Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Where the Quail Went, Wild Turkeys Go Now



Clyde Trout aiming at a tom

       I was just a kid in the late 50’s and early 60’s when quail hunting all over the Midwest was something amazing.  Even in the Ozarks, hunters often found 6 or 7 coveys a day. I was there, I saw it!  In Oklahoma and Kansas that number might double.  No one then would imagine that quail would decline in number to a point where avid hunting dog men would no longer hunt them.  I can only venture a guess about this, but I would estimate that for every ten quail coveys you could have found then, there is only one today.  Yes, a decline of ninety percent!


       And in the late 1900’s and early 2000’s wild turkey were so plentiful in the Midwest you would have thought they would never decline.  Let me say this… I saw hunting in four or five Midwestern states from the late 60’s for 50 years that was phenomenal.  I hunted them with the enthusiasm of a beagle in a rabbit haven!  What I am about to reveal, I have never written before, but about ten years ago, I stopped counting spring gobblers I had taken at about 175, give or take a half dozen, and every one was a legal tom. 


       As a paid turkey hunting guide in the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s I watched my clients kill more than 50 wild  turkeys, again all legal!  But after all, I was a self-employed writer who had no job other than selling newspaper columns and magazine articles.  I sold turkey-hunting articles to Outdoor Life and Field and Stream for many years, and I hunted in five states.  I sold turkey hunting articles to eight different magazines and more than 100 newspapers.


       Many years of spring hunting, I would kill seven gobblers, three in Arkansas, and two in Missouri and Kansas. In 2003 I wrote a book about wild turkeys.  In addition, I hunted with Jim Spencer, perhaps the best turkey hunter in the Midwest who has written 3 books about wild turkeys and turkey hunting; turkey biologist Gene Rush, one of the most experienced biologists from Arkansas, 20-year wild turkey biologist Mike Widner, and an old timer named Clyde Trout who hunted and filmed wild turkeys for more than fifty years.


        I know wild turkeys, and I have spent hours upon hours with men who know even more than I do.  Unfortunately, I know what is about to happen with wild turkeys in the Midwest.  A decline is here that likely will get worse, and I believe they will never return to the good huntable numbers we saw up until about ten years back.  In short, wild turkey are looking at the same minimal survival that bobwhite quail came to know.


         Last week, I talked to Missouri’s wild turkey biologist, who grew up in Michigan, went to school in Ohio and West Virginia, then came to Missouri’s Conservation Department about two years ago. Mid twenties I suspect, and as green as a spring willow.  Her name is Reina Tyl, and she wouldn’t talk to me long.  She said that my questions would cast doubt on her credibility as a wild turkey biologist and then she hung up on me.


       I have nothing from her except what she wrote last week, and I told her that her writing was not accurate.  That more than anything else casts much doubt on her credibility, not what I might find out about her in a phone interview.


       But truthfully, right now, the most experienced wild turkey biologists can’t tell you the answer to a rebound in numbers.  It isn’t there. The consensus amongst men who really do know something about wild turkeys is… there won’t ever be much more than we have now, and there may be fewer.


        Ms Tyl’s written observations about wild turkeys can be read in the summer issue of my outdoor magazine, along with about 12 pages of observations and interviews with real experts on the birds.  She shows in that writing how little she knows about wild turkey, saying in one place that the drop in number of wild turkeys has progressed for decades. 


       Not so Ms. Tyl, it has actually happened over the past 8 to 9 years.  I know, Ms. Tyl, I have been there, done that!  For fifty years plus, I have followed them photographed them and fed them.  Here in the woods where I live, and over thousands of acres around me, wild turkey thrived for decades, not declined.  I could teach Ms. Tyl a lot about them if she would come and spend a day in the woods with me and a couple of other biologists.


       You won’t believe what one of those retired old-time turkey biologists says about what is causing the decline and when it started … but I will pass on his views next week. I will touch on what he and many of those knowledgeable hunters and biologists have to say.  But I cannot get much info about that in these short newspaper columns. 


       You can receive a free copy of that summer magazine with the extensive segment on wild turkeys, by contacting us at my offices…. 417-777-5227.  After you read that section you will have a good idea about what is happening with wild turkeys in the Midwest.  And you will know a great deal more about them than Ms. Tyl does.  I know she won’t spend a day down here, but maybe if she reads that section devoted to wild turkeys, it will help her to know what is happening, and if anything can indeed be done about it.


