Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Wild Gobblers… Fewer and Fewer

 




 

         A comeback in populations of the wild turkey is so simple it could begin this year. First of all, we need to end the fall gun season, which allows the taking of too many hens and gobblers. It does indeed affect breeding numbers for the following spring. How could it not? That argument is ridiculous.  Right now we have the lowest number of wild turkeys in the Ozarks since the seventies.

         A fall archery season could be left in place with no consequence, but when you see a decline in numbers like we are having now, the fall gun season harvest is something that cannot and does not improve things. 

         This past spring, during a 3-week season, record numbers of hunters killed 31,000 gobblers in Missouri and fewer inn Arkansas. That is the lowest number of spring turkeys taken in 40 years. A few years back, a lesser number of hunters during a 2-week season, killed ten thousand more gobblers.  Reread this paragraph and think about what it says. Thirty-one thousand in Missouri is the lowest number taken in many years.  Now do you think there is no problem?

         In more than 500 responses I received from turkey hunters reading this column, there were about ten different reasons given for seeing turkey numbers receding annually for 8 or 10 years.  All are a part of it, but established liberal regulations, set up to create the most money for Conservation Departments is the main reason given.

         The most important and essential change biologists could make is shortening the season to the ten days, including two weekends, and only one gobbler.  They obviously won’t do that here in MO because they’d rather lose turkeys than money. I think that can be said of other states in the south and Midwest, but it should be noted that some of those states are changing their regulations, tightening up seasons, lowering limits and trying to bring numbers of wild turkey back up.  Missouri and Arkansas has done nothing, and will not next spring.  And the way things are now, I predict the number of gobblers taken in Missouri next spring will fall a few thousand short of that record low number killed this past spring.

         No one can count on the conservation departments to do much to restore the wild turkey numbers if they feel it will cost them money, but hunters can do some things by organizing, and that is being done right now. If thousands join to urge later spring seasons, and fewer days in the spring hunting season as well, how can they be ignored. That organizing idea is where you have to start.  For a time a limit of one gobbler in all states makes senses, and fall seasons and special youth seasons should both be ended.           Of the responses I received, about 85 percent were opposed to youth seasons.  Those who want it, want it because it comes before any hunters are in the woods, there are no agents watching and it is a great time to hunt toms because there is not much mating going on, few hens competing with a hunter… gobblers quick to respond.

         It is also a great time to build a comfortable and well-concealed hunting blind a month ahead, where you can set out a decoy or two and spread plenty of corn for two months in advance. Most any hunter can get a third gobbler that way if he can get a youngster to go along.

          I love the argument; “The youth season is a great time for fathers and grandfathers to be outdoors with their youngsters.”   If that were valid, they wouldn’t mind having a youth weekend AFTER the regular spring season!  But see how many ‘youth-hunt’ supporters would agree to that!  Not any!   There goes the argument of “fathers having time with their kids”!  

         Most of us who grew up hunting laugh at that notion.   I spent hours and hours throughout the year hunting and fishing with my kids. I think a special weekend for that is completely ridiculous.  I can’t remember when I started spending time doing all those things with my dad and granddad.  We sure as heck didn’t need a ‘youth week-end'.  It is needed now only because it is a great way for illegal hunting to be carried on. Most agents ignore it. 

         It doesn’t have to be stopped, just set it up for the first weekend after the main season!  It will happen only when wild gobblers get so scarce in some areas that you spend a morning hearing none anywhere, and that is already happening.  But if there is a gobbler anywhere, he will show up the first weekend of April where he has been coming to feed since January.

           As for the predators, I will soon tell you landowners about a way to reduce their numbers on your land easily, affordably and without consuming a great deal of time.  It is through the setting of deadfalls, how to make and use them to eliminate raccoons, possums, skunks, armadillos and feral cats.  With   no steel traps, I have seen a thinning of egg-eaters on my property.   Oh yes, it is illegal, but how the heck are you going to get caught doing it unless you give an agent permission to drive his new state pickup through your land?  Look for that article soon, and more on the wild turkey problems we have now.

 

Email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com.  Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, mo 65613  

 

A Father to Remember

 



 

An Excerpt From the book “The Life and Times of the Pool Hall Kid” (yet to be published.)

 

       After Christmas and after New Years Eve, my dad would always schedule a snooker league in our pool hall that would last two months, into mid-March. He had the first one in the winter of 1959. Anyone could enter it, the cost was 10 bucks and the loser of any game paid 20 cents for that game.  Each man would play everyone else five games, and one game when played correctly with each player doting on what his next shot should be, took about 30 minutes, sometimes more. It was just like major league baseball.  The top four men in total wins would play each other in mid-March for first and second place and it packed the pool hall from January thru March. There was a lot of interest. 

       Games were played according to schedule on the front three tables, from 6 to 9 on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights. If bad weather or sickness caused a scheduled match to be canceled, they could be rescheduled at any time, but everyone involved wanted to play according to the schedule because they liked having big crowds watching them play. 

