Someone told me that I asked the same master naturalist question in two different columns. That is what happens when you get hit over the head with a few falling tree limbs out in the woods and sleep too often on gravel bars with a rock for a pillow when you are young.
But this week I have a question any master naturalist ought to know without going to the computer. And I should point out that anyone who really is a naturalist should know this without batting an eye or breaking open a book. In nature, everything that exists in the Ozarks has a genus name. That is because common names often get folks confused. For instance when I was a kid on the Big Piney, some rivermen called blue herons “cranes.” And some called a green sunfish a perch.
If you really want to know what something is – beyond argument – you use genus names. For instance a great blue heron actually is an entirely different bird than a sandhill crane and a perch in hillbilly country is actually just a sunfish, not a perch at all. A perch doesn’t even look like a sunfish.
But let’s get to this question of genus names. If you were floating the river and spending the night on a gravel bar, your frying pan at suppertime would be a suitable place for which; a mephitis or a micropterus? Which would be unwelcome in your boat?
I learned all about scientific names in classes at School of the Ozarks College, and then at University of Missouri. At MU I learned that some of those instructors who could tell you all about scientific names knew very little about the creatures in the world where they lived. And those old timers who fished, hunted and trapped all their lives thought I was crazy when I told them the scientific name of a raccoon.
Old Bill said he had never trapped a procyon lotor in his whole life, and didn’t reckon he had ever seen one. One of the mammology professors on the other hand said raccoons never raised young in the river bluff caves, they only bore young in hollow trees, which was a ridiculous assumption based on what the books said and nothing more. He was dead wrong.
Would you wonder where I learned the most… in the classroom or in a johnboat?
Truthfully, I am not sure, but I am glad I got a good dose of both. Certainly though if I had to survive in the woods all by myself, what I learned at Mizzou would be of little use. What always hurt me was hearing some professors talk about those hill people, who included both my grandfathers and the old timers I idolized, as ignorant.
Had a great time at last Saturday’s Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s swap meet, and hundreds of people attended in the rain, from at least three states. We filled a room with a lot of junk and antique items left from the passing of the old man who once owned it all. We made a sign saying that anyone could take what they want and leave a donation in a can for what they thought it might be worth. Truthfully, if that can had held a hundred dollars at the end of the day I would have been terribly happy, but it didn’t. It held a little more than six hundred dollars.
The youth of the Brighton Assembly of God Church, making food for visitors, had some of the best biscuits and gravy for breakfast that you have ever tasted, and pork sandwiches that were big enough for two meals. They two were blessed with generous donations. It was a great day though, not because of the money, but because I got to meet and talk with so many folks who read this column. I seldom get to do that.
And I ought to say something here about what a great time we had on March 18 when about 30 kids and counselors came to stay overnight with us at Panther Creek. They were from two churches, one in Seneca and one in Carl Junction. They learned to use kayaks and canoes on the creek, and to shoot shotguns at clay pigeons and to play pool and they not only hiked the trails we have ready, but helped to open and clean about 300 yards of new trail. I really enjoyed those kids and the young counselors. What great people. Made me feel young again and I know we gave some kids a brand new experience they had never had before in an environment they had never seen. A new group will be coming soon from Sullivan. If you are someone working with underprivileged kids, boys without fathers, etc., this outdoor environment is free and it might make a significant impact on a young life or two.
This week I am going to go down to Arkansas and fish at Bull Shoals and Dardanelle lakes and grab yellow suckers in a little creek down there not far from the Norfork river. Friends tell me the morels have just popped up on Bull Shoals. And I am going to go out and call in a big old gobbler (genus name—meleagris) or two sometime soon and shoot every one I see, before the hunting season is even close. I intend to shoot them with my camera, a kind of catch-and-release type of hunting.
It is really easy to do that now with the backdrop of some green pasture, but what I want to get photos of wild gobblers in the forest setting which is their natural habitat, maybe with a budding redbud somewhere beneath a giant white oak or two the loggers haven’t got to yet. Gobblers are beautiful in those green pastures, even with a cow patty or two nearby, but that isn’t where they were first placed by the Creator. They are a woodland creature. Taking a picture of one of them in a pasture is like going froggin’in a sewer pond. The ambience ain’t what it oughta be.
I made a dozen of my little turkey calls the other evening. I have hunted with nothing else since I first found them about 45 years ago, made by an old-timer at Licking. Have you ever run into someone who kept track of how many gobblers he had killed? Well, I know about how many I have killed, within a dozen or so at least, and I am not about to tell anyone because it sounds as if I am lying, and I do not want readers to think killing a gobbler is my main reason to hunt turkeys.
As an outdoor writer I have been able to hunt them in six states. I remember when I could legally kill three gobblers in the Ouachita and Ozark mountains of Arkansas before the Missouri season began. Then a hunter could kill two in Missouri and two more in Kansas. Add up how many gobblers a devoted turkey hunter with more energy and enthusiasm than brains could collect over a long period of that.
I could kick myself for getting so wrapped up in turkey hunting that my fishing and river floating suffered as a result. Now I fish more in April because turkey hunting is too darned easy today. It wasn’t like that 40 years ago when a man could hike back into the hills and be all alone, and gobblers were scarce as honest politicians.
You can read my book on turkey hunting if you can find it. It is entitled, “The Greatest Wild Gobblers… lessons learned from old timers and old toms.” To find out how to get one, call Ms. Wiggins, my executive secretary here in my executive offices at 417/777-5227, and tell her I said anyone who orders one can get one of my handmade, autographed turkey calls free of charge, mailed with it. Or you can make your own from the instructions in one of the chapters.
E-mail me at email@example.com or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. And as to the quiz, mephitis is a skunk and micropterus is a bass. Actually you could fry either one for supper if worse came to worse.