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



Flathead Catfish caught on a trotline with the help of my daughters

         From my home and office on this high ridge, I look down upon a river valley and a stream I have gotten to know well over the years.  My middle daughter went down to a creek tributary to that river, and using her kayak, caught some nice largemouth bass.   One of them was a 20-inch six-and-a-half-pounder.  I couldn’t have floated that small creek in the johnboat or square-stern canoe I use so I guess I will have to give some credence to the kayak she uses.    It hurts me to do that… as I hate kayaks!


         On Saturday I took her and my youngest daughter up the river in my boat, with a dual purpose.  The two of them had caught ten small sunfish out of my pond, so we were going to fish for bass awhile, then set a short trotline with only ten hooks, baiting them with the live sunfish.  As we went up the river I pointed out the spot where I had caught a 45 pound flathead years ago and another eddy where I had caught a 37-pounder. 


         The evening bass fishing was slow, a few 12 to 13 inchers and nothing better.  As dusk faded away, we set a trotline and quickly baited it with the live sunfish and then went home.  On the morning of father’s day, we didn’t head back to the river until 9 a.m.  That’s a far cry from the way you ought to do things.  As a kid with my grandpa or my dad, we ran trotlines at first light.  In the heat of summer, big flathead catfish don’t feed during the day, so ideally it is best to run the lines about 1 a.m. and again at first light.  You may catch channel cat or blues at any time, night, morning or evening, and you can catch them on dead bait.  But not flatheads.  They want  live bait.  I have never caught one on dead bait or livers or whatever!


         To tell the truth, I had little confidence in catching a flathead that morning.   I was just hoping we might hook a couple of nice channel catfish, and we did.   We caught three, the largest about seven pounds.  But when I picked up the end of the trotline, tied to a log, what I felt was not a channel cat… it was something hefty and strong.  I told my girls we had a really big fish on the first hook and they thought I was joking. Then they saw that broad tail whip across the surface and the water boiling before me as he jerked the line back and forth.


         A minute or so later I got my thumb in his mouth, prying up under his jaw with my fingers to still him a bit, as I was taught when I was a kid.  Lordy what a fish…I had trouble lifting him into the boat, so my daughter slipped a big dipnet below him.  She was excited, yelling that the net wasn’t big enough.  Somehow we boated that female catfish, a forty pounder that would have weighed 3 or 4  pounds more if she hadn’t already spawned.  Flathead spawn in early June, so she hadn’t been lighter very long.


         After dinner on father’s day, my daughters and I butchered catfish, and we put a bunch of meat in the freezer.  No catfish is quite as good to eat as a flathead that comes from a clean Ozark stream.  Sometimes they are referred to as a yellow catfish. They can be yellow when they come from rivers that are larger and murkier, with different substrates. From clean, flowing Ozark rivers they are usually a deep brown or a speckled brown, as ours was.  You can see photos of that catfish and the big bass my daughter caught on my blogspot…  

Flathead catfish get very large, some from big rivers have weighed 120 pounds or so.  That 40-pounder was the third largest I have ever landed.  I have photos from about 15 years back of my Uncle Norten and I with a 52-pounder caught from the lake.  I’d bet that Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes, and Truman and perhaps another lake or two in the Ozarks, have flathead catfish that will go 80 to 100 pounds and maybe bigger.  The biggest flathead I have known to come from Ozark rivers was a 72-pounder my grandfather caught from the Gasconade River the night I was born.  But I’ll say this, with the number of old trotline fishermen I saw as a kid all dead and gone, the number of fishermen after big flathead catfish in the Ozarks is really declining, so it stands to reason that in deep eddies in all the rivers there are flatheads getting bigger every year.  I think I am still up to another few trotlines and maybe another flathead that will go 60 pounds.  We’ll see!


Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at I love to hear from those who read this column.


Thursday, June 17, 2021

Driftwood, Rocks and Fishing Lures



Cedar logs on Bull Shoals Lake

       If I were a young man trying to find a decent job, I would buy an old pontoon boat with a good outboard motor and strip everything off of it to just leave a flat deck. Nothing on it but a seat, throttle and starter! I would acquire a couple of chain saws and a powerful winch to bolt to the barge, hire a couple of young, strong guys, and get rich… spending my days on the lakes around the Ozarks cutting long-dead cedar logs, bringing them in and selling them. 

