Friday, January 29, 2021

A Chipmunk From Long Ago

       When a twelve-year-old boy becomes a hunter he gets to where he longs to shoot something! When I was 12, I started tying my single-shot16-gauge Iver Johnson shotgun to the handlebars of my bicycle, stuffing my pocket with a half-dozen shells, and peddling down some gravel road to a patch of woods near the river, where my only goal in life became the collecting of two or three squirrels to bring home for supper.


       There were many places I had permission to hunt, where the squirrels were drawn to the oaks and hickories, along draws or small creeks which fed the river. I would find a nice big flat rock to sit on, and watch and wait. Squirrels were plentiful along those woodlands where I hunted. 


       Always before me lay the best of God’s creation, whether it was a deep draw with a creek below, flat woodlands along the river bottom, or a scenic ridgetop. I always felt that God was there with me, either behind me or above me, watching, letting me see something different on every trip. There or on the river, I was always talking to Him in my mind, asking questions. At the age of twelve, it doesn’t matter if you get all the answers. I figured that I’d know it all in a year or two if I just kept watching and listening.  


       Getting closer to everything was the problem. If only I could get closer, closer to see a passing grey fox or a hawk that is winging away with a mouse in it’s talons. If only I could get a better look at a pileated woodpecker or a screech owl. That’s why, on that one afternoon which I will never forget, when I saw a flash of red among the rocks below me, I wished I was closer. I knew it wasn’t a fox squirrel, but I shot anyway. And moments later I held it in my hand, lifeless and bloodied, the only chipmunk I had ever seen up close. It was beautiful, with those stripes of black and beige, almost white, but not quite. I couldn’t stop looking at it.


I was so fascinated, and then so plagued with guilt. He was far too small to eat, and the rules were, spelled out so many times by my dad, that you shoot nothing you do not intend to eat. I left him there on the rock, so no one would know. But as I peddled home with no squirrels, I wasn’t happy at all. I just wondered if that chipmunk had a family somewhere that depended on him, and if God would ever show me anything again for fear I would shoot it.


     It just kept bothering me. I had to tell someone what I had done, so I confided in Jess Wolf, one of the old men who sat on the front bench of my father’s pool hall, where I worked after school. 


     “They’s lots of chipmunks,” he said, stoically watching a game of snooker which interested him a great deal more than me and that chipmunk. “Reckon it won’t make a whole lot of difference…. exceptin’ to you. I ‘spect you won’t shoot but one yore whole life. That kinda thing happens, you bein’ a boy. Boys do such things.” And then he just sat there. I needed a better answer. I asked him if he thought God would be mad at me for killing one of his creatures for no reason.


     “I ain’t got no idee what God would think of such a thing,” he told me. And it was quiet but for the clack of billiard balls. Finally he added, “I reckon you’d have to ask God about that.”


     That was a powerful answer. I knew Jess wasn’t a church-goer, but he was a religious sort of man, because he never swore much like Ol’ Bill and Ol’ Jim, and he never came right out and lied about fishing or hunting, as far as I could tell.


     But right then, I promised God I would never kill another one of his creatures for no reason, and I felt so much better. I felt a lot worse about things when the next spring I killed a robin with a homemade sassafras bow and arrow, just to see if I could hit something with it at such a distance. I never meant to do it… I thought I would miss. I most always did when I shot at anything with that bow. That chipmunk vow was the first of a lot of promises I made to God which I broke in time.


     But you know, I still go out into the woods figuring the Creator is going to show me something I have never seen before, and it seems He always does. Even now, I see marvelous, fascinating things, floating down a river in the summer or standing in the water up to my waist in the dead of winter, watching duck decoys whilst I’m about half frozen.


After all these years it is still no less of a wonder to hear and feel a new season coming with all the wonders of it. It is winter now and I am busy hunting ducks and thinking there ain’t no better time than winter. But I can feel March coming, and when it gets here I’ll be just as happy catching a walleye or two about the time spring peepers begin to be heard. The wonders of those dwindling lonely wild places are the greatest reward in life for me. Every now and then I see a chipmunk!


Thursday, January 14, 2021

A Magnificent Place…Unusual Sights




         You see some strange things in nature when you spend as much time outdoors as I do.  I live in the woods far from people, and I always have…always will.  And I travel all over the Ozarks visiting wild places, seeing things that amaze me.  On the first day of January I saw something that really surprised me.  It was a flock of ten or fifteen white pelicans on Truman Lake, which lies just along the edge of the northern Ozarks of Missouri.  

         Do you realize how odd that is?  Pelicans migrate from northern waters well up into Canada each fall. They are usually down around the Louisiana coast by now, and not migrating back north until April.  Why would they be in the Ozarks now?  The only reason I can think of is the abundance of food.   On Truman Lake, gizzard shad are dying off by the thousands, as they do each winter.  If the water doesn’t freeze, I suppose Pelicans can stand the cold, to slurp up hordes of dying shad.  Pelicans are at the peak of their numbers now, overpopulated to my way of thinking.  But never ever have I seen a pelican in the Ozarks in January.  

         That isn’t the only unusual occurrence this January.  All over the Ozarks there are flocks of shoveler ducks, also commonly known as spoonbills.  I killed one a day or so ago while duck hunting.  I’ve never even seen a flock of shovelers in January that I recall.  They migrate early, just a little behind blue-winged teal in the fall.  Then they are one of the early migrators in the spring too.  You will see them in bright plumage, coming through the Ozarks earlier than any other duck beside the blue-wings.  And then, they are a beautiful bird, but not so much now.  They, along with the goldeneyes are perhaps the poorest eating of any of the puddle ducks, and not very large, just a step or two larger than the teals and buffleheads. Last year about this time I saw the only flock of ruddy ducks I have ever seen while duck hunting.

