The old giant Oak Tree was a friend to me and my family, and so many others.
For about 200 years, the old Oak Tree was here for the Osage Indians, the early settlers, the farmers, and us.
With thousands of sunrise and sunset moments, this tree shared the character of our land.
By Larry Whiteley
For over 50 years, an old oak tree stood near the corner of our house. It was no ordinary tree. Two oak trees had grown together at the trunk many years ago. It was massive in circumference and stood over 80 feet tall. The shade over our house and the oxygen it produced were invaluable to us. The fall colors of that tree added beauty to our yard.
Six other oaks are in the backyard. Two other oak trees are in front of the house. All are big, all are old, but none as old or as big as the old oak tree. The giant stood out among the other oaks, the maple trees, the redbuds, the buckeye, the dogwoods, and the spruce trees.
The giant old oak was always home to the birds. They built their nests, raised their babies, and sang their songs. The squirrels enjoyed the acorns it produced and also built nests in it. Gathering up all the leaves every fall was a chore. Picking up small limbs that fell in our yard and driveway was a pain. My wife and I both loved that old oak tree.
One year I made a birdhouse. I painted it white and then put a Wisconsin red “W” on it. It hung on the side of the tree where we could see it every time we drove up our driveway. It reminded us of our youngest son, his wife, and grandsons living in Wisconsin. When our grandkids that live near were little, they enjoyed a rope swing tied to one of its limbs. It also served as a backdrop for many pictures.
Several years ago, I noticed a hole at the bottom of the tree and fungi growing around the base of it. I called an arborist to come to check it out. He told me it wasn’t anything to worry about and the tree would live for many more years. He was wrong.
The hole kept getting bigger. Black ants moved in and started eating the wood. Fungi kept coming back around the base. I called another arborist. His concern, as was mine, was the possibility of the massive roots starting to rot underground. If that was happening and strong winds or an ice storm came along, the tree could end up crushing most of our house.
A neighbor up the road has a tree-trimming business. We hired him to do the job. I told him to cut it down and leave the wood I could cut and split for our wood-burning stove. Then haul the big logs away.
On the day they were to cut down our old friend, I was out early that morning taking pictures to remember it. I stood there for a long time just looking at it. I admit, there was a lump in my throat and maybe a little tear in the corner of my eye.
As they started, I couldn’t watch. I went to my workshop and tried to keep busy. I turned up the radio. I did not want to hear the saws. When the saws went silent, I stepped out and looked at where the tree used to be. They had already moved and stacked all the logs I would keep. I would now spend a lot of time cutting, splitting, and stacking. The old tree will now keep us warm for several winters.
I had asked for their final cut to be right above where the two oaks had grown together so long ago. The stump was almost six feet tall. I stood on a big rock to get high enough to count the tree rings. I wanted to know how old it was. When I finished counting, I did it again to make sure. It was over 200 years old.
I stood there and imagined a squirrel burying two acorns at this spot back in the early 1800s. Like most squirrels, he probably forgot where he buried them. Maybe the squirrel died before he found them from a Native American Indian arrow. The acorns eventually sprouted and pushed their way up through the soil. The two little trees grew closer together until they eventually became one.
Thinking about that, I went into the house and got on my computer. I started searching for what it was like in this part of America 200 years ago when the old giant old oak started its life. I wondered what that tree could have told me about what it had seen and heard.
It was here when the Osage Indians lived where our home now sits. It was still a young tree when the white settlers came to the land of the Osage. They built cabins and fences out of the trees and cut them down for firewood. It must not have been big enough to use, so they left it alone, and it continued to grow.
There were several dark marks on the tree rings. The neighbor said it was where barbed wire fencing was attached to the tree. Counting the rings from those marks to the outside told me there was probably a farm here sometime in the early 1920s. My wife and I have always thought there was a barn here at one time. I have found old rusted wire and nails around the property. The dirt is blacker in some places than in the rest of our land. That tells me there was a farm long ago.
When we bought the land over 50 years ago, we wanted our house close to the old oak tree. Back then, there were only a few other houses around. I hunted for deer and turkey in the woods behind us. I hunted rabbits in the fields with my sons. I searched for morel mushrooms in the woods. My boys and I caught fish in the pond up the road.
It was quieter then. Now we hear lawnmowers running, dogs barking, and kids playing. Today, no matter which direction we look, there are houses. The road out front can get busy at times. There is no more hunting or fishing around our place. Life here has changed again.
For over 200 years, the old oak tree was there for the Osage, the settlers, the farmers, and us. It was part of their life and part of ours. It was there as our kids and grandkids grew into adults. As my wife and I have grown old, it was always there. Just like the tree, someday we will be gone too.
I go out and visit the tree’s giant stump sometimes. The other day I was there when something caught my eye near the base of the stump in the fertile soil nourished by the decomposing leaves. There, fostered and protected by the decomposing leaves from the old oak tree, were two oak seedlings growing close together. I wondered what they would see in their lifetime. I wondered if they would grow together and become a big old oak tree.
When grilling a steak from a deer, I think about that morning in the deer woods, it is special.
Cooking a wild turkey in my smoker, my mind travels back to a spring morning, a beautiful sunrise, the gobbles.
Saying grace before meals, among other things, is a way to remember God and share special blessings with your family and friends.
By Larry Whiteley
When I was growing up on the farm, saying grace was something we did before a meal. Our food back then came from my grandmother’s garden or wild plants around the farm. She gathered eggs from the chickens she raised. On special occasions, she would kill one and fry it up. Grandpa raised hogs and butchered them himself. He cured the meat in a smokehouse and milked the cows by hand. Almost everything for every meal came from that old farm. It was important to thank God for what He had provided us.
Today when our family gathers for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, one of us says grace as we all hold hands and bow our heads. We don’t always do that at other meals when we are all together.
Saying grace before meals, among other things, is a way to remember God, not our credit card, provided the meal. Even if you are not a believer, saying grace recognizes the people whose hard work brought food to your holiday table, daily meals at home or eating out: farmers, grocery store clerks, friends, relatives or restaurant chefs. If you are a non-believer, I would be happy to tell you about a true story that can change your life.
Several times I have been asked to say grace at luncheon meetings, banquets, or church. As a believer, it is an honor to do that. I always hope that what I say will touch the hearts of those listening and get their eyes on God instead of the depressing evening news or what they are seeing or reading on their smartphones.
I will admit that I don’t say grace before every meal. At home, it’s just my wife and me. We usually don’t. When I go through McDonald’s for a biscuit sandwich to eat on my way fishing, I don’t. When I stop by Arby’s for a roast beef sandwich after a morning hunt, I don’t. I should be thanking God before every meal, but I don’t, even though I should. I don’t know anyone that does.
It is much easier to say grace over the game I have harvested or fish I have caught and prepared for a meal. Maybe that’s because I have a close connection to them, as grandma and grandpa had on that old farm. It is hard to have that feeling with pizza out of a box, roasted chicken in a plastic container, a hamburger and fries in a sack, or store-bought groceries.
When grilling a steak from a deer, I think about that morning in the deer woods. I remember the beautiful sunrise peeking up over the hill. I remember the frosted field, the crows calling, the birds fluttering through the trees, the squirrels running around looking for nuts, and the bobcat walking by.
I remember when that deer first appeared. The deer never even knew I was there in the tree. I remember kneeling beside it, laying my hand on it, and thanking the deer for giving its life to feed my family. I remember looking up and thanking God for my time in his creation. I remember field-dressing it and thinking this deer would feed the crows, turkey vultures, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, and other animals. When I eat any part of that deer, I say grace.