       Eight-foot cedar logs that are 6- to 10-inches in diameter are bringing amazing prices now, and on Ozark lakes like Bull Shoals, Norfork and Truman, there are a million of them, and they do not need to be dried out and stripped of bark like green cedar logs. The ones on the lake have been dead for 60 or 70 years and the sapwood is gone, leaving nothing but the red heart of the wood. The outside is hard and white and gray, bleached by the sun, and there is nothing left but that beautiful red wood. I think that 2 or 3 strong men could easily cut up to 100 logs a day. And it is legal, the Corps of Engineers allows you to take any wood off the lakes as long as it is dead.

       I once got a permit to take some cedar off of Bull Shoals and I took it to a sawmill and made some great lumber out of it. Now that regular two-by-fours cost upwards of ten or twelve dollars each, one cedar log can produce 50 dollars worth of wood or more. A ten-inch cedar log can produce an eight-inch fireplace mantel worth a hundred dollars or more. 

        I will guarantee that on some of the Ozark lakes there are a thousand or more of the cedar logs as large as 20 inches in diameter and easily 20 feet long. 

       And if they were cut and brought in, the market for them is widespread and the price paid is sky high. I think that with the barge and a truck and trailer it would be easy to bring in enough logs in a few days to build an entire cabin of impressive size.

        Back in the mid 1980’s I lived in north Arkansas and Bull Shoals Lake was my playground. I fished it hard, hunted deer and turkeys and duck from one end of it to the other.  One day my Labrador and I were there hunting fishing lures on the high water line of the lake, when I heard a little pig squealing. My Lab, Beau, came running back to me, and up the hillside there was a big white sow quite upset with him, hot on his heels. I jumped in my boat and backed out into the lake and Beau swam out toward me. Thankfully, that mad momma hog didn’t want to swim. 


       Later that day we were in another spot, looking for lures again and I came across a beautiful big rock that looked as if it were full of diamonds. I took it home and gave it to Gloria for an anniversary present and to this day it sits on the buffet in her kitchen. There were, on the wave-washed shores of the lake, tons and tons of beautiful rock. 

       I don’t know why I got the idea, but that afternoon I loaded the bed of my pick-up with extraordinarily beautiful rocks.  On top of the rocks I loaded some cedar driftwood that an Illinois woodcarver asked me to bring him and a few days later headed north. With the cedar delivered to the wood carver, I started stopping at aquarium shops, selling the rocks a few at a time.  At Rock Island, Illinois I was guided to a wholesale aquarium dealer and emptied the entire amount of those beautiful rocks for 750 dollars. I could have done that again and
again but I never did.  I found out that while I could sell the dead cedar to that woodcarver, it was against the law to sell the rocks off of Corps of Engineers ground. 

        Today I still fish hard on Ozark lakes, but when the fish aren’t biting, or I get tired of casting, I just tie my boat up somewhere and search the high water lines for fishing lures.  Some times I will find 15 or 20 in a couple of hours. I have found some valuable antique lures doing that. But I can’t stop noticing hundreds of beautiful rocks as I do so, and I think of how that aquarium dealer’s eyes lit up when he saw those in the bed of my pick-up. 

        But, I am an outdoor writer and it was easier for me to sell manuscripts to outdoor magazines back then. They paid well and I made a good living that way, which curtailed any desire to load up rocks and driftwood on any regular basis. Still, I recall that up in those northern states, they don’t have beautiful rocks.  I do…up here on Lightnin’ Ridge, I have them all around my place, some of the most unbelievably beautiful and unique rocks you have ever seen.

        And when someone says I must be crazy out on some lake looking for lures and rocks and driftwood, I just remember how much money I made in the 1980’s, hauling in a pick-up load of both. And back then, I fished and hunted a lot too. Bull Shoals Lake for me was living the good life. So, guess what I still do, out on the lakes I visit, when the fishing slows or the ducks aren’t flying? My Labrador and I hunt driftwood, rocks and fishing lures! I am never happier doing anything.

