Thursday, April 21, 2022

How Low Can They Go?


I once shot this gobbler and was surprised to find that it had  seven distinct beards

       You have no idea how it hurts an old time outdoorsman like me to roam the Ozarks and witness what is happening to the wild turkey.  What hurts most is to know it is likely to be this way for years and years, maybe for good, like what happened to the bobwhite quail. The reasons for the decline of the wild turkey are many, but the situation we create with too much hunting is a big part of it.  They have begun, over the decades to breed later and later in the spring, and the harvest of gobblers before they ever mate, is significant.  Many southern states have begun to recognize that problem…too many toms being killed too early in the spring, by a great increase in hunters.  And those states, at least eight of them, are trying to ease the hunting pressure and the harvest of spring gobblers.

       Here is what I believe should be done to bring back numbers…

       1.   Have a few years of only 1 gobbler per hunter.  2. Set back season opener ten days.  3. End fall hunting for a time.  4. Allow hunting for only 9 days, which includes two weekends.  5. End the greatest poaching tool of all by abolishing the ‘youth season’ or moving it to a weekend after the regular season. 

        No one has any idea what is happening there, with kids being used to allow adults to kill one more gobbler, and then a certain number of kids being taught to lie about it.  Youth season means hunting from blinds where turkeys are baited for weeks.  There is no single thing that could be done to help wild turkey numbers than abolishing that.  The result is huge numbers of dead gobblers before they ever mate with a hen.  BUT… the result is lots more revenue for the MDC and any state conservation department that allows it.

       Those moves would immediately allow more successful breeding by allowing toms to mate with hens over a longer period, before they are killed.  I have talked to older, more knowledgeable turkey hunters who have hunted and studied the wild turkey for 30 or 40 years, and all agree with me on this. But in Missouri and Arkansas, and some other states, certain ineptness amongst young biologists ensures that no moves will be made. With the Missouri Department of Conservation that money from turkey tag sales is the first and foremost concern.

            I think there has always been first and foremost a real decline in the knowledge of the wild turkey over the last 20 years. I am convinced that is a critical thing today. I was there in the fifties and sixties when the Missouri Conservation Commission restocked wild turkey in the Ozarks.



           It was not the same agency as today's "Department of Conservation".  The biologists and workers involved back then were all out there working cannon nets to trap turkeys and releasing them all through the Ozarks, and they were men with years of experience. I know, I was there!

          When you start talking about the loss of revenue, you realize that we may never see wild turkeys at a level close to what we had in the eighties and nineties.  I think about an old man by the name of Dan Besser who lived on his home in the country a few miles from Collins.  He became aware of the flocks of turkeys declining on his place and he began robbing one or two turkey nests each spring, and hatching the eggs in his own incubator.  He had up to 20 or more wild turkey poults raised in pens to a certain age and then released, to roam around his home, where he fed them until mid-summer.  Then he would stop feeding them and by fall they were gone, just as wild as any turkeys anywhere.  It worked.  Dan had more wild turkeys, stocking his own woods and that of his neighbors year after year.  All that of course is illegal, but country people who want to have wild turkeys should follow his example, and game and fish agencies should encourage it.  It would ensure that nests destroyed by the high number of egg eaters like raccoons and black snake, and other predators now at record population levers, get to eat fewer eggs.

       But the common sense I saw in the “Conservation Commission” of that day, and the qualified, older biologists from rural backgrounds they employed back then are no longer seen.  Just this year the young woman that works from a cubicle in Jefferson City stated that we had a better than average number of poults from last spring. NOT TRUE! She should have spent some time in the woods with me.  A good nesting season in the Ozarks has not happened for about 11 years.  I have watched winter flocks gather in river bottom fields for twenty years, and from that, I can tell you what happened with nesting the year before.  

      In four of the six sites I watched on four rivers, there have been big declines; better than 60 percent.  On the other two, declines of about 40 percent.   One field where I counted 15 gobblers many years back, had only six this past winter. One field where the count was once 83 wild turkeys less than 10 years ago, had 37 this year in January. On a 3000 acre ranch where I heard 11 gobblers ten years ago, this spring I have heard only 3!  At my place on Lightnin’ Ridge I fed 7 gobblers in 2000.  This winter I fed only one.   What do I expect in the future?  Greater numbers of hunters and fewer gobblers to be heard on cool still April mornings.  There are ways to make it different but those ways will never happen. If only hunters would just be happy getting one gobbler instead of two. As for me, I haven’t killed a gobbler for many years.  I continue to hunt them a little with my camera.  But I have adopted an attitude I hope more hunters will accept… An adaptation of what the old Indian chief once said, “I will kill no more… forever.”


