Campfire’s Light the Night

  • Gentle flames dance and flicker before you
  • Light the night, cook food, share time
  • Story-telling, memories, peaceful thinking – its magical

By Larry Whiteley

Flames flicker and dance in a dark night sky.

There’s something really special about time spent around a campfire. Smoke drifts away or gets in your face. Wood crackles and pops. Flames dance and flicker. Sparks float hypnotically upward into a dark night sky.

A campfire makes you feel better. It warms you to the bone. Magically it takes away stress and pressure no matter where it’s at.  It could be deer or turkey camp, on the banks of a river or lake, on top of a mountain or down in a valley, during a camping trip or in your backyard. It really doesn’t matter because they’re all magical.

Around campfires, there are no TV’s or electronic gadgets. There are no smart phones (just turn them off). There are only friends and family, quiet and perfect solitude.

Campfires are for cooking food, lighting the night and keeping warm. They are for sharing memories of other times and other places, talking about loved ones and old friends who are no longer here, the big one that got away or missing the buck of a lifetime. We turn our backsides to the warmth of its flames, but still shiver as our eyes widen listening to someone tell ghost stories.

Campfires are where grandkids roast marshmallows and share time with their Papaw. They are a place to watch the flames dance as the worry of the work week melts away. They are a place for fish fry’s, cookouts and fellowship.

It’s easy to sit and watch the flames play for hours while someone tells stories or you just listen to night sounds. Flames of a campfire are soothing and always changing. As a campfire dies down to coals, the night slowly takes over and you know when it’s time to crawl into your sleeping bag, or your own bed, until morning comes.

To have a good campfire, you first have to know how to build one. Start by making a foundation of tinder using an old bird’s nest, dryer lint, pine needles and cones or fire cubes you can buy in your local outdoor store.

Good tinder makes a good fire.

On top of the tinder crisscross small pieces of kindling like small twigs or thin pieces of wood scraps making sure there is plenty of room for air circulation.

Now light your tinder from below not on top to get both it and the kindling going.

Keep adding kindling until you start getting a bed of coals and then gradually add bigger pieces of wood while you still leave room for air circulation. Now sit back and enjoy your time around the campfire you built.

Heat from a campfire is also used to cook food. The warmth of the food feeds your body from the inside which is the only real way to keep your body temperature up.

Campfire cooking should be done over a fire that has hot coals rather than flames. Flames have less heat and more soot which blackens pots. Coals have a more even heat so food is cooked perfectly well. Food cooked over campfire coals just tastes better. It could be a shore lunch on a Canadian lake, grilled venison at deer camp or just hot dogs and s’mores in the backyard.

Food just tastes better cooked on a campfire.

One of my favorite times around a campfire is in winter or early spring before the sun starts the day. While my wife still sleeps, I quietly head outside to build a campfire in the backyard fire pit. It doesn’t matter how cold it is and if it’s snowing that’s all the better, I still go. Flames reflecting off the snow are beautiful.

The best time is when the sky is still dark and millions of stars sprinkle the night sky. The wood sizzles and pops, the flames dance, the smell of wood smoke drifts through the air. It’s a quiet time. Not many people are up early like me. I warm myself by the fire and sip my coffee.

I think of my wife, my kids, my grandkids, my friends and how I am truly grateful for them.  I think of my God and how much he has truly blessed me. I look up and thank him for the great outdoors that he created for us to enjoy and take care of.

I thank Him for time in a treestand watching sunrises through the trees and waiting for a deer to come by my secret hiding place. I thank Him that I am still thrilled to find a deer antler or a mushroom. I thank Him that a turkey gobble still gets my heart beating faster. I thank Him for the sounds of loons and elk bugles. I thank Him for time on the water, catching fish or just paddling. I thank Him for campsites and hiking trails.

My thoughts turn to all the outdoor memories I have made with my kids and grandkids. I sure hope there are many more to come before God calls me home. I stir the fire, watch the sparks and wipe away a tear. Smoke must have got in my eyes. Time around a campfire is something really special,

Opening Day Traditions, Memories for Life

  • Fishing, hunting, warm, cold – you gotta go!
  • Keeping young, no matter your age
  • Remembering my dad
In keeping with tradition, a crowd of fishermen showed up March 1 at Bennett Spring State Park for opening day of the Missouri trout season. Photo by Brent Frazee

By Brent Frazee

I have always been fascinated by the tradition involved in fishing and hunting.

Opening day of deer season.   Spending time with a lifelong friend or relative in a fishing boat.  Days in the field with an old bird dog   And the fishermen’s unofficial first day of spring, the Missouri trout opener.

They all elicit images of the romance in our outdoor sports that the anti’s could never understand.  It’s reminiscing about days with a friend or relative who is no longer with us, of an unforgettable day of fishing, of a big buck that showed up out of nowhere, of a day when the weather presented a formidable challenge.

We take memories of those days to our old age, thumbing through faded pictures of long-ago fishing trips or reminiscing about special moments long after we are no longer able to participate.

I’ll never forget the last time I talked to my dad before he passed away. “Do you remember Arnie?” he said in almost a whisper.

Arnie was our guide the first time my dad took me to Canada. I was just a little guy and I was thrilled that I would get to meet a real Indian.

Arnie was colorful, to say the least. He drove us to the boat ramp in a beat-up truck with a door that wouldn’t shut, a motor that coughed and sputtered, and seats that were so worn that the foam was showing.

Arnie guided us to the trip of a lifetime, showing us where to catch giant northern pike. My dad and I reminisced about those days often, especially when there was a lull in our conversation.

We didn’t talk about the little-league games my dad coached, the big-city vacations we took, the trips to our family farm or the many major-league games we went to.

We talked about special times together in a fishing boat.

I see how many other people bond the same way.  And I smile.

Photo by Brent Frazee

Tradition is a big part of who we are as fishermen and hunters.

In my world, nowhere is that more evident than at Bennett Spring State Park in south-central Missouri.

The park celebrated its 95th trout opener on March 1, most of them as a destination managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and stocked by the Department of Conservation.

Some fishermen will try to tell you that they have been to every one of them – but then, you know how fishermen like to stretch the truth.

Still, there are many who have been attending the opener for many years and wouldn’t miss one, no matter what.

Over the years, I have interviewed many of those proud old-timers and have taken delight in their stories.

Chet Snyder of Grandview, Mo., comes to mind. He is 85 and still makes sure he gets back to Bennett on opening day every year.

He has been fishing the opener for 63 years and he won’t let anything hold him back.

“We’ve driven on icy roads, through snow storms, in real cold weather, but we’ve always gotten there,” he said. “It’ something I won’t miss. It’s tradition.”

When I talked to him several years ago, his dedication to follow tradition was especially impressive. He suffered a seizure less than week before the opener and he was released from the hospital only days earlier.

He asked for the doctor’s OK to travel to Bennett for the opener, and he got it. His son did the driving and he was back on the water.

Snyder returned for this year’s opener with his sons Chuck and Curtis and his grandson Cody. He cast for a short time, but a problem with his balance kept him from going at it as hard as he once did. Still, he was there, and that’s all that mattered in his mind.

But Snyder certainly isn’t in a class by himself at Bennett. Walk into the park store and you’ll hear others talking about how long they have been coming to Bennett for the trout opener.

I suppose I have a streak of my own. I have been attending the Missouri trout opener since 1980 when I started working at The Kansas City Star—most of them at Bennett, but a few at Roaring River. Now that I’m retired, I still go back, using the trip as an excuse to do an article for one of the media outlets for which I freelance.

I enjoy talking to old friends, making new ones, and reminiscing about past openers.

It’s tradition, and I’m not ready to give that up.

Poaching Legislation Moving through House in Missouri

  • Sportsmen asked to show formal support (send note, call office) to their respective legislators
  • Control for poaching is needed
  • Violator fines will go to State Education Fund
Click to learn More.

Poaching legislation continues to make progress during the 100th meeting of the General Assembly. The Missouri House of Representatives will soon take up for debate legislation to impose civil penalties for poaching. House Bill 260 is sponsored by Representative Jered Taylor (Nixa). The bill has also been listed in the Senate under Senate Bill 356, which is sponsored by Senator Mike Bernskoetter (Jefferson City).

The Conservation Federation of Missouri applauds the work of both the House and the Senate on these bills so far. We ask our members to show their support to their respective state representative and senators in hopes to get these bills enacted into law. It also comes on the heels of poaching cases where elk have been illegally taken from the landscape.

Current poaching fines are so low they do not function as a meaningful deterrent, exposing our public wildlife resource to abuse and exploitation by those willing to ignore the law. The fees outlined in both bills would take fines from $2,500 to $5,000 for poaching black bear or elk, $1,000 to $2,000 for poaching deer, $500 to $1,000 for poaching paddlefish and $375 to $750 for poaching wild turkey.

These bills specify that the court may require any person found guilty of chasing, pursuing, taking, transporting, killing, processing, or disposing of certain wildlife in violation of the Missouri Conservation Commission’s rules and regulations to make restitution to the state’s education fund.

Information and updates on these bills and others, can be found utilizing CFM’s Legislative Action Center: www.confedmo.org/lac

Full bill text for each of these bills can be found online:
https://house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills191/hlrbillspdf/0841H.01I.pdf

https://www.senate.mo.gov/19info/BTS_Web/Bill.aspx?SessionType=R&BillID=3038535

Conservation Federation of Missouri Seeks Executive Director

CFM Seeks Executive Director

Position Announcement

Click to learn more about important issues in Missouri and the CFM.

The Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM) is seeking an Executive Director. The Executive Director serves as the chief executive for CFM and is a full-time exempt employee supervised by an executive committee and board of directors. The Executive Director works with the board of directors and staff to effectively lead and implement the organization’s goals, objectives, policies, and procedures.

The CFM is the oldest and largest 501(c)(3) nonprofit natural resource conservation organization in Missouri with over 3,000 individual members and 103 affiliate member organizations. Created in 1935, CFM has been a critical leader in furthering the interests of conservation, natural resource management, and outdoor recreation in the state of Missouri and as an affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation.

Mission: To ensure conservation of Missouri’s wildlife and natural resources, and preservation of our state’s rich outdoor heritage through advocacy, education and partnerships. Motto: The Voice for Missouri Outdoors

A successful candidate for Executive Director will have skills in leadership, administration, planning and budgeting, fund-raising and development, membership development, and oral and written communications.

See the job description for additional details.

To apply, submit a cover letter, resume, and salary requirement by February 11 to: Conservation Federation of Missouri, Attention: Micaela Haymaker; 728 West Main, Jefferson City, MO 65101

Email: mhaymaker@confedmo.org. For more information about the Conservation Federation of Missouri, please visit our website www.confedmo.org.

