Friday, March 20, 2020

Register My Land?

 A doe and her yearling fawn died several days after being entrapped in an unattended MDC feral-hog trap
         I have to begin this week’s column by saying that we have had to cancel the outdoorsman’s swap meet to be held in Bolivar this coming Saturday because of the coronavirus panicdemic.  But I do intend to have it sometime later in the year, maybe May or June.

         I send this column to lots of newspapers and therefore get quite a few letters from readers.  Most of them a few months ago were about the feral hog problem.  Now I am getting letters from landowners who are really upset about new requirements the Missouri Department of Conservation has instigated, making necessary to register your land with them before you can get free landowner tags to hunt deer and turkey on your own land.  The news media is really avoiding discussing this, and there is much I have learned about it that I cannot write about because most newspapers can’t print it.  But sources I have out of the Jefferson City MDC offices, people who provided that page on how the department was using the telecheck system in questionable enforcement packages a couple of years ago, have weighed in on this.

         Here is what I was told… first of all; making rural people upset is of little worry to the MDC because city supporters and suburbanites are the people they are most concerned about.  That’s where the votes are, in case the 1/8 percent sales tax is ever in question.

         Secondly, years ago the MDC wanted to eliminate free landowner permits to anyone owning less than 80 acres.  The outcry was tremendous.  I spoke at landowner meetings around the state that year helping to organize opposition to it.  In Cuba, Houston, Nevada, Bolivar, Buffalo, Salem, Gainesville and other small towns, I spoke to crowds of 60 to 200 people about forming a Common Sense Coalition to try to do something about the way the MDC was beginning to change all the rules to increase revenue.  More than 300 people packed an auditorium in Mt. Grove to angrily state they wouldn’t put up with it.  In the face of that, the MDC backed down.  But not for long.  Plans were just delayed.

         My source says this…. The powers that be feel they need more deer and turkey tag revenue, so they are going to get to that 80 acres mark they wanted by stages.  In a couple of years they will require that landowners own 40 acres or more to get the free tags, then in 2024 or 2025 they will step it up to the 80-acre limit they wanted years ago.  He said that there is nothing anyone can do to keep this from happening, and through something he calls ‘political autonomy’ provided to the MDC when the 1/8 cent tax was passed decades ago, the Missouri Legislature cannot change what the MDC is doing. 

         If I understood him correctly, registering your land with the MDC makes it easier for enforcement personnel to enter your land, and though they cannot come into your home, they can be there to casually look into barns and sheds if your land is registered with them.  There is much gray area with what the registration involves that no landowners understand.

         Several letters I have received from hunters say that if they cannot get the free landowners permits because they refused to register their land, they will hunt without it, and never buy another permit of any kind.  I myself have never willingly broke any law, but I am NOT registering my land, and I WILL hunt wild turkey this spring on my own place as I have always done.  I think this is a poorly-thought-out idea they have come up with and I think it will someday be repealed if it does not provide more revenue, and continues to turn landowners and country people against the MDC.  Their feral hog policies have already turned a log of rural people against them.  Their traps set for hogs kill deer and other wildlife, and photos circulating that show suffering injured deer in those traps do them no good whatsoever.  And truthfully, they cannot much change the feral hog problem with what they are doing. It will thin the numbers, but they will come back, and they will never keep landowners from shooting hogs on their land when they can.
         I have a new website now where I can talk more about what is going on in the Department of Conservation, and if you would like to see some of those dying deer in hog traps, go to that website,  I will also print there many of the letters outdoor and country people cannot get printed in state newspapers.  Contact me at or call me at 417 777 5227.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

“The Truth About the Missouri Department of Conservation”

  “The Truth About the Missouri Department of 

       I think it is time to do this, too many people are saying, how do we fight back against the corruption of the Missouri Department of Conservation, the bullying of innocent people by some agents who lie, steal and plant evidence that allows them to come into homes and violate the law. Sometime this year I will publish this book, which will name some names and tell the blind supporters of the MDC what they do not know, and how the MDC keeps it hidden by controlling the state's media. I will make it available free of charge. But I need help. It will cost a lot of money to print i, and get a copy to each state legislator. MDC will tell everyone I am doing it to make money....but this will cost me thousands, and I am glad to pay it.  If you would like to help pay some of the printing cost to Corning Printing out of AR, you can make a donation for this purpose to:  LROJ Books-Corning Printing Account, Box 22, Bolivar, MO  65613. We will place it in a special account which I cannot draw from and every two dollars we get will print a book. I'll get no money for this effort. Every donation will make it possible to get the book into the hands of people who think the MDC is a wonderful agency. My book will hopefully change their minds. After it is published, we will re-form an organization of people who are fed up and want to fight back. We need a thousand members to start making a difference. Contact me to help get the book finished and circulated, and please spread this to your friends.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Lyin’est Fish in the River!