If I am cooking a wild turkey breast in my smoker, my mind travels back to a spring morning and another beautiful sunrise. Birds were singing while crows were talking to each other as always. Everything was green, and wildflowers were blooming everywhere. I heard turkey wings flapping when they flew down from their roost. My hen decoys were poised and ready in front of my hiding place. My Jake decoy was near the hens and close enough to make a gobbler want to come in and kick his butt for trying to mess with his ladies.
A gobble came from over the slight rise to my left. I gave a soft purr with the mouth call I hoped would say to him, “Come on in. I am ready for you.”
He answered me with a booming gobble. My heart rate increased dramatically. I never made another call because he quickly appeared over the rise. He fanned his tail feathers and puffed out his chest. It was his way of saying, “Look how handsome I am.”
Then he saw the Jake decoy. He immediately went over and attacked it knocking it to the ground. The gobbler stood there over the battered fake Jake and strutted out for the ladies again. When he came out of his strutting display, my shotgun boomed. He flopped around for a minute or two. The hens disappeared over the rise. It took one gobble, two struts, and a gobbler was on the ground. It is not always that easy, believe me.
I smooth its bronze feathers in the early morning sun and thank it for feeding my family. The gobblers fan, beard, and spurs hang on my wall with others. The smoked turkey breast is another reminder of a great day in the turkey woods. There was no hesitation in saying grace when I sat down to eat it or the morel mushrooms I found that day.
It is the same with fish I catch. I don’t lay my hand on them and thank them for giving their life to feed my family like I do turkey and deer. But when I fry, grill, or smoke the fish I caught, I remember when I caught them. I see the sun or the moon reflecting on the water. I see the eagle sitting in a tree. I see the deer at the water’s edge. I hear the water lapping against the boat or rippling down the stream. I hear my lure hit the water.
When I am out on a camping trip, I feel close to God. My meal may not be fish or game, but I try to say grace over my camp meal if it’s just a hot dog grilled on a stick. As I sit around the campfire, watching the flames flicker and dance with nature all around me, I look up and say thank you.
When I take the life of a game animal or fish, I don’t take that lightly. I remind myself it is through the gifts He gave me to be a hunter and a fisherman that I was able to take the game or catch the fish. I will always be thankful to God for the great outdoors He created for me to enjoy my camping, hunting and fishing. I will always try to remember to say grace before a camp meal and before I enjoy eating the wild game or fish that I have prepared at home for a meal. Saying grace is the least I can do for all God has done for me.
Alex Otte has grown from a severely injured 13-year-old girl to become an inspirational lady and leader.
Her positive-minded survival story shares her grief with every family that has ever lost someone to an impaired driver.
Bottom line: Boating under the influence = Driving under the influence. She wants to spread that message.
By David Gray
Alex Otte, a young girl, shares what happened to her. “On July 2, 2010, I was run over by a drunk driver. My offender wasn’t driving a car; he was driving a 17-foot bass boat at more than 70 miles per hour. I was sitting across the narrow lake from my mom and brother, and the boat was headed toward them when he banked it to the left and never straightened up. The boat hit me, going more than 60 miles per hour and threw me off the Jet Ski. I landed face down in the water, and the boat landed on top of my body before it sunk. I sustained severe, life-threatening, and lifelong injuries from head to toe, including a severe traumatic brain injury. I was classified with shaken-baby syndrome, having a shattered jaw, broken neck, broken collarbone, lacerated liver, and bilateral shattered femurs. I incurred the loss of my right leg below the knee.”
On July 2, 2010, medics lifted Alex into a Life-Flight helicopter. They told her parents that their 13-year-old beautiful young daughter might not live long enough to make it to the hospital. But Alex did make it to the hospital, remaining in a coma for seven days.
Alex remembers waking up in the hospital with her Dad sitting by the bed. “Dad would tell me what happened and that she had suffered severe brain injuries.” When she woke up the next time and the next time, her Dad was still sitting by her bed. He had to tell Alex again and again what had happened. Each time she could not remember. Her injured brain could not recall what her Dad had repeated each time Alex woke up.
At 13 years of age, Alex Otte shared time with her creator and doctors for the next seven weeks in the hospital. The young girl was strong and determined. The following fall, she returned to school but would not walk into the classroom this time. She was in a wheelchair.
On July 2, 2010, the woman that little girl would be, was nearly gone. But the little girl survived to quickly become a strong, articulate, well-focused personality and inspirational leader.
Alex has become the woman she wants to be and has risen to be the President of MADD. She is devoted to education about a choice you or someone in your family makes when they get ready to operate a boat.
Boating is recreational. Boating is fun. Safe Boating involves a choice, just like a choice to safely drive a vehicle.
Boating under the Influence is as dangerous and life-threatening as driving a car Under the Influence.
In her speech, Alex states, “Operating a boat while impaired from alcohol or drugs does not result in unintended accidents while enjoying a recreational activity. Operating a boat while impaired often results in an incident and a deadly crash, causing injuries and death because of a person’s irresponsible choice.” Operating a boat while impaired is a choice, just like driving a vehicle.
Drinking and boat driving create the same dangers to others as drinking and driving an automobile.
A study of the relationship between the risk of fatality and blood alcohol concentration of recreational boat operators by Peter Mengert, E. Donald Sussman and Robert DiSario (1992) found that with a 0.1 BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) you are more likely to die in a boat crash than a car crash. Fishermen know that being out on the water in the sun, wind and waves will cause fatigue. Combine on-the-water fatigue with alcohol in your system, and you are more likely to cause a severe crash. Statistics show that you are more likely to NOT SURVIVE a boat crash with a 0.1 Blood Alcohol Content, even as a passenger.
On May 26, 2022, Alex Otte delivered a strong message as President of MADD. Alex traveled to Lake of the Ozarks, in the middle of Missouri, in the middle of the country to announce and launch the nationwide BUI = DUI boating campaign. Boating under the influence = Driving under the influence.
Starting at Lake of the Ozarks in the middle of the country, Alex will spread her message in all directions.
The message is simple. Do not operate a boat impaired. Alex does not want anyone in your family to operate a boat while impaired and run over a person causing another family to endure what her family had to endure.
People impaired by alcohol or drugs can cause death and lifelong severe injuries to others.
We asked Ms. Otte, “If you could sit down one-on-one with a person who would NOT drink before driving their car but might also believe that having a couple of drinks before driving a boat is OK – what would you say to them?”
Alex said, “Everyone needs to understand that drinking is irresponsible if you are driving anything, and bad choices can be hazardous to others and themselves. It is not OK to drink and operate a boat, just like it is not OK to drink and drive a car.”
Things happen fast on the water. While Boating is fun, it can be dangerous to you, your family, and others if you operate under the influence.”
The Great Spirit of fishing starts young, if you're a lucky little girl.
When do women outfish men? Chilly air and morning fog make little difference.
Is it luck when you catch a limit…and you are the only woman around?
When we talk to ourselves when fishing, are we talking to the fish too? A higher power?
Annie shares her experiences and connections on the water…and more.
By Larry Whiteley
It’s early morning on the river in Trout Park. The sun is beginning to peek through the forested hills. Annie is at the river’s edge, waiting with rod in hand. She is visiting with the men on both sides of her. It’s a cool morning. Annie is the only woman to brave the chill. The fishermen and one fisherwoman talk about the early spring weather and how they are glad that winter is over.
The rising sun reveals a beautiful fog rising from the water. The siren sounds to signal the anglers they can now start fishing. Annie’s lure is the first one to hit the water. In minutes, she is smiling and bringing a trout to her net. She puts it on a stringer and makes another cast. A few turns of the reel handle, and another trout takes her lure. This one is bigger and pulling line from her reel. It leaps from the water, and Annie shrieks with joy. After a few more jumps, she scoops it up with her net. She admires its beauty, puts it on the stringer and makes another cast. An hour later, she has her daily limit.
