Better days

Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:50 am

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TANDEM FAWNS – Lightnin Ridge Editor Sondra Gray got this photo of a pair of fawns on Norfork Lake. It is hard to believe the bow season is just a few days away. These two are too small to eat.

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DOVE DOG – Usually it is way too hot for Labradors on the opening day of dove season… And they don’t like dove feathers.

Sometimes there are those difficult days…like the evening of the second day of dove season, when it got so hot it melted the butter off a passing butterfly. I found a good place along the edge of a sunflower field, in the shade provided by a grove of short thorny, locust trees. It was the very first hunt for my young chocolate Labrador, Bolt, and I shortly wished I had left him home. Heat is very hard on Labradors, and I felt so sorry for him I gave him all my water. He did good at drinking out of a canteen, which shows how intelligent he is. It was all the water I had, which shows how intelligent I am.

In no time, I was soaked with sweat, and Bolt sounded like a steam engine, panting hard in his spot beneath the locust bushes, wondering what we were doing out there. He did a great job, finding all the doves I dropped. There was one I never would have found without him because it fell in some heavy weeds. That nose of his found it, where my eyes never could have seen it. But to tell the truth, he never retrieved a bird. He just didn’t want to pick up the doves, because those short dry feathers were sticking inside his mouth so bad.

Doves are not good game birds for Labrador retrievers, but it is good to take a young dog hunting most of the time, regardless of what bird you are hunting. Midway through the afternoon, we went to investigate a small draw where there was once a pond, and hallelujah, there was a foot of water in it. Bolt waded out into it and cooled himself off, drinking his fill. I watched him, wishing I had saved the canteen for myself.

I was badly dehydrated when we returned to my pick-up about 7 with a good bagful of doves that Bolt had found, but not retrieved. The temperature was 94 degrees. Why is it that every year, dove season comes upon us with temperatures and humidity toward the top of the scale? If somebody doesn’t do something about the heat, I may not hunt them any more on opening day.

A couple of days later, Rich Abdoler and I floated a river well above a reservoir, where there are some big largemouth bass and hybrids (striper/white bass). It was still hot and the water was low and we pulled over some shoals, noting all kinds of big black buffalo fish. They were everywhere, some looking to be 10 or 12 pounds. Those buffalos are not game fish, but they are very good eating if you know how to prepare the meat. They seldom hit a lure but can be caught on night crawlers at times.

Big white and pink hibiscus flowers were blooming everywhere and cardinal flowers painted sections of the river with blood red color. We fished topwater buzz-baits and spinner-baits mostly and caught a number of good-sized Kentucky bass. Rich had several big bass go after his lure and hooked two or three that were really hefty. But he lost them for some reason or another, and while I pretty much was skunked that whole day, I told him what I thought he was doing wrong and what he ought to do next time.

About mid-afternoon, we floated into a flowing shoal with some brush along the bank, in deeper water, and he had that buzz bait about halfway back to the boat when there was a giant swirl, and a huge fish took it under. Rich set the hook, his rod bent hard, and the 10-pound line snapped. If it was a bass, it was a very, very big one. I figure it was a big hybrid, and I tried my best to console him by reminding him the rest of the day what a big fish it was and how awful I felt about him losing it. He probably won’t listen to me, but I think he ought to use 14-pound line on his casting reel.

That’s what I use, and nothing broke my line all day. Of course, I didn’t catch anything either. Sometimes it is better to have hooked a big fish and lost it than to never have hooked anything at all. Like I said, sometimes there are those difficult days. But there is never a time when I don’t thank God for a day in the field or on the water. The worst days you might have, while hunting and fishing, beats the heck out of a day spent working at something.

I am about to head off to Canada for a week of fishing, and perhaps hunting ruffed grouse. Now those are some better days. It is fall already in Northwest Ontario. Bolt won’t get to go, but maybe someday. His great, great grandfather was a great ruffed grouse hunter, and he loved to go out with me in early October on Lake of the Woods to hunt ring-neck ducks in a wild rice bay. I hope someday Bolt gets to do all of that, but I am a lot older now than I once was, and the ducks and grouse fly faster… and it seems that today’s ammunition isn’t as good. I had a few bad shells when I was dove hunting. I don’t think they had any shot in them.

Teal season opened last weekend and runs for two weeks, but there is so little water in the Ozarks it will make it hard to hunt. Thankfully, we have had some good rains recently and the weather is cool. I like to hunt those little blue-winged biscuit-sized ducks, but I know that if I spend too much time at it I will miss some good fishing. It presents a real dilemma if you like to hunt and fish both. I like September when it finally gets cool, but I like October better. September and October are months God gave us to let us know he isn’t mad at us, sort of an apology for July and August.

My next Lightnin’ Ridge outdoor magazine will come out in November and I wanted to remind readers of this column that if you like to write, we often receive great stories written by people who never considered themselves to be writers, and maybe only have one story to tell. If you want to write an article about any aspect of the outdoors, send it to me. We are having a little contest to pick the best outdoor story submitted by a reader and will pay $75 to use it in our magazine. If we get two or three really good ones we will use them all. Stories can be truth or fiction, humor, nostalgia; about hunting, fishing, trapping, etc. We need them to be between 1,000 and 2,000 words, and typed. But if something is really good, it can be any length. We will have several of our writers read them and help pick out the best submissions. I would say all decisions are final, but since our editor, Sondra Gray, is a woman, that may not be accurate, women change their minds a lot.

We will send prospective writers, or readers who have never seen the magazine a sample of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal free. Just send me four stamps to mail it, and your address. You can mail any of your stories to me, or e-mail them. The address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or My website is