         I love to fish for white bass this time of year, mostly because sooner or later I can catch them on topwater lures with ultra-lite gear. Now that is fishing! There’s a million places to find them, and that’s what pleases me the most, is finding a passel of white bass where no one else knows they are, and fishing all alone with the ambience of spring all around, and female white bass on the prowl. I like being alone because I don’t want somebody telling his buddies, “I saw that outdoor writer guy fishing way up the river and he was talking to the fish he caught.”
         Something like that doesn’t mean a fisherman is loopy. I often congratulate a white bass for putting up such a great fight.  You don’t want to talk to fish when there are people around. When I release a big 3- or 4-pound female full of eggs, I might tell her, “I will turn you loose, but you got to promise you won’t go down there below the shoal and tell other fish I am up here!!”  It isn’t that I think the fish will comply with my request.  A female white bass is one of the lyingest fish there ever was!  You can’t explain to another fisherman that you aren’t really expecting her to not spill the beans on you.  They’ll think you are nuttier than a pecan pie.  But white bass are a lot like people… they love to eat during the spawning season and won’t listen to any warnings.  So even if you release a few, the fishing remains good.
         The best time to really fill up the boat with white bass is in the last hour or so before sunset, when tree frogs are singing and you can smell the river.  If you don’t know that smell and can’t hear those tree frogs right now you have not spent enough time outdoors in March and April.  Have you ever found that spot all by yourself where big fat female white bass with blue fins, just dripping eggs, are crowding a pool below a shoal and engulfing topwater lures.  At times like that 2 or 3 other whites may follow each one you catch all the way to your boat?  Have you ever hung two white bass on one lure?  Have you ever been convinced that a white bass in a current was a six-pound fish?  If so it is alright to brag.  That’s light tackle fishing at it’s best.  But it is even better if you go to hard-to-find places and find the whites where no one else knows where they are.
         The way water conditions change from spring to spring you don’t know if white bass fishing at its best will be found at the same time and the same places as you found it last year or the year before, but I have found that verse in the Bible can be applied to fishing… seek and you shall find!
On occasion I find hybrids in amongst the white bass.  Hybrids are made with the roe of a striped bass male and the eggs of a female white bass, put together in hatcheries and released by fisheries biologist.  When you aren’t suspecting to find them, that 6-pound fish you think you have tied into might actually be one.  When you start hooking hybrids, which may weigh up to 10 or 12 pounds, light tackle just isn’t enough.  Tie on a lure you don’t mind losing.
         When the suburban outdoor writers write about white bass, you get the stuff you can find on the internet… what you have read about them a thousand times.  And not many of them will tell you a white bass is great eating.  But they certainly are… if you filet them properly and remove all the red meat completely and totally.  I’ll guarantee you I can fry them so that that most people will think they are eating crappie fillets.  I now have a new website ( which I use to print columns newspapers are not willing to print.  And I will put step-by-step photos on it showing how to remove all the red meat.

Our Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet on March 21 in Bolivar, MO is going to be a big one… details of that is also on my new website.  If you want to sell a few items or a bunch of items, just bring a table and show up before 7 a.m. that Saturday morning.  It is all free to vendors, no admission charged.  I hope to meet lots of my readers there. Contact me via email… or call my office… 417 777 5227, if you need information.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Truth About the Missouri Department of Conservation

         I think it is time to do this. Too many people are saying, “How do we fight back against the corruption of the Missouri Department of Conservation, the bullying of innocent people by agents who lie, steal and plant evidence the allows them to come into homes and violate the law.” Sometime this year I will publish this book, which will name some names and tell the blind supporters of the MDC what they do not know, and how the MDC keeps it hidden by controlling the state’s media. I will make it available free of charge. But I need help.
         It will cost a lot of money to print and get a copy to each state legislator. MDC will tell everyone I am doing it to make money…but this will cost me thousands, and I am glad to pay it. If you want to help, you can mail a donation for this purpose to: LROJ
Corning Printing Acct., Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613. We will place all donations in a special account, which I cannot draw from. Every $2 we get will print a book.  I’ll get no money for this effort. Every donation will make it possible to get the book into the hands of people who think the MDC is a wonderful agency. My book will change their minds. After it is published, we will re-form an organization of people who are fed up and want to fight back. We need a thousand people in this organization to start making a difference.
         Contact me to help get the book finished and circulated, and please spread this to your friends.  Larry Dablemont

Monday, March 2, 2020

A Swap Meet Like No Other

       If you are reading this column, you may not know who I am but I have been an outdoor writer for a long, long time and there are many newspapers using this weekly column of mine, often as many as 40 or 50. I write outdoor books and I publish a magazine known as the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal. In early days I wrote hundreds of articles for outdoor magazines, including Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, Sports Afield and many others.

