Tuesday, July 25, 2023

One Last Trip to the Buffalo



       Fifty years ago this summer I was working at Buffalo River as a naturalist for the National Park Service. It was a grand time and I loved it.  In October you can help me celebrate those days and my birthday by joining me for a float down the Buffalo River.

       It will be an interpretive trip like we use to do, seining fish, talking about the natural history of the river and the history of it’s people, and having a midday fish fry on a gravel bar somewhere.  At the outset, I will teach folks how to paddle a canoe from one side.  Fifty years ago, that’s what I and another naturalist did every day. I am doing this once again, and one last time, just like the old days.  

I am worried about the Buffalo. Every year less water flows over it's shoals and as many as 600 canoes and kayaks now try to enjoy that great river in one day. It is becoming a mess, with jam-ups on shoals, and gravel bars littered with feminine products, toilet paper and worse, drug paraphernalia at times.  The National Park Service can’t do anything about it, overwhelmed by the numbers.  

       Most problems nowadays don’t come from just the canoe rentals.  At take-out points, there isn’t room for all the private vehicles, and sometimes you have to wait an hour or more to leave the river. 


      Most have no idea that the Buffalo is no longer the stream it once was, not close to what I saw fifty years ago.  But they swarm to see it and experience it, and there are no controls. Private boats are not bound by Park Service rules, rules that limit what canoe rental companies have to do. 

       There are reasons why the water is receding in all Ozark rivers and there is nothing that can be done about it.  It involves receding water tables in midwestern states, and there isn’t one person out of twenty that knows what you are talking about when you describe that problem.  

       Why? A population of humans that has more than doubled since I first saw the Buffalo, and a tremendous increasing number of deep wells serving industry, large scale irrigation, even 20 times more agricultural use.  How many more cattle, hogs, chickens, turkeys, etc. are there today.  Easily 20 times more, maybe 30 times more than there were 50 years ago.  Forests that were sponges for rainfall have receded, to hardened pastureland.  Cement and pavement have increased 100-fold from what they were fifty years ago.

       When I was a naturalist on the Buffalo in 1971… when it was a state park before the Feds took it over… I would go around talking with local country folks who were the age I am today. There were a couple of those mountain ladies who did, in fact, smoke corn-cob pipes! I was there… I know.  The biggest change in the Ozarks isn’t the water levels, it is the people. As different as night and day. Like I said, I know… I was there.  
     But while the water may recede and the deep holes fill with sand and gravel, the bluffs along that beautiful river will not.

        Those old Ozark people along the rivers, whether the Buffalo or the Big Piney or the Current would have hoped what you see there now would have never happened as it has. But I can tell you this, without the designation as a National River, the Buffalo would become another suburb for the wealthy, with mansions built on each bluff and real estate companies selling lots along the river just above the high water line.

        I am going to be interviewing the Park Superintendent soon and will publish that interview.  But can they do anything about what is happening? Not really.  Millions flock to Yellowstone and Yosemite, but those are huge tracts of land and the millions are spread out at least to some extent. There, bad things are happening, and worse things are coming. 

       The Buffalo River is a ribbon-like park where thousands of visitors are concentrated in a narrow corridor and it is a bad scene, what is happening now.  I don’t know what the NPS people are now, but I remember what they were fifty years ago.  

       But all that is for another column later.  If you want to go on that last float with me, you need to contact me or Crockett canoe service. The date isn’t finalized yet, but will likely be the last Saturday of October.  Usually there is a little more water then, and the bluffs are just like they were 50 years ago. 

You can call me at 417 777 5227 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Common Sense Conservationists

 Common Sense Conservationists

     I am trying to revive an old group called “Common Sense Conservationists” by going to 20 or 30 Ozark communities from now thru the end of this year.  I need help. Let me know if you are interested in being a part of this.

     The purpose of those meetings will be to establish a group of conservation-minded outdoorsmen to work for river restoration, wild turkey restoration and other conservation topics in the Ozarks. We need to also organize a group of conservation-minded citizens to try to oppose much of what the Missouri Department of Conservation is doing in our state, practices that are corrupt and wasteful, and often illegal.  Actual conservation issues, are ignored, while they have enriched the Bass Pro Shop owners and many of our states judges. I will back up those charges with the meetings in your community that I propose.

