Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Just Another Passing of Night


There won't be any New Year’s Eve party here on Lightnin' Ridge. Things will be about like they are almost every night during the winter. Before midnight, a pair of raccoons will be ambling along the small creek that leads down to the river, looking for food that is becoming harder to find because the crawdads are in deep water and the frogs are buried in the mud, just as it has been for hundreds and hundreds of years.  

  A great horned owl will leave his perch at the edge of the meadow and sweep down upon an unsuspecting deer mouse without a sound other than the rustling in the grass when he pins it against the cold earth with sharp talons.
  A great horned owl’s wings still make no noise, just as it has been for who knows how long.  Unfortunately for the mouse, he won’t live to see the new year, but he doesn’t even know that there is one coming.  He didn’t see the coming of the last one.  He has lived only 10 months, and that’s a long time for a mouse.  The field where he has lived is a home for dozens of field mice, voles, cotton rats, and shrews; nearly a dozen species of small ground mammals, some of which spend the entire winter beneath ground in hibernation.  Fortunately for the owl, and other predators, there are some species of small mammals that do not hibernate, but remain active throughout the winter or at least much of it.

       Inside the big oak where the owl sat, a pair of fox squirrels sleep in a small, protected cavity.  They will miss the dawning of a new day and a new year if the temperature is well below freezing for a good while. Squirrels do not hibernate throughout the winter, but in periods of extended extreme cold, they will sleep for days, in a semi-hibernation much like the raccoon, the skunk and the opossum.

There are some big sycamores along the bluff over the creek, and several wild gobblers spend the eve of the new year asleep on their branches, their forms plainly visible in the moonlight.  Three are big old toms, but there are five jakes which have never experienced a new year’s eve before.  They sleep through it, with tightened tendons in their legs securing their toes to the limbs of the sycamore like the grasp of a vice.  Their ancestors weathered the passing of hundreds of new years in the same way. Change is not clamored for amongst wild creatures.  It is a resistance to change that ensures survival of the species.  It is sameness that gives security in wild places.

     In a cedar thicket, buried in the grasses, a covey of bobwhites form a ring, ten of them in all.  There were nearly twice as many in November.   The new year brings little for them to celebrate.  With their bodies huddled together, warmth is passed to the weaker members of the covey by the stronger and they preserve heat as feathers fluff and insulate. When there are too few and the temperature plunges, there is less chance of survival.  As the new year begins, smaller groups find birds of another covey and join them, in greater numbers finding greater strength to resist the cold.  

    Huddled beneath the cedar, they are unaware of the red fox, which passes as the new year approaches.  His is an eternal quest for food, and if he only knew they were there, what a New Year’s Eve party he would have.   But like the owl, he will settle for a few small ground mammals on this final night of an old year.

    A half dozen mallards spring to flight as a bobcat streaks across the river gravel bar where they rest, upstream from the mouth of the creek.  He leaps high to grasp a slower member of the flock with his forepaws and pulls her down, taking that weaker, slower individual for a new year’s feast.  The hen mallard is a substantial meal for the bobcat.  The rest of the flock circles in the moonlight and will settle into another hole of water upstream.  

    The dying protests of the quacking hen breaks the stillness, but other sounds of nature at midnight are subtle.  A buck snorts from a cedar thicket above the creek.   A dying rabbit shrieks from the field across the river, as a mink ferrets him from a brush pile.  Smaller than the rabbit, the mink can go anywhere, and he wraps his body around the cottontail’s neck and hangs on, his teeth buried in the soft fur as the life and death struggle which marks the beginning of a new year is just as it has always been.

     Here where the creek joins the river, where the woodland breaks into meadow, there are thickets of briar and cedar, standing as they have since men first came to change and scar the goes on.   There is no celebration here.  It is only the passing of another night, the coming of another day.

    And I know that for some it is necessary on this night to group together and make much of the ticking of a clock, where alcohol flows and the noise grows to a blaring crescendo.   But I’ll walk that quiet wooded ridge above the creek at midnight, and treasure the silence, listening for little more than the distant yodel of a coyote.  I’ll survey the river bottoms in the moonlight and be thankful for the stability of unchanging nature...wild creatures living as they always have, evidence of God’s unchanging laws which even man will eventually answer to.