About the Conservation Federation of Missouri: The CFM, formed in 1935, is Missouri’s largest and most representative citizen conservation group. It represents more than 80 organizations with over 1 million members. The CFM is primarily a volunteer organization – including all officers and board members – but does maintain an office with a full time professional staff in Jefferson City. Visit our website at http://www.confedmo.org

Conservation Federation of Missouri | 728 West Main Street | Jefferson City, MO 65101 | 573.634.2322 | www.confedmo.org

Missouri Winter Walk…Serendipity and Treasure

A Special Find On A Special Day

  • Finding Something You Were Not Looking For…

By Larry Whiteley

A holey rock mobile, seems very special, origin unknown.

I sit on a river gravel bar letting the sun soak its warmth deep into my bones. It’s only December, but it’s already been a long winter and it felt good. Birds were singing. Like me, they were tired of the cold too and were celebrating with song. The sound of flowing water blended with their chorus.

As my mind wanders, I poke around in rocks of all sizes and shapes that surround me. How long had they been there? Where had they come from? How did the holes get in some of the rocks? What are the fossils in some of them?

Did you know rocks are like clouds? If you look real close you see things in them. This one looks like the state of Texas, this one like a heart. Here’s one that looks like Dolly Parton. Sometimes your mind sees crazy things when you sit alone on a gravel bar on a mild winter’s day.

I stack all the “holey” rocks I find in a pile. Some will be slipped on to a length of wire and hung in trees around the house to serve as weather rocks. When you want to know what the weather is you just look outside at the rocks. If they are wet it’s raining, if they are white it’s snowing, if they are moving it’s very, very windy. Others will be used to make things like mobiles, refrigerator magnets handles for drawers, necklaces, bracelets, and whatever else my mind comes up with.

The rocks are dull shades of black, gray, tan, brown and white. Some sparkle when the light hits them just right. Most are worn smooth from being tumbled through the water. The flat, smooth rocks are what I am looking for now. These are “skipping” rocks.

All Kids Need to Learn how to Skip A Rock

I stand, stretch, and position my feet just right, look out at the water and with a sidearm motion send the first “skipping” rock flying across the water. Six skips! Not bad, but I can do better. Four skips! That was a bad throw. My feet must have slipped. Eight skips! That’s better. As I continue to try and beat my record, I think about how I taught my sons to skip rocks and they now teach their sons to be champion rock skippers. All kids need to learn how to skip rocks.

I bend down to pick up another “skipping” rock and I see it. The sun is shining on it like a beacon guiding me to it. I kneel down, lift it from the gravel and hold it gently in my hand like a precious jewel. “An arrowhead, I found an arrowhead!”

I shout silently to myself.

As I turn it in my hand I think about the hands of the Native American who made it. How old was he? How long ago did he make it? What tribe was he from? Where did they live in this valley? What was it like back then? Was this used to take a rabbit or deer to help feed his family? This was a special moment. This was serendipity.

According to Webster serendipity means to find something you were not looking for. Now, I would have never known that if not for a lady I know that is a big fan of Webster and knows the meaning of words I have never even heard of. The moment she said the word and gave me its meaning, I knew I had experienced serendipity several times in my life. The arrowhead was just another time I found something I was not looking for – serendipity.

A Special Find on a Special Day

On another unusually mild winter day several years ago, I was riding my ATV down an old logging road when a squirrel ran across in front of me. I followed the path of the squirrel as he ran through the woods. My eyes stopped at the sight of something white sticking up through the brown leaves. I hit the brakes on the ATV and backed up. What is that? Probably a limb or just some kind of fungus I thought.

Normally I would have just rode on, but this day I walked toward the white shape to find out what it was. My heart skipped a beat when I saw it was the shed antler of an 8-point buck. As I held it enjoying its beauty, I thought about how unique the antlers of a whitetail buck really are. Like finger prints, no two are alike. Since then, I have learned where and how to look for shed antlers and have found many of them. However, I will always remember the first one and the day I found something I wasn’t looking for – serendipity!

Deer Sheds in Hiding Offer a Special Sort of Serendipity.

I also remember hiking in the woods one winter. Spring woods are filled with wild flowers and budding leaves.

Fall woods offer a kaleidoscope of color and summer woods are ticks and chiggers and snakes.

Winter woods are quieter with the faint musky smell of decaying leaves.

Trees and bushes are bare allowing you to see things that might have gone unnoticed any other time.

You might see icicles hanging off a rock bluff sparkling like diamonds in the sunlight, a bleached out turtle shell, unusually shaped trees, animal tracks or even the animal that made them.

You Never Know What You Will Find Alone On A Gravel Bar.

On this particular day, I suddenly realized I was walking along an old road bed. Trees had grown up in its path but if you looked hard enough you could still see where others had gone many years ago. As I walked, I wondered who had used this road. Was it loggers, lead miners, soldiers, or people who lived here?

I kept following the old road until it crossed a dry creek bed. There, lying half buried in the gravel was the metal rim off a wagon wheel. Here, at this place, a long time ago, they tried to cross this creek and the wagon wheel must have broken. In my mind’s eye, I could see it happening. The wood of the wheel had long returned to the earth but the rusted metal rim remained to be found by me when I wasn’t looking for it – serendipity!

One spring, I was hiking to a special little waterfall deep in the woods that I liked to go to. I had been there many times but this time I went a little different way than normal. As I followed the sounds of the water I came by a big flat rock and sitting upright on the rock, was a soda pop bottle that dated back to the 1940’s.

Like me, someone else enjoyed coming to the little waterfall. The bottle they had been drinking from had remained where they had set it for over 60 years. I came along and found it even though I wasn’t looking for it – serendipity!

I hope there are many more serendipity’s to come in my life and in yours. Those special places, special people, special times and special things that come along when you are not looking for them – serendipity!

 

Late-summer musings …

Ah, the mysteries of life. Food for thought in the throes of this heat wave.

By Brent Frazee
• Why is it that you catch fish on a new lure, get excited, and buy a bunch of them, only to find out that it was a one-trip wonder?
• Why is it that no one talks about lures such as electric-blue plastic worms or gadgets such as the Color-C-Lector, once the rage in fishing, anymore?
• Why is it that lure companies have such short-term memory? Those revolutionary baits they introduced last summer are quickly forgotten when the new models are unveiled.
• Why is it that those crappie or bass that were just a fraction short of being a keeper never seem to grow to the desired size the next year?
• Why is it that the fishing can change so quickly – from boom to bust – in only one day without any discernible change in conditions?
• Why is it that an artificial bait can often outfish the real thing, a nightcrawler or a minnow?
• Why is it that a fish at the end of your line always looks so much bigger in the water than in the boat?
• Why is it that photos seldom do justice to the big bluegills you catch?
• Why is it that two fishermen can fish side by side with nearly identical equipment and one will catch all the fish?
• Why is it that a catfish will bite strange baits such as hot dogs or soap?
• Why is it that bass fishermen who constantly boast of having great practice rounds seldom finish high in tournaments?
• Why is it that some pros can talk of a 5-pounder getting away at the boat and know exactly how much that fish weighed?
• Why is it that some experts say that luck plays no part in fishing? The record books are full of lucky fishermen.
• Why is it that a fisheries biologist doing an electrofishing survey will find a big bass in a spot you had just cast to with no luck minutes earlier?
• Why is it that you can toss a lure right into the middle of a school of surfacing white bass and not even get a hit?

Ah, the mysteries of life. Food for thought in the throes of this heat wave.

 

Stay up-to-date with all of Brent’s stories at www.brentfrazee.com.

DAY DREAMS and NIGHT DREAMS

The author in his camo Costas.

  • Turkey Hunting, a Giant Gobbler, I Raise my Gun
  • Geese Fly Overhead in V-Formation, it’s a Signal
  • I Draw My Bow…that Green Arrow, “Oh Yea, My Story Takes a Turn

By Larry Whiteley

The old gobbler is searching for me.

I’ve done a good job making him think I’m a hen.

He’s literally tripping over his beard as he comes in looking for love.

His bronze feathers shine in the light of the early morning sun and the red, white and blue of his head stands out against the emerging spring greenery.  

I give a soft putt with my mouth call and he comes in a little closer. To show me how handsome he is, he puffs out his body and spreads his tail feathers.

My heart is pounding out of my chest as I stare down the barrel of my 12 gauge and slowly move to click off the safety. Suddenly there is a buzzing in my ear.

What is that? The biggest gobbler I have ever seen disappears as I reach across my body to shut off the alarm clock.

My wife sleeps peacefully as I lay there for a moment trying to get the cobwebs and thoughts of turkeys out of my head. My feet hit the floor and my morning daily work week ritual begins. It’s off to the kitchen to put on the coffee, a quick visit to the bathroom and then turn on the TV to catch the weather forecast. When I drink too many liquids before going to bed, the order of events sometimes changes. It can’t be because I’m getting older. 

It’s back to the kitchen to pour my first cup of coffee, check the thermometer in the kitchen window and back to the TV just in time to see the local weather girl.

After thirty minutes of exercising, it’s on to the bathroom again to shave, shower, brush my teeth, and get rid of the first cup of coffee. Back to the kitchen I go again for my second cup of coffee.

Now it’s shirt, pants, socks, shoes and I’m dressed for work. I grab my briefcase and head for the kitchen again to fix my lunch. Before I head out the door to my truck, it’s usually one more visit to the bathroom to get rid of the second cup of coffee.

As I wash my hands, I look in the mirror and wonder if it really is because I’m getting older.

I stop by the bedroom to tell my wife I love her and then it’s out the door and another morning routine has ended.

As I start my truck, back out of the garage and head down the driveway, I wonder if I am the only one who does things in the same way, at the same time every morning. I think not.

As I drive my eyes are always on the watch for deer at the forest edge. Maybe I’ll see that fox pouncing on a mouse in the field again. That is if the red-tailed hawk doesn’t beat him to it. Man, six road-kill skunks at the side of the road within two miles. That has to be a record! Around this curve is where I nearly always see turkeys. There they are: Six hens, a gobbler, and two Jake’s. I wonder if that’s the gobbler in my dream?

I’m sitting at a stoplight waiting for the green arrow and I see geese flying in a V-formation heading north. I wonder why we seem to notice them more when they’re heading south for the winter rather than north for the summer. I want to roll down my window and yell at the lady next to me, “Hey, look at the geese flying north! Do you know why they fly in a V-formation?” She would think I was a crazy man, so I think I’m better off keeping them to myself.

Did I hear a goose honk? No, that’s the guy behind me, telling me the light’s not going to get any greener. I make my turn and he passes me. Is he pointing at the geese in the sky too? If he is, it’s the wrong finger.

I exit on to the interstate highway filled with cars and trucks driven by people who have just finished their daily morning routine and are now off to work like I am. It’s only a few miles before I will exit again, but this is a special time to me. Unlike those around me, I don’t have the radio on listening to loud music or talk shows. This is my time for day dreaming.

My day-dreaming each morning takes me to many places far from the busy highway. Sometimes I’m on my way to our cabin. I’m watching all the hummingbirds swarming like bees around the feeder or I’m down at the creek and I’m fighting a big smallmouth.

Other times, I’m heading north to the hunting cabin. You can’t believe all the morel mushrooms and deer sheds I’ve found in my day dreams. I’ve also drawn my bow back on the biggest buck I’ve ever seen.