Maybe we'll see scenes like this again... True conservation is needed

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Watching Them Disappear

             The following photos are gobblers I shot.... with a camera

         I  never thought I would see wild turkey flocks in the Ozarks drop to the level I have witnessed this past winter.  It is a serious situation and state conservation departments from Oklahoma to Alabama and Georgia are placing restrictions on wild turkey hunting, changing things for the first time in decades, because they are concerned about what is happening to the wild turkey.  Arkansas has done nothing and neither has Missouri.  I don’t know whether Missouri’s Game Department is just too inept to know what to do or whether or not it is just a matter of trying to keep from losing money through lost revenue in turkey tag sales.  I suspect the both.  

         Recently their “turkey biologist”, who is a  young woman who likely knows nothing about wild turkey’s at all, sat in her cubicle in Jefferson City and proclaimed that last spring’s poult production was better than average.  She has no idea, just saying what she has been told to say.  I know… I saw last springs poult production by looking at flocks all over the Ozarks, from October through January as I have done for more years than their ‘turkey biologist’ has been alive.

         Almost all wild turkeys in a on or two mile-radius, group together in the dead of winter.  This year where I counted more than eighty turkeys twenty years ago there were thirty this year.  Last year there were about thirty-five.  Where I fed seve big gobblers twenty years ago there were 2 only 3 a few years back. This winter… NONE.

    The turkey biologist is perfect for the diversity push in the MDC. Her name is Reina Tyl, less than thirty years old,  college background at Michigan and West Virginia.  I’d bet my last dollar she has never hunted turkeys by herself and will go this spring for the first time only if someone takes her. 


         I called her last fall for an interview and she said, “I don’t want to give you that information because I am afraid it will discredit me.”  My reply was… “Anyone who knows what they are doing will answer questions without worrying about being discredited.”  And that was the end of the interview!

         Nothing that the other states are doing are going to be considered by the MDC.  Money is the reason.  Right now they are selling more turkey tags than ever. Outdoor writer Jim Spencer, one of the foremost authorities on wild turkey, hunting them in a dozen states over a period of fifty-five years, (author of 4 books on wild turkeys), told me this… “You can cite 6 or 7 reasons that wild gobblers are declining, but you have to always come back to the fact that there are just too many hunters killing gobblers now… way too many that have learned to do it all over the south.  Spencer, (who has a wildlife management degree and has worked as a biologist),  and his wife Jill Easton also an avid turkey hunter and outdoor writer, are trying to establish an organization made up of experienced hunters to try to find ways to stop the decline.

         Missouri needs to bring Spencer and Easton and a dozen other experienced turkey hunters to Jefferson City and just listen to them.  Boy what Reina Tyl could learn from them.  They won’t of course, they never have done anything like that.  It would be embarrassing to their young suburban background biologists. 

    I will give you several changes in the season that game and fish commissions could do that would turn things around. And I know what I am talking about.  I have a biologists degree in wildlife management from University of Missouri, and up until five years ago I had killed almost 200 LEGAL gobblers from 4 states. When I began to see what was happening, I decided I would never shoot another one.

          I guided turkey hunters until from the early 80’s to the late 90’s in both Missouri and Arkansas, and watched more than fifty clients bag a gobbler.  This spring I could make hundreds of dollars guiding hunters, but I do not.  I still call up wild turkeys and shoot them… with a camera. And I spend more time in the woods and on the rivers each year than MDC’s biologists ever will. I am not bragging, but no one can say that I haven’t been there and done that.  Next week, I’ll give some rock solid solutions to bring back the declining wild gobbler-- solutions some states are trying right now.  I think that Arkansas will soon join them with some kind of changes. I doubt if Missouri ever will.  They aren’t going  to sacrifice that revenue.


         We are making good progress in plans for a Big Piney museum in Houston Mo.  The country’s foremost sculptor and the owner of four different museums, Fred Hoppe, has been a big help to me.  We filled the room a month ago with people interested in helping, but he couldn’t be there. He will however, be with me on Friday evening, April 22 at the Savor Restaurant across from the Texas County hospital to talk about  progress we have made, future plans and his own experiences.  You will enjoy meeting him.

