On a little tributary to Truman Lake recently, I surprised a flock of young turkeys. There must have been close to 20 of them and I got fairly close. I didn't see a hen or mature gobbler in the entire group. It appeared to be nothing but jakes, with short beards maybe 3 or 4 inches long. I think every one of them were from last spring's hatch, about as encouraging sign as a turkey hunter could ask for. They were big jakes, long-legged and sleek, just perfect for eating. 


On a little tributary to Truman Lake recently, I surprised a flock of young turkeys. There must have been close to 20 of them and I got fairly close. I didn't see a hen or mature gobbler in the entire group. It appeared to be nothing but jakes, with short beards maybe 3 or 4 inches long. I think every one of them were from last spring's hatch, about as encouraging sign as a turkey hunter could ask for. They were big jakes, long-legged and sleek, just perfect for eating. 

Of course, hunters this spring would not opt for a jake. Most of the time, jakes don't gobble and strut much; it is the older toms that do that. But there have been times in the spring when I have seen jakes gobbling and strutting. In fact, I have pictures of a young gobbler strutting in September, when he was only a few months old.  But he didn't gobble. I wrote about seeing a couple of jakes gobbling in December late in the evening before flying up to roost.

You have to be happy about seeing that many jakes in one spot, hoping that there are many more groups of young gobblers all across the Ozarks. But it doesn't necessarily mean there are. Nesting success is a local thing, or at least regional. That area around Truman lake, all the way west to the Kansas border is always pretty well stocked with wild turkeys, while some of the eastern Ozark counties don't seem to have so many. That's why it is tough to say what is a good hatch and what isn't, talking about an area the size of the Ozarks, or even the whole state of Missouri. 

I had to laugh when I saw a state conservation "media specialist" on a local television station last October declare that we had a "one percent" increase in the spring hatch, repeating I suppose, what he thought some biologist had determined. I notice now that in their turkey hunting regulations book for the 2012 spring season the conservation department believes we have a 42 percent increase in turkey numbers. Wow! From 1 percent to 42 percent! As I said, it will depend on where you are hunting. In some areas of the Ozarks, hunters will be arguing with that figure in late April.

Only three or four days after seeing those jakes, I watched 6 gobblers come across a hillside near my home in a light rain, clearly not as dry as they wanted to be, with feathers fluffed up, shaking the water from their plumage as they walked. There was a fallen log nearby with a branch coming up off the main trunk, running parallel to the ground about four feet high. Two of the gobblers walked over and jumped up on that limb, using their wings to gain that vantage point.  Clearly, one viewed himself as the boss, though he had no larger beard or body size than the others as far as I could tell. He sat there and tried to dry himself a little, like you often see buzzards do, with his wings held out just a bit.

The others milled around looking for food, scratching and pecking. Finally they just all stood around as if having a conference. He held his high spot, and the second gobbler, appearing to be his next-in-command, stayed on a lower perch, for about 30 minutes. Then they became aware of me trying to get a good photo, and the whole bunch hurried away. It is unusual to see a gobbler hop up on something like that and stay there, but once many years ago I was calling a tom which jumped up on a two-foot high stump and strutted there for about an hour, 80 yards from my gun barrel. He never left it until I got impatient and decided to hunt somewhere else.

Speaking of buzzards, I was on the White River this past week trout fishing, and that country is plagued with black vultures. These birds are a little smaller than our regular turkey vultures, and their heads are black rather than red. They don't seem to venture very far north of Bull Shoals and Norfork Lakes, though I did see one in a flock of regular buzzards last year on Pomme de Terre Lake.

This species of vulture is fairly aggressive, and on Norfork Lake they have actually attacked parked pickups, as many as 8 or 10 vultures together, scratching and pecking at the paint and doing several thousand dollars worth of damage. In north Arkansas there are growing hordes of them.

Conservation meeting
We have a fish fry scheduled on April 14 to set-up and organize an Ozarks-wide Conservation group we call Common Sense Conservationists. I'll give a location for that in a future column. The Enforcement Chief for the Department of Conservation, Larry Yamnitz, called me to say he will indeed be there to talk with outdoorsmen about problems that have developed with innocent hunters and fishermen being targeted by conservation agents.

But our group will stand for much more than just attempting to defend innocent people in court. We want to shine a light on much of what the Department is doing, on our public lands, and in the spending of money which all of us pay in to them: tax money and license money. There is, and there has been, in my opinion, a steady decline in the integrity and efficiency of this state agency, one of the richest conservation departments in the entire country. 

If someone doesn't start looking closely at what they are doing, they can use their power to reverse much of what had been accomplished in the early years of what we knew as the Missouri Conservation Commission. It is happening because so few know what they are doing. Not many of our state's sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts see public areas they manage as I do, and this past week I saw one such area, once full of rabbits and quail, where acres and acres have been reduced to barren ground that can support no small game whatsoever. If there is a plan behind it, it escapes me.    

Anything that reduces the number of rabbits and quail on public land is certainly not conservation. In timbered areas, heavy logging seems to be accelerated, and if you like forests, you may not see them in the future on our state-owned lands. Some of these areas are being devastated, and it is not for wildlife management, it is for making money through logging and leasing ground to crop farmers.

Millions of dollars are being wasted through questionable grants and gifts — like that $155,000 given to an ex-employee to write a book. What a farce that is!

We have scheduled local Common Sense Conservationists meetings on March 6 in Mountain Grove, Mo. and on March 22 in Lamar, Mo.  I will give more information on that next week, but recently I met with a committee of a dozen of our members to draft a missions statement for our organization.

Among those are a 28-year veteran conservation agent and a biologist who has resigned from the MDC. We want to exceed 1,000 members this year to establish a force the Conservation Department cannot ignore. You can complain about what is going on, or you can join us and help create some change. To join, simply send your name and address to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613, or e-mail it to me at lightninridge@windstream.net.

Visit my website, where you can leave your own opinion... www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.