       The first year, when I was only about 11, there were probably only a dozen players but by the time I was 14, a night had to be added because we had about two dozen players, including me and another teen-ager, Bobby Goodman.   Bobby and I were fierce competitors, and we were very good snooker players for our age but neither of us ever won more league games as we lost.  If you ended up with 24 players, then each man, over the course of those two months, played more than 100 games.  It brought in lots of spectators, and all the front bench regulars, most of whom never played much. Each year we had to get about 3 or 4 extra benches, and the place was packed. It was also heavy with cigar and cigarette smoke, and for the tobacco chewers there were a dozen big square, metal buckets half-filled with sawdust serving as spittoons. 

        That first year that Bobby and I were entered, we had some of the best snooker players in the whole Ozarks.     The top tier were Jimmy Longwell, Gerald Jeffries, Garnett Sliger, Junior Blair, Shorty Evans, Sherrill Campbell, Gurnell Kinserlow, Blackie Sherril, Wade  Dykes, Jack Fogg and of course my dad.  The out of town guys, I didn’t know but they were good too, really good.  Those playoffs, involving the top four men, played in March, were something to see.

       The last of the leagues took place when I was 16 years old, a month or so before Dad sold the pool hall in the spring.  By that time, Bobby and I were really getting good.  The two of us likely were amongst the top 8 or 10 players in the league that last year.  But truthfully, my dad was perhaps the best in town.  He was modest about it.  One night as we closed up the place, brushing the tables and covering them, emptying spittoons and sweeping the floors, we talked about games between him and Garnett Sliger.  I was disappointed that night because of course I wanted Dad to win.  A lot of times he didn’t. I couldn’t understand why.

       “Always remember something,” he told me… “I am good because I get to play free all the time and when this place is empty I can concentrate on improving by playing for a long time and never paying a cent. The other men who are so good at this game have to pay when they play.  They have that disadvantage… none get to practice as often as I do.”

       I thought about what he said on the way home.  “Don’t you try to win?”  I asked.

 “Of course I do,” he said, “They’d all know if I didn’t do my best, and I might get to be in that final four, but I can’t win it The trophies can’t go to me. It just ain’t right.  I learned when I was about your age that a real man is a humble man. The Lord has said something about the pride He has in men who are meek.  There are times when you can be proud to just do your best and lose.  When you win, say little about it. A braggart and boaster is looked upon with skepticism.  Be proud of who you are and what you can do, but keep that pride inside yourself and if others should know, they will see that, you don’t have to tell them.”


       Dad is gone now, but in my office there are a dozen old trophies collected in pool and snooker tournaments from various small town pool halls like those in Cabool and Mt. Grove and Licking.  But there are none from Houston.  His biggest accomplishments were not trophies, but the three kid he raised, and eight grandkids who never got into any trouble, and never dishonored him.  None of us ever knew a greater man.

        As for me, I was never good enough at anything to brag about it; maybe in high school I was the worst athlete, and the worst scholar there.  I was a heck of a boat paddler but there aren’t any sports halls of fame that include boat paddling.  I try not to brag when I write about the outdoors and my exploits therein. But I am tempted, and sometimes give in.  Truthfully compared to my dad and his father and brothers, I am something of a disappoint when it comes to fishing and hunting and shooting, and yes, even johnboat paddling, which is my strong point.  When I was 15, I got a great pocketknife for Christmas. One of my cousins looked at mine and showed me the one he got.  “This one is better,” he said.  

       I started to tell him his wasn’t half as good as mine and then I looked at my dad, smoking his pipe as he watched me… wondering what I was going to say, and I remembered what he told me that night at the pool hall, and continued to try to teach me as we fished and hunted together for almost sixty years..

So I agreed with my cousin, “Boy that really is a pretty one,” I said, despite what I was thinking.  And Dad smiled.

Because of him, you readers don’t know about the biggest buck I killed.  You don’t know about my biggest bass or catfish or walleye, nor how many gobblers I have bagged.  And there was a fellow not long ago that went to Canada and bragged about how he and a friend caught a hundred smallmouth bass a day.  I wanted to tell him about several dozen trips I have taken to three provinces in Canada and the fish I had caught on this trip or that one.  But I didn’t.  I just said, “Boy I sure would have liked to have been with you!”  And I knew right then that Dad would have been proud of me if he could have been there listening.  Who knows, maybe he was.

dad with river mallards
 
me with pet cat and dad with pet hound


dad and I with river mallards


dad with first car
car


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

An Evening Bass

 



       It was a nice little lake cove with clear water, and a little stream flowing in at the end.  That little tributary would be very low most years, by this time in the summer.  And most years, there wouldn’t be any green trees and shrubs in the water.  But it looked to be a good place to fish a topwater lure, late in the evening, and I meant to try it.   There was a nice little rock cliff not far away, some timber sticking up out of the water nearby, and no one there but me.


       I had something swirl the water behind the lure once, but for a half hour or more I didn’t get much other action than that.  And then, the lure landed just right in a spot next to a fairly good-sized sycamore sapling out ten feet from the bank, and a bass sucked it under.    There wasn’t much commotion, nothing like the demolishing,  ‘jump out of the water” attack you sometimes see from a marauding bass looking for an easy meal.  This one just pulled it down and took off with it, and I set the hook when he did.  All I had to do was keep the bass out of all that brush, and I had casting gear with line strong enough to do that.