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Outlawed Camera


photos like this, showing what loggers are doing to den trees on public areas, may not be legal anymore without paying for a permit to MDC


      People have been contacting me asking if I had heard about the Missouri Department of Conservation declaring that people who take photographs inside public areas they manage must buy a permit to do so.  I have to look into that, but I can’t imagine that they would do that, telling photographers to pay in order to take pictures inside areas owned by the citizens of the state of Missouri.  I take lots of photos of course, and in recent times have been photographing the forest devastation which comes from rape of these areas by logging companies.  Those companies contract to pay the MDC to remove millions and millions of board feet of lumber from the areas which Missourians own.  The loggers make hundreds of thousands of dollars stripping the timber, then pay a percentage of that profit to the MDC, which desires money more than anything else, including the beauty and wildlife of a natural area.

      They have destroyed some of the most beautiful public areas in their charge, many of them given to them by people now deceased, who wanted their lands preserved.

      I take a bunch of photos of those places they have destroyed, and they know that I intend to publish the photos in a book I am writing about them.  So maybe the photos I have taken is part of the reason they want to have photography outlawed, and a required, and an expensive permit will take care of that.  But it won’t stop me, because such a move is unenforceable and denies people their constitutional rights.  

      If they don’t know that, they will find it out, with lawsuits they may have to answer to.  But here is what I envision happening when I come walking out of the woods on areas all Missourian owns, with my camera, and find a pair of agents waiting in their brand new 50 thousand dollar MDC owned pick-up, from which they do their work. The conversation might go something like this…


AGENT… I see you have your camera with you; do you have your photography permit?

ME… Oh no sir, I did not want to leave it or my pistol in my vehicle to be stolen so I just brought them with me on my hike.  But this expensive camera cannot take photos unless it has a card in it and you can see that there is none inside it. My pistol has no bullets in it, so I won’t be tempted to shoot any copperheads, which your laws also protect.

AGENT… Well where is that camera card, you no-account violator?

ME… Well sir it is lost maybe, or possibly in my pocket or my billfold which you have no business finding unless you have a search warrant.  But then, should you confiscate it, you would see photos I took here and there, of birds and wildlife and wildflowers. I took all of them on my own place, or so I will proclaim in court. And those of destroyed trees and slash and erosion, I took on private land, which I will also tell the judge, or my lawyer will!

AGENT… You are lying, you no good violating photographer.

ME… Well, the only way you will ever know is if you wander out into the tick and snake infested woodlands and catch me in the act… and that is a long way from that air-conditioned pick-up which you seldom get more than a few feet from.  And if you actually were to leave your pick-up you are going to find out that trying to force Missouri citizens to pay to take photos on public land they own is one of the most ridiculous money-grubbing attempts the MDC has ever taken, and it may possibly cost them a lot of money when someone who can pay an expensive lawyer decides to sue them.  You guys probably don’t remember this, but the last time the MDC was sued, they had to pay one of those lawyers and his clients a million dollars. So go get your search warrant, and I will wait here until you get back and confiscate that camera card…. if you can find it.

    Now of course, should some agent be reading this, or the desk-sitters in Jefferson City hear about it, I will soon be going to the MDC managed Niangua Area and taking photos.  I will gladly tell you when that will be, and perhaps take other photographers with me.  


      Of course, this column cannot be used by most newspapers in Missouri, because the MDC has them bullied into printing nothing they do not approve of.  But if you do read this, go to the newspaper where you saw it and thank them for printing what the MDC does not approve of, and let me know what you think of this.  The address is P.O. Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.  The email address is  Our office phone is 417-777-5227

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Are You Coming to Lightnin' Ridge Saturday for the sale and fish fry??


If you are coming to eat at the noon fish-fry, please let us know… or call 417 777 5227


List of things to be sold at lightnin’ ridge sale on sat. june 5, 9 to 3.


About 24 two by fours and some other lumber

2 metal entry doors, one with windows, one without

New in-box browning pump 12 gauge

Ford 8NTractor---AND  mower…. 5 by 5 adjustable, start on its own with battery- pull behind any tractor, even small ones.  Cost 4 grand when new.

Garden tractor-mower

2 clothes dryers

1 clothes washer

2 warm morning gas heaters.

