Friday, June 23, 2023

A Time For Killing


Three male cowbirds at the base of bird feeders

       I want to make people aware of what they will never hear anywhere else.  I wrote about killing blacksnakes and black vultures and brown-headed cowbirds and I ran into a self-appointed wanna-be naturalist who gave me heck because I mentioned killing those four species.  Those kind of people arouse my ire. 


       The very best of the bird experts had to be John James Audubon, who killed a tubful of birds, so he could look closely at each when he painted them.  Jack Miner, Aldo Leopold, John Burroughs and John Muir, all great naturalists, killed wild things, often.  Today we have all these young tree huggers, fern feelers and bug seekers from some metro-environment who never ever will understand a wilderness ecology.

         Young biologists, who first learned about wild creatures and plants in some college classroom and then go to work for conservation agencies are often the worst of the bunch.  I know, I talk to them often… and grimace.  That fellow I talked to couldn’t tell you much about a wild environment, and he had never seen a group of black vultures peck the eyes out of a newborn deer or calf or lamb while it is still alive.  He didn’t believe that happens, but it does. 

       And he also didn’t believe that brown-headed cowbirds have actually caused some birds to be endangered. Look it up. Ornithologists of age and experience say cowbird eggs have been laid in the nests of two hundred species of birds.  Kirtland’s warblers are becoming endangered for one reason… the brown-headed cowbird. I didn’t waste much time talking with him.  I did ask if he would like for me to bring him a copperhead or two for his town lawn.

Cowbird egg laid in a robin's nest. The robins will be lucky to live. The cowbird will hog all the food and many times kick the host babies out of their nest.

      It is the way of the future.  There will never be outdoor writers in the future telling you to kill brown headed cowbirds, but if you like cardinals and robins and doves, and any other of 140 species of birds whose nests have been parasitized, you need to shoot every one you see.  They are what they call brood parasites, and I want you to tell me what parasite in the Ozarks is protected by law except them.  I have an open bore 20 gauge and some light game bird loads,  size 8, which I am using to see to it that they do not hurt other species on Lightnin’ Ridge.  Please heed my warning.  One pair of brown-headed cowbirds can place 40 of their eggs in nests of other birds in one summer.  Give that some thought… 40 eggs means 40 to a 100 bird songbird eggs in your area destroyed.  Get on the Internet and learn all about them. But use common sense.  The Internet says the cowbirds are declining.  That is baloney; they never have for years and years. 

       They are not native to the Ozarks.  Fifteen years ago there were none on my ridgetop. If I have anything to do with it, there soon will be none nevermore.  And every black vulture I see will be left rotting in the field or riverway that I find them.  I would do no less for Norway rats, house mice, brown recluse spiders or armadillos.  Spread the word to your neighbors, folks, before a decline in songbirds comes to your area.

       And treat blacksnakes with common sense.  They are bird and rabbit killers along the same lines as feral cats.  If you have either around dairy barns where they thin the population of mice and rats, I understand leaving them, as my grandmother did where she milked her cows when I was a boy.  But let her find one going after a bird’s nest in the trees around her house and he was a dead snake.


     Read many of my columns to come which are not published in some newspapers because of controversial content on my website,         The lady who puts my writings and the best of my weekly photos on that site tells me there may be hundreds there to read, going back several years.  I wrote my first outdoor column for the Houston Herald in Houston Missouri 57 years ago this week when I was 17 years old.  It was  entitled, “Summer on the Piney”.  

       I have written many more outdoor and nature columns for nearly a hundred newspapers since then, and I have almost all of those articles and features, from the very first to this one, nearly 9000 all told, and about a thousand magazine articles, 90 of my own magazines and 12 books.  If only I had lived in Mark Twain’s time!

       See my other website too,, where those books and those past magazines are shown and sold.  And when paper prices begin to go down I have two more books coming out—“The Life and Times of the Pool Hall Kid” and “The Judges and Justice of St. Clair County” The best of them all will come later, a book with dozens of color photos of the Ozark’s wild creatures and accounts of my experiences with each.  It won’t be a book of facts and figures, but what I have seen and been a part of through all these years.  And that covers a lot of years and many, many hours outdoors, and thousands of photos.



Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Bit by a Copperhead


"Three months after the snakebite.. my sister Zodie and I.  By then I could outrun her again!"