Day dreams have also taken me back to the mountains of Colorado, Montana, and Idaho. I’ve also been to the mighty oceans, walked the sandy beaches with my wife and battled saltwater fish.

My day dreaming this day was of a special grandson and playing in the waterfall at the cabin, using toy road graders to make roads in the gravel bar, and fishing with him in the creek. Someday dreams come from your imagination, others from fond memories.

The clicking sound of my turn signal interrupts my day dream and brings me back to reality. One more stoplight and I’ll be at work. I pull into the parking lot, shut off the engine and take a deep breath. No time for day dreams here.

One of my most useful tools, my camo Costa sunglasses.

At the end of the work day I will get back in my truck and head back down the same roads and I will day dream again on my way home. Day dreaming is my escape from worrying about the price of gas, work that needs to be done, or our inept politicians in Washington.

Yes, I’m a dreamer. Always have been, always will be. I enjoy my day dreaming and tonight, I look forward to where my night dreams will take me. Maybe I’ll get that old gobbler this time.

Ecstasy & Empathy: Dichotomy of Hunting

Killing two young turkeys and watching a mother hen’s reaction to their loss set the writer to thinking about the nature of hunting.  Jim Low Photo

  • If hunting doesn’t occasionally tug at your heartstrings, you might need to think a bit more deeply about it.
  • Far from threatening the natural world, hunting is its best hope for survival.
  • Turkeys share a sacred lesson about Hunting, Kindred Spirits, the Circle of Life

By Jim Low

One of the reasons I love hunting is the way it takes me inside the natural world.

Blood sports make me part of natural processes in ways that are unavailable through nature photography, nature study and other “non-consumptive” activities, which I also enjoy.  Opening day of fall firearms turkey season this year made me keenly aware of this difference.

Dawn found me tucked beneath the screening branches of cedar trees between two pastures.  Just at sunrise, I heard soft clucks issuing from the bordering woods.  I made a few “sleepy yelps” on my slate call, then put it aside and rested my shotgun on my knee.

My pulse rate ticked up a few beats.

Moments later, a young turkey glided down and landed directly in front of me, in easy shotgun range.  It was followed in quick succession by six more poults (turkeys hatched this year) and one hen.

Any turkey, young or old, male or female, is legal during Missouri’s fall hunting season.  I had wanted to shoot a gobbler, but now I began thinking otherwise.  I am a mediocre fall turkey hunter at best, so this was a rare opportunity to harvest the centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner.

Also, the fact that you can shoot two turkeys on the same day in the fall season meant I might be able to kill two tender young birds that would be amazing table fare.  So, when two of the small birds stood with their heads inches apart, I dropped the hammer, and both went down.

Hunting turkeys in the fall opens the door to a whole different set of insights into the complicated lives of these amazing birds.  Jim Low Photo

As often happens, the remaining six birds did not scatter immediately.  Inexperienced and bewildered by a thunderclap out of a clear sky, they milled around excitedly, stopping occasionally to gawk at their stricken flock-mates.  I lowered my gun slowly and settled in to watch, expecting the survivors to vacate the premises fairly quickly.

Moments after my shot, a mature hen came on the run from the west, near the center of the pasture.

This open area, unapproachable by predators without being spotted, is where a cautious old bird would fly down.  In the flurry of arrivals in front of me, I hadn’t noticed her leaving the roost.

The old hen quickly made her way to the two downed birds, which were in their final death throes.  She watched until their struggles ceased, then began pecking them gently, first one and then the other.  After a few minutes, she began grasping their wattles in her beak and lifting their heads, then dropping them.  This went on for quite a while, gradually escalating to her taking a step or two backward and tugging at the dead poults.

After this had gone on for perhaps half an hour, she stepped over one of the dead poults, spread her wings and settled down as if brooding a clutch of eggs.  After a brief interval, she arose and did the same thing to the other downed bird.

This dispelled any doubt in my mind that all the hen’s actions were an effort to revive the lifeless poults.

Turkey broods in the fall hang close together and they watch out for each other, sounding the “time to go” call when danger appears to be near. Joe Forma Photo

This was a revelation to me.

Such maternal devotion would not have been surprising in a mammal, but I never expected it from a bird.  During the hen’s ministrations, the rest of the flock made repeated moves to leave, led by another hen.  They would drift away a few yards before looking back to see if the devoted mother was following.  Seeing that she wasn’t, the flock would drift back for a while, but as time went on, the flock’s tentative departures took them farther and farther away.

Finally, drawn by the pull of her flock, the mother hen began her own series of departures and returns.  An hour or so after the fateful shot, she finally abandoned the dead poults and followed the flock out of sight.

For many years, I resisted the urge to attribute human-like behavior to other animals.  Anthropomorphizing wildlife is frowned upon by many biologists and hunters, but well after over half-century of watching quadrupeds, including dogs, I am forced to conclude that “lower” animals share a great deal – perhaps most of human emotional responses.

I don’t know what went on in the brains of that mother hen and her companions, but it’s difficult for me to attribute it to mere instinct.  For that matter, who’s to say that human emotions aren’t instinctive?

This line of reasoning might raise the hackles of some hunters who refuse to concede anything to people whose empathy leads them to eschew or even disapprove of hunting.  But, it seems to me that if we are willing to take the lives of animals, we ought to be willing to think critically about it.

For me, the notion that turkeys and other game animals experience grief and other human-like emotions is not a reason to stop hunting.

All animals, human and nonhuman alike, take life and have it taken from them.

Turkeys eat grasshoppers and lizards.

Deer kill one another and have been photographed eating small mammals.

Strict herbivores kill plants.

Modern-day humans seldom fall victim to predators, but it matters little whether you die in the jaws of a grizzly bear or in the grip of Streptococcus pneumoniea.

Either way, you are dead at the “hands” of something that wants to eat you.

The predator-prey relationship between humans and game animals is as old as our respective species.  They, and we, are intricately adapted for the fateful dance we share.  The predatory urge encoded in human DNA is why many of us still feel a powerful pull to re-enact the timeless drama of the chase.  It reminds us of what we have been and what we remain as, at a very deep level.  And it can tell us much about why we are how we are.

Hunters since time immemorial have felt deep connections to the animals they pursue.

This connection goes deeper than nutritional necessity.

Our hunting forebears saw game in the same light that I saw those turkey poults and their devoted hen.  They saw kindred spirits, worthy of respect and empathy, worthy of immortalizing on cave walls.  They knew themselves to be integral parts of the pulsing, exultant, poignant pageant of life.

Hunting allows us to maintain that intimate connection to the natural world. 

Hunting allows us to maintain that intimate and sacred connection to the natural world, it binds us to the circle of life.  Joe Forma Photo

Without it, we risk thinking ourselves above and outside the circle of life.  We could fail to recall our connection to the natural world at our own peril as a species.

It is no mere coincidence that hunters are, and always have been, the beating heart of the conservation movement.  We don’t only do it simply to ensure the availability of living targets or merely because we like killing things.

As the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset observed, modern humans do not hunt to kill.  We no longer need to pursue game to sustain life.  Rather, we kill in order to have hunted, to maintain an authentic and utterly irreplaceable connection to the natural world.

My exultation in a successful turkey hunt was tinged, as it ought to be, with reflection about what it means to take a life.

I wonder how often nonhunters give similar consideration to the deaths they farm out to others.

In spite of the pang it sometimes gives me, I am more than proud of my hunting.  I see in it the best hope for the future of things “natural, wild and free.”

-end-

Stump Sitting Time – Charm of the Autumn Outdoors

  • Sounds of the Earth…the Birds, Deer, Turkey
  • Sunrise Charm, Autumn Streams, Rising Fog
  • Mountain Colors, Ornaments for your Heart and Soul
  • The Smell of Pouring Thermos Coffee on the Mountain

By Larry Whiteley

The fall air is crisp as I start my journey up Dogwood Mountain. It’s really a big hill, but I named it that because I love the mountains.

Here in the Ozarks area of southern Missouri we don’t have mountains like out west, just big hills. The Dogwood part of its name comes from the hundreds of trees with their showy white blossoms that bring beauty to the “mountain” in the spring.

For a moment, I listen to the soothing sounds of water as it tumbles down Dogwood Mountain Falls and then glance over my shoulder as the sun starts peeking over the trees behind me.  The curtain is rising and I’m not in my seat.

My pace quickens as I head up the trail that follows the falls, then turn onto another trail that winds its way to the top of the top.  My leg muscles burn as I climb over rocky areas in the trail, but I continue on to the top.

Finally, I see it.  To some people it may just be an old stump where someone cut down a tree a long time ago, but to me it’s like an old friend waiting at the end of the trail, waiting for me to come sit awhile.  I hurriedly remove my backpack, take out my thermos and pour a cup of coffee.  It’s stump sitting time again.

From my stump, I see a thin haze over the stream that winds through the valley below.  There’s a hint of smoke in the air from the cabins and homes in the distance.  Crows call to each other high on a ridge and a fox squirrel scurries through nearby treetops breaking the silence.

I know that somewhere below, turkeys have flown down from their roosts and are feeding in the fields.  A doe and her yearling have probably joined the turkeys as a buck watches them from his hiding place.  The kingfisher squawks as he flies through the mist over the creek.  He’s probably fussing at a heron that’s fishing for breakfast or a busy beaver.

The sun rises higher and the show begins.

The gray of the morning is suddenly changed to a kaleidoscope of color.  My eyes feast upon the bronze of the oaks, yellow of the maples, red of the dogwoods, and green of the cedars and pines.  The blue of the sky and the white of the fluffy fall clouds add their special touch to nature’s painting.

It’s too bad more folks don’t take time for stump sitting.  In today’s hurried, pressured, fast-paced world, stump sitting can be an escape for just a little while.

Good stump sitting time only comes in autumn.

Somehow, stump sitting helps you forget about all your worries and work that needs to be done.  You are drawn to simply concentrate on this magnificent moment in time.

The sun is high now and good stump sitting time is gone.  I finish off the last of the coffee, put the lid on the thermos and put it away in my pack, take a deep breath and start back down.  A few yards down the trail I stop and look back at the stump.

Maybe tomorrow will be good stump sitting time again, but there’s always next year.  My old friend will be there waiting for me.

 

 

 

CWD Testing More Important NOW Than Ever

  • MDC will conduct mandatory CWD sampling in 25 counties Nov. 11 and 12.
  • Check the fall deer and turkey booklet to see if your county is included.
  • Hunters can get deer tested for free throughout archery and firearms deer seasons.

