The voice on the other end of the line told me he had worked for the Missouri Department of Conservation for a number of years. "There is one thing they are afraid of," he said, "and that is public opinion. They almost have complete control of what is said about them in the news media and press. That's why you had better be careful with what you do, they will make an example of you."


That was two years ago. It had been preceded by a call from an MDC ex-director who was so angry he threatened to come to my home and do me bodily harm. He had resigned from the Department and had received a substantial bonus in the six-figure category, after being part of a very large monetary gift in the millions to a private corporation


The voice on the other end of the line told me he had worked for the Missouri Department of Conservation for a number of years. "There is one thing they are afraid of," he said, "and that is public opinion. They almost have complete control of what is said about them in the news media and press. That's why you had better be careful with what you do, they will make an example of you."

That was two years ago. It had been preceded by a call from an MDC ex-director who was so angry he threatened to come to my home and do me bodily harm. He had resigned from the Department and had received a substantial bonus in the six-figure category, after being part of a very large monetary gift in the millions to a private corporation. Within a year of the time he left, he was offered a job with that company and went to work for them. I wrote about it, aware that it had never been mentioned by any news organization. He did not want it known, and his tirade on the phone included personal threats to me.

What I had written was true, all of it. But some of the newspapers I write for did not want to print it. An employee of a small paper in southern Missouri called me to tell me she was afraid to print anything I wrote because of an MDC agent who came into the office, and "went off on her". Those were her words. "He has a gun on, he is a very large man and he will not leave". She said his intimidating words scared her, and they lost an hour of work trying simply to get him to leave. I told her to report him to the Jefferson City offices, and she said she was afraid to.

Within two weeks of the time I got the call from the MDC employee warning me, I was driving back from Lebanon where I had stocked some of my books. I was east of Louisburg on highway 64 when a highway patrolman pulled out in front of me. I followed him for about ten miles, I suppose, with my cruise control set on the speed limit. At Louisburg, he let me pass him, then turned on his lights and pulled me over. I gave him my paperwork and asked why he had stopped me. He told me he wanted me to be aware that he did not have to drive the speed limit, and that when I was following him I could not drive at the speed he was driving. I told him I knew that, and had not exceeded any speed limit, and he told me he was aware of that. We seemed to be waiting. Finally, I found out why.

An unmarked car pulled in front of me, and two men in brown uniforms got out with a dog.  The patrolman asked me to leave my car and sit in his vehicle for a moment and I complied, my heart beating about twice the legal limit. The two brown uniformed men took the dog around my car, and I watched.

I have raised several Labradors trained as drug dogs, even used marijuana scented tennis balls to starter train them as puppies. I know what drug dogs do when they "hit" on a vehicle, they either sit down or they show a great interest, scratching at a door or trunk lid. That dog did nothing, he showed no interest in my car whatsoever.

But I was told he detected drugs, and they completely tore my car apart looking. They unloaded six boxes of books in my trunk and went through them, and I sat there and watched. It took about 45 minutes, and finally the patrolman watched them drive away with their dog, and told me I could go. I told him I have never used drugs nor alchohol, and asked him why this had happened. He said it was just a routine thing. 

A week later, a lawyer told me that my car could not be searched unless they had a reason to stop me. I told him all about it, and he said I had been the victim of an illegal search. I knew I had been warned correctly.

I talked to taxidermists this past week who are afraid to advertise in my magazine because they say that no matter how much they attempt to follow the law, they can be closed down over technalities they don't even know about. Advertising in a magazine which is critical of what they do would not be wise.

"Of course we are afraid of them" he said. "We have to be...because if you bring four agents in here one at a time and ask the same questions, you will get four completely different answers. And any of those four can arrest you or close you down just on what his interpretation of the laws are. We are subject to their whims, and there is no right way to do this business."

Another taxidermist told me that any customer who brings in a bobcat must have it registered with an agent. But they give the hunter or trapper no receipt, no proof that it was indeed registered. "I paid a fine of several hundred dollars because I was mounting a bobcat which had not been registered, according to the agent," that taxidermist told me. "The customer who found it on the highway told me it had been."

He can no longer take a bobcat because he cannot have definite proof it has been registered.  At the same time, a taxidermist 200 miles away can take them, because the agent there doesn't even check for any registration, and does not require it.

Missourians who hunt and fish are becoming victims of conservation agents who for one reason or another are looking for technical situations rather than clear violations. I have known about literally dozens of cases where people have been targeted who did nothing wrong. I have written about many of them, and because I did so, the MDC actually reversed one charge. When I write about these, I find that same fear among small-town newspapers and editors. "These people have tremendous power and money" one newspaperman told me, "You have to be afraid of what they can do. And just because what you write is true doesn't mean a thing."

It has happened now that a circuit judge has proven beyond a doubt that laws are being violated and innocent citizens are being targeted by MDC agents.  He has awarded  a $995,000 dollar settlement in the case I wrote about two weeks ago. No large news media sources in the Ozarks have written about or reported on this huge judgement. Lawyers got more than half of that. Because attorneys charge so much, people like you and I cannot defend ourselves in court when wrongly charged.

We have to just pay a fine because it is the only thing we can afford. But we now have a chance, and maybe it is the last chance, to show sportsmen of our state that all is not hopeless. If we can put the truth before the people, and let millions know what is happening, we can change things. We will not have this opportunity long.

I have hope because the MDC enforcement chief Larry Yamnitz seems to be willing to talk to groups of outdoorsmen in the Ozarks and listen. He says he wants to see some changes made. I will go to Jefferson City soon to interview him and the new director. I need the backing of Ozark newspapers and Ozark citizens. If you have not started a Common Sense Conservation group in your county, call me and let's get one started before fall.

It offers a defense of those people in your area who may be the next innocent victims, and lack the funds to prove themselves innocent.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or e-mail lightninridge@windstream.net. My website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com