Bearded hens and Redskins

Posted June 19, 2014 at 11:04 am


Boy did I ever see something unusual in the woods this week. There was this old gobbler that was all puffed up, strutting a little, and another mature tom beside him just standing there with his head up, watching a little clearing before him. In the clearing, there were two hen turkeys walking slowly toward the two gobblers, and both hens had slender beards about 7 or 8 inches long.

The gobblers had beards about 10 or 11 inches long. I was fairly close and could see that the one strutting a little had some long, sharp spurs. I would guess him to be three or four years old. All four ambled off into the woods away from me, but unaware I was watching. I figure you could imagine the two toms had been off playing pool in the pool hall while their wives were shopping somewhere.

Of course, it doesn’t happen that way in the wild. The older gobbler probably claims both of them for his harem and the younger one probably is a bachelor. This time of year, they should be solitary, and unable to get along at all. But in the fall, gobblers seem to come together and forget that they were competing for the right to mate with the hens.

In November or December you often see 10 or 11 gobblers roosting and traveling together. Seeing those hens ignore the strutting gobbler and ambling around in mid-morning makes me think neither of them nested. It is odd that often there are perhaps half the hens or more which never nest or lay any eggs whatsoever.

But the ones which do nest will sometimes hatch eggs as late as early August. Turkey experts will tell you that August hatches won’t survive the winter, but that is a bunch of hooey. Plenty of young turkeys hatched all summer long will not survive, but plenty of them will. If there isn’t a terrible blizzard in November, late hatching turkeys will survive the winter, too, but it definitely is more difficult for them the less they weigh. Much of their survival rate will depend on how many acorns there are in the fall. So much in these Ozark woods depends on the abundance of cedar thickets and the abundance of acorns in the winter and a lack of poaching.

When you get to be my age, you get more contented with what you have. In fact, I really have too much of a lot of things. I mentioned that there are way too many boats and motors here at my place, way too many fishing lures, tackle boxes and rods and reels. But it is hard for me to get rid of anything, remembering a time when I was young I had so little of anything. I told my kids not to get me anything for Father’s Day or my birthday or Christmas because I now have all I want of everything I need.

I was sitting on the back porch this past week thinking about things and being thankful for the big trees and birds and wildlife around me, trying to think of something I might want that I don’t have. And I came up with something. I would like to have a metal detector. I can envision myself hiking back to old cabin sites in the wilderness that only I know about and finding an Indian head penny or a buffalo nickel. I realize that those folks didn’t have a lot of money, so I am not counting on finding silver dollars. But I remember my dad and Uncle Norten talking about how folks who lived out in the country after the depression never trusting banks and burying money in coffee cans around their cabins. Uncle Norten told me that my grandfather did that, and he is sure that when he needed some money he couldn’t find all the cans. Of course we are talking about small amounts here so if I found some of those lost cans, it wouldn’t be enough to make a person much better off than he is, but it would be as much fun, I think, as squirrel hunting.

Up here on Lightnin’ Ridge, there was an old cabin which fell down in the 1950’s and I have found some treasures around the foundation that is left, a 1942 auto license plate and a beautiful cowbell, and some pieces of an old Model T Ford.

There is an ancient Civil War road coming along this ridge and pitching off down to a place where Federal troops out of Jefferson City crossed the river on their way to Wilson’s Creek and Prairie Grove battlefields. Deep ruts show a few places where cannons were hauled along my ridge. Along those ruts I found the end of a saber, about 15 inches long, nearly rusted away.

Wouldn’t it be something if I could find Civil War artifacts on my own place with a metal detector?

So I am going to tell my daughters to save their money and see if they can find a good quality metal detector somewhere to buy me for Christmas. There are likely many of you out there who are my age who think you have everything you want to make you happy, but if you stop to think about it, you probably don’t. Things like a good metal detector might make a big difference in your life. If I had one, I don’t think I would spend so much time on my back porch being thankful and watching birds. I would get right back into what is important in today’s world, finding treasure and making money.

I have always been a problem solver of sorts, and I think I have solved a major serious problem facing our nation. You may have heard that a football team in Washington D.C. is facing a great deal of anger from Indians who do not like the name “Redskins”. Personally, it doesn’t bother me, and I am a descendant from Canadian Cree Indians, so if I were going to be offended by something, it looks like that would be it.

But the other day I bought some potato salad at the store and printed on the container in bright bold letters was the name…”Redskin Potato Salad.” The idea came to me that if the Washington Redskins would just tell the offended parties that the name comes from a kind of potato, everyone would probably be able to live with it. They could take the Indian head off the helmet and replace it with a big potato head sporting war paint and a feather.

I am trying to find out how to get aholt of the owner of the Redskins in order to pass on my idea. I am thinking that something like that might be worth a reward… perhaps enough to buy a good used metal detector.

We continue to need good articles for my magazines, The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal and the Journal of the Ozarks. We have been receiving and using good stories from readers of this column. If you want to send something for our fall issues, we have to have it by the end of July. If you are an artist or photographer, our magazines are good places to get your work published.

If you haven’t seen either of them, call my office and my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, will tell you how to get them. Her number is 417/777-5227. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at My website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.

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BAND OF BROTHERS – Three old gobblers enjoy an early summer day. usually, this time of year they enjoy a solitary life… but not always.