There are plenty of mushrooms to be found over most of the Ozarks where this column will be read this week, but they are smaller this year on average than ever in the history of the world. Well, I can’t say that for sure, but it is what I suspicion. A friend of mine found the smallest mushroom ever… the size of a man’s thumbnail. If you don’t believe it, you can see a photo of it on my website, given at the end of this column.
White bass are finally running pretty good, after several weak efforts over the last month, set back by cold nights and too much rain. The best of it, typified by the big females being caught in equal numbers to the males, is still ahead in most Ozark waters. As for the mushrooms, I figure this week is it. I think it will be over by the weekend. As usual, I am still selling mushroom seeds, in case you might like to scatter some in your woods for next year. For some reason I didn’t sell any last year. But a mushroom seed is good for years and years. They are terribly small. I put a hundred or so in an envelope and you can’t even see them with a microscope!
I will fish hard for the next couple of months, and fishing will dominate this column for a while, but first I have to tell one more turkey-hunting story. In doing this, I realize I am causing most hunters to say, “Heck, I had a better story than that one.” That’s why we publish the outdoor magazine, ‘The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal’… to publish stories from readers, whether hunting or fishing, that will top mine. So, if you have some really great outdoor experiences, write them up and send them to me.
I killed my first gobbler a week ago, when he came readily to my call, gobbled a couple dozen times, then got behind a big rock the size of a boar hog, and began to strut, where I could only see his fanned-out tail. That kind of thing shows me that I haven’t got enough patience to fill an empty shotshell hull.
I was tempted to jump up on that rock and blast him as he ran away, but remembering how many times I have tried such a thing, only to find out turkeys have faster reflexes than me, I waited. Finally he looked up over the rock and I was rewarded for my two or three minutes of agonizing wait. It was thirty minutes past noon, and I had been hunting since daylight.
The most enjoyable hunt I had was the day I watched a big gobbler come gobbling and strutting through the woods, convinced that I was a hen. He must have spent an hour moving slowly toward me, breast feathers glistening in sunlight between the trees. He circled me, fifty yards away, almost in range. What a sight that was. He never got inside my shotgun confidence distance, and then retraced his steps, leaving as he had come, gobbling and strutting.
So this past week, I struck out across some private land I had permission to hunt, about ten in the morning. I walked at a pretty good clip, through patches of woods where I would call enticingly. I heard nothing. Finally, fifteen minutes before noon, after walking about two miles, I reached the wooded peak above the river where I had wanted to be an hour before. It was a steep, boulder-strewn hillside, not exactly a bluff, but pretty close to it.
I sat there on a big rock, thanking God that there were places like this left to see in the Ozarks, and that I was able to walk far enough to see them. I called, and there was no answer, quietest morning I had ever seen. So I headed back into the woods behind me, and for some reason, I decided I would give my barred owl call, which often causes turkeys to gobble. I am glad I thought of it, because down close to the river below me, two gobblers hammered out gobbles close together.
Excitement replaced resignation, and I quickly found a good place to hide beneath a concealing cedar tree. Enticingly, I called… Nothing! I hooted like an owl again, so good that an owl across the river answered me! But no gobbles... I sat there thinking that they were probably down there with a group of hens, and would never gobble again until next March. Beneath my breath I cussed my rotten luck. Resignation replaced the excitement. I was tempted to take my lucky buckeye out of my pocket and throw it at them!
You’ve never heard better calling than I gave them that mid-day, sitting beneath that cedar tree. I have heard hen turkeys that aren’t half as good at sounding like a hen turkey than I was. Still, there was nothing.
At such times it is hard for me to sit still and wait. There are hunters like me, who always like the feeling of the ground on the bottom of their feet, than on the bottom of their rear.
There was a thorn or a sharp stick beneath me, and I was about to get up and stomp on it when I saw, down the steep hillside amongst the boulders, a bright red and white head sticking up through green buds. I watched him come up that hill, my heartbeat going from 90 to 150 in about two seconds. He was big and beautiful and wary. I watched, and he walked, pausing to look for that hen he thought I was, then coming closer. In a minute or so he was only 35 yards away, an old mature gobbler with a dangling double beard, who made the mistake of gobbling at a doggone owl hoot, or he would be roosting in one of those river bottom sycamores tonight.
I had to carry him back, across one creek and up two mountains. Walking two miles carrying a twenty- pound turkey is difficult. I stopped once again to thank God for places I can still walk to where trees are big, and people are scarce. As someone who once couldn’t walk for months, I know how wonderful it is to walk, even when it isn’t easy. I don’t need easy.
If that was the case I could have perhaps shot the old gobbler that struts just a little ways behind my house most mornings, but I am saving him for a time when I am old and lazy.
Seems like only yesterday we were watching it snow, stoking up the fire and thinking about how nice it would be when redbuds were in bloom and wild gobblers were sounding off in the bottoms, where May apples and mushrooms would help us to forget the winter. And I’ll be doggone if it didn’t get here. Now we have to wish it would have stayed awhile.
It is May finally… time to find some crows foot and poke greens and plant stuff in the garden. The first pair of orioles arrived today. I can hear one scolding a squirrel as I write this.
Don’t forget to come to the big mountain-man rendezvous this weekend along the river below Pomme de Terre Lake dam, south of Hermitage Missouri. Lightnin’ Ridge editor Sondra Gray and I will be there with an old wooden johnboat and paraphernalia the old-time rivermen used a hundred years ago in the Ozarks. And if you come to see us we’ll give you a free copy of our outdoor magazine. There will also be lots of food and music by local singers and bands and dozens of vendors selling treasured items.
My website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org