard to catch a limit. But I wasn't there for crappie. I knew of a small tributary to the lake that rainwater hd swollen to full flow, and it was swarming with white bass. the largest of them were averaging 15- to 16-inches in length. they wee hitting topwater lures and fighting like they thought they were smallmouth bass. I would rather catch a 15-inch white bass on a light action spinning outfit than a half dozen crappie that size. I love to catch them, and I know how easy it is to remove the red meat from a white bass filet so there is nothing left but pure white meat and great eating.

         There was the roar of outboard motors out on the lake, but I fished the small tributary all alone, watching nesting eagles and birds of all kinds, catching and releasing dozens of whites, keeping only the biggest ones.

         Some folks don’t seem to mind fishing in a crowd.  The trout parks show you that.  But I just want to be off somewhere by myself when I am outdoors. I don’t fish where others are fishing. Each evening that week I would return to my camp-boat with a limit of hefty white bass, and often had 18- to 20-inch hybrids in that number too.  I would filet them, and eat quite a few, and put the others on ice.   Out in the middle of a nearby cove, I dumped the cleanings into the lake.

         White bass are not very good to eat if you don’t skim off that layer of red meat between the white meat and the skin.  It is a thin layer and easy to remove with a sharp filet knife.  Then there is a strip of red meat in the center of the filet which I also remove.  That strip is a lot like a six-inch nightcrawler, and I got to thinking what a shame it is that it is thrown away when it appears to be tough enough to use as bait.  Fish and game laws forbid the use of game fish for bait, except for small-sized sunfish.  But if you have pieces of scrap from any fish like that red meat strip, why not use it.

         One night I set a trotline out in the cove for an experiment. With only 18 hooks, I baited half of them with rib cages and the other half with the red meat strips cut from the filets.  The next morning, the nine hooks with the ribs held no fish, but the ones baited with the red meat strips held seven catfish.  There were three smaller channel cat, three- to five- pounds and two small blues that were six- to eight-pounds.  Then there were two big blue catfish, a 40-incher and a 36-incher, pot-bellied and big enough to be a handful to land. 

         Because it was just an experiment and I didn’t have enough ice on board my camp-boat to keep catfish anyway I released them.  I do not know if it would be considered illegal to use the red meat discarded from the white bass as bait but it shouldn’t be, as it is discarded anyway.  I would like very much to trail that red meat strip behind a jig while fishing for bass or walleye.

         So many fish and game regulations are useless and outdated. There should be an overhaul of many of them.  How ridiculous it is that you can use sunfish species for bait only under a certain length.  How the heck does anyone think some of these regulations are going to be enforced with the way today’s agents work?  If you bait a trotline with sunfish a half-inch or an inch too long, no agent today will ever know it.

         People who obey the silliest of the game laws only do so because they want to follow the letter of the law and it is good to do that.  But those who do violate them, probably know they aren’t ever going to be caught.  There is no way a conservation agent could cite someone using that red strip of meat from a white bass unless they took samples to a laboratory to prove it wasn’t from a sucker or a shad or sunfish.  And I wonder why a whole 15-inch yellow sucker is legal for bait and a red strip from the filleted carcass of a white bass wouldn’t be.

         No one is going to use a crappie or walleye or bass for bait.  If you keep any of those fish, you do it to eat them, not use them for bait.  The remaining carcass of any fish ought to be used anyway it can be, rather than to feed over-populated buzzards! Or to pollute boat ramps. Plenty of anglers have learned that if you dump fish cleanings in a regular spot on any river or lake you will attract catfish. According to old laws, that is an illegal form of chumming.  In an earlier column (you can read it if you will scroll down), I about a kind of fish dumping that ought to be ended, but it goes on year after year.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Lady, the Bass and the Memory

Katie Richardson and me

         It was one of the most beautiful smallmouth i ever saw… a deep chocolate brown, with a bulging belly full of eggs, and a length of 23 inches.  I know it was bigger than six-pounds but no one ever weighed it that I know of.  The photo of that enormous smallmouth is old, and it has been in hundreds of newspapers and magazines that have told its story.  I have used it to assure doubters that I really WAS guiding float fishermen on the Big Piney when I was only 12 years old.  There I was standing beside a pretty young lady by the name of Katie Richardson, holding up that big smallmouth while my mom took a Polaroid picture. 

