You do not have to drive great distances to travel far. A trip to Pere Marquette State Park just north of St. Louis near Grafton, IL, is more than just an escape from the hustle and hard surfaces of the metropolitan area. It’s a journey to the past on many levels.
The longest part of the expedition is to the spot where you can accompany Jesuit missionary priest Pere (Father) Jacques Marquette and explorer Louis Joliet ashore along the Illinois River. A large stone cross just south of the park designates the spot of their landing.
You cannot begin to imagine how different that world was in 1673 or how hardy those adventurers must have been. Even the hiking trails at the park, which in spots and in total can be considered challenging, would have been difficult, unmarked excursions into the wilderness.
The inhabitants at the time would have been descendants of people who had lived there for centuries when it was discovered. Archaeologists acknowledge six native American cultures common to the region. Artifacts including pottery, spear points, and planting tools have been discovered along with burial mounds.
Fast-forward a couple centuries to 1931, when area residents wanted to preserve the land as a state park. Working together, civic groups raised the money and persuaded the state to match the amount to create the 8,050-acre oasis.
With the strength and skill of the Civilian Conservation Corps construction crews, the Pere Marquette Lodge was built, putting Americans to work during the Great Depression. It features large limestone blocks and huge timbers with a 50-foot high grand hall at its center. Recently renovated, the Lodge and adjoining conference center include 50 comfortable guest rooms and 22 stone-built cabins, along with playgrounds, swimming pool, whirlpool, sauna, a scenic drive and a tremendous visitor center with terrific history and impressive taxidermy mounts.
Ten interconnected trails cover nearly 12 miles of park woodland, offering outstanding views of the Illinois River valley and far off into Missouri to the east. Scenic overlook sites dot the trails, offering a reward for the climb. The McAdams Peak shelter shows off more of the CCC skills.
Other available activities include a campground with 80 electrical hook-up sites plus a large tent camping area. Boating and fishing are available on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers with wide launch ramps and ample parking.
Twenty miles of equestrian trails in the park include a section available year-round. The Pere Marquette Riding Stables are open every day except Tuesdays from May through October, offering spectacular rides to park visitors. A paved bike trail runs from the park to Alton, IL, 20 miles to the west along a rare east-west section of the Mississippi River.
We visited Pere Marquette during the fall for a sensational show of Mother Nature’s changing of the season’s colors. As great as the tree display was, it plays second fiddle to the winter’s grand finale, when bald eagles congregate along the shores of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in search of open water for fishing.
Special Eagle Days activities are scheduled through January and February and require reservations for the programs that begin 8:30 a.m. at the park’s visitor center. The program includes a video presentation followed by an observational drive to view the wintering bald eagles.
Another important note about Pere Marquette Lodge also involves a bird. The fried chicken in the lodge restaurant is reason enough to visit, and many people do just for the meal, which is served family-style with mashed potatoes, gravy, cole slaw, and vegetable of the day. The Sunday brunch buffet also draws a crowd each week.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for Outdoor Guide Magazine, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.
More than 25 years ago, we started Outdoor Guide Magazine. I have been lucky and fortunate enough to watch it grow into what it is today, and as I reflect, a few things come to mind.
Our first magazine was a 32-page publication, with mostly black and white photos and graphics. In recent years, we have averaged more than 50 pages per issue, with color on every page.
We started with a couple of writers, one editor and a small sales staff. Today, we can boast of more than 100 content contributors, and our loyal list of advertisers continues to grow.
Now we deal every two months with public issues such as chronic wasting disease, outdoors education and conservation. We provide great advice in columns such as Claudette’s Kitchen, ferocious humor in Randall Davis’ tales of removing animal pests, and detailed techniques for outdoor sports such as those provided by fishing expert John Naporadny. Five of our writers have been inducted into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame (see Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame story).
It’s a magazine with a lot of news and features, but it’s also got a soul.
Some of you may have noticed we have a section in the staff box on page 8 called “In Memoriam.” We established that years ago to honor our passed writers and editors.
Jared Billings, a classmate of mine at Crystal City High School, was the first to be recognized in that manner and, inevitably, others have joined the list.
I spent many hours floating Ozarks rivers and camping on gravel bars with Jared. Without his early guidance, the magazine would not be what it is today. He was our first Outdoor Gallery editor, and he took pride in gathering photos and supplying rich and informative captions.
Most recently, Ron Kruger passed, and the number in our Memoriam box grew again. Ron was the first editor of Outdoor Guide Magazine and had a regular column with us for many years. He had perhaps the most influence on my writing, and when it came to photography, many say he was the best. A more talented outdoors journalist, I may never meet.