       The fish lunged and struggled and broke water once, but it wasn’t a fight he was going to win.  Eventually I brought him up alongside the boat and got my thumb in his mouth and wished someone was along to take a picture.  A good photograph could have made that bass look five pounds or better, if it was taken right.  And honestly, he was almost four and a half pounds, give or take four or five ounces, or maybe six.   I have no doubt at all he was almost four and a quarter pounds.


       But I turned him loose, and fished awhile longer, as the dusk came on and the water was calm and the evening was still.  I caught another bass which also fought hard, but wasn’t half as big.  I put that one in my live well, because it was a Kentucky bass.  It would be eaten soon, and that would make me feel a little better about using all that gas just to go fishing.


       It was getting dark back at the little gravel road where I left my pick-up, and when I backed my trailer down into the water to load the boat, two ladies drove up and prepared to catch some catfish.  They seemed very pleasant, asking me about my fishing trip and talking about how high the lake was.  And they were both very nice looking ladies, or so they seemed to be in the late evening light, which has a tendency to make us all better looking.  As I grow older, I notice that more ladies are nice-looking now than they use to be, and there are a great deal more of them I meet who are younger than me.  Many of them though, seem to be harder to get along with.


       “You know,” one of them said as I prepared to leave, “you look a little like that guy who writes the outdoor column in the newspaper.”


       I came close to telling them I was, maybe even bragging a little bit about my fishing ability, but thank gosh I didn’t.  The other one made a nasty comment about that column I wrote a few weeks ago, the one about how you can tell a female bass from a male bass by their disposition, something I meant to be humorous and light-hearted.  It was plain she didn’t much cotton to my kind of humor.  So I told them my name was Joe Smith, and I was a little shorter and older and more sensitive than that no-account newspaper columnist.


       “I’d like to run into him just once,” one of them said, “I’d tell him a thing or two about his ideas concerning women.”  It was a precarious situation.  Somehow, I had let one of them get between me and the pickup, so I groped around in the live well and hauled out that little old bass and asked if they’d like to have him.  It quickly diffused the situation, and they were all smiles.  


       I told them I thought it probably was a male bass, and deserved to be filleted and fried.  And then I got out of there in a hurry.  But they don’t realize that if either of them had just said they liked that column and got a good laugh out of it, I might have hung around awhile and helped them catch a few catfish.  So you see ladies, it pays to have a sense of humor!

 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Experts and Pros

 

 

         A few years back I was amused to see where there were a dozen or so "outdoorsmen" competing in an event to determine the best outdoorsman in the country.  Reckon they actually narrowed it down to the very top outdoorsman? How ridiculous is such and effort. Most likely, the very best of the outdoorsmen would never even become involved in such a silly thing.  I say silly because one of the events was "ATV handling".  Today's suburban outdoorsmen who are the targets of the people who sell outdoor gear, would find that to be a real test of your outdoor prowess.... how you handle an ATV, maybe how you can handle a bass boat with a 200 horsepower motor, and how well you can manipulate a foot-control trolling motor.  There might be an effort to see who can shoot an assault rifle fastest.  I would imagine these contestants are city dwellers as well.

         I knew some outstanding outdoorsmen, and they lived in the woods. There are some left here in the Ozarks. I have long known a Canadian who is truly an outdoorsman.  He told me once that if you want to see what ability a man has in the outdoors, and what kind of knowledge he has, send him out to a wilderness lake with what he can pack on his back, and a good knife and an axe.

         In truth, great outdoorsmen are mostly gone now, and they were men who didn't handle ATV's. When I was a kid I knew some that were World War One veterans. I recognize real outdoorsmen by seeing the love and understanding they have for the outdoors.  The men who truly are experts have no desire to be called that, and they do not live in suburbs or cities, they live in the woods, somewhere.  We have arrived at a time when the men who truly understood and knew the ways of the wild are old men, or long passed away. The few young ones were those who spent time with those men, in the woods or on the rivers.  Most of what they knew, we are losing.  But this much is true, there are more experts in the outdoors today than you can shake a stick at.... more pros and champions and authorities than fish in the sea.  Lots of them are fairly hefty-bellied, thus the need for ATV’s.  They can’t walk far!

         For an outdoor partner, give me someone who will slowly walk the ridgetops and the valleys from daylight to dark and be sorry the day has ended.  Give me someone who loves it so much he can't tire of the songs of birds, nor experience enough the sound and smell of rain coming across a still valley.  Give me someone who notices the scent post of a fox as a passes, who finds the pellets beneath an owl roost.  Put me in a boat with someone who can paddle so slowly and quietly even the beaver and the mink and the wood ducks are unaware of his presence.  Give me a man who passes up the unwise or risky shot, and usually doesn’t need but one cartridge.  A man who can clean game quickly and efficiently, who takes only what he uses and wastes nothing.  Give me an outdoorsman who tempers what he learns from books with what he has learned from his experiences beneath a hardwood canopy or along a flowing stream.  And spare me the professionals and the experts, for no man who truly knows the outdoors and it's wild creatures ever figures he know that much.  The best of the true outdoorsmen feel no desire to boast or compete, nor seek out crowds.  Spare me also, the ATV handlers; I have nothing in common with such ‘outdoorsmen’!  