         A couple of weeks ago, Katie Richardson passed away in Houston Missouri, survived by her two sons Joe Jr. and Ross and her favorite fishing guide…me.  Actually I was likely her ONLY fishing guide except for Joe.  I took them on a couple of float trips that year on the Piney.  On the first trip I dumped Joe into the river because we came upon a long limb in swift water that Katie and I could duck under but he couldn’t.  He never held that against me! For all his life I knew Joe Richardson.  He would come to all my swap meets and sometimes recall float trips he had taken with me back when I was a kid with a wooden johnboat and a sassafras paddle. 

         The big smallmouth that Katie Richardson caught was taken in late afternoon from a long stretch of deep flowing water with lots of big rocks and a high steep hillside to the west that shaded the water by two p.m.  It was known as the Ink Stand, just above one of the biggest and deepest eddies on the Piney, the Henry Hayes hole.  I guess the big brownie had come upstream from there looking for doughgut minnows, and when she saw that dark-colored midget-didget lure that was wobbling along on the end of Mrs. Richardson’s braided line she made perhaps the only mistake she had made in twenty years of patrolling the Piney’s clear waters. You could see the fish was a monster, and about all Katie could do was hang on.  Joe kept telling her to just let the fish fight and keep the line tight.  She did it right.

         I had no dip net, so I crunched the back end of my johnboat on the gravel bank behind us and got out in the water about waste deep.  I made a grab at the bass when it came by me the third or fourth time and got it. It was a miracle that a hook didn’t get caught in my jeans causing her to lose it.  Miracles sometime happen. 
         That day Joe gave me the biggest tip I had ever been given as a river guide.  But Katie Richardson’s smile was worth just as much.  She was a quiet, sweet lady I never will forget, though I don’t think I ever saw her again after that summer until a few years ago when I visited her and Joe in a nursing home in Houston and you know of course, that the big smallmouth came up.  Joe died soon after and now Katie has joined him, a great reunion in heaven I am sure.

I hope to gosh that I go to heaven too, 'cause I’d like to take her and Joe on another float trip on a river like the Big Piney was then, but never will be again.
In the years since that old photo was taken, I have taken hundreds of couples on river float trips on dozens of rivers in Missouri and Arkansas, but none ever caught a smallmouth close to that one. 

Once, I once caught a smallmouth bass from an Ozark river that almost weighed six- pounds.  She was 22 inches long and I put that big fish back in the water with no way to weigh it. I know that it was almost six pounds, but not quite.  I have caught only 2 or 3 from the Ozark streams that weighed better than 5 pounds, but I have caught several in Canada. Someone like me never knows what a smallmouth weighs because I never keep one out of the water more than a minute or so for a picture.  Back when I took Joe and Katy and others in the 1960’s no one ever turned back a bass caught on the river that weighed more than a pound.  Folks ate fish back then.

         It’s funny but there are quite a few smallmouth caught in Canadian Wilderness Lakes that will weigh six pounds and they are like bulging footballs that never reach a length greater than 20 inches.  But few people who catch them realize they were not in those Canada waters until they were stocked there about 120 years ago.  Ozark brown bass are longer and never as round. They are as native to Ozark streams as mink and muskrat.  But there are about half the number there were back when I was a kid, paddling Joe and Katy down the Piney.
         What memories I have when I look at that photo of me standing beside that pretty lady and the big bass, not realizing then how fast 60 years would go by.  This week I am going to float a river not far from my home, catch a few smallmouth and think about the time Katy fought the big bass and won, at a place where dark waters flowed, a place known then as the Ink Stand. 

Friday, May 29, 2020


All of Larry's books and past issues of THE LIGHTNIN' RIDGE OUTDOOR JOURNAL can now be viewed and/or purchased by going to his web site There is also a way to view and/or donate his upcoming book, THE TRUTH ABOUT THE MISSOURI CONSERVATION

Fish Guts

Carcasses and guts, flies and buzzards... a popular launching ramp that stinks all summer. Corps of Engineers apparently can't do anything about it. 

