Rich Abdoler and I nearly froze the other evening while duck hunting on the river nearby. At five o'clock in the evening, as the sun slowly eased off the very tops of the sycamores, it was 21 degrees.  We built a fire and warmed our feet, sacked up the decoys and headed in with only four or five ducks.  It was so cold that we weren't able to shoot well. Reflexes are slowed when there is icicles hanging from your nose and you can't feel your fingers. My old cheap pump gun wouldn't pump well because the oil was so cold, and Rich, who owns an expensive automatic, had his firing pin break on him.  So we only got five or six ducks.  
    Some of you who aren't familiar with shotguns won't care about all this, but shotgun barrels have what they call a choke in the end of them, which means they are constricted somewhat.  If they were just made like stove pipes, the shot from the shell would spread out so much that you could hit the whole side of an your tool shed from 25 yards away.  With a choke, the spread of the shot is controlled.  An improved choke is one which tightens the shot a little and at 25 yards, the pattern of your shot-shell is about the size of a pretty good washtub.  A modified choke means that your shot pattern at twenty yards is tightened up to a size of a little bigger than a basketball.  When you shoot steel shot, it doesn't spread out as much as the lead shot we use to use in the old days.  A modified choke shooting the STEEL shot at 25 yards will make a pattern a little SMALLER than a basketball.
    Now here is the reason I am explaining all this.  Folks out there who know I am a grizzled old veteran hunter who hardly ever misses, might wonder why I would only kill a couple of ducks when so many flew in and were shot at.   The reason is, as I grow older, I do not think as well as I shoot. Well really, I guess it has always been that way. But now I have a hard time remembering the last time I went hunting, and the last time I went hunting with my old cheap pump gun, I was turkey hunting.  When turkey hunting, you expect to shoot 40 or 45 yards at a little bitty turkey head sticking up out of the brush, and you want a tight shot pattern, so I had screwed into the end of the barrel an 'ultra-full', very very tight choke, which at 25 yards, using steel shot, spreads out to create a shot pattern about the size of a real big grape.
    So I forgot, and instead of putting my modified or improved cylinder chokes in my barrel so I can have a pattern the size of a bushel basket at 35 yards, I wound up shooting at those ducks at 35 yards with a pattern which seemed to me to be no bigger than a softball.
    I took my daughter Christy duck hunting in the same spot a couple of days later and it was about 40 degrees.  It was easier to shoot, and Christy got three ducks while I only got one.  I took a different old cheap pump gun and therefore I forgot when I had last hunted with it too.  Turns out I hunted turkeys with it last spring and it had an 'ultra-full' choke in it too!  I can't win.  I am going to take a magic marker and write on my gun rack... CHECK THE GOSH-DARNED CHOKE THIS TIME!
    Well it didn't matter that I didn't get many.  It was the very first time my young Labrador, 'Lightnin' Ridge Bolt', went on a duck hunt, and he really did good.  He retrieved all the ducks, and you could see he is a natural.  The first two he brought back holding them by their tails, and then he brought in a couple by the tips of their wings, but finally he started picking up the whole body and bringing them in like his grandfathers did.  If you have never owned a Labrador, you have missed out on one of the greatest things in life, and if you have never watched ducks come into decoys on cupped wings, rocking back and forth with legs extended you have missed something.  I sat up against a tree scratching his ears while Bolt nestled up beside me and took a little nap, watching the skies and realizing that I couldn't remember at all how much money I had left in the bank.
    You may not believe this, but in a local pharmacy they have a blood pressure machine, and I can take my blood pressure (which remains good until I get mad), then set back and take it again while I close my eyes and envision a flock of wild ducks circling above me, and then dropping like fall leaves into my decoys.  The second time, my blood pressure will have dropped ten or fifteen points!

    Well in my next column I am going to send out a Christmas story I hope you readers will enjoy... a true story about a Christmas from the year 1970.   But if you are anywhere close to Bolivar, Mo this coming Saturday, please stop by and visit with me and my old college roommate Woody P. Snow, a well known radio personality who is also a talented artist, singer and song writer.  
He will be there at the Printed Page bookstore on the southeast corner of the square displaying an assortment of his paintings.  I will be signing my books, and giving away free copies of both my magazines, and we will be joined by a tremendously talented wildlife artist by the name of Kevin Guinn from Sarcoxie.  If you need some art for your den or office or kitchen, then come by and see some great work.  
Woody and I have known each other since we were seventeen years old, and we use to sing a lot in our dorm room in college, mostly Everly Brothers songs from that time. Maybe I can talk him into bringing his guitar and singing a song or two.  He wrote a song about 30 years ago that was number 1 on the charts all across the nation for some time, entitled "Rocky".  
We will be there from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., so come and join us at the very first Woody P. Snow art show ever held.
    The December issue of the Lightnin' Ridge Outdoor Journal and the winter issue of the Journal of the Ozarks are magazines I am proud of, and I intend to give away the last copies I have on Saturday, so get there early before I run out of them.
    To find out about getting any of my books or a magazine subscription for a Christmas gift for an outdoorsman, call my executive secretary Ms. Wiggins this coming week at 417 777 5227.  I am going to let her off for a half day on Christmas!

    Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, mo. 65613 or e-mail  The website is  My radio program can be heard on, each Sunday morning at 8:00.... KWTO-560 AM.