         I am seeing the natural world completely out of alignment over the last few years, and I wonder what it means.  Now I am seeing the black vultures moving into the northern Ozarks as well, and I don’t like it.  They are scavengers, but also killers.  They will search for and kill newborn calves, and other offspring of farm animals.  Native turkey buzzards won’t do that.  I would kill every black vulture I could if I was a rancher or farmer.  Conservation departments everywhere should encourage that, but instead these non-native birds are protected, expanding and coming north, I believe partly because of the thousands of dead chickens and turkeys that huge poultry farms discard.

         I spend hours along the watershed of this giant northern Ozark reservoir, Truman Lake, because of almost 120 thousand acres of land around it set aside and protected from developers.  There is one particular area that is as close to a natural Ozark wilderness as I have ever seen, with gigantic trees of dozens of hardwood species larger than any individuals of many species I have ever seen.  It is a phenomenal place.  It is full of Ozark wildlife too, eagles nest there, as do most birds, and migrating waterfowl of all species pass through.

         From February through April, I take up to a dozen people at a time to that area via a large pontoon boat and guide them into that forest to see and enjoy what is really rare woodland.  That goes back to my days as Chief Naturalist for the Arkansas Park System and a stint as a naturalist for the National Park Service on the Buffalo National River, and then the years I worked as a naturalist for the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, exploring and reporting on rivers and woodlands in the  Ozark and Ouachita mountains.  On these trips into natural areas on Truman, we return to have a big fish fry on the lakeshore, and do not return to civilization until the sun sets.  You can join me if you want on one of those trips, which will continue until the morels are gone in April. I take any group of 8 to 15 people. 

         The timber is so large and diverse that it will be destroyed someday.  The Missouri Department of Conservation is a partner in managing much of the 120 thousand acres with the Corps of Engineers, and they make part of their millions by contracting loggers to take the big trees from such areas. They have been doing much of that on the upper end of the big lake for years. But for awhile that forest is there to enjoy, and I spend countless hours there this time of year with my camera.  It is a magnificent natural area, something representative of the Ozarks long, long ago.  I wish such areas could be saved from the loggers, but of course they cannot. A nation with exploding populations never has enough lumber. I just thank God every time I go there that I get to see such places, while 99 percent of Americans spends such days in crowded suburbs, office cubicles and traffic jams.  I know they are the normal ones in society.  I’m the oddball.  But I like being one!


         We are looking for good stories for our Outdoor Magazine and for our Ozark Magazine as well…  also a good artist or two and good photos for either magazine. You can see my books and magazines just by putting my name on a computer search site.  Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email me at 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Fishing in the Winter


            I would really like to take a trip to Canada this time of year, to the Lake of the Woods region, and fish with some friends who catch walleye and pike and crappie through the ice.  If you have never caught fish through the ice it may not sound too appealing to you, but it is really fun.  Some of the best times I have had in January were sitting on the ice of Iowa farm ponds with my cousins, catching blue-gill and crappie on little tiny meal worms, with a rope around my waist and the other end tied to a tree on the bank. They thought that was hilarious, but you can never be too cautious! Eventually I got use to sitting out there on the ice, hovering over a little eight-inch hole with my cousins, yanking out crappie with a rod about three feet long.


         I am going fishing in January and February though, as soon as the duck season and quail season end.  The best of the brown trout fishing on the White River takes place between now and March.  You catch them on the six- inch suspending rogues, and someone usually gets a 15- to 20- pound brown during that time of year.   Lots of five- to ten-pound browns are caught.  My biggest is eight pounds but I've hooked and landed a number of four- to six-pound browns.


         All through January down on Norfork lake, the anglers who brave the cold and go after them catch stripers, whites and hybrids, in the mouths of the big tributaries where they school in deep water following the hordes of threadfin shad.  With all the shad they have in that lake, I don't know why a striper would be attracted to a big shiner minnow, but they are.  About ten years ago I was fishing for them in Norfork on a very cold day and we caught a  half dozen nice ones in only a few hours at mid-day.  They were over 50 feet of water, about 40 feet deep, but usually in January you will find them at about 40 feet over 60 to 80 feet of water.  You about have to have a good depth finder to fish for them. 


         A friend I was fishing with knows where the stripers are most of the winter, so I just go with him.  He ties on a circle hook, size two-ought, with about a half-ounce of weight 15 or 20 inches above the hook, hooks a shiner through the lips and counts out forty feet of line. Then he blows up a little biodegradable water balloon they sell at toy departments for kids until it is a little smaller than a tennis ball, and he ties that stem of the balloon around a 15-inch loop in the line.  When the fish hits, it just pulls that line right through the knot of the balloon, and the fight is on.  The balloon is not at all a strike indicator, it just floats off.  It is merely a device to allow you to play out your line so that you can be fishing forty feet deep, but a good distance from your boat.  In mid-winter, with the clear water, stripers might be spooked a little if they are directly beneath the boat.


         In late February or early March, at the beginning of the full moon, with warming night time temperatures, the night fishing for stripers and walleye on Norfork lake will get good.  The stripers hit that same suspending rogue that we use for brown trout on the White River.  I hope to hit it at the right time this year, when the nights are not too cold, and you can hear the geese passing over in the moonlight.  What a thrill it is when a big striper nails that rogue.  You never say, "I think I had a strike!!!"  You have no doubt what has happened.


         Of course over the years, some of the best bass fishing I have had takes place on large tributaries to Ozark lakes in late February and early March.  A few days of warm weather can trigger that, and when a fisherman finds them, he can follow them for a couple of weeks before they disperse.  I know I won't get to do all of the fishing I want to do, but the anticipation and planning is worth a great deal.  It makes it easier to get through to April.


Email me at, or write me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613.  You might like to see my website, if you like to read…