       My first article for Outdoor Life, entitled “Old Paint… the Story of a Wooden Johnboat” was published in 1972… and I wrote it when I was 19. It won an award as the best national outdoor magazine article of that year, and was published in the book, “Best Sport Stories of 1972”! I have a B.S. degree from the University of Missouri in wildlife management and after college I was the outdoor editor for Arkansas’ largest newspaper for many years.  But I seldom met the people who read what I wrote.

        Years ago I wanted to do something which would especially allow me to meet with some of the people who read this column, so we started a once-a-year, free swap meet at a church gymnasium in Brighton, Mo.  It got bigger and bigger, to a point where we couldn’t hardly fit everyone in the gym, so this year we have doubled the size of the space available, and will have it at a place known as the Complex in Bolivar, Mo.  
       The Complex is big… two basketball courts placed end to end where I imagine we could accommodate 75 to 80 vendors and perhaps 2000 people.  So if you have outdoor gear of any kind or anything else to sell, you need to contact me so I can set up a place for you. If you don’t sell it at our swap meet, you may never sell it.

       It will be held on March 21, the third Saturday in March.  The Complex is on a road long known as Mt. Gilead road, the one that goes to the Golf Course. That road is also known as East 455 and it begins almost directly across from the local Wal-Mart store at the south end of Bolivar.  I want to have folks come from all over the Midwest to spend most of the day with us.  As I said, our swap meet is free… free to anyone who wants to come and find some great buys, and free to someone who wants to pick out a space to set up and sell about anything.  In this day and time, not many things are free.  Of course it would be impossible to list all the things you will find there for sale.  Antiques are always plentiful, I saw a 90-year old lure sell for 3 dollars once that was likely worth 20 times that much. There will also be lots of hunting guns, many of them antiques as well. The one thing we always have enormous numbers of is fishing lures, rods and reels, tackle boxes, etc. There will be several tables with items for ladies, like jewelry, glassware, etc. Even a 110-piece set of china will be on sale! 

       One booth will have wildlife art, another will have wooden gifts of all kinds, and taxidermists will have mounts for sale, big bass, deer heads, etc.  This year we will also have a 19-foot Grumman square stern canoe, which I will let go to the highest bidder.

       A friend of mine from Colorado will bring some deer antler and elk antler chandeliers that are beautiful.  You can also get one of my turkey calls made from western cedar that I make myself and at the last few swap meets I sold for ten dollars apiece. This year I will give those little calls away free, to whomever wants one, as long as they last. Several big, old gobblers have told me they are the best calls ever made. 

       I will also have all ten of my books there, including the new one, and will be giving away some back issues of my magazines that you might enjoy reading. 

       I have flyers printed up and would like to have help getting them spread around… need some volunteers who might help with that. I can send them to you in the mail. Our swap meet will start in the morning at eight and continue until one o’clock and there is a big separate concession area almost like a cafĂ© with tables for coffee and breakfast early and then dinner at noon---sandwiches and pizza by 11 a.m.     
       Remember this is an INDOOR swap meet and it is free for vendors and visitors alike. Bring some friends and join us.  And if you only have a few things to sell; bring them… perhaps an old shotgun that needs a stock repaired, or an old tackle box with lures that you’ll not use anymore, or an old tent or Coleman stove, or maybe a boat or canoe…. Whatever!  We will set it up for you next to my table and help you sell it.  Contact my office to get a map or reserve space, phone 417 777 5227, or email me at  Sure hope I get to meet many of you then.

Emergence of the March 1 Species

Sam Yarnall
         I have written a lot about trout fishing over the years, some of it I have done on a limited basis in the west, lots of it I have enjoyed in the White River of Arkansas where you can catch big post-spawn brown trout now.   And I have written about trout fishing in Lake Taneycomo when I was just a kid going to School of the Ozarks College, which sits on a bluff above it.

         But the opening day of trout season over the years, when thousands mass together on March 1 to stand shoulder to shoulder with a fishing permit pinned to their hat, waiting for a whistle to tell them when to start fishing… that does not appeal to me in the least.  Not that I don’t approve, I do.  I am happy to see such a social event for that sub-species of fishermen.  But you couldn’t catch me doing that for anything in the world…

         I suppose I ought to give a reason.  Well, several years ago fishing all by myself up a tributary to Truman Lake, I caught a seven-pound walleye on March first and there wasn’t anything within ten miles but me and the river and its creatures.   Only a few years back, a friend and I fished a river on March 1 and caught and released 86 smallmouth bass, a third of which were between 2 and 3 pounds, and a couple of them almost 4 pounds.  There were 8 largemouth caught that same day, 2 walleye, and so many little 12-inch male white bass we began to make inflammatory aspersions against their species.  I have the photos to back that up, and my fishing partner that day, not being an outdoor writer himself, is honest, truthful, and a witness to the event.  Then there was that March trip when I was floating a river and got into some spring spawning run hybrids.  I hooked a dozen of those half white bass-half stripers that day that would have weighed between 5 and 10 pounds.  That day, I landed only three of them and four swam off with my lures and several feet of broken line.  A good species of hybrid angler uses better gear than I had that day.  So there are some good reasons.  I know where fishing is even better on March 1st.