     If we can sign up 250 members this year, we can make a change. That membership will grow.  The old group, from 25 years ago, actually got much done, and worked with some MDC people to accomplish much. But today most of them have passed away.

     If you are someone inclined to complain about the abuse from agents and the actual misuse of money we all give them, pleasehelp me set up and promote meetings near you.  If this goes well, there will be future meetings all over the state, well into the winter.  If we don’t do something now, the MDC will never change.  Its power keeps it unaccountable to anyone. Legislators fear them. The state auditor called me to ask me to tell the readers of my columns what she has found.  MDC employees on lower levels have told me of different things to investigate. Lets create some power to oppose them. We need leaders… please volunteer to be one!

     Call me at 417-777-5227 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com

 We also would like to establish a regular conservation magazine that is free to all Missourians, which creates and awareness of what is happening in the outdoors, independent of politics.  We have finished one.  Let me know if you would like a copy.

    We want outdoorsmen who involve themselves in doing what is right.  We have no interest in involving poachers! 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

A Slick, Slimy, Seldom-Seen, Salamander Success Story



Ozark Hellbender


      We had a good meeting at Buffalo, Mo on Sunday to kick off our “Common Sense Conservationist” membership drive. We had representatives from Owensville, Ellington, Farmington, Conway, Marshfield-Niangua and Cabool attending.  I will be going to each of those communities to hold future meetings in a quest to establish C.S.C. memberships all across Missouri.  If you want to be a member, contact me.  I will put more information on my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors


      There are several main goals we are tackling, foremost amongst them the restoration of wild turkeys on private land. More about all this in columns to come.

      There are some biologists with the St. Louis Zoo that have done remarkable work trying to re-establish a population of Ozark Hellbenders in rivers across southern Missouri.  It will take awhile, but they have been taking eggs from captive hellbenders and placing them in a couple of Ozark streams, where they have been hatching and surviving.  

      That is all well and good and I applaud them for that, but the survival of the hellbender depends on the survival of Ozark rivers.

      I am not going to go into detail here about what the Ozark hellbender is.  I knew all about them when I was 12 years old, when I caught the first of them on a trotline in the Hog Creek eddy of the Big Piney River.  My grandfather was along.  He said trying to get the hook out of that 18-inch monster would likely kill it, so we cut the line instead.  

      Grandpa told me there was something special about the wicked looking creature.  For one thing if you handled the hellbender its skin was loose and slick and when that slick slimy stuff that covered its body came of on your hands, it would dry them out something awful for the rest of the day.  

      It had a long flat tail and was sort of an orange color with small spots.  In some ways, its shovel-like head was similar to that of a small flathead catfish.  The eyes were little, the four legs stumpy and short with 4 toes.  If you held him up and looked straight at his face, he did look scary to me at that age.  If he were 20 feet long, he would be fearsome.  But the biggest one I ever saw was only 20 inches long.  Over the years, I caught a bunch of them up and down the Piney, most on trotlines. None were colored exactly alike, I never saw identical ones, they were grayish, greenish, brown, orange, spotted and unspotted. 

      With a few I had to cut the nylon line above the hook, but not always.  Grandpa and Dad both told me that there were substances in the hellbender’s body that would allow the hook to be dissolved, or worked free somehow.  We caught lots of them, back then, and several at night fishing for goggle-eye in deep holes with night crawlers.  They had to have deep eddies; I never saw one on a shoal, never seined any when seining for bait.  

      I will never forget the night that my old friend and School of the Ozarks roommate Darrel Hamby caught one at the mouth of Hog Creek as we fished in the dark for goggle-eye.  He was reaching out to grab each goggle-eye he hooked and suddenly it was a hellbender, sort of like grabbing a handful of half-done jello. 