Several other fishermen who hadn’t been quite as successful came over to congratulate her. One of them asked what kind of lure she was using. She looked at him, smiled and said, “Honey, it’s not the lure that’s catching the fish. It’s this 75-year-old woman using it.” She laughed too, wished them luck and headed for her car. After she put her fish in the cooler, she looked up to the sky and thanked God for this particular time in the outdoors that He created. She also thanked Him for watching over her all these years.
Looking back at the river, she saw an eagle perched in a tree across from where she had been fishing. She remembered her favorite bible verse – “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.” She looked back at the eagle, smiled again and said to herself, “God sent an eagle to watch over me today!”
When she got home, she couldn’t get the eagle out of her mind, so she sat down to read about eagles. One of the things it said was that Native American Indians believe an eagle delivers their prayers to the Great Spirit. They hold an eagle feather aloft as a custom while saying a prayer. To them, the eagle meant strength, wisdom and courage. Annie has needed all those things throughout her life. A tear flowed down her cheek.
Annie was raised in the church and grew up loving the great outdoors. In San Mateo, California, she was born, where her dad worked for United Airlines. He was also an avid hunter and fisherman. Her mom liked to fish too and taught Annie that if you catch them, you clean them.
She loved it when they would travel north to see her grandparents in Ahwahnee, California. Her granddad was a friend of the famous photographer Ansel Adams, who rose to prominence as a photographer of the American West, notably Yosemite National Park, using his iconic black-and-white images to promote the conservation of wilderness areas.
Her granddad won awards for his photography. She remembers him having a darkroom in their house where he developed the pictures he took while out enjoying nature. Yosemite National Park was just 5 miles from Ahwahnee. The waterfalls, towering granite monoliths, deep valleys and ancient giant sequoias were a big part of her young life. Annie gives credit to her parents and grandparents for her love of the outdoors.
Annie was 9-years old when her dad was transferred by United Airlines to Kansas City, Missouri. Later they bought a home at Lake Waukomis, a town with a great fishing lake. That continued to fuel her love for fishing. One night she set some baited lines off a dock for catfish. She got up early the following day and found she had caught three nice catfish. She knew how to scale and clean other fish but had no idea how to clean a slimy ole’ catfish. So she took them into the bedroom where her dad was still asleep to ask him to help. “He sure wasn’t pleased about it,” said Annie.
They would travel down to Lebanon, Missouri, to visit her Grandma Effie on her mom’s side in the summers. Like most of her family, Grandma Effie was an outdoorsy person too. She took care of a 4-acre garden and still fished. During the depression, she did it to survive, but now she did it for fun and food.
Her Uncle Dale lived next to her grandma. He loved fly fishing and would take Annie along with him. After he caught a fish, he would hand Annie the rod and let her reel it in. “I never got into fly fishing like Uncle Dale,” says Annie. “I just thought, why would I want to cast five times to a fish when I could cast one time and catch it with a regular fishing rod and reel?”
When Annie graduated high school, her dad took her on a Canadian fishing trip with six other men. For seven days they caught and ate walleye. A few years later, her dad was transferred back to California with United Airlines. Her mom got sick, and her dad couldn’t take off work, so it was up to 18-year-old Annie to find them a place to live in San Mateo. She did.
Not long after that, Annie got married. She and her husband Bob lived in the state of Washington, and she traveled with him to Australia and other places. He passed away, but Annie won’t talk about that. After all those years, it still hurts too much. Annie says, “I was blessed with a strong father and a strong husband who said I could do anything, and through God, I can.”
Annie eventually re-married to another man named Bob, who loved to fish as much as she did. They lived in Warsaw, Missouri, in a lakefront home on Lake of the Ozarks for 28 years. He had his own bass boat, and he got Annie an aluminum fishing boat with a bright yellow life jacket just for her. The yellow life jacket was so if he or neighbors came out looking for her (when she stayed out fishing too long), they could find her a lot easier. She still remembers the elk hunt he took her on and the beautiful Colorado Mountains.
She went fishing without him one day and caught a 13-pound hybrid bass. When she got it on the boat, she started crying. He asked her why she was crying. Through sniffles and tears, she said, “I always had this idea that if I ever caught a bass bigger than 5 or 6 pounds, God would take me home to heaven, so I am sitting here waiting to go.” Her husband said, “I guess God’s not done with you yet because you’re still here.”
After her second husband passed away, she never re-married. She moved to Blytheville, Arkansas and worked at a co-generation plant. When her dad passed away, she moved back to Springfield, Missouri, to take care of her mom. “With God, we can do anything,” says Annie. “He put us here to help one another.”
On May 11, 2011, nearby Joplin, Missouri, was hit by an F5 tornado. The town was devastated. Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris started a fundraiser to benefit the disaster victims. They held an auction, and one of the items was a fishing trip with fishing legend Jimmy Houston on a private lake at his ranch in Oklahoma. Her bid won the trip for two. She invited the husband of a friend, who was always helping her, to go along. He was as excited as Annie. They caught well over 100 bass. “Jimmy and his wife Chris are wonderful people and could not have been more hospitable,” says Annie. “It was a sweltering day, and I got a little overheated. Chris went in and got her mamma’s fishing hat and put it on my head to shade me and cool me down. Jimmy and I still text back and forth all the time.”
Like Chris Houston, Annie has a special feeling for our Native Americans. She says her Grandma Effie always said they had Cherokee blood in them, but they have never been able to find absolute proof of that. That belief has been a big part of family stories for many years. A portion of the Cherokee Trail of Tears runs through her cousin’s property near Lebanon, Missouri. She has walked in the footsteps of the Cherokee on parts of the trail. She, like me, believes that this was their land, and we stole it from them. They were not the savages; the white man was. They were trying to protect their land and families.
Annie loves her fishing and says she will go anytime, anywhere. But, NASCAR racing comes in a close second. She got the racing bug watching dirt track races near her lake home in Missouri. She was at the race track when Dale Earnhardt died in a crash. She was always a fan of Rusty Wallace because he is a Missouri boy. She has met Tony Stewart several times and also met Richard Petty. I am not sure that I have ever seen her not wearing the Martin Truex Jr. jacket he autographed for her.
She also has agape or unconditional love for her two dogs that rule her life. Sammy is a Shitzu Poodle that adopted Annie in a Walmart parking lot. Callie is a 6-year-old Bushon that was someone’s throwaway dog. Her compassion, though, is not just for her dogs. She also once took a lady into her home that was a throwaway and needed Annie. We will never know how many other people Annie has helped.
Not one to sit around unless it is by a peaceful river, Annie is not accepting growing old. In less than a year, she has walked over 3,006,000 steps enjoying nature. Like she tells people, “You have to stay active mind and body. If not, you rot. You got to enjoy what God gives you. The fresh air in the outdoors has helped keep me well.”
At one time, Annie said she had completed her bucket list with all the places she had been and things she had done. She changed her mind and decided she still wanted to go fishing in Alaska and travel to Florida to walk on a beach looking for seashells.
A few weeks ago, Annie told a few friends sitting at a table in her church that she was leaving to go to Florida the next day. She needed a few days by herself. She was going to check another thing on her bucket list and walk a certain beach on her birthday looking for seashells. One of the men at the table stood up and walked over to Annie. He told her that was the same beach his wife loved to visit. He also said to her that was where he, their kids, and grandkids had gone to leave some of her ashes. He told Annie to say hi to her while she was there. As she stood there crying, Annie told him she would. She also told him she would bring him back a sea shell from that beach.