         You may never have thought of this, but technology is going to play a big part in hunting in the future.  It will come in the use of drones to survey a large area to show you where the elk or moose or deer are; even the dwindling flocks of wild turkeys.  There will be no way to outlaw them.  Same thing with the new ‘depth finders’ that will make it possible to find fish in a way that tells you the species and exact length.  Get the right technology on your boat and failure is no longer a problem.  What a great thing that is for tournament anglers!  What a bad thing it is for the future of fishing.  Most lakes will not see the big fish they once had.  They will be found so easily everyone can find a trophy for now.  But maybe not in the future! They may soon be gone for good.

 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

A Beller From the Pond

 

Bullfrog on a limb overhanging our pond


         I built a nice pond up here on this ridge top about 25 years ago, and it was a wise move, though an expensive one at the time.  I have stocked it with fish, but I don’t fish it much except when I need bait for a trotline.  It is a pretty much easy place to catch a bucket full of 4 or 5-inch sunfish.  Last night as I sat on the porch watching the sunset I heard a big ol’ bullfrog bellerin’ from the pond.  There a lots of them too and in the summer they beller a lot.  I catch them from the nearby river every now and then, because, as most of you know, they are great eating.  But for some reason I have never eaten one from my pond.  I just can’t bring myself to do it.  I’d rather  hear ‘em than eat   ‘em

         Usually, when you read a natural history account, it discusses the basic things you find in a nature book of some type, like when the bird or animal migrates or hibernates, how many young it has, and what it eats. Today’s outdoor writers who write such things usually live in the city suburbs and get their information from a book someone else wrote long ago.  When I was a kid I read where bullfrogs lay about five or six thousand eggs and I set out to see if that was correct.  I found a big bunch of frog eggs in a little backwater slough and began to count them, and I was up around four or five hundred when something distracted me, so I never did get a completed count.  

         I have decided to go with what the book says.  I can say for sure that tadpoles hatch from the eggs and begin, in time to sprout legs and slowly, throughout the course of the summer, become a small bullfrog.  The book says that in about two years, that little frog will be a full grown, eating size bullfrog about 5 inches long.  It says that bullfrogs only get to be about 6 and 1/2  inches long, and I don't buy that at all.  I know I have caught some that were 8 or 9 inches long and 18 inches long with their legs stretched out.  Ol' Bill down at the pool hall when I was a kid, said he had seen 'em 24 inches long when he was younger, and I can tell you that Ol' Bill knew more about river critters than whoever wrote those books.  You remember seeing that picture of the heron trying to swallow a bullfrog, and the bullfrog hanging out the big birds beak with it's front feet wrapped around the heron's neck trying to choke it to death...?  Well Ol' Bill said he actually seen that happen once.

         I know from studying bullfrogs on my own that they will eat about anything they can, and they eat both at night and during the daytime.  I never recall ever seeing one asleep; never saw one that wouldn't eat whenever the opportunity presented itself.   They really can unroll that tongue out there and nail an insect before them, and they can also swim up to a crawdad under water and eat it too.  I imagine they prefer crawdads to about anything when they can get them, but then, a pond bullfrog which has no crawdads in his pond has to settle for insects or small fish or small snakes.  A bullfrog is a little like some of my relatives on my mother's side, he will eat whatever he can get, whatever comes along that looks capable of being swallowed.

         Bullfrogs usually fatten up and hibernate in the muck or mud somewhere, and that is to me one of the most amazing things when you think of it.  They just sense when it is time to burrow in somewhere and when spring comes along they wake up and get back to a normal life.  Think about that this Christmas when there's about a foot of snow on the ground.... down at the river, there are dozens of bullfrogs snoozing away in a foot or so of frozen mud, not breathing or eating, with about one heartbeat every two days.  

         From my own experiences with bullfrogs, without consulting the books, they are very prolific, lead a fairly boring life, miss the whole winter sleeping but stay awake all summer, can jump the full length of a johnboat, eat almost everything that is smaller than they are and feed almost everything larger than they are. Their deep bellowing call adds a great deal to an Ozark river on a summer night. And here on my ridge, bellering away from the pond in the woods, they make summer melodious. It wouldn't be the same without them.  

 

Under a Bright Light

 


         I am going to write about wild turkey problems during the summer as I had promised, but an outdoor writer can’t skip over the fishing that gets so good this time of year…  I went fishing at Norfork Lake last week and really bombed out.  An outdoor writer is also prone to tell about the fishing trips that go very well and not write much about the times he makes a thousand casts and reels back empty hooks or lures.  If you had been with me on Norfork last week you would have caught more fish than I did if you had only caught one.  

         I’ll start this story describing something that happened in the late seventies or early eighties.  There I was that morning just after daylight, on Bull Shoals Lake, motoring around looking for a good spot to fish top water lures for bass.  It was so foggy that May morning that the Navy couldn’t have used its radar effectively.  As I fished a cove not far from where I had left my pick-up, I really had no idea where my pick-up was. With that fog around me, I wasn’t sure which end of the boat the motor was on. 