         There are many species of fishermen, and trout park fishermen are one of those species.  Dyed in the wool paddlefish-grabbers are another, and I guess those who set trotlines for catfish are another. Tournament bass fishermen are a separate species, affected by genetic mutations, like those creating two- headed frogs.  But it does puzzle me why anyone would want to fish in a crowd for fish that, on the average, are about 12-or 13-inches in length.  I have met a lot of those fishermen and over the years, guided many of them on river fishing trips here and there at times, well after the opening of trout fishing parks.  They seem normal! 

         One old friend, Sam Yarnall, of Houston Mo, loves to fish at Montauk.  In all other ways he seems to be a regular river rat, having spent so many hours on the Big Piney River where I was raised, you would never suspect him of ever fishing with other fishermen at each elbow, strung so far each direction it looked like a line going to a Trump rally.  Sam has always been a great fisherman, and a fishing guide since he was a kid.  He could do any kind of fishing he wants to do and do it well.  Therefore he fits into a really rare and unusual species of angler himself.  But on March 1, you can bet you will find him at Montauk.  I don’t know how many big trout they will turn loose there on opening day, but I’ll bet he’ll get one of them.

         The reason I like the species of fishermen you find on March 1 at a trout park is because there won’t be any of them where I am going to be this week.  What they keep on opening day, as a rule is too small for me to eat.  And trout raised on that fish food they feed them in the concrete pens in the days before they are freed for a short life in a shallow creek makes them taste strange when you have eaten brook trout in the Rocky Mountains.  I’ll eat a walleye or two this week if I can catch one.

         I have received letters from angry landowners recently who have been able to hunt their land for deer and turkey on landowner tags for many years.  They are upset because the Missouri Department of Conservation wants all of us to register our land with them now before we can get those landowner tags.  The MDC has pulled some dumb stunt in recent years, but I think this move tops them all.  In next week’s column, I may use some of those letters, and tell you why my source inside the department of conservation believes this is being done, and why no landowner should do it.  You do not want to register your land with the MDC until you read what I have learned!

         I still have plenty of room for more tables at our big outdoorsman’s free swap meet on March 21, and I am publishing the spring issue of my magazine next week… The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal… a 96 page color outdoor magazine.  If you want a copy, it should be on the newsstands this spring distributed by a new company for us out of Atlanta Georgia. I hope it works. If you want to get an earlier copy in the mail, call our office, 417 777 5227.  Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613, or email

Saturday, February 22, 2020

A Secret Place in the Woods

       As much as I love to hunt and fish, I was born a naturalist first and foremost, and I have made much of my living actually working as a paid naturalist for two state park systems, for the National Park Service and for a natural heritage commission.  I continue that even now.

Several times a year I take groups of 10 to 15 people to that secret place that is quiet and serene, and wild and beautiful. There are no roads into it; I get there via boat. In fact I am going there this week. I will head up into familiar hills, which make up the watershed of Truman Lake, about 120 thousand acres of undeveloped public land.

       In the woodlands, where giant oaks and hickories are as big as any I have ever seen anywhere, there are still rubs made by buck deer not long ago. I found some big shed antlers there last year, a twelve-point headdress for a buck that survived the deer season. Not far away are the remains of a rock foundation only about 10 by 15 feet, where an old cabin once stood, built more than 120 years ago.  There is the remains of an iron bedstead there, nearly rusted away, and nothing more. Folks lived here for many years. I found a 1922 license plate there once.

       But a huge cedar growing out of the middle of it has to be 80 years old, so the cabin has been gone at least that long.  I wonder what the people were like who lived there a hundred years ago and much farther back. Wouldn’t it be something to go back in time and meet them? I imagine the six piles of rock on a small flat area above the creek are graves of some of them.

       Last year I sat down against a big chinquapin oak and marveled at the frenetic chatter of more than a thousand robins in an acre or so of woods along the creek. In sitting, I noticed that woodrats had an advanced nest around a nearby tree with a root system favoring a tunnel beneath it.  It is quite an arrangement of sticks.  These woods are filled with dens of one type or another, beneath rocks and crevices, under the roots of huge fallen giants, in the boles of standing, but rugged, den trees. There is such a variety of wild creatures here it is amazing.  The tracks along the creek tell me that.  A couple of years ago I photographed the tracks of a wandering mountain lion not far from the place where start.