Over the trip, one of her friends texted her several times to check on her. She had gotten there safely and enjoyed herself but was not finding any seashells. With only a half-day left before heading home, she ate lunch at a seafood restaurant. A woman came up to her, and they started talking. In their conversation, Annie told her she couldn’t find any seashells and the story of why she wanted to find one to take back home for her friend. The woman smiled and told her to go to a certain place on the beach, and she would see what she was looking for.
Annie finished her lunch and headed to where the lady had told her. She walked and walked. A little ocean kelp weed had washed up on the beach, but that was it. She still couldn’t find any seashells. She was about to give up and get ready to head back home when something caught her eye in the kelp. It was a kelp seed pod shaped like a heart. Annie picked it up and stood there crying, looking up to heaven. She talked to the man’s wife. Annie told her what a good man he was and that he and her family missed her. Then she said that she was taking this special heart-shaped seed pod back to him from her. Annie had found what she was looking for where the woman in the restaurant told her she would.
As Annie started to walk away, she looked down and saw something else in the kelp. She thought it was some kid’s ball they had lost, but it was another seed pod. To Annie, it was a sign that God wanted her to keep on rollin’ and had a lot more living to do. She got into her car and headed home.
The Sunday after getting back, she got to church and went directly to her table of friends. The man stood to welcome her. Annie tried to tell him her amazing story without crying but couldn’t. Tears flowed down her cheeks, and tears came to the man’s eyes when she told him what had happened. Then she put the heart-shaped seed pod in his hand, and he hugged her.
Those blessed to know Annie and call her a friend will tell you that Annie has a heart as big as the outdoors she loves. As the Cherokee people would say, “ageyn gvdodi equa adanvdo“ which means, “Annie is a “woman with a big heart.”
A lifelong resident of Missouri and a Small Business owner.
Public school teacher where she was Co-Director of the At-Risk Teens program, Launched the Missouri Drug-Free initiative.
Lifelong farmer elected to the United States Congress in 2011 and Reelected to Congress in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2021.
Hartzler is a candidate for the Republican nomination to the US. Senate.
By David Gray
If you love to hunt, target shoot, and value the rights provided by the Second Amendment, that is – to keep and bear arms, please read more about Vicky Hartzler, the Republican party candidate for U.S. Senate, in this interview. Learn about her answers about the right to keep and bear arms. Many in the State of Missouri say that if Vicky Hartzler could join Missouri Senator Josh Hawley in the US. Senate, it would be a Missouri Dream Team for defending Second Amendment rights.
Interview with Vicky Hartzler (courtesy of ShareTheOutdoors.com)
Question:You have been called an authentic conservative. What is an authentic conservative?
Vicky Hartzler Answer: “A person that has conservative values in their heart and always acts accordingly.”
Question:Why do you want to be a Senator from the state of Missouri?
Vicky Hartzler Answer: “To serve the people of the state and fight to stop socialism so that people can pursue their dreams. Right now, that is being interfered with.”
Question: What is America’s Greatness?
Vicky Hartzler Answer: “Our values of faith, family and freedom.”
Question: You have been a Congressional Representative from the 4th District in Missouri. Is a Senator a “representative” or a “free thinker” elected to do whatever they want? What is your position on that?
Vicky Hartzler Answer: “A Senator is still a public servant. The only thing that will change for me as a Senator is that I will represent the entire state.“
Question:Our Second Amendment says, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not beinfringed.” Is there any infringement of the second amendment you would consider supporting?
Vicky Hartzler Answer: “NO. In fact, we see in other countries that when their (citizen) gun rights are infringed, their other rights soon get infringed.”
Question:When I say the word America what is in your heart and immediately comes to mind?
Vicky Hartzler Answer: “Pride, gratefulness, the experience of freedom, and to make the most of our opportunities.”
Question:When I say the word Missouri what comes to mind?
Vicky Hartzler Answer: “Love of Missouri, farms, small towns, industries and cities on each end that are good places.”
Question.What is your favorite Outdoor Activity?
Vicky Hartzler Answer: It used to be grabbing the fishing rod and going to the pond. Now it’s a walk in the woods on our farm. It’s so peaceful and pleasant activity.
Question: The Missouri Department of Conservation is the envy of all other states as the model for excellence in conservation management. The Missouri Conservation Department is overseen by a citizen’s commission. Almost every year a small group of state legislators introduces a bill to strip away the citizen’s control of the Conservation Department and place it the control of state government. Of course, this is a state issue and not one that would come before the United States Senate, but as an individual Missourian, what are your thoughts on that?
Vicky Hartzler Answer: Missouri does have the best conservation model that works in the best interests of all the citizens. It is the conservation model that is the envy of many other states and should not be changed.
After the SharetheOutdoors.com interview, the following endorsement for Vicky Hartzell from Missouri Senator Josh Hawley was announced.
Endorsement from Josh Hawley Senator Missouri.
“For almost a year I’ve been asked who I intend to vote for in the [Missouri Senate] Primary this August. Well, I’ve made up my mind. I’ll be supporting Vicky Hartzell. Vicky has the integrity, the heart, and the toughness to represent Missouri. I can’t wait to work with her.”
Vicky Hartzler Career Information
A lifelong resident of Missouri.
Small business owner
Public school teacher where she was Co-Director of the At-Risk Teens program
Launched the Missouri Drug-Free initiative
Elected to the United States Congress in 2011
Reelected to Congress in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2021.
Education, Biology, Legislation, Recruitment included in the new plan.
Karlin Dawson named as Deer Outreach Specialist to Work with Missouri Conservation (MDC)
Special focus on Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and Field-to-Fork Programs
During July 2020, the National Deer Alliance and the Quality Deer Management Association joined forces to merge their two groups, combine the strengths, resources and core initiatives to better serve deer and hunters more effectively when the need is greatest. Then in November 2020, they announced their new group name: the National Deer Association. They are a non-profit group and beyond a name and a logo, they also assembled a unified team, created a new strategic plan, and announced a Board of Directors.
The National Deer ASSOCIATION is planning to focus on four critical areas: (1) education and outreach, (2) recruitment, retention and reactivation, (3) policy and advocacy, (4) deer diseases. Teaching the non-hunting public about the keystone position of deer in all wildlife conservation (success or failure) will be among new goals. Similarly, the new group will empower hunters to be more informed, and hence, more successful and engaged stewards of deer and wildlife, including mentoring young hunters. Deer diseases, including the invariably fatal chronic wasting disease (CWD), present a severe threat to all deer species’ future and related wildlife conservation/health. Wildlife policy and legislation are part of that new goal, at the same time bringing hunters, the non-hunting public, and wildlife managers together with a common education and realization theme. The new group includes memberships across all 50 states and Canada.
The National Deer Association (NDA) is pleased to announce that Karlin Dawson has joined the organization as a Deer Outreach Specialist in northern Missouri. A Missouri native and lifelong deer hunter, Karlin comes to NDA from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), where she served as the naturalist for the Runge Conservation Nature Center.
“I am honored and excited to be joining such a wonderful organization,” said Karlin. “I cannot wait to continue my work in conservation and supporting our natural resources.”
As a Deer Outreach Specialist, Karlin will assist MDC staff with the facilitation of the state’s Deer Management Assistance Program (DMA). Among mission objectives will be to provide guidance to landowners and deer hunters conducting deer population surveys and other data collection efforts, host local habitat management training, work with private landowners to establish and support Wildlife Management Cooperatives, coordinate and assist with chronic wasting disease (CWD) sampling training, and organize hunter recruitment and mentoring initiative – like NDA’s Field to Fork program, in northern Missouri. She will also serve Missourians by helping promote numerous private land assistance programs alongside MDC staff.
