He was right in the middle of an honest to goodness miracle in the woods, and I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been there. Mike Dodson was an honest to goodness outdoorsman who knew well the woods and rivers and the ways of the wild. He and I hunted and fished for everything together, back in the good old days. We hunted and fished for everything, from Arkansas to Ontario and Manitoba. The miles have separated us for the past 20 years, but the memories keep him close.


He was right in the middle of an honest to goodness miracle in the woods, and I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been there. Mike Dodson was an honest to goodness outdoorsman who knew well the woods and rivers and the ways of the wild. He and I hunted and fished for everything together, back in the good old days. We hunted and fished for everything, from Arkansas to Ontario and Manitoba. The miles have separated us for the past 20 years, but the memories keep him close.

Just the other day, Mike sent me a picture of a 9.5 pound bass he caught from Bull Shoals Lake on a single-spin and invited me to come down and help him catch some more now that the moon is bright and the bass are hungry. No matter what lake you are fishing now, if you go out while the moon is full and high, and fish until it is sagging low in the west and turning color, you are going to have a better-than-average chance to catch a big bass. But it will be hard to hunt turkeys at first daylight without going to sleep.

Mike and I hunted the wildest of wild turkeys in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains together when I lived in Arkansas. We'd pitch off into steep canyons before sunrise, and cross to another ridgetop just because of one old gobbler. But as I said, that was back in the good old' days. We aren't so much too old to do that today, I credit it to being wiser, not older. 

In the 1980s, I did a lot of guiding in Arkansas, taking float-fishermen on Crooked Creek, the War-Eagle and Kings Rivers, guiding some on Bull Shoals Lake as well, and occasionally on the Buffalo. In the spring, I guided turkey hunters in both Arkansas and Missouri for more than a dozen years.

The miracle I am talking about took place one spring way back there when Mike and I set up a camp deep in the woods for an out-of-state ophthalmologist-surgeon and his father. Neither had ever killed a wild gobbler. The first morning, the older man demonstrated that he likely never would. Mike took him to a spot where two gobblers were sounding off, spent most of the morning there and came back thoroughly dejected. 

"The old guy coughs constantly," he said, "and he can't hear and he can't see well enough to kill a turkey if I could get one close. This morning I had one 60 yards away and he started coughing and looking around to try to find it and spooked it. What's worse is, he can't hardly walk more than a hundred yards on level ground without resting for a half hour.  It is hopeless."

I told his son what Mike had told me, and he smiled and said he figured there wouldn't be much chance of his father killing one. He had lived with worsening lung problems from years of smoking, and couldn't hear or see much. But he wanted to take him on a trip like we were on where they could be together, and have a chance to at least hunt and camp and enjoy the outdoors one more time, together.

We were being paid well, and Mike accepted that. His job was to do his best, and he would do it. The next morning it was a half-hour after sunrise before the old guy could get up and around, and Mike eased him off to a nice wooded ridgetop split by a faint old logging trail, and set him down overlooking a ravine where gobblers were roosting.  They sat there for a while, with Mike calling and the old timer coughing, and lo and behold, a gobbler answered well below them on the wooded hillside. 

The old guy couldn't hear it. Mike decided to try to do the impossible anyway, so he placed the old man up against a big tree and sat down behind him so he could whisper instructions in his ear. As he called, the gobbler came up that steep woodland hillside, gobbling away, getting closer and closer.  Just under the rocky edge of the ridgetop, he gobbled so close the leaves on the trees were shaking, and the old guy actually heard it. 

The excitement of that stilled his coughing, and Mike showed him how to put his shotgun against his shoulder with the barrel on the ground, so that he could help point the gun toward the gobbler if it ever showed itself, and he tried to guess what route the old tom might take to come up over the rock strewn hillside. 

It was going to take a miracle, he thought to himself. Mike called again, the tom gobbled and he was right where he needed to be. A bright red head came popping up over a ledge, but the old hunter didn't see it. The big tom stood there a moment, looking for that hen, then his head went down. When it did, Mike lifted the old timers gun barrel, pointed it to where he thought the gobbler would pop up again, and when that bright red head reappeared, he whispered, 'shoot'. The shotgun roared and the blast echoed off a distant ridge. 

The old man's son and I were a mile away, but we heard it. We couldn't know what had happened, but Mike told us later. The gobbler disappeared, and Mike heard it flopping around. The old hunter had never seen it. He thought he had missed. Mike went halfway down the ravine to retrieve the tom, and when he got back with it, he found his aging client sitting against the tree, his mouth open with amazement, his eyes moist with tears of happiness. He could see the gobbler just fine as Mike laid it at his feet. And he was spry enough to do quite a little dance of joy before a coughing fit overcame him. 

"It was a miracle!" Mike told me, his eyes bright with happiness. "Nothing but a miracle!" 

And I suppose indeed it was. We had a great week camped there. The next day the younger hunter got his gobbler when I called up a pair of them halfway through the morning. Mike and I got a tip at the end of the hunt that was more than I usually got for a whole day of float-fishing.

I never heard from the guy again, and I am sure his father has passed away by now. But I am equally sure that he remembers well that week of turkey hunting. I'm sure Mike remembers too... like it was yesterday. It isn't every spring that you are part of a miracle.

But there are more memories to be made. Old friends can't be forgotten, and I intend to hunt turkeys this season with Mike Dodson, and fish in the moonlight where I might just miss a strike or two because of a lack of concentration that recalling old stories can cause.

This week, if you are an old-timer, and remember how to grab 'yeller suckers', you ought to be able to find some. And if you like to eat mushrooms, it is a good time to be looking for them too.  'Ain't spring grand'... as Ozark folks are inclined to say.

See Mike Dodson and his big bass on my website at www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613.  Or e-mail me at lightninridge@windstream.net.