By Jim Low

The thrills of deer hunting – not to mention the pleasure of eating venison, are worth taking precautions to protect.  Jim Low Photo

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) needs help from hunters to keep the deadly deer disease called chronic wasting disease (CWD) from spreading to more deer in more areas of Missouri. In light of recent developments, hunters might want to take advantage of free testing for personal reasons, too.
MDC will conduct mandatory CWD sampling of hunter-harvested deer in 25 counties during the opening weekend of the fall firearms deer season, Nov. 11 and 12. Counties included in this year’s sampling effort are: Adair, Barry, Benton, Cedar, Cole, Crawford, Dade, Franklin, Hickory, Jefferson, Knox, Linn, Macon, Moniteau, Ozark, Polk, St. Charles, St. Clair, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Stone, Sullivan, Taney, Warren, and Washington. These counties comprise Missouri’s CWD Management Zone. It includes counties where MDC conducted mandatory CWD testing last year, plus St. Clair County, where a new outbreak was detected earlier this year, and five adjacent counties.

Concerns about possible exposure to CWD can be addressed by taking advantage of free testing. Jim Low Photo

MDC also has added four counties along the Arkansas border in southwest Missouri to the CWD Management Zone. CWD has not been detected in any of these counties yet, but a serious outbreak of the fatal deer disease just across the border is cause for extra vigilance there.
Hunters who harvest deer in these 25 counties during opening weekend must present their harvested deer at one of the Department’s 56 CWD sampling stations so staff can collect tissue samples to test the animals for CWD. You can find a list of sampling stations at www.mdc.mo.gov/cwd, or in the 2017 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations booklet, which is available wherever hunting permits are sold.
In addition to the mandatory testing, MDC offers free testing for hunters who wants their deer checked for CWD. This is particularly important considering recent news about the susceptibility of some monkeys to the brain-wasting disease.
In a study led by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, macaques that were fed venison from CWD-infected deer developed the disease. The researchers noted that there still is no known case of CWD affecting humans. However, the apparent susceptibility of physiologically similar primates led them to conclude that, “the most prudent approach is to consider that CWD has the potential to infect humans.”
I am not an alarmist person by nature, and I am not going to let the small risk of shooting a CWD infected deer or the equally small risk of contracting CWD from eating infected meat, deprive me of a sport that I love and the pleasure of eating venison. However, with free testing available, I certainly will take every deer I kill to one of the eight MDC offices and 55 taxidermists around the state who are participating in the voluntary CWD sampling program. I put venison in the freezer, labeled with the date I shot the deer, and wait for test results before consuming it. That just seems sensible to me.
I also do what I can to avoid spreading CWD. For years, I put corn around my trail cameras to get better deer pictures. I stopped several years ago, when it became clear that anything that unnaturally concentrates deer and increases the potential for CWD transmission. I stopped putting out salt licks and mineral blocks for the same reason. The prions that cause CWD are shed in deer urine, so I also have stopped using urine-based deer lures.

Baiting the area around trail cameras brings deer up close, but it also increases the likelihood of disease transmission.  Jim Low Photo

After field-dressing deer, I usually take them home and process them myself. In the past, I got rid of carcass by putting them in the woods behind our house and letting scavengers dispose of them. No more. Now I put them in heavy trash bags and send them to the landfill, just in case they had CWD. If you take your deer to a commercial processor, you’re covered. In Missouri, they are required to send all their carcasses to approved landfills.
MDC’s regulation guide has more ideas for reducing the spread of CWD, along with tips for making the sampling process quicker and easier.
-end-

Enjoy MISSOURI’S GREAT OUTDOORS this September

  • Hike and Explore the Deer Trails
  • Hang Your Tree Stands
  • Enjoy Watching the Bird Migrations
  • Fall is On-The-Way
Acorns are not the only thing you’ll find walking the September trails.

By Larry Whitely

August has been unusually mild and wonderfully cool and comfortable here in Missouri.  Some mornings call for a light jacket and pants instead of shorts and t-shirt.  It has felt more like late September or early October.  I didn’t hear anyone complain about the weather.

Most years, September can still be hot, muggy and buggy here in Missouri, but this year the weatherman is telling us to continue to expect even cooler weather than we had in August.  Here in southwest Missouri they are even predicting some nights in the 40s.  Lake water temperatures have already dropped into the low 70s in some places.

After Labor Day the summer crowds will be gone from our local lakes and rivers, and the waters will be quieter and more enjoyable.  Because of this cooler weather, fish are starting to become more active and fattening up for the long winter months ahead.  It’s a great time to stock the freezer with fish to enjoy on the cold days to come.

Mornings are beginning to chill early this year.

If you don’t fish, it’s a great time to paddle around the lake or go float a river.  Maybe stop for a rest on the bank or gravel bar and build a campfire to sit around to relax and enjoy the flickering flames.

The cooler weather has also got the squirrels busy storing nuts sooner than usual.  The whitetail deer coats are changing from reddish brown to gray.

If you’re a hunter it’s time to get ready or go hunting.  Dove hunting opened September 1st and teal season opens September 9th.  

A handful of delight for our wildlife abounds this year.

Deer and turkey archery season opens September 15th.  Firearms turkey goes from October 1st to the 31st.  If you’re one of the lucky ones that head west to hunt, the majestic elk are waiting, so are the mule deer and pronghorn antelope.

This cooler weather will also make all your preparations for the hunting seasons a lot more tolerable than usual too.  Now you can make sure you can get those deer stands up and blinds set, get in more bow practice, make sure your rifle or shotgun is properly sighted, and get all your gear inventoried and ready.

If you are not a hunter but love to camp don’t put away your camping gear yet.  Campgrounds are a lot less crowded than summer days.  Sometimes you may even have the whole place to yourself.

The cooler September weather this year is also great for hiking the multitude of trails Missouri has to offer so get out there and enjoy. There’s no better way to get the exercise we all need and enjoy nature’s beauty at the same time.

Birds tell us that fall is at hand long before our human senses detect it. At wetlands and marshes throughout the state, shorebirds are already beginning to head to more exotic places than here.

Bird watching trips might offer the opportunity to see migratory birds that you don’t normally see at any other time of year in Missouri.

A cool and foggy September morning.

The bug-eating Purple Martin’s are growing restless and some are already bound for their winter home in Brazil.  Hummingbird feeders are suddenly abuzz with hummers energizing for their long flight south.

Other winged creatures sensing the cooler weather are also on the move.  Bats flutter and dive through the early night sky consuming the last of the insect crop.  What few Monarch butterflies we still get coming through Missouri are getting ready to begin their incredible journey to Mexico or have already left.

Leaves are turning on the Dogwood trees.

The buckeye tree has already lost most of its leaves, but a few buckeyes might still cling to the bare branches.  I was always told a buckeye in your pocket brings you good luck.  Maybe I need to make sure I have one in my pocket for deer season.

Papaw and persimmon trees have fruited and will soon be ripening for the enjoyment of the wildlife, and those of us humans who still enjoy them too.  Acorns are also falling to the ground, much to the delight of the squirrels, chipmunks, deer, turkey and other critters. 

The leaves of poison ivy and Virginia Creeper vines have begun to turn a crimson red.  So have the leaves of our Missouri State tree, the Dogwood.  The rest of the trees will soon follow with their special colors to give us the glorious fall kaleidoscope of colors that awaits us in October.

All of these are signs that summer is almost gone and come September 22nd it officially is.  Now, let’s just hope the weatherman’s predictions are accurate and we can get out in this year’s cooler September weather and enjoy Missouri’s great outdoors.

  

FOR SALE – A CABIN IN THE WOODS

By Larry Whiteley
When I was younger I used to dream of having a cabin in the woods. A simple cabin nestled among cedars and hardwoods somewhere in the Ozark Mountains of southwest Missouri.

My grandma used to tell me if I dreamed long enough and worked hard enough my dreams would come true. Grandma was right and 20 years ago my wife and I found and bought that cabin. It was only 5 acres, but surrounded by the thousands of acres of the Mark Twain National Forest.

The small cabin sits upon a rock bluff overlooking a creek and waterfall. Just like my dreams, it is surrounded by cedars and hardwoods and a scattering of pines. The trees keep it hidden from view of the few cars that travel the gravel road, and offer shade and protection from the summer’s sun and cold winds of winter.
A little wood stove sits in a corner and warms the cabin on winter days. Antique snowshoes hang on both sides of moose antlers. Deer, pheasant, ducks, trout, bass, and a big muskie hang on the walls. Fox, beaver and raccoon pelts further add to the setting. Each has a special memory and a story.
Deer antlers, turtle shells, feathers, buckeyes, rocks, bird nests and other nature things can be found everywhere you look. Most have been picked up by grandkids while on cabin adventures. They are mixed in with old duck decoys, along with the jars, dishes and other antiques that are my wife’s special touch.

Most noticeable though are all the pictures of our kids and grandkids hung with loving care and sitting on shelves. Pictures of them with turkey, deer, fish or just having a good time at the cabin. Grandkid pictures when they were just babies as well as pictures of them as young adults.

Looking out our windows we see birds of all kinds coming to the feeders. April thru October is hummingbird time and I don’t mean just a few. Hundreds at a time are a sight that thrills everyone who visits.

The deck is a great place to watch squirrels playing in the woods, butterflies landing on wild flowers, or bats diving for insects in a summer’s night sky. You can hear the waterfall as it cascades down Dogwood Mountain, listen to the sounds of the creek as it flows across the riffles, and hear the kingfisher swooping above the water or crows calling up the valley.

The fire pit is where grandkids roasted marshmallows and shared time with PaPaw. It’s a place to watch the flames dance and flicker as the worry and stress melts away. It’s a place for fish fry’s, cookouts and fellowship.
A big barn and a small barn store the ATVs and other things. They are also great for making things and places for grandkids to play when it’s raining.

Grandkids loved going fishing, hunting squirrels, swimming, snorkeling, catching crawdads, skipping rocks, playing in the gravel or waterfall, finding feathers, wading in the creek and riding ATV’s.

Good neighbors like Bob and Barb, Wayne and Jane, Annie and Winnie, Doug and Kim, Judge John, Sheila and Willie love the valley too. With them we have shared hiking trails, ATV rides, campfires and pieces of our lives.

Spring at the cabin is redbuds, dogwoods and wildflowers, along with the sound of peeper frogs and whip-poor-wills. Summer is fishing, swimming, relaxing or playing in the creek. Fall brings a kaleidoscope of color, hunting season, looking for buckeyes, hiking, and cutting wood for the cold months ahead. Winter is books by the fire, making new hiking trails, and hiking in the snow.

 

The 20 years of owning the cabin have passed in a hurry and things have changed.
Kids have grown up and are busy with their own lives now and don’t come to the cabin anymore and won’t after we are gone. The older grandkids don’t come either except for deer season. They would rather go to the lake than the creek. Younger grandkids live a long drive away. All of them will all always have memories of the cabin.

Grandma and I are getting older now too and it’s time for another change. As long as we live we will still have the memories and the pictures. It will be hard to say goodbye to the cabin but it’s time to find someone else who has dreamed of owning a cabin in the woods.

I wipe tears from my eyes as I finish writing this. Remember that a cabin is more than just a cabin. It is a living structure with a soul of memories and dreams. It is a place to get away, to share with others and to share fragments of one’s life with nature.

If you dream of owning a cabin in the woods, e-mail Larry at lwhiteley2@basspro.com

 

Show Me the Grouse!