       I said in last week’s column that I would write about the fourth venomous snake in the Ozarks and I will. That snake is the hog-nosed snake, or spreading adder, as it is also known.   Yes, it has fangs and venom, but cannot bite humans.  Read about it next week! 

       The following column is an excerpt from the book “Ridge-Runner, From the Big Piney to the Battle of the Bulge” which is the story of my Uncle Norten Dablemont’s life.  It took place when he was 10 years old.


       Mom and Pop were upriver setting trotlines in the summer of 1933. Mom was only a month or so away from giving birth to my youngest brother, Bryce. She and Pop took little brother Farrel along to help get bait. Zodie and I had been left behind to do something but I can’t remember what it was. We got into some kind of argument and I had ran out of the house and was jumping up and down on a board, teasing her, reminding her that she could only wish she could get her hands on me. 

       Beneath that board was a big copperhead and he took Zodie’s side of the argument! He came out from beneath it, half mashed and all mad. He nailed me just above the middle toe of my left foot. I felt a hot, burning pain, and when I looked down, the snake was stuck on my foot, writhing around trying to get his fangs out so he could take aim again. I kicked him away and killed him with a garden tool of some kind. 

       As I remember it, that copperhead was a monster of a snake. He was about 30 inches long and as big around as a golfball, and that’s a pretty good size for a copperhead in the Big Piney hills.

       Zodie saw it happen and she ran to get Pop. I didn’t know much about what to do so I tightened an old rag around my leg just above the ankle and made a tourniquet. It took Pop awhile to get back and you could tell he was scared, especially after seeing the size of that snake. 

       I was getting sick by the time Pop got home and my foot was swelling and throbbing. Pop took his razor and told me to look away and yell real loud. I did, but it still hurt when he incised the fang marks and began to suck out the poison just like the old-timers had always said you should do. When he finished that, he poured coal oil in a pan and soaked my foot in the coal oil.

       I asked Pop if I was going to die. He said that he had known lots of people who had been bitten two or three times and lived through it. But he was saying that for my benefit, because back then everyone knew of people who had died from a copperhead bite.  Of course, none of them were as tough as me!

       By nightfall my ankle was the same size as my lower leg, and my foot was swelled up something awful, beginning to turn bluish-black. I began to run a fever and become delirious. Mom held me all night and I had horrible, fitful dreams. I had never seen concrete that I know of, but I dreamed that night that I was laying on a big slab of concrete in a sweltering sun, suffocating in the heat. That went on for days, my fever soaring! 

       It was that high fever and blood poisoning that killed snakebite victims back then. When I did come around enough to drink some water, I was in gosh awful pain and hallucinating with the fever. By the second day my whole lower leg and foot were bluish-black and the skin on my foot and ankle was beginning to split open. Mom was keeping it coated with grease, and possum fat.

       For about three days I was delirious…mostly unconscious and very sick. But for those of you who are biting your fingernails in suspense, I didn’t die! It must have been hell for Mom with me needing so much attention just as the new baby was on the way.  But Mom was devoted to the Lord, the finest woman I ever knew… and she knew how to pray. I think that is what worked better than anything else and the reason I lived.

       A large area of my foot around the bite rotted with infection. It smelled terrible! I couldn’t walk at all and my little brother Farrel had to pull me around in a cart we had for hauling wood. 

       I overdid it a little and had Farrel haul me around in that cart quite awhile after I became able to walk. If Pop hadn’t eventually put an end to it, Farrel would have been pulling that cart ‘til Christmas! 

       The snakebite had no lasting effect and I was fortunate. Many people who have had a leg swell and turn black and break open like that have lost it to amputation. In that day, folks who were not strong would often die, and one fellow died from the amputation of his hand. I was bitten by a copperhead again ten or twelve years later and it didn’t even effect me.  And since then, bee stings and wasp stings have had no effect at all and I pay little attention to the occasional stinging remarks of my wife, or the venomous insults of my adversaries.


       The book “Ridge-Runner” is one of my best sellers, and can be seen on the website,  We are down to our last 100 or so of them and printing a new batch my have to wait awhile because of the paper shortages we now have.  Norten passed away several years ago, but you can still get one of last 50 or so books he autographed by calling our office at 417-777 5227.  I have been told by many it is the best book they have ever read, one they could not put down after they began to read it.       


Monday, June 5, 2023





Above: unbelievable photo of a salt and pepper king snake killing a copperhead.  