            I believe that we all should give maximum effort to leaving the outdoors and the world around us as natural and as clean as possible.  Why are there so many who just don’t seem to give a darn?  One of the most disgusting things I have ever seen at an Ozark Lake is at the launching ramp on Truman Lake at a site known as Fairfield.  The history of that place is interesting.  The lake covered a small, old-days village by that name, a few buildings and a post office. There is a campground and small store north of the boat ramp about a mile.  There are several summer homes and likely two-dozen permanent camper-vehicles there and the campground owner has a place to clean fish there.

carcasses on top and underneath the water next to launching ramp
             Each day someone with all those fish cleanings comes down and dumps them at the ramp.  It stinks something terrible in the summer, and as the water drops, you actually step on dead and rotting fish carcasses when you get out of your pickup to launch or load your boat.  All around there are buzzards feeding on those decomposing fish carcasses, entrails and skins and flies. There were 18 there last week. I kind of wonder, why does the Corps of Engineers permit this?  

          Last week I was there in the late evening when the guy arrived in a pick-up to dump two or three buckets of guts and carcasses. He backed his pickup down to the end of the ramp and emptied them.  I asked him why and he told me he was doing it for the campground owner.  He said he did it every day when the people living at the campground clean their fish at the owners designated fish cleaning station. It makes a mess at the campground; therefore it has to be dumped in the lake.

I could not believe people would actually choose to sit at the dumping site next to the ramp... the smell was horrendous
           Of course, all that needs to be done to keep the launching ramp clean is for someone to take those buckets of dead fish out a half-mile into the lake to dump the carcasses each evening in a boat, where they would sink and be eaten by scavenger fish.  Either it is just too much trouble or maybe the campers there like the stink and the flies and the buzzards.  But someone is opening themselves up to a lawsuit from someone who wants to make lots of money. This isn’t just a health hazard.  Last week I saw a man get out of his pickup to launch his boat and he slipped and fell.  What made him slip?  A rotting fish carcass twenty feet up the ramp! With me and others as a witness, all he has to do is find a lawyer.

            The campground owner says he has nothing to do with this, that the dumper who says he does that for him is lying. It would be easy for the Corps to find out who is responsible, who is lying and who isn’t.   A retired Corps of Engineers Ranger I once hunted and fished with doubts what I am writing here, saying that one of the Rangers for the Corps says it happens at lots of launching ramps.  I am doubting that.  I challenge the Corps to show me photos at any ramp that comes anywhere close to that mess at Fairfield.  I have been to lots of launching ramps and I do not see that on any scale close to this.  Instead of thanking me for pointing out a problem, they’ll be mad at me for this column, like that old friend of mine saying I am basically uninformed. I don’t think they will want to do anything about it, from what I am told, because their offices are many many miles away and the problem is out of sight.  Out of their sight…but for hundreds of fishermen who used that ramp over Memorial Day, it was a part of their experience at Truman Lake, and no one should have to put up with it. 

            While the campground owner denies he knows anything about this, it isn’t something that results from a few fishermen cleaning fish at the ramp. It is a wonder is that there are such people in this world who would do this, whoever it is to blame.
As to the Corps of Engineers, they have a regulation that walking their shore and finding an arrowhead is unlawful.  They aren’t going to enforce that, but if you get caught by a Ranger out on the lakeshore with a metal detector and you are going to hear about it.   Apparently there is no law against piling up fish carcasses night after night at a Corps boat ramp. What would make them do something to find answers and end the slime and rot and stench at the Fairfield launching ramp?  Right now you can stand at the ramp and count 50 or 60 carcasses.  They should either erect a sign saying…”Do not dump fish here.”  Or maybe… “Do not dump more than 100 fish carcasses and entrails here at one time!”
            If this bothers you as much as me… please send this column to the address of any Corps office you can find. First, see the photos I have taken. Go to, or to my website,
If you would like to give me heck for writing this, thinking it is no big thing and should just be ignored  (as the corps does)… just email or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

An Uneventful Turkey Hunt…a Spectacular Turkey

A seven bearded gobbler

         I guess in most ways he was an easy gobbler. I can’t say there haven’t been many, many others that were more of a challenge.  From his spurs it was apparent that he was old. But then so am I.  On opening day I was too sleepy to get out of bed, so I didn’t hear him gobbling on the roost.  The night before I had been writing very late so I was still sleepy when I threw my old shotgun over my shoulder and headed for the woods after 8 a.m.  I went down through the woods with the sun climbing high and found a few mushrooms, and then about a half mile away I heard a gobble, and then another.  Even someone who has hunted wild turkey for 50 years gets excited about hearing an old tom on opening day.  I will always head for a wild gobbler’s call like a beagle pup on the trail of a rabbit.