  • Part 2 of 2
  • Missouri hasn’t given up on this native game bird.
  • Grouse need old and young forest to thrive and that means cutting trees.

By Jim Low

Thrup! Thrup-thrup! Thrup-thrup, thrup-thrup-thrupthrupthrupthrupthrup!!!

Ruffed Grouse Drumming – The sound of a ruffed grouse drumming to attract a mate has been absent from most of Missouri for the better part of a century. The Missouri Department of Conservation hopes to change that. Jim Low Photo

Goose bumps roughened my arms and a chill crept up my spine.  I continued to listen to what could have been someone trying to start a balky pickup truck on a distant hilltop.  But it wasn’t a pickup, and it wasn’t in the distance.

A scant 100 yards uphill from where I sat in the growing dawn, a handsome brown and black bird strutted atop a fallen tree trunk.  Every couple of minutes, he stopped, threw out his chest and beat his wings to a percussive crescendo, hoping to attract the attention of a mate.  It was thrilling evidence that the ruffed grouse was back in the Ozarks.

This was in the 1980s, and although grouse restoration was new to me, it was anything but new to Missouri.  The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) had been trying to bring back this native game bird since the 1940s, but in the last quarter of the 20th century, MDC made a strong effort to re-establish the species in the Show-Me State, bringing in cocks and hens from the Upper Midwest.  They were released in the central Ozarks, north-central and east-central Missouri.  By the mid-1990s, more than 4,500 grouse had been released in areas thought to have the combination of old, young and middle-aged forest that grouse need to thrive.

Initial results were encouraging.

The birds seemed to be multiplying.  The MDC eventually approved a limited grouse hunting season and expanded it in the late 1980s, but then, what once seemed success gradually turned to failure.  In Missouri, as in other states at the southern edge of the species range, grouse numbers declined.  Acting on advice from hunters and biologists alike, the Conservation Commission closed Missouri’s grouse season in 2010.  Lack of suitable habitat was cited as the cause of the decline.

“Ruffed grouse need a mosaic of old and young forests to prosper,” said MDC Resource Scientist Jason Isabelle.  “They need areas where timber harvests or storms have removed or killed all the trees, creating early-successional forest habitat.  They just can’t survive without scattered areas of disturbance in a larger forest setting.  Over the course of the last several decades, the amount of young forest habitat has declined substantially throughout the southern portion of the ruffed grouse’s range.”

Small remnant pockets of grouse survived in a few of the original restoration areas, including the wooded hills just north of the Missouri River in east-central Missouri.

When the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation (QUWF) persuaded MDC to revisit the idea of grouse restoration, their attention turned to this area.  Working with QUWF and the USDA Forest Service, MDC conducted an analysis of habitat in the river hills region in Callaway, Montgomery and Warren counties.

One of the things the River Hills Conservation Opportunity Area has going for it, in terms of grouse habitat, is several Conservation Areas (CAs) totaling more than 20,000 acres.  Using cutting-edge technology, MDC was able to quantify habitat variables on this large acreage at a level of detail that had never been possible before.

Light detection and ranging (LIDAR) was the key.  LIDAR uses airborne lasers and global positioning system (GPS) technology to identify vegetation type and height and map its extent.  This, along with ground surveys of remnant populations, showed what habitat the birds were using, and enabled MDC to focus on producing more of it.  That work will take place on the Grouse Focus Area consisting of Little Lost Creek and Daniel Boone CAs, and on nearby private land included in the larger Grouse Emphasis Area.  MDC will provide assistance to landowners who are interested in creating grouse habitat on their property.

Isabelle and other MDC biologists concluded that a renewed reintroduction program in the River Hills area was not likely to succeed with habit that existed there in 2013.  However, they believed that grouse restoration could take hold at Little Lost Creek and Daniel Boone CAs if they could increase the amount of high-quality grouse habitat there by 20 to 25 percent.  With that goal in mind, MDC set out to create the conditions needed to bring grouse – and eventually grouse hunting – back to Missouri.

MDC has long understood that small, even-age timber harvests create conditions critical to the survival of a wide range of wildlife that depends on “edge” habitat.  Species from wild turkeys and songbirds to chipmunks and lizards thrive in the wake of such “even-age” timber harvests, as lush, diverse vegetation springs up.  Grouse will use regenerating acreage for as long as 25 years following an even-age harvest.  However, usage falls off sharply beyond 15 years.

Some people deplore even-age harvests as “clearcutting.” But decades of experience and a growing body of scientific evidence supports the position that carefully regulated small-scale timber harvests can enhance wildlife diversity without damaging soils or water quality.  The eco-friendly, 10- to 50-acre even-age harvests employed by MDC to enhance wildlife habitat today are very different from the rapacious denuding of hundreds of thousands of acres that devastated the Ozarks at the turn of the 20th century.

MDC has been working to create grouse habitat – hardwood forest regeneration sites – on Little Lost Creek and Daniel Boone CAs since 2015.  At their meeting last month, the Conservation Commission received a report from Isabelle outlining the next steps on Missouri’s renewed grouse restoration program.  By the years 2020 and 2026, Isabelle expects the combined efforts of government agencies and private cooperators to increase the amount of high-quality grouse habitat in the River Hills Focus Area by 23 and 27 percent, respectively.

The plan outlined by Isabelle calls for 120 grouse from donor states in September and October of 2019 and 2020.  Twenty grouse will go to each of three sites on Little Lost Creek CA and three on Daniel Boone CA.  After that, MDC will track the transplanted birds’ progress with roadside surveys of drumming grouse each spring.  If all goes well, these two CAs will become the source for grouse expansion into habitat on surrounding public and private land.

Most Missourians alive today have never heard the thrumming serenade of a ruffed grouse cock.  If MDC and its partners succeed, that could change in our lifetime.  To learn more about how MDC intends to reach that goal, check out the management plan for Little Lost Creek CA.

-end-

THE FASCINATING WORLD OF FRESHWATER SNORKELING

Colorful fish, like this Niangua darter male, with good color, bring new life into our understanding of the lake, the stream, the pond.  Missouri Department of Conservation Photo

By Larry Whiteley
When most people think of snorkeling they think of sandy beaches, blue saltwater and coral reefs, but Missouri’s freshwater streams and lakes can also be a fascinating snorkeling adventure.
We don’t usually think of our local fresh bodies of water as a place to grab your mask, fins and snorkel for an adventure but after you read this I think you will change your mind. You would be amazed at the opportunities that are available for snorkelers in Missouri and all you have to do is go find them.

Largemouth bass might be youth anglers best friend, but they also help keep the balance of pond life in order. Missouri Department of Conservation Photo

The marine life can be as diverse as that found in saltwater, just maybe not quite as colorful. There are many species of fish to be seen as well as turtles, snakes, crawdads (crayfish, crawfish or whatever you want to call them), hellgrammites and other forms of tiny aquatic life.
My wife and I have had a cabin in the Missouri Ozarks for over 20 years.
The clear water of a creek that runs through our land makes snorkeling a popular thing to do for everyone who visits on a hot summer day.
Bluegills swim right up to your face or nibble at you as you float along in the water. Bass and hog suckers don’t want anything to do with these homosapiens that have invaded their home and skitter along ahead. Colorful sunfish and goggle eye usually guard their nest or hide back under a rock ledge. Multitudes of baitfish swim around in schools continually battling the swift water. Colorful darters hide among the rocks.
If you’re lucky, you might see a turtle or a huge crawdad. There was the time I took some real lobster claws and placed them where they stuck out under a rock ledge making them look like the granddaddy of all crawdads was there. I then watched as my neighbor snorkeled closer and closer to where I had hidden them. Cost of the lobster claws – $35. Cost of the camera to take my neighbor’s picture as he came up out of the water – $250. Look on my neighbors face – priceless!
If visitors are really lucky or unlucky, depending on your fear of snakes, they might get to swim along with a 4-foot-long water snake. No, it’s not a fake snake and no I’m not scared of snakes. At least as long as I know it’s not poisonous.

Bluegills are a special treat with all their color, appetite and attitude around docks for when kids are dunking worms.  Missouri Department of Conservation Photo

I was a little nervous once though when I dangled a crappie jig in front of this same snake and he struck at it catching the hook in his mouth. I haven’t had a whole lot of experience unhooking a writhing, very mad water snake, and was thankful the line broke before I had to figure it out. I guess he forgave me, because he now lets me swim along underwater with him. He does look at me funny some times and he would probably stick his tongue out at me if there wasn’t a crappie jig in the way.
I think what people enjoy the most while snorkeling in the creek is underwater fishing. We use either a small kid’s rod and reel combo or a tiny ice fishing spinning combo baited with a worm or crawdad. You float along with your mask and snorkel watching fish take your bait. Then you set the hook and reel in the fish, all underwater. I think the adults love it as much as the kids. Now how many of you can say you caught a fish while underwater with the fish?
Another thing we do is have someone stand on the bank and cast different artificial baits into areas where fish are holding and then we snorkel underwater to watch how fish react to the different baits. Doing so has helped us all become better fishermen.
Snorkeling around with an underwater camera or a smart phone in a waterproof bag is another thing we enjoy doing. It is amazing the fantastic photos you can take underwater in freshwater.
So what are you waiting for? It’s July, it’s very hot and it’s a whole lot cooler when you’re snorkeling. Plus it’s a whole lot of fun!

Aldo Leopold would say, “START GROUSING!”

  • The ruffed grouse has had a long run of bad luck in Missouri, but time is still turning.
  • The father of modern wildlife management spent time here documenting the bird’s decline.
A hardbound copy of Leopold’s grouse report occupies a reverential place on my bookshelf, thanks to my alert and indulgent wife who spied it in an antique shop. Jim Low Photo

By Jim Low

In 1886, legendary trap shooter A.H. Bogardus reported shooting 50 ruffed grouse as a diversion, while spending most of his time chasing turkeys in Clinton County, north of Kansas City.  In 1918, an observer reported seeing 30 “partridges” a day in Oregon County in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks.

The next year, he could find none.  The story was much the same in other parts of the north-central United States, as documented by no less an authority than Aldo Leopold.

The man who would become the father of scientific wildlife management spent part of 1928 and 1929 crisscrossing a huge triangular area defined by Ohio, Minnesota and Missouri.  He focused on the current and historic abundance of bobwhite quail, cottontail rabbits, ringneck pheasants, prairie chickens, wild turkeys, waterfowl and white-tailed deer.  His sources included direct observation, popular hunting literature and interviews with hunters and landowners.  The resulting Game Survey of the North Central States was commissioned by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute.  It was an early example of how hunting and the industry that supported it would put up the cash to make conservation a reality.

A hardbound copy of Leopold’s report occupies a reverential place on my bookshelf, thanks to my alert and indulgent wife who spied it in an antique shop.  For the princely sum of $15, I acquired a window into conservation history.  I had occasion to take it down today after reading through a report by Jason Isabelle, a resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The report was intended to update the Missouri Conservation Commission on a collaboration with the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation.  The report documents Missouri’s stubborn refusal to give up on a magnificent game bird that has continued to hold a place in Show-Me State hunters’ hearts and imaginations, long after it lost its place on our landscape.

