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



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  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 or just call Ms. Wiggins, my executive secretary at 417 777 5227 to have her send you one.  See them on my website,