Three or four years ago, I was sitting on my screened porch a couple of days before the end of October when 30 or 40 wild turkeys fed out of the timber into back lawn, where acorns were plentiful. I had a fall turkey tag left so I slipped into my office and retrieved my shotgun.
I wasn’t going hunting, mind you. I was going out to shoot a young turkey to smoke for Sunday dinner. And I went out my front door, slipped around to the back, and did just that. The young jake wouldn’t be missed by the flock – there were a bunch of them.
The point is, I have always chosen to live out on a wooded ridge top that is full of wildlife. There are squirrels and rabbits and a few quail, but I never hunt them. There have been lots of turkeys in what I jokingly refer to as my “lawn” which is actually just a bunch of grass and flowers beneath the trees. Once I sat and watched seven long-bearded gobblers feed on acorns just a ways from that back porch.
There are plenty of deer on Lightnin’ Ridge, as I call this place where there is nothing but big timber, and a little pond I dug to provide water and a place to catch trotline bait in the summertime. I could kill deer from my porch about every year, but I never do. I always go out into some place where I can’t hear my Lab bark, sit in a tree-stand and just enjoy the heck out of myself, knowing my daughter will kill a deer before noon and I will help her get it ready for the freezer. I always pass up deer on opening day. I have just about gotten to a point where I don’t want to kill a deer any more, and I have no use for a trophy set of antlers. I want to eat venison through next summer, and that is about the only reason I pick up the old rifle.
If a hunter wants to eat good venison, he is happy with a two-year-old doe, or a young buck. If I kill an old buck, I am going to have to grind up most of it, mixing it with some pork which will indeed make good chili all winter long…and good summer sausage and jerky perhaps.
Last year I acquired 50 acres way back in the middle of nowhere with a small cabin looking down upon a good-sized creek. It is mostly something to leave to my daughters and grandsons some day, paid for by my wife’s father who had to live his whole life in a gosh-awful crowded city suburb, investing and saving and wishing he could live in the woods like we did.
There is no TV, no computer and no phone in that little cabin, and it is heated by a woodstove that you can open up so you can sit in front of the crackling flame. A big spring just outside the cabin provides the sweetest, purest water I have ever tasted. You have to drive in through a locked gate and through the woods to get to it, and when you are there you would swear the whole world is a million miles a way.
I do some writing there on the big porch that looks out across the creek. I use a pen and notebook like I did when I first started trying to become an outdoor writer. Deer live all around that cabin. There are buck rubs 20 yards from the door, and a big scrape about 60 yards away. An eight-point buck crossed the creek just the other day and walked past the porch, completely oblivious to me, only 10 yards away.
So last week I went there and put up a couple of tree stands back in the woods where anyone who wants to hunt deer would have to be a complete greenhorn to not kill a deer before noon. Now I am asking myself, since I do not intend to shoot a big buck, and since I only want a couple of young deer to eat, why am I going to get up before daylight, and go climb up in that tree stand and shoot one when I could do the same thing sitting on that porch and drinking coffee?
I don’t think I will. I think I will save the tree stand for the muzzle-loader season, and hope that it is snowing lightly when I hunt there. From that back porch, I often watch a redheaded woodpecker there along the creek and two chipmunks that scurry around only a few feet from me. Flights of woodducks come in and settle in the eddy below me on occasion, and raccoons and bobcats and foxes travel the creek in the very first light of day. By muzzleloader season, the woodies might be replaced by mallards and gadwalls.
In reading this, you have probably come to the same conclusion I have. I am getting old. But there is an advantage to growing older. Slower can be better. I talk to many veteran hunters who feel as I do. You stop wanting to sit in a tree and wait, for one thing. I like to get out and walk… slipping quietly along listening and watching. It is a blessing to be able to do so. Many people who reach the age of 60 can’t walk an hour, let alone all day.
Those of us who can, need to do a lot of it because those times you slip through the woods thanking God for good health and happiness on two good legs may be limited. Late in the deer season, during the week, you can slip quietly through the woods either alone, or sharing it with just a few grizzled old outdoorsmen who don’t have a job and don’t care if they miss the football game.
I don’t know how long I will be eating venison. I can tell you for sure that if I lived in those counties of north Missouri where chronic wasting disease is spreading, I wouldn’t eat any deer meat. We do not know that it isn’t here in the Ozarks already because the pen-raised deer operations are found in this region just as they are in north Missouri, and the disease originated in one or two of those ‘deer farms’ and spread into the wild deer herd.
It could be happening here too, unbeknownst to all of us. If you intend to eat a deer, DO NOT SHOOT IT IN THE HEAD OR NECK OR SPINE. As a precaution, do not cut the spinal cord of any deer you intend to eat. Leave it whole and discard it. The MDC thinks they are going to get hunters to bury the head and spine. Can’t you just see that happening? Everyone going out on some rocky hilltop with a shovel on a cold morning digging a two-foot deep hole in frozen ground to bury deer remains. I think Jefferson City might be on a different planet than country folks live on.
This Sunday on my radio program I will talk to a Joplin man who says his brother died from the mad deer disease we know as Chronic Wasting. He says his brother killed a buck that wasn’t acting right, and died the next year with protein prions in his spine and brain. That will air at 8:06 a.m. on KWTO 560 AM. I have no idea if he is correct about this, but you can listen and make up your own mind.
My website is larrydablemontoutdoors, and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613