Leopold’s work showed that ruffed grouse once occupied all but Missouri’s southwestern and northwestern counties.  Although Missouri was at the far southwestern edge of the species’ original range, the plucky little birds were locally abundant wherever there was forest.  Until the 1920s, that was most of the state.  Ruffed grouse probably benefitted from early settlement.  Their habitat requirements include impenetrable thickets that spring up when tracts of hardwood forest are logged off and then allowed to regenerate naturally.  A patchwork of mature forest interspersed with regenerating clear-cuts of various ages is what “ruffs” need.  Logging only becomes the enemy of ruffed grouse when cut-over land is converted to row crops or pasture.

Leopold’s work showed that ruffed grouse once occupied all but Missouri’s southwestern and northwestern counties.  Jim Low Photo

 

That worked to the ruff’s advantage throughout the 19th century.  Settlers and city dwellers alike used wood to heat their homes, and farmers needed pole timber for fence posts.  Annual timber harvested guaranteed the renewal of habitat for grouse, not to mention quail and rabbits.

The LEGEND of the Leopold Map shown above provides interesting insight into Leopold’s findings. Jim Low Photo

Then things changed.  Leopold made a perceptive connection between the fate of ruffed grouse and America’s transition from renewable to fossil fuels when he wrote, “Petroleum, coal, and steel are rapidly making the woodlot a useless appendage to the farm, which must be grazed ‘grouseless’ to pay its keep.  Sportsmen should realize that a wood-burning gas plant for farms, or even an efficient wood-burning furnace, would do more to keep woodlots, and hence, grouse, on the map of rural America than many new laws or sermons on conservation.”

 

Of course, that was not in the cards.  Progress proceeded apace and continues today.  The 19th century’s patch-quilt of forest, regenerating clear-cuts, crop fields and pastures has disappeared.  In the northern half of Missouri, it has been replaced by mega-farms where corn and soybeans extend as far as the eye can see, unbroken by fence or woodlot.  In southern Missouri, we increasingly have unbroken tracts of forest.  Most Missourians are unaware that their state currently has significantly more forest acreage than it did before European settlement.  And since clearcutting became a dirty word, the supply of prime grouse habitat where hunters can experience the thrill of the ruff’s explosive flush, has steadily dwindled.

But Missouri’s state motto isn’t purely negative.  Citizen conservationists – hunters once again – have always taken the attitude that someone has to show them that the ruffed grouse can’t be brought back.  Next week, we will look at Missouri’s long – and continuing – history of grouse restoration efforts.

-end-

Kayakety Yak – Maneuvering, Fishing, Funning & Rigging, (Part 2 of 2)

  • Certain optional kayak gear is handy and necessary.
  • Customize your fishing kayak for comfort and function.
Randy Boeller drove all the way from Houston, Texas, to land this chunky smallmouth on the upper Maries River. Jim Low Photo

By Jim Low

With a new Kayak, there are quite a few features to look for, understand and think about.  Here are some of the features that are important to me:

ADJUSTABLE SEATS & FOOT BRACES

Before writing a check, take time to sit in several kayaks to see if you can stand to sit in it for hours.  Try to find a dealer that will allow you to test “drive” kayak before purchase.  Ideally, a seat should have an adjustable, padded back rest.  The seat should also be padded with a material that allows water to drain away from your kiester.

Equally important are adjustable foot rests.  Pushing on these anchors you in your seat, providing a solid paddling platform.  They should be adjustable, not only for different leg lengths, but to allow you to change your leg position to avoid stiffness.  The surfaces of these pedal-like accessories should have a non-slip surface.

ROD HOLDERS

Sometimes these are built into the kayak’s hull and hold rods upright.  This works fine, as long as you don’t encounter any overhead obstructions.  Much better are rod holders with swiveling mounts that fold parallel with the deck.  Having multiple rod holders allow you to switch baits without re-rigging.

TACKLE COMPARTMENTS

Most kayaks have fore and aft cargo compartments, but these are hard to reach on the water.  Small compartments within reach of the seat are more practical.

ANCHOR TROLLEYS

You don’t need much of an anchor for kayak fishing, but they do come in handy when you want to hold your position against current or wind.  Anchors need ropes, and having loose rope around your feet is inconvenient, not to mention dangerous.  Anchor trolleys keep your anchor rope organized with cleats and allow you to instantly tie off anchor rope at the desired length and release it just as quickly.  A small, foldable anchor will fit easily under or beside your seat, out of the way but available when needed.

CUP HOLDERS

You laugh, but nothing is worse than cracking open a drink only to have it tip over in your lap moments later.  Well, okay, lots of things are worse, but a spilled drink is bad enough.  When not holding drinks, cup holders are useful for holding snacks, phones, lures, pliers and a dozen other things.

ACCESSORY MOUNTING SYSTEMS

These really are the mothers of all accessories.  Factory-installed accessory mounting systems permit you to customize your kayak in ways limited only by your imagination.  They accept universal mounting plates can be drilled to accept anything you want.  This is an easy way to keep cell phones, tablets, GPS units and other electronic devices handy.  Naturally, if you are short on imagination, manufacturers have lots of ideas, including tackle bins, live wells, rod holders, fish finders and, yes, cup holders.

RUDDERS

Paddling into the wind can be a challenge when fishing on lakes or large streams.  A rudder or tracking skeg keeps you on track without constant correction.  This is especially handy for trolling.

PROPULSION SYSTEMS

Speaking of trolling, trolling motors made specifically for canoes and kayaks are available.  Hobie offers kayaks equipped with their patented MirageDrive, the original kayak peddle-drive system.  These items aren’t cheap…unless you compare their prices to the cost of a bass boat.

One often-neglected accessory is a top-quality paddle.  A cheap paddle will wear you out if it doesn’t wear out first.  Don’t balk at spending a couple hundred dollars on an ergonomically friendly paddle that keep you, your wrists and shoulders out of the orthopedic surgeon’s office for years.

Fishing kayaks have become so popular that organizations dedicated to them are springing up around the country.  Missouri has two that I know of: Missouri Kayak Fishing Association and the Show Me Kayak Fishing.  You might consider hooking up with these folks for help learning the ropes of kayak angling.  Once you go ‘yak, you’ll never look back!

-end-

Kayakety Yak – Maneuvering, Fishing, Funning & Rigging, (Part 1 of 2)

  • These craft are made to order for fishing small and remote waters.
  • You will never go back to aluminum canoes once you’ve fished from a kayak.
  • You can customize a fishing kayak for anything.
The author brought this scrappy largemouth to hand on the upper Gasconade River.

By Jim Low

Ask anyone who has fished an Ozark stream (or anywhere) in a kayak, and you are likely to hear a paean on the many advantages of these craft.  My “aha moment” came within five minutes of climbing into a 10-foot Old Towne model. 

A slightly overlong cast landed my Rebel Craw in a wad of flotsam and I swore like a sailor, knowing I’d have to paddle like a demon against a stiff current to retrieve the $6 crankbait.  Resting my rod in the notches provided for that purpose, I grabbed the double paddle and instantly became aware of the advantages of kayak fishing.  Instead of the heavy labor needed to propel a bulky aluminum canoe upstream, a few strokes had me within reach of my lure.  Then, instead of struggling to turn a 16-foot behemoth around in tight quarters, I executed a neat 180-degree turn and was fishing again.

In the South, when food is so good you can’t believe it, they say it will make you want to slap your mama.  At that moment on Bryant Creek, I wanted to slap my Grumman.  Don’t get me wrong, canoes have their place. 

There’s no beating the cargo capacity and stability of an 18-foot touring canoe on a camping trip.  Lightweight Kevlar models in a variety of sizes and styles make canoes much more versatile than they were 30 years ago.  But for fishing skinny water or remote spots, nothing beats a kayak.  You can throw three or four of them in the bed of a pickup truck and carry them in to places other anglers can only dream of reaching.

I had no idea how important portability was until I found myself near the end of a day-long float on the upper Maries River a few years ago. 

My fishing buddy has bad hips and knees and could barely get in and out of his borrowed kayak with assistance.  We were tired and ready for a hot meal with adult beverages, when the river unexpectedly ended.  A flood had deposited several thousand cubic yards of gravel and hundreds of trees in what once was the main channel.  What was left was a quarter mile of small rivulets separated by gravel bars and choked with willow thickets. 

Randy got himself and our fishing rods to the end of the blockage, but it fell to me to drag our kayaks through the hellish mess.  I don’t know what we would have done if we had been in a canoe.

Greg Stoner of Camdenton landed two nice walleyes while fishing from his tricked-out Hobie kayak on the Niangua River.

Many kayaks are not particularly well-suited to fishing.  Dagger-like racing models are not stable enough, and too long to be maneuverable.  Short, inexpensive kayaks are similarly tippy, and there’s no place to put your fishing rod and other gear.  To enjoy kayak fishing fully, you need one fitted out specifically for that purpose.  Prices for fishing kayaks range from a few hundred dollars for models with basic features and to thousands of dollars for boats that practically paddle themselves.  There are quite a few features to look for, understand and think about. 

Check the many features out in Part 2 of 2, coming up next week. 

Stalking Cypress Trout

  • There may by has no harder-fighting fish, even in Missouri!
  • This one’s not for the fish fry.
  • The “Grinnell’s” ancestors swam with dinosaurs.
Greg Stoner, Camdenton, hauled in this monster bowfin in late fall.

By Jim Low

Ask a dozen Missouri anglers what the Show-Me State’s hardest-fighting fish is, and you probably will hear the smallmouth bass mentioned.  Stripers and hybrid striped bass will certainly come up, along with the mighty blue catfish and the fearsome muskellunge.  Even the lowly goggle-eye and bluegill have their loyal followings.  But take the survey down in the Bootheel Region, some sagacious minnow-dunkers will tell you that pound for pound, nothing strikes harder or fights more tenaciously than a bowfin.

Also known as grinnel, cypress trout, dogfish and mudfish, the bowfin (Amia calva) is not granted the dignity of being classified as a sport fish in Missouri.  But if that title was based on mangled crankbaits and broken lines, the bowfin would top the sporting list.  It has a pugilist’s build, stout and heavily muscled.  And if you think muskies are torpedo-shaped, you haven’t handled a bowfin.  Their bodies are as close to cylindrical as possible, while still possessing a head and tail.

The bowfin has had to earn its street creds over a period that spans geological ages.  It and the gars are survivors of a family that swam with plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs 180 million years ago and an ancestor of most extant fish species.

Its native distribution encompasses the coastal plains of the southeastern and eastern United States, the Mississippi and Ohio valleys and southern Great Lakes, all the way to southern Ontario and Quebec.  Beyond that, it has been introduced to parts of nearly every state east of Kansas.