         When I got to the little wooded knoll I thought was close enough, I could actually see two gobblers in a little opening about 200 yards away, courting 5 or 6 hens.  What a sight it was, those toms all huffed up with tails spread and heads blood red in the bright sunlight that found its way through the branches of surrounding oaks.  Well as any grizzled old veteran turkey hunter knows, there are times when calling a gobbler is a waste of time, because he can see the hens before him, and one off in the distance that he can only hear just isn’t of much interest to him.  If he has a shapely young female in a bikini right there in front of him, telling him what a handsome rascal he is and enticing him to come closer, he sure isn’t going to leave her and go check out a distant call from some hen that might be old, fat and ugly!

         On a few occasions over the years I have called in a small group of hens, 2 or 3 usually who have been followed by gobblers.  That is rare, but it can happen.  So I got settled up against a log with some buckbrush before me and gave forth some of the most enticing turkey calling you can imagine, apparently sounding like one of those fat and ugly old hens.  The show out there before me was something to see, a turkey flock orgy of sorts that made me plumb ashamed to be watching.  It was about 10 a.m. when I just gave up and leaned back against that log and dozed off.  I didn’t know I was so tired.  I woke up about 11: 30.  Maybe it was a lusty gobble that woke me up.  The two old toms were about 30  yards closer than they had been and there wasn’t a hen in sight.

         This is where I might brag on my ability as a turkey caller you know.  But I only called once. I doubt if it had much affect, they were coming straight as a string. They just ambled toward me, pecking here and there, not strutting at all.  At 70 or 80 yards they stopped and gobbled in unison, and if you’ve hunted spring gobblers I expect you have seen that too, on occasion.  They did that one more time when they were about 45 yards away.  I couldn’t tell one from the other so I just picked out a red and blue and white target and it was all over as the shotgun blast interrupted the peaceful forest landscape.

          So there I was waiting for the gobbler I had chosen to stop flopping, watching his buddy hotfoot it in a big curve through green grass into a green woodland. 
         I had found a few mushrooms, had a good long nap and was heading home before noon with a hefty gobbler over my shoulder.  I don’t know why I hadn’t paid much attention to the beard, but it was two hours later, when I hoisted the gobbler in my basement to be dressed out, that I saw his beard, and another and another and another.  THERE WERE SEVEN OF THEM!!  The longest was 11 inches long, and the combined length of all seven beards was 49 inches.  The tom weighed 21 pounds and had spurs that were one and a quarter inches long.  You can see his  picture on my blogspot and on Lightnin’ Ridge facebook page, or on my website...   A friend of mine was amazed at that tom turkey.  He said that with the Wild Turkey Federation’s record book, my gobbler would  likely score in the top five!  That’ll be the day… if I start trying to score a wild turkey, somebody come and declare me an idiot and have me locked in my storage shed.  Never will I use a wild creature in such a way.  I may have it taxidermyized just to prove it really did have seven beards.   But to tell the truth I have had much more exciting turkey hunts.  If you don’t believe it, read about many of them in my book, ‘The Greatest Wild Gobblers’.  In the 80’s I wrote an article for Outdoor Life magazine entitled, “The Gobbler Across the Gulch.”  I reprinted it in that book.  Now there was a gobbler to remember.  But he only had one beard.

Next week… A spring outdoor quiz for the ‘Master Naturalists” and a story about fishing in solitude.

Friday, April 24, 2020

That’s Crazy

         Next week, I am going to spend several nights on some lake in my camp-boat and hunt turkeys.  I intend to take a long my johnboat to use for fishing. I will set a trotline, hunt mushrooms and arrowheads, and pretty rocks, catch bass etc.  I may ignore crappie because I catch all of them I want in late April and May at night under lights… and white bass and walleye too.  Now do any of you have any better plans than that?  It is social distancing at its best. 