         It was as quiet as it ever gets on that magnificent lake, but for an occasional splash of a fish somewhere, and all of a sudden, there was the slow drone of an outboard motor growing closer, and closer.  It wasn’t going fast enough to swamp me… I just wondered if they might run over me.  Back in those days I didn’t have much of a boat.

Finally these three guys motored up beside me and ask if I knew where they were.  I told them I didn’t know where any of us was.  I remember them well; there was Rob Morton, his younger brother and a young man by the name of Henson.  They looked as if they had been through a wringer, returning from a long sleepless night with stringers of all kinds of fish, bass, white bass, crappie, trout and walleye.  

         One walleye was a jaw dropper. It was about 3 feet long and weighed 16 pounds.  They had caught the fish during the night beneath a submerged light, using threadfin shad which were attracted to the light.  To make a long story short, when the sun came up and burned off the fog, I had gotten to know them a little and they had invited me to go along on their next trip.

 I did and I will never forget that fishing trip.  Until midnight that night, I caught nothing; jigging a minnow up and down beneath the boat and that bright underwater light.  About that time some shad began to flip around on the surface and in twenty minutes those threadfin shad had turned into a swirl and then a regular mass, circling that light like Indians circling a wagon train! You could hear them hitting the bottom of the boat, sounding like rain on a tin roof.  All I remember about the rest of the night was reeling in hefty fish, big crappie, several walleye and trout, and a bunch of white bass in the 3 to 4 pound category.  A shad net hanging down into that swirl gave us all the bait we needed, and when you hooked on a shad and dropped it down about 30 feet below, you had better hang on to your rod.

         I have fished that way from April to mid-June since then, from my pontoon boat on a half dozen different lakes, though the threadfin shad are not found in Missouri reservoirs. So let me switch to last week on Norfork Lake, the Three Oaks resort near Gamaliel.  Don Lawellen and his wife own it.  I met him years back when I was looking for advertisers with my magazine on Norfork.  Never fished with anyone I like better. Don has the darndest thing going for fishermen that I have ever seen.  His resort sits high on a mountain looking out over the beauty of Norfork Lake and his boat dock sits at the bottom of a steep incline below it.  You reach it by a trolley.  That dock sits over about 50 feet of water, with lights down in the water, and benches there where his resort visitors fish after dark.  The whole thing has to be seen to believed.  

         You don’t need a boat, you just fish from the dock and depending on the time of year and the time of night, you can catch crappie and walleye and hybrids and stripers and white bass, and a few black bass too.  I have fished there with Don and caught lots of them, even in the winter.  I count him as a close friend, a fellow who can tell stories enough to keep you awake well into the night, and I like to go there just to hang out with him on that dock.  But then, I like to catch fish too. 

          The folks fishing from his dock use jigs and spoons and little else.  I look down into those depths at swarming shad and want to use them for bait. Last week you could sit there and watch huge fish come to within 3 feet of the surface and not catch a darn one of them. At least I didn’t.  There were crappie and a couple of walleye and white bass that looked to be 4 or 5 pounds, and a dozen hybrids.  Fishing only a few feet from me, Don hooked several hybrids, lost an expensive spoon and landed two that were seven or eight pounds.  I have an answer to what I saw that night… I am going back with my pontoon boat, tying up to the end of his dock, setting out a bright light and a shad net, and fishing with nothing but threadfin shad!  That’ll learn ‘em!

         If you want to take a vacation soon that affords such good fishing even if you haven’t got a boat, and experience fun trolley rides from a mountaintop, call Three Oaks Resort and see if you can get one of those beautiful old cabins of his sometime this summer… or fall, or winter.  The fish seem to always be there. 

 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Wild Gobblers, Now, Yesterday and Tomorrow

 



       There is only one answer to bringing wild turkeys back to the numbers seen many years ago!  Hunters will have to do it!  The Missouri Department of Conservation is too inept now to do much of anything but cut timber. And cutting back on turkey seasons and bag limits and eliminating the senseless “youth season” will cost them money.  They will do nothing to cost themselves money.  But if we can organize a large number of turkey hunters, we can make them do some things to help the numbers increase, which would be the first time that has happened in more than ten years. 


       Since we are not capable of reducing predators on a massive scale, and we can’t do anything without changing weather patterns and a half dozen other factors, then hunters are going to have to take the bull by the horns to force needed changes in the hunting seasons and regulations.  


       Here is a plan that will work, and it needs to be done now, because hunting seasons and the two-bird limit that worked fine once, are no longer working to allow a successful breeding season.  That is because the habits of the wild turkey have changed.  THEY MATE LATER!  


       A. Set up a season that will begin one week or ten days later than what we had this year and in years past!  Give wild turkeys more time to breed and bring off successful nests!  Do what allows more gobblers to be here longer and allow more hens to lay more eggs. 