     I do hope the experiment with hatching hellbender eggs works, but it will depend on the quality of the water they are placed in.  Some of the rivers they lived in 100 years ago will never be clean enough for hellbenders now.  But some will.  The lower one half of the Big Piney is virtually hellbenderless now, but could provide a good habitat in the future, as the St. Louis Zoo biologists continue to succeed in their efforts.  The upper half, with once-deep holes for that wicked-looking salamander with gills, certainly will not.  It is filling in with sediment and silt and gravel.  Eddies that I knew which once were 8 or 10 feet deep are now shallow enough to wade.


      I have a challenge for ornithologists (bird biologists) at the zoo.  Do the same thing for an Ozark bird fast on its way to extinction in our region… the whippoorwill and its cousin, the chuck-wills-widow.

    That will be difficult, because while you can find and hatch the eggs, feeding the young birds will be tough.  They are fed regurgitated insects and cannot fly until about three weeks after hatching.  Eggs are laid in woodlands, no nests… just amongst leaf litter. And it takes a miracle to just happen across them, they are that well camouflaged.   I have never seen more than two eggs.

      They will become extinct in the Ozarks, though they may survive in other ranges.  The factors that have made them decline 70 percent over the past 30 years in the Ozarks are many, and complex.


      Before the Covid problems, I spoke all over the Midwest, at churches, wild game dinners, D.U. and other types of conventions. That stopped for a while but I still do that now, and there is no charge.  If your community wants to know about the newly forming Common Sense Conservationist organization, contact me and I will come to tell you all the details and help form a local chapter. My email address is lightninridge47@gmail.com.  Two websites are found under my name. Write to me at P.O. Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613, or call my office, 417 777 5227.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Hot Times


I  wrote this little poem years ago when we were having some hot days… maybe you’ll get happier about summer after reading it.


The heat we’ve been a havin’ ain’t necessarily pleasin’, but there ain’t no snow in the tomato patch, and there ain’t nobody freezin’.


It's only in the 90’s, and the fishin’s fairly good, so I figure summer’s goin’, pretty much the way it should. 


The squirrels are in' the hick’ries, and somewhere’s it’s a rainin’, so I’ll wait 'til we get our share, and you won’t hear me complainin’.

Life is great here in the country, and I ain’t a gonna whine, cause as long as I can catch some fish, then things is goin’ fine. 


Ma’s cannin’ is nigh over, ‘til the apples come to ripe’nin, I can’t figure why that woman’s always sittin’ ‘round and gripin’. 


I’d take her out a fishin', if she’d promise to be quite, but when she’s rantin’ and a rarin’ I can’t get the fish to bite. 


There’s a sunset that’s worth seein’ and the sky is full of stars, there’s the sound of water flowin’ over river gravel bars. 



There’s fireflies o’er the meadows, summer flowers here and there, and I can hear a bullfrog beller, and a hoot owl off somewhere. 


When tomorrow comes a dawnin’ its likely to be hot, but I say that even if it is, I druther see it… than not.


 There’s cooler days a comin’, us old-timers can recall, but let’s waste no days of summer whilst we’re waitin’ on the fall.


 If your pinin’ for a better time, just listen when I say, it may be all we got, so let's just enjoy today. 


God sends us autumn’s beauty, He sends the springtime dew, He made the birds, He made the bugs, and He made summer too. 


So if your lookin’ for some good advice, I’m just the man to give it… I say summer won’t be wasted, ‘less’n you just forget to live it.



On Sunday afternoon July 16, we will have a meeting in Buffalo, Mo to try to revive an old group called “Common Sense Conservationists”.  It will be held at a restaurant called “Jem’s” at 1 p.m. 

       The purpose of the meeting is to establish a group of conservation-minded citizens to oppose and stop much of what the Missouri Department of Conservation is doing in our state, which is corrupt, wasteful, and illegal.  Actual conservation issues, like our degraded rivers, and the decline of wild turkeys, is ignored, while they have enriched the Bass Pro Shop owners and many of our states judges.

       If we can sign up 250 members this year, we can make a change. That number will grow. Call 417 777 5227 for info.


Saturday, July 8, 2023

“Ossifragus”, New to the Ozarks


      Along the Ozark streams, a favorite place of mine nowadays, as it gets hot and muggy, there comes the cry of a strange type of crow, a kind of caw that sounds like the black rascal is choking on something or trying to gargle.  When I take people down the river who aren’t familiar with the ‘fish crow’ they are puzzled by the call. 


