An afternoon owl

Posted June 26, 2014 at 11:51 am


I have always been able to imitate a wide assortment of wild creatures, something I learned from my grandfather, who could just about duplicate the call of any bird or animal. I have called up a good number of wild turkeys by mouth. I never have really needed a turkey call. It is easy to call up bobwhite roosters from my porch in the summer time, pretty easy to get squirrels to bark at me by imitating the distress call of a young squirrel. Sometimes I can call in a buck deer in the fall by imitating a grunting buck, and at certain times of the winter, I can call in coyotes, foxes and occasionally a bobcat early and late in the day by imitating a dying rabbit.

Nothing is easier to imitate and call in than a barred owl or a screech owl, but it’s not so easy to attract a great horned owl. Last week I took my sister and brother-in-law and their grandson on a float trip, and about four in the afternoon a barred owl began to call from the woods away from the river. I answered him (or her) and in only minutes, the owl flew into a tree above us, hooting and laughing the way barred owls do. If you have spent much time in the woods at night, you know how two or three barred owls will get together and get all excited and begin that laughing sound they make.

Barred owls must be one of the dumber of our wild predators, as he sat there and looked down at me as the two of us had a hooting contest. Maybe he couldn’t see well in the daylight, but it is amazing that he couldn’t figure out the boat and its occupants had no resemblance to another owl. I took several photos as he sat there 20 feet above me, and you can see them on my website, given at the end of this column.

The river we floated is in sorry condition, so low that you have to pull over shoals I floated through easily 20 years ago. Only a few people know how bad things are getting on our rivers and how much worse they will get. I do not know when water will become a critical issue in the Ozarks, but it will. A different generation of people will perhaps not care when our rivers are creeks, and our creeks are dry beds. I don’t know that we will need wild places in the future but I thank God he let me live in a time when there were woods and waters and wild creatures.

When I was a young writer, about 21 or so, I wrote two or three articles about the Big Piney River, where I grew up fishing, trapping, hunting and guiding floaters. Outdoor Life magazine published them. Joel Vance, who worked as a writer for the Missouri Conservation Commission back then, wrote me a note that I still have. It read, “Kid, if the Big Piney River ever dries up, you won’t have anything to write about.”

Well, Joel, I did find some other things to write about over the years, but your note was prophetic. The Big Piney has just about dried up on the upper half, and the Little Piney flows no water at all most of the year. I would estimate that the Big Piney is about 60 percent the stream it was in 1960, and there are many springs I drank from along the river as a kid that have no water at all, at any time of the year. I think probably 60 percent of those springs are now totally dry, and the number may be higher than that. The same is true of all Ozark streams, but only the oldest Ozarkians know it, because only they saw the time when the springs gushed cold, clean water.

People can stop arguing about global warming, as the argument makes little sense. It is the lack of water across our nation we should worry about. But then again, I doubt anything can be done about any environmental problem we face, as there are ever-increasing numbers of people, and the land will be needed to feed them, more than any thing else. We will raise thousands more cattle, hogs, turkeys and chickens on the land than ever needed before, and our timber will be needed for more construction than we can envision today. We cannot see the future, and I am thinking it is a very good thing that we can’t, because we can’t do anything about what the world will be in a hundred years. The thing to do is enjoy what we have today and be thankful for it. And when I get to someplace where I feel like I am the only person for a hundred miles, it recharges me, chasing away the sadness I feel when I see it all being destroyed somewhere else.

The Southwest Electric Company sent me a very terse letter saying that they had entered a contract with the Asplundh Company and would be using chemicals beneath power lines on private land to kill plants. I went in and talked to them and I was told that if I preferred they didn’t use the chemical, they would refrain from doing so. If you do not want herbicides used on your land, you need to tell them. If they don’t hear from you, they will use it. They tell you it is not dangerous or harmful, but any chemical can be, and herbicides have been known to cause health problems. Killing agents are made to kill. I told the folks at Southwest Electric since there is such a small amount of my land beneath their lines, if they would notify me as to what might be a problem for them, I would take care of it myself.

I wonder how many tens of thousands of dollars the Asplundh Company will make from this, paid for, of course, by those of us who watch our electric rates rise, so that chemical companies can perhaps sell a million gallons of herbicide to be used across the Ozarks.

I won’t be voting for the big tax increase the Missouri Department of Transportation, (MODot) wants in order to finance great new projects. That’s because I have see thousands and thousands spent on something as stupid as cutting cedar thickets and trees and bushes and wildflowers off roadside banks that had absolutely no reason behind it. You can see some of the ‘before and after’ photos I took of that practice along Hwy. 13, where they even went high above the highway past rock bluffs to cut, burn and bare the roadside. It serves no purpose whatsoever. Some of the cutting and butchering they did was so far from the highway it was ridiculous. Now the beauty of the roadside trees and vegetation has given way to stumps and rocks. If they spend tens of thousands on such useless and detrimental projects, why try to convince us how hard up they are financially. Missourians should be given a voice in making our highways uglier for absolutely no purpose other than spending more of our tax dollars. I would write them a letter, but I don’t think “MODot Cares!” What Modot cares about is “getting” more money, not “using it wisely.”

I think there are thousands of Ozark folks who would like to see the ground on the other side of the mowed ditches put into wildflowers and flowering shrubs and cedar thickets, and the hardwood trees which present no problem for any traveler, left to grow. State agencies get to a point where the people do not matter, except for providing money. When you see such useless cutting and grinding of all vegetable matter far up the roadside banks, you wonder why the leadership of such agencies are wasting so much money on unnecessary projects.

See the photos of all this on my website,

My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 and my email address is

Barred Owl 2 cc.tif

DAYLIGHT HOOT – Barred owls don’t normally have much activity during daylight hours. This one was just very lonely, I suppose. Larry Dablemont