       B.  Eliminate the “weekend of the poacher”… known as the “youth season”.  When there were lots of turkeys, that season didn’t have the impact it has now.  If you want to argue that it is a great thing to bring fathers   and kids together, then schedule it for the first weekend after the regular season.  Let’s hear the arguments against that idea.    Youth season gives poachers a chance to take 3 gobblers each spring. It most often involves pre-made blinds like little sheds, corn for bait, beginning as early as January, decoys, hens killed accidentally and conservation agents turning their heads and letting it all happen.  Sometimes 3 and 4 year old kids check gobblers.  My dad started hunting with me when I was very young.  I carried no guns until we had hunted together for years and I had been taught well.  My youth seasons involved rabbits and squirrels and then as I grew older, quail and ducks.  That “youth season” mentality would have given my dad a good laugh back then.  It needs to be done away with. In the case of deer, it can’t hurt anything because we have so many deer.  But with wild turkey, it is becoming a major problem.


       C.  End the fall season!  If you hear someone who claims to be a biologist say a fall season has no affect, they need to get out in the woods more. Look at the kill numbers over past fall seasons.  I think that will tell anyone the real affect of the fall season.  Taking away ANY number of gobblers, jakes and hens in October definitely affects spring breeding numbers to some extent.


       D. Outlaw the use of decoys. Any hunter that uses a decoy should wear a shirt during the season saying, “I am not a very good turkey hunter or I wouldn’t need a decoy.”  Next week with photos, I will show you a new way of hunting that will be a big thing in the future if it is allowed too continue.

 


         This past year, if the season had opened on April 25  instead of April 18  we would have had perhaps as many as 30 percent more poults this summer than we are going to have.   The MDC’s lady turkey biologist, Reina Tyl, hired in order to increase employee diversity, said back in the winter that there was a better percentage of young turkeys coming out of the summer of 21.  That was about the dumbest thing they ever put forward.  After traveling around during late winter, counting wild turkeys I can assure there was a decline in the overall picture here in the Ozarks.  No one can tell you what we will have this season until the year is nearly over.  I will tell you that number in January, and you cannot get a handle on it until November or later.


       Because we have a conservation department so afraid of losing revenue if they cause fewer tags to be sold by restricting the season, I figure they will only do something about this situation if they begin to lose money.  Losing wild gobblers does not mean much.


       If you don’t believe me, consider this…the 2022 harvest was 31 thousand gobblers… lowest in years and years, by the thousands.  In next weeks column I will show you what has been happening in numbers that have been kept track of, and I will give all of   you hunters who know what is happening with the wild turkey a route to take where your voice can be heard.  It involves no money. 


       I want you to be sure and read next week’s column and spread it to other hunters like you and me.  It is an answer that can change the season next year, only because it will cost the MDC money to continue as they have been.  There are some facts and figures you need to know, and if we can get several hundred, or several thousands of hunters to join in, we can, in only two seasons, see an increase in the number of wild gobblers throughout the Midwest.

 


 

 

 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Higher Vantage Point

 



I don’t get to a modern church very often today.  That was something I did since I was young and had no choice in the matter. But I love to spend Sunday mornings out in the woods somewhere or off on the river, where I feel closer to God than anywhere else I have ever been. I don’t like to be around a lot of people, I like being outdoors alone as often as possible. But I am not at all anti-social.  In the last few years I have spent a great deal of time speaking to folks in churches or various places  around the Ozarks, and I enjoy that.  In fact I will be speaking this coming Saturday evening at the Shepherd of the Hills.  I have the same weakness, I suppose, as many of the old timers I grew up around, in the pool hall back in my hometown. I do a lot better at talking than listening!


       But I do listen to what God has to tell me out on some lonely ridgetop after the turkey hunters and mushroom hunters are gone, and I shut up and listen.  God doesn’t tell us all the same things.  That’s because men are different, and I have been told often that I am.. uh… different. 


       A few years back Gloria Jean went to church one Sunday morning as she often does, in her car, perhaps thinking I would show up later as I sometimes do, in my old pick-up.  Instead, I reclined on the couch and decided to stay there where it was decidedly more comfortable than a church pew.  I turned on TV thinking I would find some TV preacher to argue with, and Bonanza was on.


       I suppose if you have read this column often you know I hate TV.  I truly believe that if there is a devil somewhere with a tail and horns, his most valuable tool is a television set.  He’d rather see any of his tools taken out of modern society than that box in the living room that he uses so well.  I have that wicked box in my house to watch football and baseball on occasion, the news and weather, Bonanza, Gunsmoke and similar old Westerns, and shows about nature and wildlife…period. That Sunday morning years ago, it was either an episode of Bonanza I haven’t seen or one I can’t remember.  The older I get, the better the old westerns get, because I have forgotten I saw them before.


       And that morning, just after Little Joe had been shot in the leg, the TV quit working. So I climbed up on the roof via a somewhat shaky ladder to whack the antennae similator, not knowing anything else to do.  I congratulated myself on being so nimble and athletic at that late stage in my life, that I could still climb up there and do such a thing, but the ladder which enabled me to get on the roof had just up and fell, and the wisdom of my years told me  I was not going to get down without considerable risk, even in my top-notch ‘grizzled old veteran outdoorsman’ condition. 