Like gars, bowfins have swim bladders that double as lungs, sucking in air to obtain oxygen when their gills can’t glean enough from water.  This permits them to survive conditions that would spell doom for most fish.  In Louisiana, farmers occasionally turn up live bowfins when plowing crop fields in low-lying areas.  Presumably, some of these fish would survive until the next time neighboring streams flooded, if not for levees that keep cropland dry throughout the summer.

Bowfins can reach impressive sizes.  The pole-and-line record is 19 pounds for Missouri, not that much short of the International Game Fish Association’s all-tackle record of 21.5 pounds.  Most caught in Missouri weigh around 5 pounds.  That raises the question of how you catch one.  The answer is “very carefully.”

Bowfins lack the bony spines that make handing catfish, bass and bluegills tricky, but their mouths make up for this disadvantage.  Hundreds of small, razor-sharp teeth line their capacious mouths, and they know how to use them.  It’s not unusual for a bowfin to thrash about wildly while being unhooked, grabbing a finger, hand or any other available portion of an unlucky angler’s anatomy.  Those teeth also come into play before bowfins reach the boat.  Abrasion-resistant monofilament or high-tech braided line made of Kevlar-like material are a must when angling for bowfins.

In fact, most hooked cypress trout never make it to land, boat or net.  They have a variety of escape strategies other than sawing through line with their formidable dentition.  The most common is brute strength.  Drag settings that are sensible for bass can result in parted line when one of these brawlers makes a power run.  Better to err on the light side at first.  On the other hand, failure to cinch down the drag enough can be costly too.  Strategy No. 2 is making for the nearest submerged log or root wad and executing a quick 180-degree turn that negates the flex of your fishing rod.  Given a solid anchor point to pull against, a bowfin will find a weak spot in your line every time.

Bowfins have bony mouths, so sharp, stout hooks and low-stretch lines are helpful in making positive hook sets.  Once your drag stops screaming like a cat with its tail in a blender, don’t attempt to muscle a bowfin in.  Trying to land or net one before wearing it down is a sure way to lose it.  Even a seemingly worn-out bowfin can rally for a few more runs.  When you do get it within reach, use pliers – not bare hands – to work the hook loose.

Medium to stiff-action bass rods and quality baitcasting reels are best for this critter.  For terminal tackle, anything that would work for largemouth bass or flathead catfish is a good bet.  Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, noisy top-water plugs, jig and pork frog, buzz-baits and dark plastic worms all are proven bowfin baits.  So are live minnows, cut shad and crayfish.

Aaron Horrell, outdoor columnist for the Southeast Missourian in Cape Girardeau, uses cut bait like this sunfish head to catch bowfins.

Bowfins are most active between dusk and dawn, when they prowl the shallows.  Unlike most other fish, bowfins perfer tepid water, and they will bite all day long right through the hottest months.  Daytime fishing is most productive in deeper water.

Muskies have nothing on bowfins when it comes to vicious strikes.  Not for nothing, does an Arkansas friend of mine call the bowfin “Dr.  Death.” Also like muskies, bowfins sometimes follow bait all the way to boat or land before striking.

Bowfins are virtually absent from the Missouri River, probably because 99 percent of suitable habitat there disappeared decades ago under the tender ministrations of the U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers (CoE).  In the Mississippi River, they are more common above St.  Louis, ironically again thanks to the CoE, which has created a series of impoundments.  But if you really want to catch cypress mudfish, Swamp East Missouri is the place for you.  Several Conservation Areas (CAs) in the region offer good bowfin fishing, but the gold standard is the wetland complex comprised by Duck Creek CA and Mingo National Wildlife Refuge.  With a combined area of more than 27,000 acres, these two areas offer a lifetime of exploring.  Much of Mingo is trackless swamp, best accessed by canoe or kayak.  Duck Creek is much more accessible and produced, both, the current pole-and-line record (19 pounds, 1963) and alternative-methods record (13 pounds, 6 ounces, 2013).

By all accounts, the bowfin is far from first-rate table fare.  If not filleted and iced immediately, their flesh becomes mushy, and even then, it has a strong fishy taste.  This critter is the poster child for catch-and-release fishing.

To the east, the lower Current, Black, Little Black and St.  Francis Rivers, and their associated sloughs and backwaters, all have significant bowfin populations.  I sometimes wonder how the Asian snakehead will fare if it ever faces head-to-head competition with Missouri’s official bayou badass.  I wouldn’t bet on the invader.

-end-

Black Powder Bushytails

  • Made to order method for early-season squirrel hunting.
  • Muzzleloaders lend new excitement to the old game of squirrel hunting.
  • Where to go, What to do, How to call, Packing your game sack.

By Jim Low

There’s no need to wait until fall to enjoy the thrill of hunting squirrels with a rifle.

With turkey season in the rearview mirror and Memorial Day just around the corner, Missouri hunters’ thoughts naturally turn to squirrels.  Squirrel season opens on May 27.  Hunting is mostly done with shotguns during the early months of the season, because lush foliage makes bushytails hard to spot.  When you do spy one, it’s usually just a fleeting glimpse.  However, there is a way to hunt summer squirrels with a rifle that is, paradoxically, both easier and more challenging.  I’m talking about hunting with traditional black-powder rifles with iron sights.

Daniel Boone might have been able to shoot the eyes out of squirrels at 80 paces with old Tick-Licker, but most modern-day hunters find it much harder to head-shoot squirrels with iron sights.  For consistent success, we need to get within 25 yards of our quarry.  This puts a premium on woodsmanship that can pay dividends during later, big-game seasons.

Choice of muzzleloader is mostly a matter of personal preference.  Hard-core traditionalists will opt for flintlocks, but there’s no shame in opting for the more certain ignition offered by percussion models. Since you are aiming for squirrels’ heads, it makes little difference whether your smoke pole is spitting .32-cal pellets or .54-cal marbles.  Larger projectiles do provide a slight advantage, simply because their greater diameter increases the chances that some part of the ball will make contact with the target.  They also offer the possibility of “barking” squirrels – aiming at tree trunks or limbs adjacent to the squirrel’s head so death results from concussion.  A .535-cal round ball weighing 230 grains packs a serious wallop that a .31-cal ball, weighing a mere 45 grains, can’t match.

Do not, however, let anyone tell you that small-caliber muzzleloaders won’t kill squirrels outright.  The first squirrel I shot with my .32 CVA Varmint caplock was a full-grown gray squirrel.  I had 20 grains of FFFG black powder under the .31-cal ball.  When I went to pick up the deceased rodent, all that was left of the head were flaps of skin from the lower jaw and pate.  I have since decreased my squirrel load to 15 grains of FFFG.  The heavier load simply is unnecessary.

If you don’t already own a muzzleloader, look for one with a set trigger.  This second trigger – typically located behind the main trigger – is pulled just before taking a shot.  It “sets” the main trigger, dramatically reducing the amount of pressure needed to release the hammer.  This lessens the tendency to pull the rifle to one side as you squeeze the trigger.  Traditional muzzleloaders’ lock time – the time elapsed between the moment you release the trigger and when the projectile leaves the barrel – is much longer for smoke poles than it is for modern firearms.  So, the time during which you can drift off-target is much greater.  Reducing trigger-release pressure helps offset this inherent disadvantage.

Hunting with a muzzleloader is an excellent fit for summer squirrels.  The same factors that limit hunters’ vision apply to squirrels, so they are much less likely to notice your approach.  And because last year’s leaf fall has had seven months to weather, you can slip through the woods with greater stealth.

Summer squirrels are not concentrated around nut trees, as they are in the fall.  That doesn’t mean they are randomly distributed, however.  Early in the spring, I have seen as many as a dozen squirrels in a single elm tree, harvesting the fresh, green seeds.  Later, they consume the succulent flower and leaf buds of a succession of trees.  Later still, they focus on mulberries and other fruit, such as hackberries and wild cherries.  You don’t need to know which trees provide food each week throughout the summer.  It’s enough to know that where you find one squirrel, you are likely to find more.

Sound is more important than sight for finding summer squirrels.  Take a seat or lean against a tree when you enter the woods and spend five minutes listening for the telltale rustle of squirrels foraging in the treetops.  If you hear nothing, move 50 yards and listen again.  When you hear feeding activity, gradually move toward it until you make visual contact.  Then pay attention to the squirrel’s feeding cycle.  Typically, they will spend a few minutes gathering food from one branchlet, then move on to another.  Often, they pause to rest for a few moments between forays.  Move into shooting position during the active feeding phase, freezing when your quarry moves between branches.

The Mr. Squirrel distress call, sold by Haydel’s Game Calls, is an effective tool for harvesting summer squirrels.

Another advantage to hunting squirrels in the summer is the fact that they are more susceptible to calling than at any other time of year.  Male and female squirrels respond dramatically to young squirrels’ distress calls.  You can use this habit in two ways.  One is to blind call, which will cause any squirrels in earshot to reveal their location.  A better approach is to find actively feeding squirrels, sneak in and take a position in their midst, and hit a few licks on the distress call.  Thrash the ground violently with a small, leafy sapling while calling to mimic the sound of a baby squirrel caught by a predator.  Not only will squirrels leave the treetops to investigate, some will run toward you and perch on branches, barking and offering a shot.

My squirrel distress call is sold by Haydel’s Game Calls under the name Mr. Squirrel.  Flambeau offers a different version of the same thing, called Mr. B’s Distress Squirrel Whistle.  You also can make your own out of a plastic jug.

Because most of the activity occurs high in the tree tops, most of your shots will be at steep angles.  This makes a shooting stick invaluable.  You can use a store-bought rifle rest, but I prefer an actual stick – an ironwood sapling that I cut nearly 40 years ago.  I grasp the stick with my left hand and rest the barrel of my rifle on top of my hand.  This arrangement works for any elevation.

One problem unique to summer squirrel hunting is meat spoilage.  I carry a couple of frozen water bottles in my game pouch.  Gutting squirrels as soon as you shoot them hastens cooling, and keeping them inside the pouch avoids attracting flies.

You can do all the above with a modern rifle, too.  That’s the best bet if you are dead set on bringing home a limit of bushytails.   But if you are looking for a way to make squirrel hunting more challenging and interesting, nothing beats a muzzleloader.

Hot Fish Bite in the Rainy Ozarks

  • Bass, Crappie, Trout Turning On
  • Guides and Resort Owners Report GOOD Catches
  • High Water Offers Some Silver Lining

By Brent Frazee

Though Table Rock Lake has dealt with flooding since late April, guides such as Buster Loving and their clients have still enjoyed good bass fishing.

April showers brought more than May flowers in the Ozarks.  They brought near-record flooding and a mess that residents are still trying to clean up.

That’s the bad news.

There’s also plenty of good news.

Though reservoirs such as Truman, Table Rock and Taneycomo are still high, guides and resort owners report that the fishing has been surprisingly good.  If anything, they say, the floods may have helped the fishing.

And then there’s the long-term outlook.  Fisheries biologists with the Missouri Department of Conservation say that high-water springs usually result in boom year-classes of fish because of the added cover in which fry can hide from predators.