This is my secret place, this large acreage of land set aside on Truman Lake.  For once they made a lake right, preserving so much.  Never ever, anywhere else have I seen individual species of white and chinquapin oak, cedar, Osage orange, hickory, black cherry and other species anywhere as large as I have found here.  It is typical of the northern Ozarks, with a winding small creek, stretches of cedar glade and open, mature forest. There, I can lose myself, and wonder if God isn’t behind me somewhere, smiling because I have returned to marvel in the greatness of His unspoiled creation. There is no greater place to talk to God.

      Last year in the early morning of a March, a group I had brought there got to see hundreds of frost flowers, growing from the base of stems of composite plants.  They are unique, white, fragile ice formations that form in the night as the dead plant somehow emits a water vapor, which freezes and creates hundreds of pieces of sculptured art.

       In the lateness of the day last year, as small flakes of snow began to fall and robins flew up in great flocks, I gained my feet and continued on, slowly, watching for whatever I may not have seen on other trips to this forest. I found a huge cedar with the hole beneath it, making it appear to be a miniature version of those California redwoods where roads pass through and beneath them.  Not much farther along the game trail I follow, there was an oak tree with a huge hardened mushroom growing up along its base nearly three feet off the ground.  It looked a great deal like some bird-bath which nature had fashioned. In all my life I have never seen any of those shelf-mushrooms that large. 

        My secret place will be blooming again soon with scattered wild plum and redbuds, and the skies will be bright blue.  New life is only a few weeks away.  Baby squirrels are being born right now in the many den trees. Red-tailed hawks and great horned owls are mating. It is the beginning of mating season for many furbearers too, and it is hard to realize that, in the bleakness of February.  But no matter when I come I have a feeling of peace I find nowhere else.  It is easy to forget that there is a conflict or problem of any kind anywhere on earth. 

       You can go with me sometime this if you would like.  In March, I will take ten to fifteen people at a time into this secret place of mine on a big pontoon boat, and we will make a day of it, hiking woodland which has no beaten path.  At noon we have a fish fry for lunch, fresh fish I have caught only days before with beans and potato salad, coffee and brownies. After dinner and a rest, we take another short hike along a creek then head in at sunset.  If you want to go along, contact me and I will send you the details.  Then in April, I will take another group to my secret places via boat and teach them to find mushrooms and shed deer antlers.  In October I will take groups to see a different world that fall colors create.

Friday, February 14, 2020

An Old-Timers Walleye Story

         Back in the seventies, when I was working as an outdoor columnist for the Arkansas Democrat, I became involved in the Greer’s Ferry Walleye Tournament, which took place in late February and March.  They offered a million dollar prize to anyone who could catch a world record walleye.  I got to know some great people up there, good fishermen and honest enough to do it right.

         Of course, when they found out that the world record walleye reported years earlier was a complete hoax, they found out that the world record actually HAD BEEN caught from Greer’s Ferry during one of those spring events by a man named Nelson.  He never did get his million dollars!

         But one of those years I was up at Clinton, Arkansas in late February having coffee in one of those little restaurants where old men gather and they were talking about Big Ed Claiborne’s 19-pound walleye caught the week before.  I was only 24 years old.  That brought a few smiles from those old-timers who read my outdoor columns and knew that, as yet, this kid from the Big Piney up in Missouri had yet to catch even one walleye.  Most of them had caught hundreds of those glassy-eyed ‘jack salmon’. 

         After most of them had gone that morning one old-timer said he would tell me a story if I would promise not to write about it.  I promised, and listened and now almost 50 years later, I am going to break that promise.  He said that the big walleye out of Greer’s Ferry went up the Little Red River in February, preparing to spawn.  He said there are two baits they love more than anything, big night-crawlers and small bluegills.

         “If’n you go up that river and set yourself a half dozen trotlines for catfish, well that’s all legal.  You just bait up one that has 5 or 6 hooks in a little hole across the deep water below a shoal.  Then you do the same thing up in the next hole below the creek riffles and the same thing up in the next ones ‘til you’ve set all the trotline hooks what’s legal an’ tagged ‘em like the game wardens want it done.”

         He slurped a big cup of coffee and hunched over closer to me and said, as if he were afraid someone else might hear…. “You know when them fisheries biologist was up there shockin’ walleye in the Li’l Red at night last year an’ they caught that big hen walleye that you run a pitcher of in yore newspaper?”

         I nodded… they said they figured the walleye they had shocked, photographed and released might have weighed 24 pounds. “Well sir, that there walleye was caught on one of my trotlines.” he said, “And they found ‘er.”