 

       My rooftop, on the highest ridge in this whole county, is a very high rooftop, shaded by big oaks.  It is really beautiful from up there, and it is a remarkable way to look at oak trees I have seen so often from the bottom.  I saw an oriole and a tanager, and one little humming bird sat on a limb not ten feet away, wondering what I was.  A blue jay screamed at me, a cardinal sang to me and a fox squirrel in a hickory out in the lawn ate breakfast while I watched.

     

  

       To end this story… Gloria Jean came home eventually, saw me sitting on the roof as she drove up the gravel driveway and was convinced I had decided to commit suicide by jumping off.  Therefore, she was in no hurry to interrupt anything. 


       You might ought to try sitting on your roof sometime on Sunday morning if you live way out in the country. Take a cushion.  It is still and peaceful and you see things from a different point of view.  I probably won’t do it again but I don’t know that I will go to church any time soon either.  I may go down to the river by myself and look at things from a really low spot, now that I have looked at things from so high up.  I may talk to God from there a little, and listen for his voice and his advice. The river is a great place to just be quiet and listen, and the smallmouth really get active this time of year. 

       


       This week I intend to go night fishing at Norfork Lake, so those of you who are disappointed that I have not passed on any really exiting fishing stories lately might look forward to next week’s column, which ought to really be good. 

 

       You can find lots of outdoor reading in my latest issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor magazine.  To find out how you can get a copy, just write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, at 417 777 5227.   My e-mail address is lightninridge47@gmail.com

       

 

Monday, May 9, 2022

Hunting A Good Place to Fish

 


Compared to a largemouth of the same weight, a Kentucky is shorter, wider and thicker.  They usually have a red eye, but not always.  They have rows of spots low on the belly and they have a rough patch like a file on their tongue.  On largemouth and true smallmouth the tongue is smooth. True Kentucky bass are great eating, and if you catch one in an Ozark stream, do not release it… take it home and eat it.  Release the smallmouth.  Kentucky bass increase everywhere, smallmouth bass do not.



      Sometimes, to be a successful fisherman you have to become a diligent hunter.  A friend and I did just that a few days ago, going up a swollen and muddy Sac River, looking for some tributaries where white bass and walleye might have moved into warming, clearer water.  We found one, which had no walleye or white bass, but it was a beautiful spot with the clearer, deep water we were looking for.  

      It was full of bass.  A few were largemouth, but most were Kentucky bass and they jumped all over spinner baits and crank-down Rapalas.  In an hour or so we caught two-dozen bass or more.  A dozen of them were fat, chunky, 15 to 16 inchers.  That is a good size for a Kentucky, known to some as ‘spotted bass’.  

      We kept the 8 biggest ones and I measured them at home.  The width of several was a little more than five inches; the weight of two or three was a little better than three pounds.  Of the few largemouth we landed, none were more than 12 inches.  I never keep smallmouth bass, but I have always encouraged fishermen to keep the Kentuckies.  They are never wormy and the filets are very, very good eating.        Kentucky bass were not native to the Ozarks and they now they are competition for native smallmouth, even hybridizing with the latter.  I seriously wonder, because of that cross-breeding, if smallmouth might disappear in some of our streams someday.  To be replaced by the cross, what some fishermen call a mean-mouth bass. I call them a threat to native smallmouth.  I have seen Kentuckies grow to almost 5 pounds, but never caught one that big.  That day, fishing light action gear, my partner and I had a ball catching and releasing most of them.

      We left the Sac just after noon and went over to the Pomme de Terre River, also high and muddy, and went way up the swollen current to what was regular river water much higher than I usually fish for white bass.   But we found them, and caught dozens before five o’clock on the same gear we had used in those upper waters of Truman Lake. They were later than most years, but scattered for miles of river and we found them where there was quieter water next to the current. This year the Pomme’s white bass were big and fat.  I have seen years when you couldn’t catch a white above 10 or 12 inches in that river.  

      I don’t know where we will go fish- hunting this coming week, thinking that the clear waters of Bull Shoals may give us some great fishing at night under the submerged lights that draw in threadfin shad, then giant crappie, walleye, white bass and other species.  There in Bull Shoals at night, all species are of sizes you seldom see. 

      You can have the same thing over on Norfork Lake where I sometimes fish with Three Oaks Resort owner Don Lewallen.  Don has a big well-lit dock over deep water and there you may add stripers and hybrids at this time of year, coming in beneath his dock to stuff themselves on the swarming shad. 

      If you stay at Don’s resort, you do not need a boat to catch fish.  You just sit in a bench on his dock and catch all kinds of fish out of boat slips over 40 feet of water, using jigs. Fish all night and sleep all day!

      I enjoy that a great deal because I really like Don, and enjoy spending time with him talking about Norfork and the fishing found there.

 

      My latest issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, a full color, 74 page magazine is about ready to mail.  If you call today you can get one sent to you for a very economical price.  Our printing company’s mail-list magazines cost only about a dollar to mail.  If I mail it from my office the cost is more than 3 dollars.

      When I wrote the column recently about declining turkey populations, I received more than 400 letters and emails about what has happened.  Hunters are upset about the MDC refusal to change anything to help wild turkeys due to a potential loss of revenue. In my magazine you can read a bunch of those letters, reader’s suggestions and my own suggestions about what we had better do to turn around this tremendous drop in wild turkey numbers, as much as 75 percent in some areas.