Karlin’s duties will include helping increase NDA awareness by recruiting new members and publicizing NDA’s national programs and conservation partner programs.
“I am excited to have Karlin join the NDA staff,” said Matt Ross, NDA’s Director of Conservation. “Her past experience working as a public educator and naturalist for the state of Missouri, her enthusiasm for wildlife and the sustenance it provides, and her general knowledge and passion for the outdoors make her a perfect fit for this position.”
Karlin received her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Westminster College, where her study emphasis was in conservation, ecology and field research. In addition to her recent position as a naturalist with MDC, Karlin worked as an assistant manager and whitetail guide at Safari Unlimited LLC, a Missouri-based commercial outfitting business specializing in worldwide hunting and fishing adventure travel and offers a free-range deer and turkey hunting service in the Show-Me state. She is a certified Hunter Education instructor, a certified CWD sampling technician and has substantial experience in virtual and interpretive conservation programming, including a unique content series about wild edibles, game recipes, and cooking.
Landowners and deer hunters in northern Missouri who want to learn more about DMAP, deer management, or with interest in establishing a Wildlife Cooperative can contact Karlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special Thanks to Brian Grossman and the NDA for details regarding Karlin Dawson.
From time to time in life, you meet people with hearts as big as the outdoors they love. It is hard for those who know these two unforgettable people, Bob and Barb Kipfer, to think of one without thinking of the other. They are husband and wife, but they are more than that. They are friends, they are a team, they are life partners in a life well-lived.
The first chapter in their book of life begins at Kansas University Medical Center. Bob was a medical student in his first year of patient care in the hospital wards. Barb had just arrived as a newly graduated nurse on her first job. During his daily classwork around the hospital, Bob took particular notice of Barb. One-day, Bob saw her going into a room where nurses went to dump bedpans. He followed her in, closed the door, and asked her out on a date. He thought he might get dumped-on too, but she said yes. They were married on September 4, 1965, and another chapter in their life had begun.
Two years later, Bob received his draft notice, then served with the infantry in Viet Nam as a battalion field surgeon. That meant he traveled into battle with the troops and worked in field hospitals in the battle zone. Barb continued nursing back in Kansas and caring for their newborn son, Mark, hoping Bob would make it back home. I am sure there were times when Bob wondered the same thing. Like most Viet Nam veterans, he doesn’t talk much about that time in his life. Needless to say, he did make it home to his family after his tour of duty ended. They settled down to somewhat normal life during four years of his residency at the Mayo clinic. Their family also grew with the birth of their daughter, Amy. Life was busy, life was good.
In 1973 Bob and Barb and the kids moved to Springfield, MO to start a new chapter in their lives. Bob practiced Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine at a local hospital. Barb began to teach at a school of nursing. They bought a home and moved into an urban neighborhood where they still live today. Their lives were busy, but they managed to find time to go fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and sailing on weekends. They played tennis. They traveled. They made lots of friends at work, in their neighborhood, and through social activities. One of those friends owned land with a cabin in the Ozark hills of southern Missouri, where Bob and Barb visited often, and they soon started looking for land of their own. That search led them to land with a clear-flowing creek running through a beautiful valley with forested hills and lots of wildlife. They fell in love with this special place, and another chapter was to be written.
Bob and Barb continued to work at their medical jobs during the week and stayed at their home in town. Unless they were traveling to places all over the world, visiting their kids and grandkids in other states, or going to social events, they were at their valley cabin on weekends.
Ten years after buying the property, Bob decided it was time for another chapter to be written. He had been working in medical administration, in addition to his medical practice, but having more fun on their property, he retired. He gave up tennis for a chainsaw and a tractor down in the valley. Barb waited two more years before retiring just to make sure Bob was house broke.
Retirement started another chapter to their story. During their time spent in the valley, they started working with the Missouri Department of Conservation to clear trees to bring back glades that were once there. They also worked with the department to plant trees for bank stabilization to protect the stream and their land. They even planted over 2,000 tree seedlings themselves for the same purpose. This all sparked their interest in conservation and fed their desire to conserve and protect this special place.
Their transformation from medical professionals to dedicated conservationists and conservation educators is an amazing chapter in their book of life. It’s about how their love for conservation grew and changed not just their lives but changed and touched the lives of so many others—more than they will ever know.
They became involved with the Springfield Plateau of Missouri Master Naturalists. Bob writes an informative blog for the group, Barb represents them on the Grow Native board. She leads educational tours of their urban yard in Springfield, where she has planted over 100 native plant species. She even made a video tour of what has been accomplished so far to be used for virtual education. Barb spends a lot of her time in the valley trying to rid their land of any kinds of invasive species or plants not native to the area. They have restored warm-season native grass fields and work at endangered species protection. They collect native butterflies, raise moths, volunteer at special events at the Butterfly House, and host mothing events at their property. A somewhat unique event.
They implemented a forest stewardship plan for their property, and it is now a certified Tree Farm. They were named State Tree Farmers of the Year in 2015 for all their work with timber stand improvements and even hosted a Missouri Tree Farm Conference.
Their land in the valley has grown to 400 acres and includes another cabin with their land additions. The valley and the house are used by college students for stream ecology studies. The Audubon Society has access to bird counts and education. They have hosted Missouri Department of Conservation tours, a black bear study, Boy Scout activities, wildlife studies of plant and animal species, wild mushrooms studies, and field trips for groups studying plant and wildlife identification. Their land is open to other conservation-minded groups for retreats and ecology field trips, woodland management, and stream education.
They were named the 2017 Conservationists of the Year by the Conservation Federation of Missouri. I would bet if you asked them what they have enjoyed doing most of all the things they have done, it would be their work with the public schools’ WOLF program. They teach fifth-graders in weekly classroom sessions and host kids in their valley for educational classes several times a year. Bob and Barb have profoundly impacted conservation in the lives of all the kids and people they have taught. The kids love them and will never forget Bob and Barb. This world could use more people like the Kipfer’s. Their impact on conservation has been immense.
One of these days, I hope in the far distant future, Bob and Barb will no longer be able to manage their land. When that time comes, they have donated it to Missouri State University under a protected agreement to sustain the valley’s natural ecology and use it to educate students who will be our future conservationists and conservation educators.
When Bob and Barb are gone, their ashes will be added to the old cemetery in the valley they loved. Their passion for conservation will continue through these students, the Wolf School kids, and all the other lives impacted by these two people. It will not be the final chapter of their book of life, though. Their story will go on through all the lives they have touched. Those people will pass on their passion for conservation. The Bob and Barb story will continue.
When thunder rumbled, turkeys gobbled at the sound. I smiled.
At nighttime, there is nothing more relaxing than the sound of rain making music on my canvass tent
When thunder rumbled, turkeys gobbled at the sound. I smiled.
I looked to the west and saw what I was looking for. A rainbow.
By Larry Whiteley
It’s 5 am on an April morning. I sit at my desk writing a blog article about going camping. My wife is still sleeping. The television is on so I can check the weather for the day. The weather forecast was a lot better than the news. It was about nothing but coronavirus. Sunny days, cool nights with a slight chance of rain. I turn the television off and go back to writing.
My days are spent following stay-at-home rules. There are always things to get done outside in the yard, garden or workshop. I had practiced social distancing and gone fishing a few times.
In a moment of absolute brilliance, I thought why not go do what I have been writing about. I rushed in and told my wife we should escape the pandemic for a couple of days and go camping.
She said she would rather stay around home, but I should go enjoy myself. I stood there for a few seconds with thoughts rushing through my head of being alone for a few days in the outdoors. Alone in the wild.