While Billings and Kruger were my early outdoor mentors, legendary fly fisherman and our original Gravel Bar Gourmet, Henry Reifeiss, was a huge influence on the magazine in its middle years, and a real throwback to Jack Kerouac. I miss Henry’s prose as well as his great friendship.
We’re sad to report two additions to the Memoriam box just this year – Barbara Perry Lawton, the writer of wonderful nature columns, and Spence Turner, who knew so much about the outdoors that he couldn’t help being a teacher. I miss the others, too – Mark Hubbard, Bill Harmon, cartoonist Richard Engelke and good friend Danny Hicks – miss them all greatly. But each year, our staff grows, including such recent additions as Brent Frazee and John L. Sloan.
With the new writers and our many favorite regulars, we continue to be informative and entertaining.
ALONG THE WAY
As a small and somewhat inexperienced staff in the beginning, we made many mistakes. Once, I wrote this lead to a story: “The pallbearers carried the caskets one by one from the alter.”
Just days later, I got an unsigned post card saying, “What kind of an editor are you? You can’t even spell altar.”
I had much to learn.
Typos plagued us most in those early years. One time, we got the year wrong on the cover. How could that happen? I laugh now at those missteps, but there were many along the way. In 25 years, never has there been a perfect issue, and we know there never will.
For more than 20 years, we participated in outdoor consumer shows such as the St. Louis Boat Show and the Let’s Go Fishing Show in Collinsville. We hired models to sell subscriptions. We were on a roll.
Many of you may remember signing up for the magazine and getting a free gift. Each year, we added thousands of new readers that way.
We no longer do that, as we cannot print enough magazines to meet the demand.
Today, the question is, “What do the next few years hold?”
But for now, enjoy your Outdoor Guide, and be safe while enjoying the great outdoors.
(Editor’s Note: We’ve made a change to our publication dates for next year, so you will want to look for your first magazine of 2018, the January/February issue, to be delivered the first week in January. The March/April issue will arrive the first week of March. If you would like to subscribe and make sure you don’t miss any issues, go online to outdoorguidemagazine.com)
As a token gift for my appearance at the Missouri Department of Conservation 80th Anniversary Celebration, I received a copy of a hard-cover book the department printed recognizing its 75th year.
Titled “The Promise Continues,” it is an account of history and a documentary of art and stories that focuses on the partnerships between the department and residents of the state who work together to make efforts to restore wildlife and wild lands in our state successful.
I haven’t finished the book yet, but I was struck by something in the Foreword by former director Robert Ziehmer that highlighted the insight of those who founded the department 80 years ago and presented a challenge for its future.
In 1936 an amendment to the state constitution was proposed that created the department, and the first objective as documented in early reporting rings much louder today:
“To protect, as far as legally possible, the administration of the state’s wildlife resources from the influence of partisan politics.”
Nothing seems to happen in government these days that doesn’t seem to find a base in partisanship. Ideas are debated, decided and deleted based almost completely on who gets credit for it or who scores political points.
For all the successes the department has accomplished restoring deer, turkey and other wildlife species in the state, the biggest triumph may be its ability to rise above the fray and gain the support of both sides of a polarized populace.
NO GREATER ISSUE
Around campfires, in fishing boats, on hiking trails, recreational users of our state’s resources may not always see eye-to-eye on the politics of the day, but they seem to agree with Theodore Roosevelt’s perspective from the 1912 Progressive National Convention:
“There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in our country. The nation behaves well if it treats natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”
The other stated objectives of the proposal that created the department are equally important to the achievements of the past eight decades. They also carry a tone that rings around the workings of a political system:
“To provide for employment of staff members based on training and experience, and provide security of tenure so the state benefits from the training and experience of its employees.”
In other words, hiring the best qualified people rather than making patronage appointments, and keeping those good folks rather than dismissing someone just because the previous administration hired him or her.
The bulk of the book focuses on the department successfully putting plans in action on principals like science-based conservation, partnerships with landowners, making public lands available, educating residents, the economics of conservation, and preserving waters and wetlands.
The Profiles of Conservation Leaders section includes biographical information and line art drawings of the department directors, master conservationists, hall of famers and commissioners.
The book is available at Department of Conservation gift stores and the online natureshop.com for $15. Once I finish reading my copy, I’ll be happy to loan it out to someone looking for a good history lesson.
John J. Winkleman is marketing and communications regional manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have comments or news for Outdoor Guide Magazine, send email to email@example.com or follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.
By TED NUGENT
Editor’s Note – This issue, I defer my regular space to my friend and mentor, Ted Nugent. For every article you see in Outdoor Guide Magazine, he has four or five more that would be published if we had more room. Enjoy Ted’s words now, and savor wisdom from perhaps the greatest conservation author, ever. Ever! – Bobby Whitehead
There is a vast, stunning, towering, soul-cleansing forest in the swamplands of southern Michigan that an uppity guitar player planted by hand.