         Hunting rocks is a great hobby of mine for which I am often looked upon as crazy.  But once when I lived down in Arkansas I went to Bull Shoals lake and filled up my boat with beautiful rocks and in 3 or 4 trips I had my pickup weighed down with them.  Most were only a few inches long but some were larger, up to 10 pounds perhaps.  The next day I packed a suitcase with another shirt and pants and headed for Iowa.  If you had seen me with that pickup sagging in the back you would have said I was crazy then too.  

         But the next day I drove to every fish and aquarium shop I could find and sold that pickup full of rocks for a little better than 800 dollars.  It doesn’t sound like much money but in the early 80’s it wasn’t to be sneezed at.  I did the same thing a couple of times in Illinois. Not once did I bring home a single rock. Aquarim shops went nuts for them.  I told them they were imported from somewhere in Africa. In Harrison, Arkansas I stopped at a local filling station and the attendant, who knew me, said, “Dablemont, you are Crazy!!  So I have gotten use to being called that. 

         Today you could do the same thing on about any Ozark lake, but I found out it is illegal, so be careful; some Corps Ranger might haul you in for aggravated rock-stealing. At the same time, I got a permit to take a whole load of dead cedar poles from Bull Shoals to an Omaha Nebraska landscaper.  You wouldn’t believe how much he paid for them.  He was just as crazy as I was, and the people that paid him for those were even crazier.  On Bull Shoals alone there is a million dollars worth of cedar logs, beautifully white and silver colored, dead since the 1950’s and some of the prettiest decorative fencing you ever saw.  Sounds crazy, but it is true.

         Outdoorsmen are often accused of being crazy.  For instance, what is crazier than setting in some bushes, risking ticks and copperheads, scraping on a little box with a shotgun in your lap and some green and black paint smeared from one ear to the other?  That fits many hunters and from the mid-seventies into the nineties, I made a bunch of money taking those crazy people turkey hunting and camping here and there each spring.

         Often, you will call in a big old wild gobbler and he will start flopping around on the ground and another one will run to him and start fighting with him.  I had to kick one off my dying turkey once and he kept coming back.  I remember telling some of the guys at the pool hall what I had seen and they said I was crazy!  They said the same thing when I told them I had called in a gobbler by with a squeaking gate hinge on my neighbor’s farm.  Heck, when you see a tom turkey trying to escape by sticking his head and neck through an old hog-wire fence in the woods that he could just jump over, you realize that turkeys are as crazy as hunters.

          I am quite sure that as I roam the woods this week hunting wild turkeys with a shotgun in one hand and my camera in the other, I will see some things that will make me think, ‘now that is crazy’.  If I find mushrooms, I will give most of them away.  But if I find a rock that is something special, I won’t give it to nobody.  And if you want to see some of the very best I have ever found, come up here on Lightnin’ Ridge and you can see them scattered all over the place and in my office too.  I’ve got a dandy on my dresser!  I will give away wild turkey meat, mushrooms and fish by the dozens, but no one can have my rocks.  Sounds crazy doesn’t it. Sometime soon I will write a column about how to make bass jump in your boat.  I have done it many, many times, but when I write about it readers think I am crazy.

         Well, this week most of the suburban outdoor writers will be writing about how to hunt turkeys. But not me, because if you need to read about how to do something as easy as hunting and killing a wild gobbler, you probably ought to be hunting rocks instead.  Besides that, there are to many turkey hunters out there, and trying to create more of them seems crazy to me.

         If you want to read a couple of really good turkey hunting stories, and fishing stories too, get your hands on one of my spring magazines… The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, on sale in many stores with magazine racks.  Or call my secretary, Ms. Wiggins, at 417-777-5227, and she’ll send you one.  My new website is and you can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

What Birds is Worthless and What Ones Ain’t

goose nesting above the river about 20 feet over the water in sycamore tree.