I feigned disappointment and told her I would miss her. I packed all my clothes, camping gear, and food in the truck. I also grabbed a couple of locater turkey calls.
As I drove down the driveway, I knew exactly where I was going. I would escape to a place that I was very familiar with. I had spent many years hunting deer and turkey there. I would go to an open area on top of a hill I had often thought would make a great place to camp. From there I could see for miles looking over forested hills and valleys, but also with big open skies to enjoy. The creek in the valley below would be a bonus.
The stress and pressure from what was going on in the world with the coronavirus was gone as I drove up the hill. I pulled in by three trees that offered a great view. I just sat there for a moment. It was a totally different feeling than what I had been used to lately.
I pitched my tent and unloaded the truck. I got into my cooler for something to eat and drink then sat down in my camp chair to look around and take it all in. This is what I had come for.
The sun was warm. Sitting in the shade and with a little breeze, it was comfortable. I listened to bird songs. Crows were talking to each other. Buzzards circled in the bright blue sky. I looked up and said thank you to God for blessing me with this special moment in time. I also thanked him for my family and not giving up on me.
My afternoon was spent fishing the creek in the valley. The water was cold as I waded and fished but felt good. I lost count of how many fish I caught. Nothing big, but all fun. I tried skipping rocks and then just sat on the gravel bar looking for arrowheads and holey rocks. The sound of the flowing water was soothing. I took a nap.
When I woke up the day was starting to fade so I drove back up the hill. The night skies were spectacular with thousands of twinkling stars. Coyotes howled and owls hooted. I did some hooting myself listening for turkey sounds from their roost. There were none. I stirred the campfire. The night cooled and my sleeping bag felt good.
I got up before the light came, stoked the fire and put on a pot of coffee. As the day started arriving, I was already out with my locater calls and binoculars scouting for turkeys. It wasn’t long before I found where they were. I knew where I would be hunting when the season started. I went back to camp.
The smell of bacon sizzling in the skillet drifted through the morning air. A deer let me know they smelled it too. My second cup of coffee was as good as the first. Birds were singing again and turkey gobbles echoed through the hills. Squirrels fussed at me because I was in their home.
The day found me secretly watching deer and turkey go about their day. I saw an eagle, a fox, and a bobcat. Black bear roams these woods too. I didn’t see one. I hiked around. I found wildflowers and morel mushrooms pushing their way through decaying leaves. I checked deer stands and pruned limbs and cleaned brush from around them. I even found a couple of shed antlers. I was enjoying my time alone in the wild.
Before I knew it, the night was upon me again and the moon was big and bright. I sat around the campfire listening to night sounds and using my headlight to read “Friendship Fires” by Sam Cook. He doesn’t know it, but his style of writing greatly influenced me. Friends Dave Barus, David Gray, and Bobby Whitehead gave me the confidence I needed. They all shaped me into the writer I now am. I am using the gift that God gave me.
My eyes are heavy from all my activities of the day, the dancing flames, a crackling fire, and reading. I could hear thunder and see lightning in the distant hills. Tree frogs croaked and crickets chirped. Peaceful sleep came quickly.
Sometime during the night I awoke to rain making music on my canvass tent. There is nothing more relaxing than that sound. I easily drifted back off to sleep.
When my eyes opened again the sun was starting to shine through the trees. A light rain was still falling. When thunder rumbled, turkeys gobbled at the sound. I smiled. The sun glistened off the raindrops still clinging to the leaves and grass. I looked to the west and saw what I was looking for. A rainbow.
I sat there for a long time enjoying the beauty of the rainbow. Hundreds of purplish redbuds and white dogwood trees were all bloomed out painting the landscape. As much as I hated to leave, I missed my wife. It was time to go home to a different world. My time here will be re-lived in my daydreams and night dreams. It had been a wonderful escape from the pandemic. Alone in the wild.
Author note: All photos are courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation
A special gift – protection and peace for grandpa’s mind – for a very special young lady
The Kimber Micro 9 measures a little over 6 inches in length and 4 inches in height
Aluminum frame, steel slide – it weighs a little less that a pound with an empty magazine
By Larry Whiteley
My granddaughter Anna is a petite, beautiful young lady that was a cheerleader and a gymnast when she was younger. She has a smile that touches your heart and a heart as big as all outdoors.
We used to tell her that when she started bringing boys over, that her dad, brother and I would be there to meet them with conceal carry pistols in full view. We also told her we were going to make sure we showed these young men all the pictures of her with the deer and turkey she had shot, as well as her shooting her bow, her turkey mount on the wall. If fear didn’t come to their eyes and they didn’t run out the door, then we might approve of them.
Now that she is a sophomore in college, her dad and I felt like it was time to get her a conceal carry pistol. Dad felt she was ready and we had no doubts she could handle it. A few years ago we got her brother a “Made in the USA” Kimber® Super Carry Ultra+™ .45 ACP. He loves his Kimber and what young man wouldn’t. When his sister saw it, she told us right then she wanted a Kimber too, someday. Her dad told her we would when the time was right. Until then, she had to carry the “Kimber Pepper Blaster II” we had bought for her in her purse.
Two years later, we told her to pick out the handgun she wanted. She looked at a couple of Kimber models, but when she saw the Micro 9™ Amethyst, in a 9mm, it was love at first sight. Especially since it was in the colors of the college she attends, so important to a fashion conscious young lady, you know!
She is “Daddy’s Girl” and he immediately started doing his own research on the Micro 9. He then reported back to me that he agreed with her choice. Since the good Lord has blessed my wife and I, we really enjoy getting things for our kids and grandkids that they wouldn’t be able to have otherwise. We don’t consider it spoiling them, but do consider it an investment in their lives. It is something we would not do if they weren’t the good people they are. We both agree it’s a lot better than having to bail them out of jail or pay for drug rehabilitation. Besides, it’s something they will be able to pass down to their kids.
That all being said, we bought the Kimber Micro 9 for her. MSRP was $1,061 but she is worth it and we wanted her protected. I took it to her dad, who is a shooter and re-loader, for him to check it out. Unlike the Super Ultra+ that Hunter has, my grandson, he couldn’t really take it to the range and test it because there was less grip area for his big hands to handle it properly. He said, “It is really a nice-looking gun and I like the size and balance for her, but I am more concerned with how it shoots. We’ll find out when we take her to the range and also check out how easy it is for her to carry.”
The Micro 9 measures a little over 6 inches in length and 4 inches in height. It is constructed with an aluminum frame and a steel slide, so it weighs in at a little less that a pound with an empty magazine. That should make it easy to carry for her but my worry, like her dad’s, was how was it going to do at the range. Generally, a gun that’s easy to carry is harder to shoot well because of excessive recoil and less grip to hold on to.
I think she knew she was going to get it but she just didn’t know when. Grandma and I went over to their house on Christmas day and brought a present we said we had forgot to give her when they were over for Christmas Eve. When she unwrapped it, her smile and the twinkling in her eyes made it all worthwhile. The hugs helped a lot too! I think we all agreed that the Micro 9 was a special gift for a very special young lady.
A few days later her and Dad went to the shooting range and made a memory. Here are my some of her comments after handling, concealing, and carrying her new pistol, plus taking it to the range:
“Overall I enjoyed shooting it and the accuracy was really good.”
“The front and rear sight made it easy to get on the target.”
“I felt very little recoil, so my hand wasn’t sore at all after a lot of rounds.”
“The side of the slide has a textured treatment that is very easy to grip.”
“I am anxious to try the night sights.”
“If I give papaw a hug he might get me the Crimson Trace grips for it.”