         As to whether or not he was telling the truth I don’t know, but that old guy ate a lot of walleye.  On many of the reservoirs in Missouri and Kansas, the same thing could be done, and a fisherman who started catching the smaller male walleye could surely figure out what pool the females were coming too soon afterward.  You cannot legally fish for walleye at night in the spawning period, but you can set your lines in the afternoon, run them in the morning and keep the catfish, or the walleye, that you catch.  Not very sporting but some fishermen like to eat walleye, not caring how they are caught.  Up one river I know of, fish traps are already being used.  Conservation agents waiting downriver in their pickups, looking for some kind of technical violations, will never find them.

         Walleye spawning runs are beginning, and I intend to go to my favorite places in various tributaries to catch a few very soon.  My best days are the days with no sunlight, overcast and dreary, because a walleye’s eyes are sensitive to sunlight.  I’ll fish vertically in deep pools below shoals, with light- blue or blue-green half-ounce jigs, having big hooks tipped with night crawlers or chubs.  But the old fellow back then was right, you wouldn’t need the jigs if you found a few small bluegill you could set out there on the bottom with a half ounce of weight about two feet up the line.  

         And while it is indeed against the law to fish for walleye at night, you can motor up the river, or paddle down it, and shine a light into the deep waters looking for a rod and reel you have recently lost, and you’ll see the congregating walleye by shining their eyes.  Then you might know where some are the next day.  Be darn sure if you do that, you have no fishing gear in your boat, because that is a technicality that a pair of wardens, waiting somewhere in their pickup, can use.

         It isn’t that you cannot fish at night for catfish or crappie, but if you catch a walleye in darkness, you darn sure better release it.  And in an Ozark river, you cannot keep a bass in March, April, or May; no matter what time of day you hook it. 

         To contact me, email or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo.  If you would like to reserve a free table at our big outdoor swap meet on Saturday, March 21 at Bolivar, just notify me, or call my office, 417-777-5227.  This year we have nearly 10,000 square feet available free… for vendors.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Making Memories

       It’s a sad time… duck season has ended. I can switch to something else quickly if the weather stays nice enough to make the walleye begin to move earlier.  But the past week was one of great enjoyment to me as my old Labrador and I walked miles of river, jump shooting mallards and gadwalls from backwaters and sloughs.  Old Bolt is going to be 10 years old this spring and he can barely see out of one eye.  But he got to retrieve several ducks in the past three or four days of the season.

       I can’t explain, to someone who has never owned hunting dogs, the love you can develop for a Labrador.  Bolt sleeps beside my bed, dozes beside my desk when I write, and rides in my pickup wherever I go.  He sits in my boat while I fish, and chases squirrels away from the corn feeder.  Then he sneaks back and eats more corn than they would.

       And there I was at a small pothole last week watching an old drake mallard that was just out of gun range, wishing I could get a shot at him so Bolt could retrieve him.  Then I heard it, and he did too, that unmistakable sound of wind sliding over wings as ducks drop down through tree branches.  And there they were, right out before us, a drake and hen mallard, with their red feet extended toward the water below them.  I had an easy shot and the emerald-headed drake folded neatly into the middle of the slough.  

       Normally I do not kill hens of any species, but this was a perfect way for Bolt to make a double retrieve, and I couldn’t pass it up.  He charged down to the waters edge, and I knew he couldn’t see the two mallards kicking at the sky before him. So I looked for a rock, and couldn’t find any.  I took a small stick and threw it out in the middle, and he headed for the sound of the splash at my command. His nose did the rest.  We sat there at the edge of the pothole, with me telling him what a great job he had done, hugging his wet neck and relishing the moment.  There have been lots and lots of moments like that, and it hurts to know there may not be anymore.  I dearly love that old dog, as I did his father and grandfather and great grandfather in years gone by.

       And I looked to the sky and thanked God for that moment in time, and the blessing he has given me to be able to roam the valleys and the hills, still, as I have done for so long.  I go slower, but the amount of ground I cover isn’t important. At a slower pace, you see more. We have a lot of ducks to eat this spring, and lots of photos to keep the memories fresh.  Before the week was out Bolt retrieved more greenheads and a gadwall drake from ponds and sloughs along the river, and I had days when I hated to see the night come.  But even though the season has ended, I intend to shoot some more ducks, as I said, with old Bolt by my side.  This time it will be with a camera.