“We’re certainly not minimizing the hardships the high water has brought for many residents,” said Brian Canaday, chief of fisheries for the Missouri Department of Conservation.  “But some of our largest year-classes of fish have come in these flood years.  So this wasn’t a bad thing as far as the fish were concerned.”

At Table Rock Lake, a 43,100-acre reservoir near Branson, Mo., the water level reached almost the top of flood pool in late April after almost 10 1/2 inches of rain in a three-day period.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing water ever since.

It is now down to 11 feet above normal and some boat ramps are still hard to access.  But those who have been able to get on the lake have found good bass fishing.

Buster Loving, a longtime guide on Table Rock, has guided his customers to some impressive catches throughout May.

 “The bass were in the process of spawning when the high water hit, and they didn’t move,” Loving said. “For the most part, they stayed where they had fanned out their nests.

“I’m fishing the old banks. Those places might have been in 10 to 12 feet before, and they went to 25 to 30 feet after the water came up. But the fish have still been there.”

Loving remembers years when the high water hit before the spawn and the bass would pioneer into newly flooded cover.

“I won back to back tournaments one year when the lake was flooded,” Loving said. “The fish were in flooded campgrounds, around buildings and lantern holders and in green yards.

“But I haven’t seen that as much this spring.”

The huge releases from Table Rock into Lake Taneycomo caused some nervous times for resort owners, residents and fishermen for a time.  But now that release rates have slowed to a fishable rate, trout fishermen are finding excellent fishing. They’re even catching some fish not normally found in the nationally known trout lake that were flushed out of Table Rock.

“I’ve never seen so many smallmouth bass caught,” said Phil Lilley, who owns Lilley’s Landing Resort and Marina in Branson, Mo. “And the trout fishing from the dam to the Lookout area has been really good.”

“We’re seeing lots of 20-inch rainbows and more browns than normal, too.”

Lilley isn’t surprised. Every time high water hits at Taneycomo, an abundance of shad is flushed from Table Rock into Taneycomo and it sets off a feeding spree among the trout.

White jigs, shad flies, drift rigs and spoons have been the most effective lures.

The fishing has also been good at Truman Lake, the 55,600-acre reservoir in west-central Missouri that was hit hard by flooding.  As of May 18, the water level was still 20 feet above normal pool, but guides such as Jeff Faulkenberry are still helping their clients catch limits of crappies.

“The crappie spawn was about over when the water came up,” said Faulkenberry, who runs the Endless Season Guide Service. “The fish just followed the water into the new cover.

“You have to move around to find them; they’re not bunched up in one place.  But if you stay on the move and fish the green bushes, you can catch a limit.  The key is finding the schools of shad and fry.”

The biggest problem at Truman?  Access.  With the lake still high, some of the boat ramps are inaccessible.

But a few are open and others will be as the water continues to fall.  Go to the website http://www.nwk.usace.army.mil/Locations/District-Lakes/Harry-S-Truman-Lake/Daily-Lake-Info-2/ for up-to-date information on facilities.

 

 

SPOT & STALK TURKEY HUNTING

  • Effective, but BE VERY CAREFUL
  • Recommended ONLY ON PRIVATE, SECURED LAND
  • Tactics & Techniques

By Tyer Mahoney

When everything goes right, your stalk the long way around to expected turkey location is rewarded.

Heavy rain and wind can put the turkeys in a funk where they don’t gobble or respond to calls.  Severe rain can wash out nests, which means hens must breed again, thus prolonging the “henned up” effect every turkey hunter dreads.  Other times, such as late season, gobblers can be plain uncooperative and won’t investigate decoys or your calling.

So what do you do?

Simple.  It’s time to get on your feet and close the distance.  Although it’s not quite the same as a strutting tom marching into your decoys, spot and stalk turkey hunting can be just as exciting and rewarding, though your safety is of key interest in manner of hunting.

I have enjoyed much success stalking turkeys on secure, private land, but learned the most from my failures.  Whether you are by yourself or with a hunting partner, I have learned several strategies to follow when you begin your stalk.

Before you begin any spot and stalk, be sure of your surroundings and possible hunters that may be in your area.  I highly recommend you only do this on private land.

SPOTTING

This might seem like the easy part, but there are several factors you must keep in mind.

First, turkeys always find a way to be where you least expect.  As you approach your glassing point, stay in cover and below the line of sight of the area you think may have turkeys.  Always abide by the rule that if you can see out in the field, then whatever is out there can see you.

Also, stay in the shadows as much as possible, which should be relatively easy if you have good timber.  Ideally, you will make your way to a spot where you can see a good distance across a field that may be a strutting zone.  Along with a large field of view, your glassing point should be accessible to a good route to make your stalk.

Next, move slowly until you spot your bird.  One of the biggest mistakes I have made is quickly glancing across a field, seeing nothing, and then hustling to my next viewing area.  It is only then I realize I’ve spooked a strutting tom standing below a rise in the field I could not see from my first position.

Many people hunt from a blind to start their day.  If you’re like me, you have had plenty of times where birds hang up in the distance or won’t commit because they are with hens.  During set-up, be sure to position your blind so the entrance is facing away from where the turkeys are likely to be located.  In case you need to close the distance on foot, that allows you to exit your blind into cover without disturbing the turkeys.

STALKING

Once you have eyes on a gobbler, the fun part begins.  You will proceed with many of the same strategies you used to spot him.

Stalking works best in certain conditions.  After a rain or in the early morning when everything is still damp, you can move much quieter.  In addition, use the wind to your advantage.  If you must cover a large distance quickly, move as far as you can when the wind picks up and stop when it dies down again. And remember the golden rule, if you are in sight of the field, whatever is in the field can see you too. Stay below their line of sight!

If your turkey is on the move, always take the long way around to get out in front.  It might be more work, but I have failed most of the time when I tried to take the most direct route to the birds.  Taking the long way around allows you to stay in better cover and leaves more room for error on your part.  For example, you will inevitably step on a fallen branch in your haste.  If you’ve maintained a wide circle, inadvertent noises or movement shouldn’t spook the turkey.

As you get closer, you will more than likely lose sight of the birds at times.  When you stop to check the position of your gobbler, be sure you are next to a large tree or thick brush.  This will allow you to hide quickly in case he surprises you.

SHOOTING

If you follow the above guidelines, you will most likely end up with a shot opportunity.  You can always increase your chances by carrying a turkey fan with you as well.  Pop that up in front of you, in sight of the tom and many times he will close the distance running right at you!

Most importantly, remember to use the rules of hunter safety and to always be aware of your surroundings!

Spot and stalk is best done in an area where you are certain no other hunters are around.  In some parts of the country, this manner of hunting is not permitted.

Good luck and happy stalking!

WHERE TO FIND MISSOURI JACK SALMON

  • Secrets to Finding and Catching Jack Salmon
  • Hot Lures can be Simple Lures When They Work
  • Missouri Fishing With a Special Friend   

By Larry Whiteley

Daron Whiteley and keeper Jack Salmon.

Many years ago during a beautiful spring in the Missouri Ozarks, a good friend of mine, Bob Nelson, invited me to go fishing with him for a fish he called “Jack Salmon”.  I had never heard of such a fish so I went along mainly out of curiosity.

He took me north to Stockton Lake and a creek called Turnback.  We walked up creek and found this fish with the funny name as they headed upstream to spawn.  Casting spinner rigs and spoons the fight was a whole lot of fun in the swift water.  We caught our limit and the fish weren’t the only thing hooked that day.

Just when I thought this special day was over and it couldn’t get any better, it did. Bob fileted the fish, started a campfire on a gravel bar, pulled a cast iron skillet from his truck, added some lard, cut up some potatoes and onions, opened a can of beans, covered the filets with cornmeal and cooked up a meal I still remember over 40 years later.

A plate of delicious Jack Salmon.

Unless you are as old I am, if you tell someone you are going fishing for Jack Salmon they will probably look at you kind of funny.  Today most of us know them as the delicious, fun-to-catch walleye.

When you talk about walleye most fishermen think of the legendary fishing in the Dakota’s, Minnesota, Wisconsin and several of our northeastern states.  They might also think of the fabulous walleye fishing on Greer’s Ferry Lake in Arkansas or Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee.

And I, like many of you, have made several trips to fish legendary Canadian lakes for walleye.  The next time I go, I’m going to ask them if they have ever heard of a Jack Salmon.

Sometimes I wonder why I ever go out of state after walleye.  We have some really good walleye fishing right here at home.  In fact, the Missouri state record is 21.1 pounds, caught in 1988 at Bull Shoals Lake by Gerry Partlow.  That’s bigger than 90% of the famous walleye states I just mentioned.

Walleye are native to some areas of Missouri and in some waters they naturally reproduce.  However, in most of our large and small lakes, and reservoirs as well, as some streams and rivers they have to be stocked to keep up with fishing pressure.  The Missouri Department of Conservation started stocking walleyes in the 1970s and now stock 1.2 million a year all over the state.

Lakes that receive walleye stockings include Bilby, Bull Shoals, Jacomo, Lake of the Ozarks, Longview, Long Branch, Mozingo, Norfork, Pomme de Terre, Smithville, Stockton, Table Rock, and Truman.  The Mississippi, Black and Current Rivers are also known for good walleye fishing.

During the spring, walleyes will run up rivers and streams that flow into or out of a lake to spawn.  Just like they were doing the day Bob Nelson took me fishing for Jack Salmon.  They can also be found in areas of lakes with gravel or rip rap where they will also spawn.

Wherever you go walleye fishing in Missouri, make sure you check the season, length and possession limits of the water you are fishing because they can vary.

If you are new to walleye fishing, just realize it won’t be easy.  If you’re willing to go without a little sleep, that’s good.  Walleye feed actively at night.  If you don’t mind bad weather, that’s good too.  Walleye will sometimes bite the best when the weather isn’t best.

There are other times you can catch walleye.  Early morning, low-light conditions from a half hour before to a few hours after sunrise are also good.  I have better luck though, fishing a couple of hours before sunset to right up until dark sets in.

A dark, cloudy day is usually always good because the fish will sometimes feed all day.  If it is a bright sunny day they will be at 20 feet or more trying to get away from the sunlight that penetrates the water.

Spoons, crankbaits and plain jigs, or jigs tipped with a minnow or nightcrawler, are good most of the time.  Nightcrawlers and leeches work well on slip-sinker rigs. Trolling at 1 to 1.5 mph can also be effective.

Anna Whiteley with a Stockton Lake Jack Salmon a little under the size limit, the fish was released without harm.

Last year on Stockton Lake, my grandson Hunter, granddaughter Anna and I, did exceptionally well catching walleye.  We used 1/8 ounce Roadrunners with gray shad bodies and hammered willow leaf silver blades.  My son, Daron, caught his walleye with a crappie spinnerbait.

Walleye are usually not going to hit your bait hard.  When they take it, you might just feel a hesitation or a little bump and think your bait just ran into something.  That hesitation or bump just might be a Missouri Jack Salmon and you better set the hook.

To learn more about Jack Salmon, I mean walleye fishing, in Missouri, go to the Missouri Department of Conservation web site and search for walleye.