We still haven’t talked her mom and grandma into getting a Kimber, but they still carry their Kimber Pepper Blaster II spray. Thank goodness they haven’t had to ever use it, but it’s always there if they need to. It will shoot up to 13 feet and disable an attacker for up to 45 minutes. You can learn more about it by clicking on https://youtube/1b2ZRbZfWUQ.
While his kids are away in school, Dad finds time to go to his reloading area to reload 9mm and .45 ACP ammunition. As he does, he smiles and a tear comes to the corner of his eye as he thinks about Anna and Hunter, and how blessed he and his wife LaVay are. He looks forward to when his kids come home again from school and they go back to the shooting range.
Camping, RVs and Outdoor Recreation in Branson, Missouri
Fishing, Hiking, Swimming, Boating
Peace, Quiet, the Smell of a Campfire & Sweet, Scrumptious S’Mores
By Larry Whiteley
Enjoy the great outdoors on a camping trip to Branson in 2020. From campsites to hiking trails, find out everything you need to know to plan an unforgettable family excursion. Fresh air, a cozy campfire, the sweet taste of s’mores — there’s no better way to enjoy a weekend getaway than camping in Branson. Add to those attributes, the beautiful natural surroundings of the Ozarks and you’ve got yourself one awesome outdoor adventure.
One of Branson’s most popular camping destinations is Table Rock Lake, which features two campgrounds – Viney Creek Recreation Area and Table Rock Lake Campground. Trails around Table Rock State Park provide a great environment to explore the outdoors. Trails of varying lengths are open to hiking and biking, while the popular Table Rock Lake is one of Missouri’s top fishing destinations. The marina also has plenty of options for boat and equipment rentals and nearly 800 miles of shoreline to enjoy.
Or, pack up and plan a getaway any time of the year in one of Branson’s family-oriented RV Parks and Campgrounds. Enjoy the convenience of Wi-Fi at most facilities, plus pack up the pets as most are pet-friendly too. Several are Good Sam award-winners and are often featured in Trailer Life magazine. Branson is the place to spend quality time together with the comforts of a full-service 20/30/50-amp RV site or to unplug and reconnect with your family near one of our beautiful lakes.
Of course, there’s more to camping than just pitching a tent and stoking the fire. A great camping trip includes exploring hiking trails, a little fishing and did we already mention s’mores?
The Branson/Lakes Area features more than 200 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. Also, the high-tech sport of geocaching is alive and well in the Ozarks, with dozens of caches hidden throughout the terrain.
Dogwood Canyon Nature Park provides the perfect setting for many activities including fishing, hiking, biking or taking a historical tram tour. Covering 10,000 acres of pristine Ozark Mountain landscape, the park has miles of crystal-clear trout streams, cascading waterfalls, ancient burial caves, unique hand-built bridges, and bottomless, blue-green pools.
The Branson Zipline Canopy Tours at Wolfe Creek Preserve offers authentic eco-adventures in the Ozark Mountains. The thrilling options include a variety of guided canopy tours with treks across numerous zip lines, sky bridges, and platforms.
The Shepherd of the Hills Vigilante ZipRider is an exciting thrill ride launching from the open-air deck of the 230-foot Inspiration Tower. This ride whisks guests on an adrenaline-pumping downhill adventure over The Shepherd of the Hills’ 160-acre homestead. Coasting along at speeds of up to 50 mph, it’s a ride that you’ll remember for years to come.
The Branson/Lakes Area has three pristine lakes – Table Rock, Taneycomo and Bull Shoals, with hundreds of miles of natural shoreline. The lakes’ waters never freeze, welcoming activities year-round. Water sports enthusiasts can swim, water ski, wakeboard, tube, boat, sail, scuba dive, Jet Ski, parasail, kayak, and fish.
Kayaking, hydro-biking and stand-up paddleboarding are amazing ways to get out on the water. Options can be found with Kayak Branson, White River Kayaking, 38 Paddle Co. and Main Street Marina on Lake Taneycomo.
Table Rock Lake is accessible from multiple public and privately-owned locations just minutes west of Branson. Many enjoy this lake through a variety of activity options including boat rentals, wave runner rentals, the Spirit of America catamaran cruise for up to 50 people, as well as lunch and dinner cruises aboard the Showboat Branson Belle.
Lake Taneycomo’s water comes from the bottom of Table Rock Lake, making it a cold-water lake. The pristine, clear water, is stocked annually with approximately 750,000 rainbow trout, making it a world-class trout fishery. This lake is also perfect for kayaking.
Whether you’re on a cross-country road trip or headed for the Ozarks, Branson and its surrounding area are the perfect place to park your tent or RV. Enjoy the waterfront beauty and water activities at Bull Shoals Lake and Table Rock Lake. Or stay in the quiet woodlands of nearby state parks. With 50-amp service and campfire rings, along with the proximity of so many great shows and attractions, it’s little wonder Branson is one of America’s favorite camping destinations.
Come for the outdoor experience and go back home with lots of great memories
I’ll never forget the day when my worlds collided in an instant.
Sept. 11, 2001.
One moment, I was reveling in the peace and solitude of the outdoors, with not a care in the world. The next moment, I was jolted into the reality that no American ever thought possible – our country was under attack.
That was the day terrorists hijacked American airliners and carried out suicide missions, flying them into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Thousands were killed that day, buildings laid in ruins, panic ensued…and a giant was awakened.
For me, that scene was unimaginable as I joined my neighbor, John Wilson, for a day of teal hunting at his lease in west-central Missouri. It was a brilliant morning, one of those days that made a hunter just happy to be alive.
Before the sun even made its arrival, lines of teal swept over the marsh in front of us, promising an exciting day of hunting.
I remember John’s black lab whimpering in anticipation and glancing at us as if to say, “Why aren’t you shooting?” He obviously didn’t know anything about shooting hours.
When the time finally arrived, many of those teal we had seen evaporated as they often do on these September mornings. It was almost as if the early birds had teased us, knowing that they were safe from our gunfire.
But as the darkness slowly gave way to daylight, there were still enough of the rapid blue-wings around to provide plenty of opportunities. It was one of those textbook days when everything went as planned.
John hit some difficult shots, his dog made some memorable retrieves, I got some good photos, and everything was right in the world.
After the teal stopped flying, we just sat in the duck boat for a few minutes, taking in the beauty of another duck season getting off to a great start.
But in an instant, that serenity was shattered. As we motored back to John’s boathouse, we saw John ‘s father-in-law nervously pacing on the levee, and we immediately know something was wrong.
Our minds raced. Had something happened to one of our family members? A car crash maybe? A fire?
When we drew close, John yelled out, “What’s wrong?”
And his father-in-law answered, “We’re under attack.”
Surely, we had heard wrong, we thought. Under attack? From what or who?
When we pulled the boat in, he proceeded to explain the terror everyone watched unfold on television that morning. He told of the jetliners flying into the New York buildings, of the devastation and the mass fatalities. And suddenly, the solitude of the outdoors and that waterfowl marsh disappeared.
At that moment, uncertainty filled the air. Were those attacks only the start? Were terrorists going to invade other major cities? Were our loved ones safe?
John and I scrambled to call home, and once we determined everyone was OK, we headed home, listening to radio reports as we went.
We passed convenience stores where long lines of vehicles waited at the gas pumps. And the closer we got to our Kansas City airport, we noticed that the sky was eerily silent – no planes coming or going.
Like everyone else, we were fearful of what this meant. And more than once, we talked about the contrast in our day’s activities.
We also talked about our patriotism and our grave concerns for our country. In the next few days, we would realize just how unifying that day would be for our country.
Luckily, our worst fears never materialized. But to this day, 9/11 will be remembered as a landmark moment for the USA.
When people ask the question, “Do you remember where you were on 9/11?” I think to myself, “I was a world away – in a waterfowl marsh.”