         The virus hasn’t made life much different for me because how I live now is not much different than I have always lived.  Up here on this isolated ridgetop I call Lightnin’ Ridge, the highest point in this county, I have to spend a lot of time watching the birds that come to Gloria Jean’s bird feeders. It is part of my job because I take it upon myself to try to shoot all the brown-headed cowbirds I see.  I sit there beside my Labrador on my screened porch, which is up about 6 feet off the ground, looking out into the branches of oaks, hickories and walnuts wondering when the orioles will get here, or what kind of wren that little bird on the ground might be.  But in almost 30 years of that, I have never seen wood ducks there before.  

         About two weeks ago, a hen wood duck lit on one of the big limbs about ten yards away from my rockin’ chair.  In short order a beautiful drake joined her.  In a minute or so they flew into another tree, then another and then another.  It went on for 20 minutes or so, as they moved just north of my office to the pond I built there about 25 years ago.  In the fall, groups of wood ducks have used that pond, but none have ever nested nearby that I can remember.  Those two were indeed looking for a hollow tree to nest in.  Every time they moved to another tree the drake was just a follower.  The hen was the one doing the searching.  She had an eye on that pond, perhaps because there is corn spread along the shore quite often.  Dozens of doves feed there at times, and my place is a haven for nesting doves. I have seen doves nest on large tree limbs, in head-high bushes and on the ground in thickets. 
         Hordes of squirrels start using the hollow trees on my place in February to bring off their litters and three species of owls nest in them as well; the little ones, the medium ones and the big ones.  You know what species of owls I am talking about it if you are a woodsman or an ornithological enthusiast  (bird lover).  Too danged many raccoons have dens for their young on my tract of woodland, and there are pileated woodpeckers, flying squirrels and honeybees in other hollowed out trees.  Most of those cavities used as nurseries are in trees that are alive, not dead.  There are lots of them, but I sure hope the wood duck hen found one she likes.  If she did, I think there will be some little baby woodies on my pond soon. 
         Here’s a question some of you who have earned your master naturalist certificates in recent years.  True or False… Woodies can and do raise broods two or three miles from water!  True or False… They are the only waterfowl in the Ozarks that will nest in a hollow tree! Then answer this one… baby wood ducks leave the nest shortly after hatching.  That makes them which of the following… altricial or precocial.  While you are at it, name those three owl species which nest on my ridgetop.  And why would a lifetime professional naturalist  ( I wrote that ‘professional’ with in a humorous vein), kill a brown headed cowbird?   Answers later in this column.

         I shot a big old black snake yesterday only a short distance down one of my trails.  He was between 7 feet and 20 feet long!  I only shoot black snakes, copperheads and the occasional water snake in my pond.  Please keep that between us because it is illegal, according to our conservation department, to kill any snake or anything else that they do not mention in their rules booklet.  On a Lebanon radio station a game warden always ended his program with the words, “Remember, if we don’t say you can… you can’t”

         But black snakes, which can slither into any nesting cavity and climb any tree, eat bird eggs and kill baby birds by the dozens, in the spring, and baby rabbits.  My naturalist daughter Christy, who is a science and biology teacher, says that black snakes are valuable mouse eaters, to which I reply that I own enough mouse traps to kill every mouse between my sheds and hers without the help from black snakes.  Besides, a white-footed deer mouse is not anything like a house mouse and should be considered native wildlife. They are important food to owls and other predators that don’t eat bird eggs and baby rabbits!  If you are someone who falls into the class of tree-hugger or fern-feeler  (non-professional would-be naturalists) and you like snakes, I will bring you some of the three I named above.

         As to the questions above… altricial birds are those which have to take care of, and feed their young after hatching.  Precocial birds have fledglings which immediately leave the nests and feed themselves. When I was young, I was precocial! The three owls are… little—screech owls.  Medium—barred owls. Large—Great Horned Owls.  Brown headed cowbirds kick out eggs in another bird nest and lay their eggs in that nest.  They are a parasitic bird known to have done their evil work to more than 200 species of birds.  And lastly, woodies have been know to nest in hollow trees 3 or 4 miles from water, and hooded mergansers also nest in hollow trees near water.  So do some Canada geese, high in hollow trees right over the water.  Many won’t believe that but I have photos. 
Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, mo or email me at  My website, where you can see and order one or more of my 10 books or issues of my outdoor magazine, is found on the computer at 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Another kind of Hunting

         It is ‘mushroom’ week here in my area of the Ozarks.  I found the first ones on the second day of April, which is unusual because the average time of eruption over the years has been about 10 to14 days into the month.  I have what I call an ‘indicator tree’.   It is a big ash tree on my place where the very first mushrooms appear each spring, and over a two-week period in past years it has produced from 20 to 35 mushrooms. 