1 gas range

1 electric range

rear seats for a buick suv

used tires and wheels

small dog kennel carriers

irrigation water pump and long hoses

antique outboard motors.

Fishing lures and rods and reels

New minkota trolling motor

Several of Norten Dablemont’s hand made paddles.

Wind tunnel vaccum

Kirby vacuum and attachments

Rocker recliner

Refrigerator –freezer

Game smoker

Hot water heater

Number of 8-foot 2 x4’s

Duck decoys

Large powerful squirrel cage fan

Dozens of men’s large shirts

Almost New front-tine garden tiller

Dozens of old 1 inch wide band saw blades 11 ft long

Wildlife art

Tables full of odds and ends


One thing you all should remember… if I become famous as one of the fbi’s ten most wanted, some of the fishing lures I have used might become valuable!!!


As I remember more items I want to sell, I will post them on facebook






I often listened to old timers who fished the river talk about various ways to tempt big bass, or to catch a limit of goggle-eye.  The river was so much different then, so clear and clean.  The big deep holes, now most of them filling in with silt and gravel, and becoming slick-bottomed with algae and slime, had flathead catfish that commonly weighed from 30 to 40 pounds. 


There were huge soft-shelled turtles, hellbenders nearly two feet long, and occasionally an eel.  You could gig red-horse suckers on occasion that exceeded ten pounds, and the river was full of pan-sized green sunfish that would make a great meal when you were camping on a gravel bar and had an iron skillet with you.


I remember hearing about a method of fishing that worked in any clear, deep creek or river.  Old Bill Stalder and Jim Splechter talked about it, and I never knew for sure if it really worked. 


They said that when they were younger they would take a glass gallon jar, fill it with big shiner minnows, at least a dozen or so, then tie a heavy string around the neck, make a dozen holes in the lid and close the jar with it, letting it sink in a deep hole somewhere below a shoal. 


They said they would put a two or three treble hooks on the jar, tied well with the same kind of trotline string, and that big old bass, or catfish or goggle-eye, would be attracted to those minnow, flashing and struggling in that jar.  The jar even magnified their size, and it drove fish crazy, seeing them like that and not being able to get them. 


Ol’ Bill and Ol’ Jim both swore that you could fish alongside that jar and catch fish that were attracted to the shiners inside, and whipped into a feeding frenzy by their frustration. They said that sometimes, big fish would just grab one of those hooks on the jar and you could occasionally haul one in like that. It didn’t sound like something a fisherman ought to do, so I never tried it, though I tried most everything else back when I was a kid.

Then I was really surprised, while looking through my collection of old outdoor magazines, to find an article about that same kind of tactic in a 1940 publication, entitled ‘bumble-jugging’. It was written by a fishermen who claimed he came across two boys who had filled a big jar with bees, and as he watched they weighted it with a big rock, sunk it in the creek with the lid sealed, and began to catch fish right and left with bobbers and minnows fished around the jug filled with buzzing bees.


He explained how the boys got the bees in the jar, and claimed that in time a huge walleye grabbed a hook on the jar.  They landed it, but broke the jar on a rock beside them, and they got stung in the process. 


If there are any readers out there who ever actually seen, or tried, the jar-fishing that Ol’ Bill so adamantly insisted was a bona-fide method of fishing, I would certainly like to hear from you. But I can’t see it working with bees. At any rate I am thinking of running that whole bee-fishing story from the ‘40’s in one of my upcoming outdoor magazines.


I know that no one is going to believe this, but I know how anyone who is young and strong can spend his time outdoors, with no boss, completely on his own, and make a small fortune.  This is no joke.  I will write about this unbelievable opportunity in the summer issue of my magazine, The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal.  I am not young enough or strong enough to do it, and I have a good outdoor occupation already, but this is a way for a pair of young men to make around 100 thousand dollars a year, working outdoors. You won’t believe it, but it is all there for anyone who wants to work, and it is all above board and legal.


I am hoping my July 5 fish fry here on Lightnin’ Ridge will be a success, but if the rains continue as they have all through May, we might have to postpone it.  If you would like to attend, or find out if it is going to be postponed, please call my office, 417-777-5227.  We need to have an estimate of how much fish to have ready to fry.  Information about the daylong get-together can be found on my blogpot…


You can email me at