Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Country Lewis and Clark Traveled




         A week ago I spent several days in South Dakota with a man by the name of Joel Vosek, and I will write more about him and the 108-mile Ft. Reynolds Lake we fished in another column.  It was a magnificent day, on one of the most beautiful waters I have ever fished.  

         There were, along those high sand hills they call the Missouri Breaks, no marinas, no houses nor retirement villages, and no boats… just miles of rolling high hills overlooking the clear wide lake which was made from the Missouri River, covering now the trail of Lewis and Clark, and ancient villages of the Sioux and other Indian tribes.

Joel Vasek with the first two walleye I caught. The one on the left  only liked 7 inches from being 30 inches long

         Joel is a bundle of energy, pleasant and industrious, living the life he loves in the land where he was born.  He now owns a lodge and fishing and hunting service at Geddes, South Dakota a town of 100 residents in that sparsely settled country.  He is only 44, but I was told no man in that country knows more about fishing and hunting than Joel.


         When he was young, Vosek took the 140 acres his father homesteaded and began to add on to it.  His thousand-acre block of flat cropland found to the east away from the breaks is only part of the land where he takes several hundred pheasant hunters who come to his lodge in the fall and winter.  All over the upper Midwest there are pheasant hunting operations where pen-raised birds are the quarry. Vosek won’t have any part of that.

         “Why hunt pen raised birds? ” he said, “I want to hunt wild pheasants and that’s what my visitors want to hunt.” In doing that, you don’t have the expense of those pen-raised operations and you are hunting the birds that are descendants of the first ones released in the Dakotas. 


         Thinking of the drastic reduction in pheasant numbers I have seen in Iowa, where I hunted wild birds in the seventies and eighties, I told him it doesn’t seem reasonable to try to find enough wild birds for a lot of non-resident hunters.  His eyes lit up then, and he said that after we had my walleye filleted and frozen, we were going to take a ride.  What a ride it was.  Joel doesn’t fool around in that old pickup.  We headed for his pheasant country, most of it only a few miles southeast of his lodge.  Around his own 1000 acres there are a couple or three thousand acres of private land he can also hunt.  And why not, there isn’t a crop farmer in a half dozen counties that isn’t a friend of Joel Vosek.  Most knew his father, and they know Joel.

         He explained his theory of producing large numbers of wild pheasants and good hunting.  I am not going to get into all of his ideas now, but this guy could work as a game biologist up there.  He absolutely knows what he is doing.  In another column later in the fall, I will go into that in depth.  This man makes it work like no pen-raised operation or any state game department ever has. 

         I just want to tell you what we saw that day.  First of all, along those gravel roads and some tractor trails we came across we saw flock after flock of hen pheasants and broods, from nearly grown to the size of a quail.  Almost always there were 10 to 15 young birds.  It was something to see Joel’s excitement.  His love of that land where he grew up, and the love of the wild creatures, from deer to birds and waterfowl, was obvious.


But I have to finish with this, while in one hour we saw hundreds and hundreds of young pheasants, there were maybe ten thousand blue wing teal on a hundred drought-lowered small lakes and potholes and 5000 doves along those back roads.  This was on August 24.  You remember what I said in another column about hunting season in the Ozarks being too early?  Those thousands of doves and teal will not be down here by the season openers.


         Just because they were here by then 30 or 40 years ago does not mean they will be this year.  Why our game managers can’t figure out that seasons need to be set back a couple of weeks I don’t know.  Part of it is that dove hunters are amongst the dumbest hunters you will ever meet, and easy to satisfy out there sweating and swatting on Sept 1.  They know little of the biology of the dove.


         I say that because I have talked to dozens of them in the field.  Actually they should be labeled shooters rather than hunters.  If they could hunt doves with me in October, they would forsake that September opener.


         What I wouldn’t give, as an avid duck hunter, if the teal season opened in early October.  But, game-season-setters only hunt deer, mostly.  And they don’t learn much from getting out in the sticks, swamps and streams. 