         I found three there a few days back and I know that it will have more.  Then about a week later there will be mushrooms sprouting up on Truman Lake, about 30 miles north of me as the crow flies.  A week or so later there will be mushrooms to find in north Missouri.

         Folks get excited about finding extremely large morels.  I have found one about 12 inches tall with a diameter of nearly 4 inches.   BUT… I am usually in southern Canada on some lake that first week of June, and there, when you find morels, they AVERAGE 10 or 12 inches.  I have found morels there that were 15 inches tall.  I never look for them in Canada; you just find them along the lakeshore here and there.  Some years though you never see one.  But when they are there, they are very big.

          I recommend that if you have never found morel mushrooms, you begin looking for them around very large ash trees.  Ash trees send out long large roots which may curve around as far as 15-feet from the trunk. The tops of those roots stick up out of the ground.  Mushrooms grow up all around those roots.  But over the years I have found morels in cedar groves where larger cedars grow, around big sycamores along waterways, around open areas where May apples bloom, under dogwoods, and… well heck, I have found them in what we jokingly refer to as a ‘lawn’ around my house up here on Lightnin’ Ridge. 

         They grow where nature puts them.  Along small streams I have found them on gravel bars and on a sand bar beneath maple trees.  Those sandbar morels are worthless because there are tiny grains of sand all throughout the indentions and actually inside the meaty part of the mushroom, and you cannot get them out.  When you fry them and bite into one, you are chewing on grains of sand.

         The funny thing about finding morels a little early this spring is that everything that blooms is blooming a little later than usual.  But I am not just going to look for and eat mushrooms around my wooded ridgetop in April.  I will fry up some pokeweed leaves, (only the young small ones) and some cow pasley (parsley to educated folks) lamb’s quarter and crows foot, and make some sweetened sassafras tea out of the roots of small sassafras saplings. If you want to try those plants, look them up on a computer or in a book so you can identify them and learn how to eat them.  If you get ahold of hemlock, which is similar, it can kill you!

         Later in the summer there will be raspberries, and blackberries and mulberries up here within a hundred yards of my home and office, and then in the fall, persimmons, pawpaws, walnuts, and more mushrooms of one type or another.  I built a pond twenty-five years ago to water ridge-top wildlife and it is full of fish and bullfrogs.  All around me there are squirrels, rabbits, quail, turkey and deer.  If the time comes that city supermarkets don’t open or they don’t have food, the natural market allowing survival is right outside the door.  Many country people can say the same thing.

         This week I will eat fried mushrooms until I get sick of them.  And I will give away a bunch as well.  If you want to come and hunt them with me you can, as long as you wear a mask and raincoat and stay 10 feet from me! 

         I might mention that in May and June, when those orange day-lillies are blooming everywhere, that if you collect a bunch of the buds before they bloom, you can roll them in egg and flour and fry them like mushrooms.  Great eating!  They are known by country folks as ‘poor man’s asparagus’. Which means, I guess, that you can fix them like you fix asparagus.  I ain’t never done that… but I may try it this summer.  

         I want to caution prospective mushroom hunters that there is a large rusty-red mushroom known as beef-steak mushrooms that are often found even earlier than morels, and many people slice them and fry them too.  They may be found as big as a basketball and even bigger.  But while some folks eat them with no problem, others get very sick from them.  I don’t know why.  But heck, there are some folks who get sick from eating too many morels, so if  you are a first time mushroom hunter, do this… eat only a small amount of either at first.  Find out if you have a mushroom tolerant system.
 Beefsteak mushroom

                        Beefsteak mushroom
                               at a distance

         Some folks is different than us normal folks, I’ve heered.  I once knew an old boy at the pool hall that got sick ever’time he ate baked ‘possums and another feller who was allergic to peekans and walnuts!!