       I wrote an article decades ago about Bolts great grandfather, a big frisky chocolate Labrador I called Rambunctious.  It was entitled, The Best There Ever Was, and you can read it and many other duck hunting stories in my book, “Memories From a Misty Morning Marsh”.  If it isn’t in your local library, call me and I can tell you where you can find it.  The gist of that story was Rambunctious’ last hunt and final retrieve.  It was a long time ago and I never thought then about my last hunt someday.  This week, roaming the river bottoms, I started to think about that.  You can thank the Creator at such times for the day, the dogs and the ducks, and not worry about what hunt might be your last, and what memory is the final one. I figure on lots more miles of wooded valleys to walk, more hills to climb and more rivers to paddle down, either here or in heaven. 


       Some of what I have come across in the woods miles from nowhere is amazing.  This past week I sat down on a stump in a little wooded knoll over the river and there in the ground beside me was a flat rock nearly covered by soil.  There was an inscription in it, it was tombstone of a lady who had been born, according to the crude etching, in 1820 and died in 1843.  Her name was Mallala Moore Williams. Looking around and found about three or four more such stones. 

One was of a man named Williams, born in 1798 and died in 1851.  One was a civil war soldier headstone saying 28th Illinois Regiment.  His name was Wellington Bailey. 

       Five or six small headstones were unmarked, likely children’s graves.  I sat there for awhile as Bolt rested and dozed.  How I would have loved to be able to see them and how they lived.  Maybe we are living in the best of times, and then again... Maybe we ain't.  What might that river below have looked like when our nation was only 30 or 40 years old? Wish I could have seen it then.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Feral Hogs and Disappearing Turkeys


       The feral hog problem has worked out well for the Missouri Department of Conservation as far as financial benefits.  I don’t know the exact amount, but they are being paid well by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their efforts in feral hog removal. However, it is not a situation making them any friends in rural areas of the state, because telling country people not to bait or kill feral hogs because “we will take care of the problem” is making many of them very angry.   The MDC will never eliminate the feral hog problem.  And I was told, by a high level employee, that the department doesn’t need country people to attain their goals.

       “Not enough country people to change anything,” he told me, “we’ll never see an end to the one-eighth cent sales tax as long as we have the backing of people in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia and Jefferson City.  And the way you keep them happy is a nice magazine, nature centers and a campaign through the media like, ‘serving nature and you’.”

       In Texas, they have actually come up with something, which could in time, eliminate feral hogs but we will never see it in Missouri, I don’t think. They have built some large metal contraptions you would have to see to understand.  Basically, they are hog feeders, which have openings on 4 or 5 sides, where poisoned food is available to hogs only, and it will draw hogs from great distances.  The metal flaps only open when sensors inside hear the sound of hogs grunting and squealing. They remain closed to deer and raccoons and other wildlife.  I watched cameras showing them in the woods, and it is amazing how they work… But they do work, and if you had twenty of them over a county with hog problems, I believe in time you would see all feral hogs disappear.  But with that kind of science, you know these are going too expensive.  Still when you consider what the MDC and USDA are spending to do what is never going to work over large areas, these feeding-poisoning machines might be worth it.

       It has been suggested to me that feral hogs are the reason for the tremendous decrease in wild turkey numbers over much of the Midwest, but there is nowhere that wild turkey numbers are down as much as on my place and the immediate 20-mile circle around me.  I have fed and photographed wild turkey for about 20 years and believe me, there are about 20 percent of the wild gobblers here now as there were 15 years ago.  AND… there are no feral hogs here!!!   Certainly feral hogs are going to hurt the numbers of nesting birds like wild turkey, woodcock, whippoorwills, quail, etc.  But even where no feral hogs exist, (Yet) the problem is similar.  We need an immediate change in the spring wild turkey season.  But Nero, up in Jefferson City is fiddling…as wild turkey keep dwindling.   What should be done?  A spring season delayed about ten days, then lasting only nine days, (two weekends) and a bag limit of one gobbler.  Then we need an end to the fall season and the youth season as well.  But the MDC would lose some tag sales, and therefore some money.

       It is a far worse situation than we have seen in many years, and the people in Jefferson City don’t know it.  If you don’t believe me, look at the harvest numbers for the past eight years.   By the time they react and do studies, we may have to again do the kind of stocking that was done 60 years ago, when we had no MDC, but a different kind of people in charge at an agency called the Missouri Conservation Commission.

       A reader contacted the MDC about his concerns over the disappearance of wild turkey on his land, and received this letter… “Our biologists are looking at our turkey data collected over years and decades and trying to determine how turkey numbers, weather, landscape and their interactions affect turkey numbers.  This research should help explain some of the trends we’re seeing in turkey production and numbers…. Joe@MDC”
       He forgot to mention a few things, like egg-eating predation.   But that letter gives a great example of what the MDC has become.  Do a study, drive around in a pick-up, get to work on the computer!   That idea that the country people in Missouri, Kansas, or Arkansas do not carry enough weight to make a difference is going to backfire someday. Suburbanites can only be fooled so long. The book I am writing about the Missouri Department of Conservation may help that. I believe it will be finished this summer.  If you want to tell your story about dealing with them, or write a letter supporting them, we would like to hear from you.