         Well, I have hunted with experts and professionals, lodge owners and guides all over the U.S. and Canada, and many I never saw again because I didn’t want to. But I WILL be back to see Joel Vosek… a special person I really enjoyed getting to know.  If you want to see his Missouri River Lodge at Geddes S.D. just get on these info boxes where you can find that goggle thing. 


Friday, August 26, 2022

The Difference in Two Words


Naturalist at Buffalo River around 1973


    Maybe I have told this story a hundred times at various places where I speak to groups wherever it might be. If you have read this before I will get to something about the migrating birds I promised to write about last week.

    When I was only 11 years old, I started working in the pool hall my dad and grandpa McNew had bought in my hometown of Houston, Missouri. Most everyone knows about that from what I have written before. The old men who came in and told hunting and fishing stories became my friends, and it soon came to be that I couldn't wait to get there after school, to take over for my grandpa and sit there on the front bench until my dad came in from his factory job.  A writer couldn't have had a better beginning, what stories they would tell.

    I had another important job as well, as I grew older. On weekends I would guide fishermen down the Big Piney River in a wooden johnboat we called Old Paint. The story of Old Paint appeared in Outdoor Life magazine in 1971 and one several national writing awards.


    In the late spring after I turned 13, the old timers at the pool hall began to talk about a nudist colony which had sprung up over near Willow Springs, and they often referred to them as "naturalists".  It was the first time I had ever heard the term, and they used it often.  Naturalists, and nudists, naked people running around on some kind of farm they had set up.  At first I thought it had to be a joke.   Who would do a thing like that?  Finally I realized that there really was such a thing as nudists, or naturalists as they referred to them.  Me and my cousins were naturalists, I figured, since we swam naked in the Big Piney and every creek that flowed into it.

    That spring, I took a University of Missouri professor and his wife down the Piney on a fishing trip.  His wife looked younger than he, and I was getting old enough to notice how pretty she was, with long blonde hair and a trim figure.  Of course I would notice, my gosh, at 13 I was thinking about marrying someone like that lady in only a few years.  The professor sat on the front seat as he fished, and she sat not three feet in front of me on a middle seat.  Late in the morning I got over my shyness and began to answer her questions about the river and it's wildlife.  I pointed out a kingfisher and showed her where it built its nest, then a shike-poke, sneaking up on a school of minnows at the mouth of a creek.  The professor listened and without turning, he told me I should go to the University of Missouri someday and study hard to become a naturalist.

The pronouncement stunned me somewhat.  Thinking back on what the old men at the pool hall had said about them, I wondered why anyone would have to study all that hard to be a "naturalist".  Then he really stunned me by adding that his wife was something of a naturalist herself!  Holy mackerel, I couldn’t believe my ears!

    I began to think that it was perhaps going to be the most exciting float trip I had ever taken!  Of course, my hopes were dashed later in the day when she explained what a naturalist really was.  I knew then I had always been one, because she explained that it came from a burning desire to be where everything was indeed natural and wild, and to learn as much as one could learn about nature.  I had done exactly that since I was very small, sneaking off into the woods on grandpa’s farm or riding my bicycle to the river to look at things which fascinated me so much, plants I had never seen, tracks of wild creatures of which I knew so little, and the small creatures beneath the rocks in the creeks which then were so full and clean and alive.

    I actually became a naturalist a few years later while in college, a summer park naturalist in Missouri state parks, where we took campers on hikes, gave programs at night, built new trails and set up displays about nature.  When I graduated from college, only eight years after I took that professor and his wife on that float trip, I became the Chief Naturalist for the Arkansas state park system, hired by their young director. Quite often in one of those state parks I told the story of that experience as a boy and the professor who thought I ought to know the difference in a naturalist and a nudist!!