    There is perfection here...thank God we haven’t ruined it all.  We will in time, I suppose.  These mushrooming numbers of human beings will destroy it all eventually.  But maybe not this year…  On this little Ozark ridge-top, there is life continuing as it always has. 

This quiet wooded ridge overlooking the moonlit river, is a good place to ask the Creator to allow us all to enjoy one more year, to ask that the coming year be a good one.... a year wherein wild things and wild places continue to exist. 



Thursday, December 22, 2022

Grandkids and Christmas


My grandparents, mom & dad, aunts and uncles and all us cousins.  I'm on the right, first row.

       As much as I loved my two little grandsons, I didn't get either of them a Christmas present when they were young.  That's because they had toys stacked so high in their home that you couldn't see any corners.


       I think back on those great Christmases when I was a kid, when there was common sense and simplicity left in this world. I wish all kids could experience such a Christmas.


       I just lived for a new two-gun and holster set and a cowboy hat at Christmas when I was five or six. Nowadays, if a little kid has a toy gun, somebody is scared to death he'll point it at someone and go "bang-bang", like I and a thousand other kids born during the days of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers did. 

       Here we are at a time when no kid can have a toy gun and look what's happening. Maybe somebody is overlooking something. It might not be toy guns that created the monsters. My cousins and I built forts and took our toy guns out and played cowboys and outlaws all the time and none of us ever held up a convenience store or a bank when we grew up.  We never shot anyone either!

       By the time we were 11 or 12, we all carried Barlow pocketknives to school and back home each day, and yes, we all cut our fingers a time or two. But nothing that left a scar. If Grandpa gave us a Christmas present, it was maybe a hickory whistle he made, or comic books that had the top of the cover cut off. 

       When I was that age, I was tickled to get two or three Christmas presents under the tree, and there was always a gun and holster set, to be used hard in my effort to catch bad guys and herd cattle, like they did on the Saturday afternoon movies at the Melba theater in town. A youngster could get in there each Saturday afternoon for a dime. 

       There wasn't much quantity to life for a kid in the Ozarks in the 1950's, but brother, did we have some quality.  When I see some kid looking at a little box where they use their thumbs for hours and hours, I think to myself that life isn’t better for kids who do that.  But they can never know what they are missing.  What a difference there seems to be today, in grown ups that used those boxes as kids and those of us who built forts in the woods and chased make-believe outlaws with toy guns.

       On Christmas day at Grandpa's house in the 50’s, all of us cousins got together and had one heck of a time without toys because our folks wouldn't let us bring anything.  They had paid too much money for those guns and holster sets and cowboy hats to let one of those rowdy cousins get their hands on them. We didn't need toys anyway when we got together on Christmas, we'd play football or go down to the pasture and throw dried persimmons at each other.


       Finally we'd have the doggonedest dinner you ever saw, and my Dad and Uncles and Grandpa would talk about somebody's pick-up motor or the best coon dog they remembered or something of that sort.


       Finally when Aunt Margie and Aunt Ruth and Aunt Mildred and Mom and Grandma got the kitchen cleaned and in order, we'd all come in and get our presents from beneath the cedar tree beside the wood stove.


Grandma remembered each of 20 grandkids with a gift, which almost always was a pair of socks for the 14 boys, handkerchiefs for the girls.


       Then we'd watch our aunts and uncles open their presents, usually a flannel shirt for the men and scarves and perfume for the women.

       Then Grandma and Grandpa would open their presents and they'd get all sorts of good things. Lord knows there was so much they needed.  I remember thinking that the people who did the best at Christmas were grandparents, because their kids all had jobs and could buy good presents for them. And most had lots of kids.


    My two grandsons will never remember that when they were little Grandpa never got them anything for Christmas. On Christmas morning when they picked out some toy or gadget they really, really liked, I just waited 'til they were all by themselves and told them that Grandpa asked Santa Claus to bring that to them!  Some of the grandparents who read this column might remember how affective that is.