Photo 2 shows a black snake headed up a tree after a nest of baby birds here on Lightnin’ Ridge.  He didn’t get there!    


     A local game warden got himself a radio show on a Lebanon, Missouri radio station several years ago and he ended it each week with this statement, “Remember, if we (the MDC) don’t say you can, YOU CAN’T!”

      I have been doing some things they don’t say I can do.  In mid-May I killed a copperhead about 40 yards from my front door and then a week later killed a six-foot black snake on my back deck, trying to get up a big oak tree to eat some baby birds in a nest a few feet away. I shot a half-dozen black vultures down on the river recently and one cottonmouth.  Then this past week I killed a pair of brown-headed cowbirds on the ground beneath a bird feeder.  They are the ‘parasitic’ birds that actually kick out the eggs of the birds that make open nests and lay their eggs in those nests. In one spring, they may lay as many as 30 to 40 eggs in other birds nests, destroying that many or more songbird eggs. Many species of songbirds raise the young of the cowbirds.  That is no joke, they actually do that! Dead cowbirds mean more cardinals, doves, bluebirds, mockingbirds, thrashers, etc. 


      I guess I am one heck of a violator…the MDC does not say I can kill a cowbird or armadillo or copperhead. But those folks at the MDC live in suburbs mostly and I live in the woods.  We think different because we live so much differently.

      It wasn’t too many years ago the MDC printed, at the cost of tens of thousands of our dollars, a brochure that said this about copperheads… “They seldom bite, they NEVER kill.”  I reckon they have now burned a whole bunch of them because within a year or so, some poor fellow who had likely read that colorful, authoritarian brochure put together by the MDC herpetologist, (the scientific word for snake expert) was in his tent in a Missouri state park when a copperhead came in it with him. He picked it up to release it outside his tent and it bit him and he died within a few hours.

      The MDC’s official, written statement on poisonous snakes in the Ozarks is that there has never been a death in Missouri from a copperhead or cottonmouth and that is simply untrue!  When I was a naturalist at Buffalo River National Park I went out and talked to old timers in both north Arkansas and southern Missouri, the type of people who sat in homemade rocking chairs on the front porch of homes they built themselves who could relate history of days long before I was born.  I learned so much from them.  An old-timer that I respected so much worked for the National Park Service there at Buffalo Point, who had actually worked as a young man for the Civilian Conservation Corps in the thirties.  His name was Rufus Still and local folks swore that if you wanted warts removed, Rufus could make it happen.  I witnessed that, and I listened to him for hours.  

      He told me about deaths from copperhead bites in the region where he had lived all his life, and told of the many remedies they tried to treat the bites of any poisonous snake.  There were deaths and loss of hands or feet all through the early years of the 20th century, which he related to me.  Once as a naturalist leading a hike along a trail I had built across the Buffalo River, a copperhead bit my boot as I stepped on a tree root he was laying beside.  I hadn’t stepped on him, I just stepped about 8-inches from where he was.  Of course, his fangs stuck in my leather boot but didn’t penetrate.  If it had been in May, or if the temperature had not been 80 degrees, but 60 degrees, I imagine he never would have struck.  If that doesn’t make sense to you, you should read all about venomous snakes, or see next week’s column, in which I will explain all that. 


      For years in the 1970’s I roamed the Ozark and Ouachita mountains in Arkansas as a paid Naturalist reporting on the wildest parts of the state for an agency known as the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.  Some of those explorations happened in October and I can tell you, timber rattlers, cottonmouths, and copperheads love October in those mountains. I never killed any of them, because they were in a natural habitat where only a very few people would ever be.  But my home up here on Lightnin’ Ridge is not a place where I am inclined to co-habitate when it comes to venomous snakes. 

      There are three venomous snake species I have stories about in my next column, and the five-year old Ozark boy bitten in 1928 and what they did to save him. I will also tell you about a fourth commonly-seen venomous snake in the Ozarks which has never bitten but one person! Only a few Ozarkers can name him!

       Go to my website to see one of the most unbelievable photos you will ever see of a copperhead being killed by a salt and pepper king snake not much bigger than he is.


   We have some spring magazines left for anyone who wants one… 112 pages, full color, about the Ozarks and the Outdoors for only 8 dollars, postage paid.  To get an autographed and inscribed copy, call me at 417 777 5227. My email address is   Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO. 65613