Thursday, August 25, 2022

Later Is Worser with Game Birds



       I saw a hen turkey in an open field last week heading in a panic toward a timber edge a hundred yards away, with seven poults behind her. They were only about five or six weeks old, about the size of a grouse.  That means they were hatched perhaps at the beginning of July. Then yesterday here on my ridge, I saw an adult quail hustling across the trail, followed by about nine or ten young chicks about three weeks to four weeks old.  

       I scared them and a bunch of them took to a flight of a few yards.  It always surprises me to see quail that young fly.  They didn’t seem to be much larger than a sparrow.  They too were hatched in July, and it may surprise folks to know that some turkeys and quail will be hatched about now even, mid to late August.     


       In another column sometime before fall I will explain the reason for those late hatches. Those that are hatched this late have two strikes against them.  The survival rate of those chicks and poults is about half what it is for the birds hatched from late May to mid June and maybe less than that. 


       Late summer quail, turkey and pheasant broods are not common, but they occur every summer. An early winter really cuts down the survival rate of those young birds. Predators do much better after them in September, as cover and food recedes for those too- young-for-the-season game birds.

       I got my college degree in ‘wildlife management’ but I don’t use that term often. I think I could have done just as well without college.  “Management” of wildlife is a dumb term. There is no such thing. You can manage the land and to some extent the hunters, but not wildlife.  No way. 

       I have lived through lots of decades and from the time I was a boy to today, everything has changed so much that biologists who  ‘manage’ according to what their predecessors saw and learned are making big mistakes.  The wildlife and the Ozarks ecology of 50 years ago was a horse of a different color from today. Young biologists of today are by and large also a horse of a different color.  Most of them grew up in small towns or suburbs. Few come from the rural areas which trained country boys in the ways of the outdoors and wild creatures decades back, before they ever heard the words, ‘biologist’ or ‘management’. 

       The evolution of a tremendous number of wild species has occurred in that small advance of time.  I could write a book about that, and the changes I have seen.  But in this short column I will only say the mating seasons of game birds is changing, and has been, slowly but surely for at least 25 years, becoming later and later. 


       When the dove season opens on September 1, there will be numbers of non-migrating doves with nests holding a pair of squabs that cannot survive if the parents are killed.  If we had the kind of biologists and game agencies today that we had in the sixties, the season would be set back from15 to 20 days, much because migration times have changed that much too. 


       As for me, I once hunted doves a lot, but now I will not subject my Labrador to the kind of heat we see in early September.  When temperatures are above the low 80’s, no hunting dog should be out there in the heavy dust and pollen and heat.  Sweating and swatting mosquitoes and gnats is not what I want any part of.  Nowadays cool late September or October days give me the best time for dove hunting.  And I can find very good dove hunting a lot closer to October than the end of August.

       The special teal season in the Midwest is also too early. It wasn’t, 40 or 50 years ago, but it is now.  No one can convince any young biologist of that unless he spends time with me out on the marshes and rivers for years, and none have done that, none can do that…  office work calls.

      On September first, you can come up here with me and we can find nesting doves on Lightnin’ Ridge. There will be hundreds of doves arriving here in a few weeks, but not early September.  There is a stretch of bare-bank on a portion of my pond a hundred yards behind my office where we could easily kill a limit of doves in the evening when they come to water there.  I have seen a hundred doves come to that pond in late October and much of November. Those are the true migrators from the north. But the ones that are there in September are not made up of the bulk of migrators, they are the doves I feed here all summer, and the young birds they have raised.

       I will have more to write about waterfowl.  The changes I have seen in wood-ducks and mallards are something I would have once never believed.

       But it is the truth that changes in the wild turkey mating seasons and the birds changing habits is a big part in their decline.  It is a decline that is serious, and reminds me how once we believed that quail would make a comeback.  Those inevitable changes that are a part of the natural world may do to the wild turkey what they did to the quail and woodcock. Some drastic hunting changes need to be made and quickly. But the modern-day game department’s devotion to making more money every year makes that impossible.  


Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Topwater Time

          Most reservoir bass fishermen fish deep in the summer, trying to lure a lunker by bouncing jigs over ledges and rocks.  But if you want to fish a topwater lure, there are places and ways to do it even in the heat of the summer.  It's easiest when you can concentrate your efforts toward those waters where bass can be found in 6 or 8 feet of water or less.

         In large lakes, where low oxygen levels and water temperatures force bass deep, you'll be wasting your time fishing topwater lures, unless you find schools of bass herding shad to the surface, or fish before sunrise or after sunset.   Some lakes have a lot of schooling bass activity during the heat of the summer, but they are usually not very large fish, and they don't stay on top very long.  If it is only black bass you   want, then remember that often, bass are found in tributaries leading into the lakes, where there is inflowing cooler water, and higher oxygen levels. To get up into those tributaries, and fish some fairly small holes, you may need a boat and motor you can pull over a shoal every now and then. Some of the holes are deep and clear, but after dark in the mid to late summer, bass in those waters become very aggressive.

         Smaller, shallower lakes hold bass which are entirely different in habit that those in big deep Ozark lakes.  A private lake large enough to launch a small boat can provide great topwater fishing at night, especially if it is spring fed.  And I wouldn’t doubt that farm ponds clean enough to fish late in the day and after dark, may hold the biggest  bass and the best topwater fishing.

         But perhaps the best topwater fishing is found on Ozark rivers which become fairly clear in the summer and yet maintain some current with flowing shoals above and below deep eddies. I've caught bass after dark in dozens of small streams, and there's one topwater lure that I have caught more largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky bass with than all others ......... the jitterbug.  Jitterbugs are easy to fish, you crank them back with a slow, steady retrieve producing that bloop~bloop~bloop action on top. When bass hit them after dark, you hear it, then feel it.

         Two years ago in late summer, a friend and I flew into a small Ontario lake with    no name, and camped for one night to see if Canadian bass would hit a jitterbug. In that area, largemouth peak at just a little under seven pounds. We found that they were suckers for a jitterbug, even before it got dark. The first bass, about 4 pounds, engulfed a jitterbug at 7:30 p.m.  It didn't get dark until about 11 pm., but when it did, the action just got hotter. We caught dozens and dozens of bass on topwater lures, and almost all ranged from three pounds up to six.  Big bass continued to nail the jitterbugs until 8:00 the next morning.


         In most large Ozark reservoirs in late summer, white bass or stripers will begin surfacing chasing shad and provide great topwater fishing. It is in full swing now. You can find them on days when the water is calm and shad are massing.  They go on summer feeding frenzies and push shad to the surface on and off for hours at a time. Anglers who find this happening need to have lures they can cast for distance, because you can spook these fish with a wake or motor trying to get close.  When you find surfacing summer fish, whether its blacks, whites or stripers, you may find enough action to make your arms tired.


         One of the best topwater lures for deeper water, or for surfacing blacks, whites or stripers, is the Zara spook. It's a fairly old lure and it isn’t easy to use. But a Zara spook is large and easy to cast.  It is most effective for bass when it is slowly jiggled and walked, to cover as little distance as possible with the greatest amount of disturbance on the surface. Anyone can learn to use the lure with some work, but spook-fishing can indeed get into some work.  It is much easier to use something like a Hula Popper that makes a commotion every time you jerk it.

      You may have some topwater lure in your tackle box that will produce great results in a certain body of water at a certain time. The only way to find out is to go out and try it.  There are few methods of fishing that are easier to do than topwater fishing.  But sometimes the best time to fish a topwater lure is when it is the hardest to see.... at night.