       But if the truth were known, I'll bet both of my grandsons would have just loved to get a gun and holster and a homemade hickory whistle for Christmas.  Maybe not, since quality is not as important now as quantity is. 

       To so many, the reason for it all; the birth, the hope and the faith resulting from that miracle two thousand years ago, just isn’t there any more.  There is beauty now; bright, colored lights everywhere, all of them resulting from one bright star in the Far East long ago.  It was just one light then, a star heralding the greatest hope mankind will ever have. 

       We were told about that when we were kids, with those silly little church plays and school plays, school plays that can’t be part of Christmas anymore because of our new progressive ‘culture’. It’s funny what some call ‘progress’ nowadays.

       As kids, us old timers were told about the star and the manger and the virgin mother of Jesus, and gifts brought by the three wise men… the origin of modern day gift giving.

        If you are a grandparent taking my advice, give your grandkids a pair of socks and tell them about how Christmas came to be. 

Habits of the Bucks



      There is misinformation about deer rubs on trees that you see in the fall and winter.  No, the story that those rubs you see are made by bucks whose velvet antlers are itching and they need to get rid of drying velvet, the blood-filled covering of young, forming antlers, isn’t completely accurate. That is the case with other cervids like elk and moose to a greater extent, but those rubs made by buck deer in November and December, are found as often as those made in September or October. 


      It is true that rubs on small trees just an inch or so in diameter is something done by bucks with smaller antlers, but when you see a really large rub on a tree that is more than three inches in diameter it is more than likely done by bucks with larger antlers. If you come across a really large tree, most often a cedar, with a diameter of five inches or so with a fresh rub, that is almost always the result of a big-antlered deer mock-fighting against an opponent. 



     The resistance of that bending bush or small tree resembles what he would feel in a fight against another buck and it prepares him for that, strengthening neck muscles.  It is also true that glands in his neck and head leave his scent for a passing buck to smell and realize that he is in the territory of a possible opponent. 


      The scrapes a buck makes below overhanging limbs become less of a thing as winter progresses and breeding winds down. They are made not so much as a process of staking out territories as they are for the does that are coming in heat to leave their scent. Scrapes are made and marked with urine by both the does and the buck that made them. That urine, which flows down over glands inside the lower legs, tells a story to other deer, mostly the does which are in the area. Even humans can smell that scent in a scrape, it is that strong, and if you remove them from a dead buck it takes some washing to get that smell off your hands. 

      When bucks make a scrape, they rub their eye glands against the limbs above them and nibble at the ends of the branches as well.  But buck rubs on small saplings are something different. I am not writing about what I have been told or read.  I have seen it all, the making of scrapes and rubs.  Photographed both as well, with more hours in the woods than I spent hearing all about it in the classroom getting my wildlife biology degree from M.U. 

      When a buck is making a rub in December he gets carried away sometimes.  He will stand there and act as if he is done, perhaps watching for other bucks, and then attack it again with gusto.  He isn’t trying to polish his antlers, he is mad at it, practicing for a fight with some opponent. At this time of year, most rubs are made at night and usually it is a one-time thing. The chances he will return to that one sapling or cedar is slim. There are plenty of others to attack; but it for sure is in his travel lane.  

      If you stay away from those scrapes, he may come back again and again, even in the early morning when it is light, or just at dark.  

      After the first few days of the deer season, big bucks and even the does seem to become nocturnal, especially when the moon is bright.  Next week I will give more revelations about deer in late winter, before they begin to shed those antlers.


      My riverman friend and grizzled old outdoorsman, Jim Barr, of Piney River country, asked about the shrinking numbers of whippoorwills there.  Jim, those birds and their close relative, the chuck-wills-widow, are doomed to extinction in time.  I really mean that.  In 30 years, and maybe less, there will be none. I think that woodcock will follow. 


Wild Turkey, like Whippoorwills, lay their eggs on 
the ground where they are easily preyed upon

     Whippoorwills are birds that do not walk… all feeding is done in flight, and nothing but insects. They lay eggs in hardwood forest leaves. There is no nest made.  They lay between two and four eggs and I truthfully cannot figure out how long it takes for hatchlings to gain flight.  But it isn’t long enough. They are in more danger than baby quail or turkey. 