      There’s nothing wrong with the crow they are hearing, it is just a different subspecies, a tiny bit smaller and thinner than a regular crow with a different call entirely.  They were not in the Ozarks 10 or 15 years ago but they are spreading northward and westward, wherever wetlands or rivers are found. They don’t live on ridgetops or in deep woods.  The scientific name of the fish crow is Corvis ossifragus.  The common crow’s scientific name is Corvis brachyrynchos. 

       From the raven, a northern crow that is found across Canada and much larger than any others, to the smaller fish crow, there are a heck of a lot of separate subspecies of the black rascals everyone seems to look upon rather unfavorably.  The common crow, or American crow, is something I know a lot about, because I had several for pets as a boy.  They are rascals! 

      One of my pets, Ol’ Black Joe, got into our house on a hot summer day through a bedroom window that had been left open. He found my mom’s jewelry box.  As a wife in the rather poor Dablemont clan, Mom had no expensive jewelry, but she still wanted too keep what she had and she saw Joe take off with some as he flew through the window carrying with him a beakful of shiny treasure.  I recovered it, and saved Joe from a shotgun blast.  I knew that he took all his treasure to our woodpile, where there were golf tees and spoons and shiny tins and even coins (always pennies and nickels)… and Mom’s jewelry.  One old ear-ring showed up that wasn’t even hers!  He was one to wander and once showed up on Main Street, several miles away.  Eventually he was shot by a farmer who didn’t realize he was a pet.  

      Some pet crows can live up to ten years old, but if they roam free they aren’t apt to.  One pet crow I had when I was about 6 years old won second place in a pet parade in Houston Mo.  Mom and Grandma made him a little Styrofoam hat and a vest and he sat on a little perch he was tied to just like he knew he was an attraction as we marched down Main Street, actually cawing at the crowd as we went. 

      Obviously, Blackie was the crowd favorite, but first place was won by a little girl dressed up cuter than me, carrying a big old furry cat.  I wasn’t able to dress up like that, wearing my overalls and a St Louis Cardinals ball cap.  I should have worn some kind of shirt, I guess.  

      But politics were involved.  The little girl was the granddaughter of a town matriarch from old days ancestry and the cat had a pedigree!  Blackie and me won two dollars though, which mom kept to pay for his hat.

      So you see why I know so much about crows?  And I have spent so much time in the Canadian wilderness that I know a great deal about ravens too, pure outlaws of the north country which you could never confuse with any other of the many subspecies of crows.  In the open community dumps found in the small settlements of northwest Ontario, around Indian reservations, ravens and black bears almost outnumber the Indians. 


      I won’t go into stuff about how the fish crow lives and thrives along the streams of the Ozarks.  You can get most of that off the computer, which says this about crows of all kinds…

1.Crows are super smart.  ( I go along with that, but so are pigeons and wild geese) 2. Crows mate for life. ...(I doubt that but can’t prove it) 3.Crows can remember faces (aka hold a grudge). ...(that is silly) 4.Crows have regional dialects.  (Even sillier) ...5.Crows hold funerals for the deceased. (dumbest thing I ever heard…I have seen nothing like that and I have kilt many) 6. Crows have huge brains! (If you look at a skull of one you really have to laugh at that, so many birds have huger brains, eagles owls, etc. 7.  Crows can make tools.  (They make nothing-- they use some, on rare occasions.)  8. Crows hide their food. (Heck they hide everything).

      People who search the Internet, for info on wild creatures are often misinformed but they do not know it.  There are many things found there that are not accurate, woven in around the things that are generally known to be fact.

        Suburban outdoor writers of today often go to the Internet to create articles about nature.  I don’t, I write about what I have seen and experienced and know or still wonder about because there seems to be no solid answers.  But I know that one pet crow of mine could paint.  He ate elderberries from a bush only a few feet from our porch, then sat on the porch swing painting the concrete slab below a pretty purple color.  Or should I call it a completely new shade… elderberry blue!  My dad hated that crow, but concrete is just as pretty painted elderberry blue as it is concrete gray.