         I have a book out that talks about all kinds of fishing.  It is entitled “Recollections of an Old Fashioned Angler.  You can see it on my website just by typing in my name.  Or contact me at


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

A Sure-Fire Remedy For Too Many ‘Coons


                                                               Deadfall with trigger

Deadfall trigger

         A few weeks ago I wrote about setting deadfalls to control small predators from weasels to raccoons.  Deadfalls sets are illegal and in this time of over-populations of the egg eaters that keep quail numbers low and impact wild turkey numbers, they should be put in use.  Many landowners don’t own steel traps, because they are expensive and not easy to use without some trapping knowledge. But deadfalls can be very efficient in control of raccoons, possums, skunks, groundhogs and armadillos… all of those species, being tremendously overpopulated.  Deadfalls are easy to use, and they do not leave an animal suffering with its foot in a steel trap.  They kill quickly and efficiently.

         You know why they are illegal?  Well, back in the 20’s and early thirties, when fur prices were really good, the trap manufacturers, like Victor, felt deadfalls were a great threat to the sale and manufacture of steel traps.  So they really campaigned against them, saying that small dogs and pet cats were in danger where they were used.

        Their big concern was that country boys buying steel traps from them were going to use deadfalls instead.  And my dad and his brother did indeed.  My grandfather was a big time river trapper, and traps were his way of supporting his family in the winter. He owned a large number of traps, some he bought, but most from trading with old timers who were getting too old to take and sell furs.  While   he trapped the Big Piney and Gasconade rivers, he taught his sons at a young age to run deadfall lines, skin and stretch the furs they took.  In 1927 the F.C. Taylor fur company in St Louis tagged my grandfather as the Number One individual fur trapper selling to them, and it continued for several years.  Many of those furs were taken via dry-land deadfalls.  And indeed, some were of feral cats, whose fur brought from 25 to 40 cents apiece. But those were not someone’s pet, and they never, ever killed a dog. Dogs were too large and in the wild areas of the river, where they lived and trapped, there weren’t many farms.  It took my dad and his brother, Norten, most of the morning to run 40 or 50 deadfalls and skin what they caught, but possums and skunks brought about a dollar each and raccoons considerably more. In those days the Ozarks were spared the scourge of armadillos.  Fish heads attached to the trigger were the best baits, and deadfalls had to have bait.  You could set small deadfalls for rabbits or groundhogs using a carrot for bait, so if you are looking for survival tips in all those hokie survival classes being taught, the first thing you need to learn is the techniques for setting deadfalls.  You can see what you need to have to set a deadfall on my website, larrydablemontoutdoors.  It   doesn’t take much time to whittle out triggers for a deadfall if you have a good knife.

        I don’t suppose that anyone has ever been fined for setting deadfalls in the Ozarks, because old-time game wardens for the Mo Conservation Commission just knew the ways of country people and since all of them were country people themselves they understood the necessity of it. Pairs of game wardens in this day and time stay close to their state-owned new pickup and they do not walk back to look for such things on private land or even public land.  One fellow who uses deadfalls to exterminate overpopulated predators says if any of his are found he intends to blame it on someone else!  The deadfalls, he told me, are much of the reason he has more quail and turkey on his land… fewer egg eaters.  And don’t get to thinking you can wipe out the predators, you cannot.  But you sure can bring them back to reasonable numbers.  However,  use some common sense; don’t set deadfalls where you have small dogs or cats.

    My maternal grandparents were farmers, not outdoorsmen, but they and some neighbors protected their chicken houses with a couple of deadfalls, put up at dark and easily disassembled come first light. Having deadfalls around gardens back then was a big help when someone wanted to protect their roasting'-ears.

       If you go to larrydablemontoutdoors, you can see the deadfall to see how to use them, and the trigger you will need to make. You will also see some of the old ads from trap manufacturing companies.  Those are posted this week on that website with past columns and lots of photos.  


I like to hear common sense opinions about what I write, from readers, so send them to me at or to Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613  And if you want to subscribe to my magazines or acquire one of my books, see them on