My hunting companion is upset because he only has 16 squirrel tails to send to the Mepps lure company. Rich has sent as many as 120 squirrel tails to Mepps in years past. Most of them were squirrels he legally harvested while hunting, but friends gave him a few and he got a good number by stopping along back roads and cutting the tails off squirrels that he found 'listening for Indians'. In case you don't understand, that it is a term I often used when my girls were little and we came across a squirrel or raccoon that had been ran over (or runned over, as Grandpa would have called it) by a car.
Anyhow, Rich has been getting about 20 cents per tail, enough to pay for a couple of boxes of duck-load shotgun shells every winter, or enough to buy his wife Debbie something nice for Christmas.
The Mepps Lure Company has to figure out that we can't keep sending in squirrel tails for the same price we were getting 20 years ago, while shotgun shell and .22 cartridge costs have gone through the roof. And the little spinners they make out of squirrel tails certainly have not stayed the same price. If we can't average a quarter apiece they are going to lose a good thing.
Sometime this next week we are going to float the river and I am going to fish a little and hunt turkeys while Rich hunts squirrels. He has already killed his two fall turkeys, and I am faced with holding a turkey tag that must be wrapped around a turkey leg before the end of October.
In November, we will start floating isolated stretches of river with a blind on the front of the old johnboat, hunting ducks. It is something I have done since I was 9 or 10 years old, when Dad would hide our old johnboat with boughs of sycamore, oak and willow, and paddle down the Big Piney jump-shooting ducks.
I started guiding float fishermen on the Piney when I was about 11 years old, for fifty cents an hour, but my first effort at guiding hunters came when I was only a couple of weeks past my 14th birthday.
Dad was wary of the idea because of the danger of loaded weapons in the hands of greenhorns, but when a fellow from St. Louis, whom he knew pretty well, said he would pay me twenty dollars to take him squirrel and duck hunting on the river, it was tough to pass up.
Dad put us in at Mineral Springs, and I was to paddle the hunter down the river all the way to Boiling Springs, where Dad would be waiting with the pick-up. He made sure the hunter understood that his old double barrel was only to be loaded when he was seated on the front seat of the johnboat, and he was never to shoot back towards where I would be paddling behind him.
That day the river was quiet, with no wind, a bright frosty morning in mid-November. Dad fixed a really good blind on the front of the boat and down the river I went on my first guided hunting trip.
You have to paddle a boat from one side, and handle it that way without taking the paddle out of the water, or making a sound with it, in order to sneak up on wildlife. Today you can't find hardly any river floaters who can do that, but when I was a boy, I knew a dozen or so men who could, including me.
We found six or seven mallards not a half mile downriver sitting on a gravel bar, a couple of them with their heads beneath their wings. I saw them first and began to slowly slip up on them, and when I got about 75 yards away, the hunter, shaking like a wet lap dog on a cold cement porch, lost all control. He poked the barrel of his gun over the blind and emptied both barrels at those mallards, and never pulled a feather.
I tried to explain to him the limited range of that old double barrel with those two and three quarter-inch field loads, but it was to no avail. That day, out of three or four flocks of woodies and teal, and at least six or seven flocks of mallards, he never bagged a duck. Of course he never once waited until we got within 35 yards, but on one flock of nine or ten greenheads which burst out of a slough right beside us in perfect range, he missed them too.
What he didn't miss was three fox squirrels sitting in branches or root systems of trees along the river. He blasted them and two of the three times he did, he scared up ducks in an eddy below us in the bagging of those measly squirrels. One fox squirrel, a big old boar that was probably tougher than a barber's strap, and harder to eat than a ten year old boot, sunk in three feet of water, and it took me thirty minutes to finally retrieve it with a pair of boat paddles, used like a huge pair of my mom's eye-brow tweezers.
I didn't ever remember floating the river, shooting that many shells at ducks on the water and not killing anything. My dad and grandfather usually got two or three out of a flock flushing before us, and even I got one or two with a pocket full of shells.
But you wouldn't have noticed that our trip was a failure. The guy was so excited about it all he was giddy. I had paddled him up close to a mink and a kingfisher and a couple of buzzards he thought were eagles. He wanted to go again, and did, several times. I got the twenty dollars that day and a five-dollar tip for cleaning and skinning his squirrels. If Mepps had been buying squirrel tails when I was fourteen, I could have bought a used bicycle with what I collected.
When Rich and I go squirrel- and turkey-hunting, and bass-fishing this week on the same trip, I am going to have to have a percentage of the squirrel tail revenue or I am going to refuse to paddle.
This week, the November-December issue of the Lightnin' Ridge Outdoor Magazine will be out, and if you have never seen it, call my office (417-777-5227) and my Executive Secretary, Ms. Wiggins, will tell you how to get it.
If you are waiting for the new magazine we have touted all summer, the resurrection of the old Ozarks Mountaineer magazine with a new name, it will be finished within a couple more weeks. Three hundred people have ordered copies in advance, and we still need to sell two hundred more to pay for printing and postage. It will be awhile before it actually will begin to pay for itself.
To get yours, send seven dollars to Journal of the Ozarks, Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. I anticipate they will be mailed just before Thanksgiving. The length will be 72 pages, and if you love Ozarks history and culture, and country living, you will like it. If you don't like it, just find me when I have seven dollars and I will buy it back from you. It is bound to be a collector's item someday as we will only print 2,000 of that premier edition.
My websites are, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com and www.commonsenseconservationist.org Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org where I can tell you how you can listen to my weekend outdoorsman radio show from anyplace in the whole world.