We will be there at 7:30 that evening and I hope you will join us.  Look up Fred Hoppe on the Internet.  What a great thing to have a man like this helping with the museum.  He and I will be floating and camping on the Piney from Tuesday until Friday that week and I think the only thing that will change our plans is a flooded river.


Email me at or write to me at Box22, Bolivar, MO. 65613












Monday, April 11, 2022

Born too Late


Dad and me with my first bobcat and soon afterward, a new pair of shoes

         Bought some fishing line at Walmart the other day and took it up to that place where they have computers which you are suppose to operate on your own so they can hire fewer people.  I ask a lady if she would help me run one so I could pay for the fishing line and get a receipt letting me know the price was the same at the counter as it is was where I found it.  (Walmart make a lot of money from people who don’t look at receipts.)  I told her I don’t fiddle with computers and she laughed at me, saying that her grandkids were computer experts and they weren’t twelve years old. That kind of hit me wrong.  I don’t take well to being made light of, though it happens often.  Nobody needs to tell me I was born 100 years later than I was s’pose to be.

         I said “Yes ma’m, I have folks working for me that are computer-wise enough to help me publish my books and magazines and I pay them well for what they know.”

         “But I am going to go home and list all the things I know and can do that you and your grandkids and none of the computer experts I know can do either,” I told her, “ and I will bring them back to show you tomorrow, because it will take me all night to make that list!”

          What I didn’t tell her is that at a certain point in time, the computers are going to be gone and forgotten while people left alive try to survive.  She and I will be long-gone then as will many, many cities all over the world, and millions of people with them.I truly believe many or most of those cities will be abandoned, some reduced to smouldering ashes.  Wow, now I sound like a madman, right?  But we all know better than believe what I foresee. I was the guy who said that rap music was going nowhere!  There is no chance that those weapons of mass destruction will be used someday.  No idiot with nuclear weapons would ever use nuclear weapons, right.  Of course not. Russia and North Korea and Iran and China will straighten up soon.  They surely don’t hate us enough to use biological weapons or nuclear bombs.

         No surviving humans will ever have to flee into whatever wilderness can be found.  The United States will always be here, UNITED, like we are now, using our diversity to create utopia!  And there will be no reason to know how to use a crosscut saw or an axe. I can’t wait to ask that Walmart lady if her grandkids can do that.  I was using an axe to split firewood when I was 13! That will be first on my list, followed by, ‘catch, skin and tan a raccoon pelt without a gun or steel trap, and make foot wear out of those pelts.  I know how to do things like that.  Grandpa and Dad taught me some useless things I guess.


         I also know how to build a cabin to live in with only things that don’t have cords or motors,  and how to heat it and have windows in it you can see out of.  I know how to have a nice garden this summer without one store-bought seed or plant. I know where pure cold water flows out of the ground in dozens of places.  I know how to utilize a bunch of wild foods, from fruit and berries to mushrooms, green plants, even medicinal teas and tubers.

         I know how to make a powerful bow, and arrows, strong enough to kill turkeys and deer.  I know a hundred different caves I could survive in without even building a fire, when it’s 10 below zero outside.  But if I want a fire and have no matches, I know how to make one.  Right now, I can make a fire in a pouring rain if needed.  BUT- I don’t know a darn thing about computers.

         I have two grandkids in college that own those little boxes they operate with their thumbs and can do great things with a computer.  Smarter kids than I ever was…  as long as the boxes men need are working.   And really, what could ever make those boxes irrelevant in our lives again? What could make them ever stop working?


         The idea that what my grandpa taught me on the ridges and the rivers of the Ozarks… when my thumbs were most useful in whittling out triggers for a deadfall, could ever be important in survival—that is silliness.  Too bad kids back in the days of my youth didn’t have smart phones.  Wouldn’t we all have been so much happier, here in the Ozarks?


         Well please forgive me for this screwball column.  It is useless to write about something which can’t be changed, like complaining about the heat.  What will be will be.  Why didn’t God do something about that when he created everything.  After reading this you might think I am about half looney but I am not.  I am going to stop making this list for that lady and go down to the river and go fishing.  I think this was the afternoon I was suppose to meet Abe Lincoln on that gravel bar and roast hot dogs, like I did that time with ‘what’s his name’…that guy that flew the kite in the thunderstorm!

         You older geezers out there, send me your list.  Write it out with a pencil and paper… take it to somebody with a computer and email it to me  or if you want it to get here in about two weeks, just mail it to me at Box22, Bolivar, mo. 65613.  Them post office folks don’t have computers I guess.