Boone and Bo…squirrel hunters that lived for the next day, every day
The autumn of their years – a special story to my grampa and his dog
Lessons for every generation to pass down
By Larry Whiteley
Bo was a beagle and beagles are usually rabbit dogs, but he was all squirrel dog and cared nothing about rabbits. He loved to chase and run those squirrels around the farm, ran them right up the tree. Creeks, barbed wire fences, briar thickets or even a brake-squealing car couldn’t keep him from his mission. Treeing squirrels was Bo’s job and he was good at it. He would do it all day long before finally coming back home to supper. When finished he’d curl up on the porch completely worn out from his days’ adventures.
Bo was my Grandpa Boone’s dog and both were as independent as they could be. Boone was in his 80s and I was 12. He enjoyed taking his grandson hunting and was teaching me to be a squirrel hunter too -when the time was right. Back then we were poor, so it was important not to waste a bullet. It would take a while to save enough to get more. Getting a couple of squirrels was our supper. With Bo’s help that was never a problem. I still remember how good those fried squirrels with grandma’s homemade biscuits and gravy were.
Grandpa Boone had worked hard on the farm all his life and his heart was beginning to wear out. He slowed down a bit, took his medicine, and kept hunting squirrels with Bo and me. Like Boone, Bo was in the autumn of his years. Bo’s gray muzzle reminded me of Boone’s gray beard.
For Bo, chasing and treeing was the game. It was fun to watch him go after a squirrel. When it would run up a tree he would climb partway up it in his excitement to get at it. As soon as he gave up climbing he would sit at the base of the tree barking until Boone got there and shot the squirrel. A dead squirrel was not important to him anymore. He would trail up to a freshly killed squirrel and then take off after another one.
Our last day was perfect squirrel hunting weather. A crisp, clear morning had dawned when we reached the back forty of Boone’s farm. The early sun sparkled on the frosted grass as we left the old truck. The trees were bare of leaves now. Bo saw the movement of a squirrel and he went to work. Boone took a position by an oak tree and watched. He smiled with pleasure as he listened to the sounds of Bo. He held his old .22 rifle, still in mint condition, in the crook of his arm.
Bo was out of sight, but his bark told us he was after his quarry. His voice muffled as he chased it across a gully and it ran up a tree, as we knew it would. Boone walked slowly to the tree and prepared for the shot. The squirrel came into view out on a limb high up in the tree. Boone sighted down the barrel, but it moved slightly as Boone fired. The squirrel fell to the ground and then ran into a thicket of wild blackberries. Boone muttered to himself.
Bo was after him, but like Boone, slower than before. His voice high and clear, he started after the squirrel at a walk. As we watched, Bo fell. Quickly scrambling to his feet, he yodeled as he entered the thicket. He gave voice for another fifty yards or so and then there was silence.
I looked at Boone. His face was gray, his breathing was heavy and his old face seemed more wrinkled. “Sit down Boone,” I said. “He found the squirrel. I’ll go get them.” But Boone just stood there and didn’t say anything.
I walked through the thicket toward the place where I’d last heard Bo. I found him stretched out, mouth open, eyes glazed. There was no life left in him. A couple of feet beyond his muzzle, the squirrel twitched and was still. I left them both and returned to Boone. He was leaning against a tree with his head bowed.
“I knew it when he fell,” Boone whispered. We walked back to the truck, thinking our own thoughts. Boone broke the silence. “I hope to go like Bo, doing something I really like to do.” “I’ll come back later with a shovel,” I said. “Thanks,” Boone replied, “I don’t think I could do it. One more thing though, would you bury the squirrel in front of him?” I nodded as a tear ran down my cheek.
We got back to the truck and Boone reached in and got out an oiled rag and carefully wiped his old rifle and cased it. He handed the gun to me and said, “I don’t think I’m going to hunt anymore. I want you to have it.” In just a few months, Boone was gone too.
I hunted for many years with Boone’s gun and took a lot of squirrels with it. But, it just wasn’t the same without Boone by my side and the sounds of Bo treeing a squirrel. Today, the rifle sits in the gun safe in my office. I am now in the autumn of my years.
My sons grew up hunting squirrels with that gun. I taught them as Boone taught me. My grandson Hunter got his first squirrel with it after his Dad had taught him. There was never another dog like Bo though.
When I am gone, Boone’s gun will be passed down to one of them.
They all know the story of Boone and Bo, more than just a story of the autumn of their years.
“Anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me.” — Fred Rogers By Larry Whiteley
In 2001, Roy Grimes was the Deputy Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources. He was assigned the task of creating what eventually became the National Archery in the Schools Program better known as NASP®.
Roy designed it as an in-school program to aim at improving educational performance among students in grades 4th – 12th. Through the sport of archery he wanted them to learn focus, self-control, discipline, patience, and the life lessons required to be successful in the classroom and in life.
Since the program officially started in 2002 it has seen over 10 million kids all over America discover a great activity that doesn’t discriminate based on popularity, athletic skill, gender, size, or academic ability. It is open to any student. The biggest supporters are professional educators because they feel it improves school attendance, increases their confidence, improves behavior and gives them increased physical activity. In 2007 the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) agreed to coordinate the Missouri Archery in the Schools Program (MoNASP®). In those eleven years more than half a million Missouri students have participated. There are now 690 schools that participate. Over 200,000 students are learning the lifetime sport of archery and all MoNASP teaches as part of their school curriculum.
The MoNASP State Tournament is now the second largest state archery tournament in the nation and continues to grow. The Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation (MCHF) once again partnered with MDC to host the tournament March 22 – 24 at the Branson Convention Center in Branson, MO. Proceeds from the event go to support MoNASP programs and conservation programs in Missouri.
This year there were over 3,300 students from 224 schools competing and many will be going on to compete at NASP national tournaments in Salt Lake City and Louisville with some continuing on to the world championships in July at Nashville.
There were also 94 students competing in the ASPIRE MoNASP Tournament which is for students who did not have a position at the state tournament due to space or they were students who weren’t able to shoot a state qualifying score this year.
Many of the over 15,000 spectators that came to watch the competition didn’t have a child or grandchild taking part in the tournament but they enjoyed watching and cheering on the kids. There were lots of other activities to enjoy over the 3 days of the event. Bass Pro Shops hosted an Indoor/Outdoor Days with catch and release fishing, archery activities, bounce houses, air guns and animals from the Johnny Morris Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium.
Russ and Diskey the Frisbee Stunt Dog Team were also there along with Mountain Man from Duck Dynasty. There were special shows by Dolly Parton’s Stampede and Presley’s Country Jubilee. The World’s Largest Sidewalk Sale was held at Tanger Outlet and The Landing. RVs, boats and ATVs and archery exhibitors were on display along with a Corvette Club Show. Adults enjoyed attending the Sip the Ozarks event and sampling Missouri wines, spirits and beer.
A big thank you goes to all the sponsors and those that volunteered their time to make this such a special event for these kids. All of the activities and students competing for their schools combined to make a great weekend for all who were there.
The MoNASP State Tournament was an opportunity for students to not just grow their target archery skills but also their character. It was an opportunity to be with family and friends as well as make new friends. At this moment in time they felt really special. As a friend of mine said, “It warms your heart and gives you hope for the future to see all the smiles on these kids’ faces.”
Thanks to Roy Grimes back in 2001 and all those involved today, thousands of kids’ lives have been changed forever because of the sport of archery.
For more information go to www.mochf.org and click on the MoNASP drop down.
Story-telling, memories, peaceful thinking – its magical
By Larry Whiteley
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Certain optional kayak gear is handy and necessary.
Customize your fishing kayak for comfort and function.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.