      You can call me to get one of those magazines, which also tells you how to get a free copy of my publication, “The Truth About the Missouri Department of Conservation”, which finally will be out this summer.  My phone number 417-777-5227.  My E-mail address is lightninridge47@gmail.com.  Mailing address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

For the Birds


Because spring was late, a rose breasted grosbeak was late coming to our feeder this year. We've seen four of them. They usually hang around for 4 to 7 days before moving on north.

On the other hand… an oriole actually nests, bringing up young, and staying around until late June (this photo was taken a couple of years ago, when we had late spring precipitation)

                             


          Years ago I spoke to the Audubon Society Chapter at Pittsburg Kansas, and enjoyed getting to spend some time with folks who truly love all aspects of nature, especially birds.  I think my talk went over really well except for my woodpecker recipes.  On a more serious side, I myself have had a great fascination with birds since I was very small.  I wanted to grow up and be a waterfowl biologist when I was only eleven years old, and floated the Big Piney River in the fall, sneaking up on wood ducks and hooded mergansers and mallards and teal and other birds. 

When I was a kid it was birds that drew me to the woods and the river in the winter. There were so many birds to be seen, some year-round residents and some just passing through ahead of the first cold winds.

  

It was always that way with each new bird.  A kingfisher lit on the blind one day as we floated the river hunting ducks.  He was perched there only for a couple of seconds, a couple of feet from my face. 


The little green herons that were so numerous along the river in the fall always fascinated me, they didn’t appear to have any green on them whatsoever, but rather a purple, rusty color, a mean look in their eye and more patience than I could imagine.  As we would float along, you’d see one of those ‘shikepokes’, as Grandpa called them, at a shallow spot, intensely staring into the water, as still as a statue.  They might not move a feather for 5 minutes or more, and then when the time was right they would strike with lightning quickness, and come up with a beak full of small fish or minnow.

 

I am no less fascinated by birds now, and have developed quite a bird sanctuary here where I live over the last thirty years, on Lightnin’ Ridge, in the heart of the Ozarks.  It is a ridge-top of big timber, old growth oak-hickory woodlands, and there are a tremendous variety of birds here. I am expecting Baltimore orioles soon. They are large, beautifully colored birds, black and orange and white, and they love nectar.  It is strange to see a bird that large clinging to a hummingbird feeder trying to drink that sweet nectar.  I go to town each spring and buy some orange-colored oriole nectar and try to get them to stay longer. Some years, a pair will nest here… laying eggs inside a sock-like nest. Behind them comes the secretive rain-crows, or yellow billed cuckoos, which are heard a great deal, but seldom seen in those high white oak branches where they nest. 

 The illusive rain crow. They are normally heard but very rarely seen.
                                              I was lucky to get this camera shot.


Bluebirds nest in the boxes I put out for them, and a pair of mockingbirds nest each year in a cedar and redbud thicket behind the garden. 

The Blue grosbeak has a rusty wing patch

Each spring we see the blue grosbeak, similar in color to indigo buntings, which we also have a lot of, but larger, with rusty wings. The rose-breasted grosbeaks come for awhile too and there are brown thrashers and fly-catchers, and kingbirds and summer tanagers and butcher birds and in a little wet opening in the back end of the woods, I saw a wood-cock mother with tiny chicks a couple of years ago.  One covey of quail survives each winter in our thicket around the pond. There are so many kinds of woodpeckers in these woods you’d be amazed. Two big pileated woodpeckers can often be seen right out of my office window.


In those 30 years, I have not seen any birds that are completely new, except one road-runner 15 years back that I never saw again.  Now there is a brand new species!  Two individuals nesting close by, the pair feeding beneath the feeder with all the mourning doves, larger with lighter color and a collar.  They are beautiful ‘collared doves’, fairly rare in the wild Ozarks, but growing in number, around homesteads and dairy farms.  No photos yet but I will get some.  They are welcome here, seen feeding amongst larger groups of mourning doves to keep the grain the other birds scatter on the ground, cleaned up.


It might be noted, and often is remarked about by visitors, that Lightnin' Ridge is sort of an unkempt place at times, with unmowed grass a little too high and raspberry thickets allowed to grow fairly close to the house. Right now in the high grass there are baby rabbits and small flowers scattered everywhere.  I may not mow until July! But then again, no one ever complains about all the music amongst the branches, the songs of so many different kinds of birds you can’t help but notice that the trees just seem to be alive.  I don’t know how anyone lives without birds, certainly I never have, and will not.  I have been told there’s lots of money in clearing your land, selling the logs and putting in acres of grass to feed herds of cattle.  And I have been told the craziest thing in the world is someone who thinks he is rich because he has a forest full of wild birds all around his house.   But in the spring, how can anyone live without them? Money cannot make you as rich as me.


 

The new Outdoor Journal magazine will be out this week, full color, 70 pages.  And the Ozark Journal magazine has been out since two weeks ago. If you want a copy of either, email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com or just call Ms. Wiggins, my executive secretary at 417 777 5227 to have her send you one.  See them on my website, www.larrydablemont.com