      While today I estimate we have lost 60 to 70 percent of these birds that we had 40 years ago, we have record numbers of raccoons, possums, skunks, black snakes and the worthless non-native armadillos, every one of which easily finds and eats nest of ground-nesting birds.  There are other creatures that also eat eggs and nestlings, as evidenced by the big decline in quail and wild turkey.  Turkeys are really in a decline now, but some nests of quail survive because they are well-hidden. That is the only thing helping them survive. 

      The eggs of the whippoorwill are never in cover, only camouflage protects them and the camouflage is just not good enough.  We need to be capturing and breeding them in confinement to make some attempt at saving that species, but with today’s young city-bred biologists and ornithologists, I don’t know that the urgency is there to do that.  They didn’t hear them in the past decades when Jim and I did, when the music of their calls at night permeated hardwood forests that are bulldozed and shrinking every year.


You can order my outdoor books or outdoor magazines for Christmas gifts too.  They are seen on  Email me at  My office phone is 417-777-5227


Monday, December 12, 2022

Bow, Rifle or Both





         I want to apologize to readers of this column for not having the publication, “The Truth About the Missouri Department of Conservation” mailed out yet.  We are very, very close, so please be patient. If your name is not on the list to get that free publication, you need to call my office and being line to receive one.  They have to be mailed out this month because postage increases after December, and we don’t want the additional expense.  At this time the cost of 5000 publications is nearly six thousand dollars. 

This is an excerpt from that publication which really fits this week…          


         There are some things the Missouri Department of Conservation may never figure out, but they know this… not much of anything will hurt the whitetail deer population in Missouri right now.  No amount of highway traffic, legal hunters, illegal hunters, blue-tongue, or CWD is affecting their numbers at least for now.


         They may never figure this out either, but holding a doe season and expecting thousands of hunters to go out and shoot only a doe when they see some nice buck walk past them is like giving a kid a dollar to go past the candy counter and buy a can of spinach at the grocery store.


         Picture this… Joe Smith has hunted several days and hasn’t seen a doe and finally a buck walks past him.  Joe wants venison.  He shoots the buck, gets the meat to his freezer and throws the head, hide and legs away.  He calls in as a doe kill.   Naw, that wouldn’t happen!  So picture this next scenario.  Joe Smith is in his tree stand and a doe comes running up and there is a huge antlered buck with 10 points or so chasing her.  Joe ignores the buck and shoots the doe.  And he watches the biggest buck he has ever seen run away. Not hard to believe that, is it?

         Well, let me tell you a true story about what I saw a few years back when I stopped for gas at a Lebanon gas station.  It was toward the end of doe season, and a fellow had a nice 8-point buck in his pickup and a doe beside it.  He told me he took his 30-30 rifle and his crossbow to his tree stand with him and killed the buck with a regular target-arrow and the doe with his rifle.  It is legal to do so, but I didn’t believe him.  He killed the buck with a rifle too and anyone who saw them would know it.  But you could never prove it.

          Why did he kill the buck with a target arrow?  Because the entry and exit wounds are the same size as the 30-30 bullet and the arrow or bullet either one would go right through the deer. And I will say this.  Why not? Any way that deer are killed illegally and used will NOT affect the whitetail deer population in the slightest.  It beats what the trophy hunters are doing, taking the cape and head and loins and leaving the rest of the deer in the woods for the coyotes.

         The doe season has always accounted for dead bucks left in the woods with the antlers cut off.  If you go out and spend hours in the woods on public hunting land after the season, you’ll find those bucks. I have found dozens over the years. But if you take a bow or crossbow out to your tree stand along with your rifle during the doe season, there is nothing illegal about it. It is permitted because nothing in the regulations forbids it. And you can bring in a bow-killed buck and a rifle killed doe on the same day!  It beats killing a buck and leaving it in the woods only to come back later and bring in just the antlers.   And there is no way to prove, if you know what you are doing, just what you used to kill a deer this week, whether it is a doe or buck!  