       From now until late March I will be hunting deer again on my place… more about that in next week’s column. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email me at    I would like to hear your opinions.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Big Birds

       I am amazed at the great increase in the number of ‘large-species’ birds.  Back in the fall there were thousands of huge white pelicans in the Ozarks.  Most likely there are ten times as many pelicans today as there were a hundred years ago.  I could write a whole column about pelicans, a fascinating bird I have observed in both northwest Canada and the Gulf of Mexico, and in the Ozarks.

       One evening I was duck hunting with old friend Rich Abdoler on a western tributary of Truman Lake, picking up decoys as the sun dipped below the horizon, and we watched a long string of low flying pelicans fly from the southern sky northward, several thousand of them, passing over within shotgun range for fifteen minutes.  It was about that time we begin seeing great numbers of cormorants on Truman, and today they are everywhere on that lake, thousands of them, feasting on shad, as overpopulated as anything in the Midwest.They are ugly and dirty and worthless, and neophyte hunters often think they are geese.  But if you shoot one it is a federal offense with a big fine.  What are the fish and wildlife people thinking?  There should be a bounty on them, but even that won’t reduce their numbers.

       Beginning nature photographers will get photos of one bird above all others, and that is the great blue heron.  They have likely quadrupled their numbers in the past 20 years, as nests along waterways are abundant, sometimes a dozen or more nests in one large sycamore tree, and fledgling birds making the darndest racket you can imagine.  As if game fish in our rivers don’t have enough problems.   In the pool hall back home ol’ Bill said he shot every great blue heron that he found within range of whatever gun he was carrying at the time.  Doc Dykes asked him why.  Bill said they were terrible bass killers… said he saw one once that had a flopping 2-pound bass held down in shallow water with one foot and the tail of a bigger one “hangin’ out of his jaws”!

       Eagles, which were so rarely seen along the Piney when I was a boy, need no protection today.  There are nine different eagle nests along the rivers and lakes that I know of within 10 miles or so of my ridge top as the crow flies. Quite often I will see six or eight eagles together eating the remains of a dead deer along some river after deer season.  If you have a camera and get tired of photographing herons, then you can find a bunch of eagles that aren’t all that wild.

       Last week in a big harvested cornfield there was a flock of Canada geese and near them, six big trumpeter swans. The swans aren’t over populated but the geese are, likely at a high number that hasn’t been seen for decades.  In the day of my boyhood, there was never an Ozark farm pond with nesting Canada geese. If we had seen wild geese in any appreciable numbers during the depression days folks in our region would have eaten better.
       Likely the most overpopulated big birds now are snow geese, so great in number that biologists fear they are doing irreparable damage to their breeding grounds in the arctic region of Canada.  When they start to appear by the thousands in March, on northern migrations through parts of western Missouri and eastern Kansas, hunters have, for many years, killed them by the hundreds. It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in their numbers.

       There are problems on the horizon for Missouri, with a big worthless and destructive bird known as the black vulture.  I have seen what a problem they have become in north Arkansas.  Along the White River some boat docks have obtained permission to kill all of them, but to do it legally you have to pay 100 for a depredation permit. These birds, like so many which are now overpopulated, are protected by federal migratory bird laws.
       Here is some of what has been printed about them in north Arkansas  “Black vultures sometimes peck and damage rubber seals and windshield wipers on parked vehicles, canvas awnings and seating on boats, and rubber or vinyl materials on rooftops. Black vultures leave characteristic evidence of their depredation. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports black vultures can inflict gruesome damage to livestock. They pluck eyes and eat tongues of newborns, down, or sick livestock; disembowel young livestock; kill and feed on domestic fowl; and leave scars on those animals which survive.”

       I’ve seen them coming into Missouri more and more over the last five years as poultry farms provide thousands of dead chickens and turkeys in southern counties for them to feed on.  There is no telling how far into the state they will move.  In the east they have moved as far north as New England.

       Black vultures are a little smaller than what we know as ‘turkey buzzards’ in the Ozarks, and they have no color on their heads.  They have completely black skin.  To see a picture of one which I photographed on the White River, and other photos, go to my blogspot…
       Amongst hawks and owls, populations are above the healthy level; most being just as high in numbers as I ever remember seeing them. But there is one large bird in the Ozarks which is not overpopulated… the wild turkey.  I have seen alarming declines in wild turkeys over the past eight to ten years and they have reached low numbers I have not seen in at least 40 years.  More about that in a column to come, and I will tell you what should be done, but won’t be done, by our conservation departments to help stop the declining populations of wild gobblers that is now about one-third of what it was 20 years ago.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email