Anyway, next time you are along a stream and hear a crow gargling, or choking on something as he tries to caw, remember it is an ossifragus, not a brachyrinchus.



The Most Amazing Reptile


Hog-Nose or Spreading Adder

      When I think of all the fascinating things I have seen in this natural world I have been exploring well over 40 years, one of the most fascinating is a little snake that my grandmother told me was a puff adder.  It is also known as a hog-nosed viper, a spreading adder and other names.  One of the things I have a hard-time understanding is the fact that no two of them are alike in coloration or pattern.  If you want to see photos of some I have seen, go to the website www.larrydablemontoutdoors and you can look at about a half dozen or so photos of the snake that knows how to scare the dickens out of you.  I don’t write much about what I learn from books or Internet info, but rather from what I have seen or experienced.

     Many years ago I was the Chief Naturalist for Arkansas State Parks and   Buffalo Point Park on the river south of Yellville was actually a state part for a year after I took that job. I hired several college students who were in natural history studies.  Two of the best were John Green and Randy Johnson, who helped me build 3 different trails there, still in use today.  We would take daily hikes on those trails back then and on one hike we came across a good-sized hog nose snake, nearly 15 inches long which is about as big as they get.
  John picked it up and showed it to all of about 40 hikers and then put it on the ground where it put on a show, spreading wide its head and neck like a miniature cobra and coiling its tail as they often do when endangered.  That rascal looked really dangerous.  I predicted what it would do, and it began to spit out a foul-smelling spittle, then bit itself repeatedly.  Within seconds it began to die, writhing in pain, rolling over on its back and soon lying dead still with just a slight quivering of the tail.  John knelt down and rolled it over upright, and it rolled over upside down again, knowing full well that something dead always lies on its back.

       Randy told folks how the little snake actually had venom and small fangs in the rear of its mouth, so far back they could only be used to stun the toads, which are the main diet of the hog-nose snake.  We took the opportunity to tell the hikers that they would only find 3 other snakes with venom in the region, and told about the guy who put his finger back on the fangs of a larger hog-nose snake and injected it with that tiny dose of venom.  I wrote about that in last week’s column.

       We also told folks that many snakes would bite, but the bites would be harmless.  But we explained that banded water snakes had a number of sharp teeth and contained a natural anti-coagulant in their saliva inside the mouth that would allow a person to bleed and bleed and bleed.  That came to pass later that summer when we gave a snake demonstration at the park with some captive snakes we had.  A water snake bit my finger and it bled for five minutes without clotting.

       The hognose snake has no equal as a species of great fascination.  What surprised me most is the variety of colors and markings it comes in.  I can show that only in a number of photos on my website and I urge you to go there and see those.  They are found on www




      On Sunday afternoon July 16, we will have a meeting in Buffalo, Mo to try to revive an old group called “Common Sense Conservationists”.  It will be held at a great restaurant called Jem’s, where you can eat dinner from an unbelievable buffet until 2 p.m. and then attend our meeting in their air-conditioned meeting room, which will seat more than 100.  

      The purpose of the meeting is to re-establish a group of conservation-minded citizens to try to oppose much of what the Missouri Department of Conservation is doing in our state, which is corrupt and wasteful, and downright illegal.  Actual conservation issues, like our rivers, and the decline of wild turkeys, is ignored, while they have enriched the Bass Pro Shop owners and many of our states judges. I will back up those charges on July 16.

      If we can sign up 250 members this year, we can make a change. That membership will grow.  The old group, from 25 years ago, actually got much done, and worked with some MDC people to accomplish much. But today most of them have passed away.

      If you are someone inclined to complain about the abuse from agents and the actual misuse of money we all give them, please attend.  If this goes well, there will be future meetings all over the state, well into the fall.  If we don’t do something now, the MDC will never change.  Its power keeps it unaccountable to anyone. Legislators fear them.  Lets create some power to oppose them. I have made about 100 fliers for anyone who wants to put them up in their area. At the meeting I will have photos you need to see, to back up what I am saying. We need leaders… be one!

      Call me at 417-777-5227 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com to get those fliers. Please come to our meeting, and bring others with you.