Contact me by email at lightninridge47@gmail or at P.O. Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613.  My office phone number is 417-777-5227.  If you want to order a subscription to my outdoor magazine, or want to get one of my books as a Christmas gifts (there are eleven now) just go to my website,, and then call me to get a better price.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Sunday at Brown Hill


         I can’t guarantee you that God has ever told me anything with his voice.  But I think he has, in a voice that only I could hear.  That is kinda why I want to hold a church service at the Brown Hill Country Church, five miles east of Houston, next Sunday, the eleventh of December.  I don’t know that God told me to; it just may be another one of my screwball ideas I have that never goes anywhere.  But I walked through those church doors when I was only five or six with my Grandpa Bert McNew and Grandma Hilda, clutching her hand and scared to death. 


         It seems a shame that its doors are closed now on Sunday Mornings.  Maybe if some folks will help we can open them again, at least every other week.  That’s what I am aiming for, hoping for and maybe praying for a little bit.

         There will be no preaching on the 11th.  I have spoke at dozens of churches, helping some raise money for good local causes.  At a Mt. Grove church years ago we raised 981 dollars, which went to buying winter clothes for poor kids in the community.  A year or so later at a church in Columbus Kansas we raised hundreds more to buy shoes for Indian children at t he Rosebud reservation in Nebraska.

        At Brown Hill next Sunday we won’t pass a collection plate and I urge you to come as you are.  I won’t wear a tie if you won’t.  I think my tie is ruint anyway.  I used it as a tourniquet on my Labrador a couple of summers ago when he got snakebit.

         When I was a boy it seems like most of the men who came to Brown Hill church wore overalls.  Even Preacher Baker never wore a tie.  Remember Jess Baker anybody?  Boy what a voice he had.  Scared many a sinner into repenting right there in that church. Some of them are buried now in the cemetery behind it I imagine.

         No, I am not a preacher, because the Lord never called me to be one.  I am just a speaker, an Ozark storyteller and a writer… not really all that good at anything but paddling a boat.  And let me brag a little, at paddling a boat I am great! When it comes to story telling, anyone who has lived as long as I have in the Ozarks has some great stories to tell.  Boy, do I have some stories to tell about the old-time Brown Hill church and the people who lived in that area.  I’d also welcome some organ players or singers who can perform some gospel music that Sunday.  There use to be lots of those in the Ozarks.

         If you folks sitting in those pews aren’t smiling and laughing and feeling good when you leave, then I will have failed in what I want to do, and I don’t figure on failing.

         The church really isn’t a lot different than what it was when I was a growing youngster going there and sleeping on the back pews and attending Mrs. Alva Elliott’s Sunday school class.  But the old wood stove is gone. Pastor Gayer says he will have it all warmed up for us via electric heat when we arrive.

         So come and join me if you can.  The Bible says that where a half dozen or so are gathered, Jesus will be there also.  If we can get 20 regular folks there, then I will come back every other Sunday to bring various speakers and ministers to make that country church vibrate again with the music and the ways of the good old days at Brown Hill Church.

The Email me at or call me at 417 777 5227

Friday, December 2, 2022

Buffalo National River 1972-1975


Old newspaper clipping

    I have hundreds of photos of the Buffalo National River during its first few years, 72 through 75.  I was a naturalist in the first years Buffalo Point was a state park.  As Chief Naturalist for the state of Arkansas, I hired young men as summer naturalists for 5 state parks.  The trails you walk at Buffalo point today and the amphitheatre where programs are given are trails me and my naturalists built.  The amphitheatre is still where I laid it out and with my fellow naturalists, built log benches.  I offered the National Park Service more than 200 slides I took back in those early days and they refused them. It does indeed hurt that they will not recognize what we did there.  When I went to work for The National Park Service at Buffalo River I intended to make it a career.  Then I saw what they were all about.  Someday I will write about what I saw, even the pot and alcohol parties in park cabins put on by a park employee where Yellville kids as young as 16 were welcomed.  And two of the dumbest NPS men I have ever seen in charge of anything.  They thought the local people were in a class below them… I know… I was there!  Enjoy the photos, some are of Buffalo point as a state park, and some when it became a national park.


Amphitheater photos are from ‘71