With many indigenous coniferous and deciduous species of trees, some now more than 45 years old, this mystical woodland paradise is living proof that real, honest-to-God sweat equity-prioritized stewardship can and will make a difference for thriving wildlife and healthy wild ground, not to mention a sense of gratifying fulfillment and soul-cleansing spiritual fortification that makes a man feel all warm and good inside.
Everybody knows that nature heals, even just as a spectator. But when you actually plunge your fists into good old dirty terra firma as a hands-on participant, the healing goes much deeper, I assure you.
I am convinced that planting trees every spring makes for a better, more soulful and extremely happy guitar player!
I began digging, sticking and heeling thousands and thousands of various seedlings into our little Michigan family farm way back around 1970, and along with my tribe have continued to do so every year since to create and grow our beloved Nugent Woods.
The coniferous cathedral provides critical thermal cover for all the critters to survive the severe Midwest winters. The reliable mast from the various hardwoods provide life-giving protein and nourishment throughout their lives.
The puckerbrush hellhole tangles of thousands and thousands of autumn and Russian olive bushes, multi-flora rose and wild grapevines create sanctuary from sharp-stick-wielding rock ‘n’ roll predators and assorted killers of the wild.
Add to this the annual foodplots and various agriculture we plant and cultivate each year, and what we have here my Spirit BloodBrothers, is a glorious, man-made wildlife heaven, bought, paid for, created and nurtured by a family of dedicated hands-on conservationists, the likes of which is repeated each year by many millions of hunting families and hardworking land owners across America.
I thank and salute you all and am honored to call you Spirit BloodBrothers! Rejoice like you mean it, for we are the ultimate conservationist environmentalists and damn proud of it!
A powerful and pivotal force by we the people in the asset column of nature, it is this serious investment of hard work and dedication that is the nucleus of these glorious good old days of deer hunting in North America.
I personally have never met a landowner who doesn’t cherish the wildlife-supporting acre or acres we have worked so hard to own. Land unto itself means nothing without the knowledge and understanding that we share it with the precious wildlife that we so love.
GIVE MORE BACK
From this sacred ground comes not just life itself, but what many of us believe to be the ultimate quality of life, in the form of cleansed air, soil, water, fuel, protein, clothing, tools, weapons, medicine, shelter and immeasurable spiritual fortification, knowing certainly that we are utilizing our gift of life to the fullest by putting more back into nature than we consume.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such important lessons of life were actually taught in our so-called American education system? Fat chance.
In the schools’ absence of critical quality-of-life lessons in individual earthly conservation responsibilities, as usual it will be up to we the people of the natural world to teach the young.
As we gear up for the greatest hunting season of our lives, now is the time for us to ponder how we will spend our deer-camp time with family and friends. Life has a way of overpowering our lives, thoughts and instincts, but there is no better environment or time than around the hunting season campfire, buck pole or dinner table to keep the conversation alive about nature, and our duties to her, than when the pure, seasonal Spirit of the Wild is such a wonderful and inescapable force all around us.
Emphasizing the renewability of our hunting lifestyle at this time of year, particularly with Thanksgiving on the horizon, imprints strongly on all who hear it.
THE SPIRIT CALLS
In a world gone mad with the dangerous lie of political correctness and the shameful denial it creates, those of us still grounded on nature’s reality must constantly push forward on these important points.
With various hunting seasons in full swing now, getting into our reasoning predator mindset is Job One for all of us right now.
Never forget that Job One-A is spreading the good word, educating everyone we can and celebrating this last pure tooth, fang and claw hands-on conservation lifestyle like we mean it in thought, word, action and deed.
It may be the natural season of harvest, but fall is also a great time to plant trees! Make it an annual family party!
Aim small, miss small, but think BIG and plant a tree! The Great Spirit calls our name!
The latest generation in a long line of family farmers, Steve Christ of Hillsboro, MO, recognizes pork when he sees it.
So while he was out spraying fields this spring, he easily identified the boar that was walking along the wood edge. He also knew none of his friends would believe his story unless he took a picture.
By definition, what he saw was a feral hog. The state classifies as feral any hog that is not conspicuously identified by ear tags or other identification and is roaming freely on public or private land without the land manager’s or landowner’s permission.
Christ shared his photo with conservation agent Kyle Dunda, who said that even though the photographic evidence isn’t completely conclusive, the animal appears to be a large pot-bellied pig or other domestic swine that either escaped from its owners or was dumped in the rural area.
Missouri is currently in a battle to eradicate feral hogs. They are not considered wildlife, and they have more than doubled their range from 17 to 38 states over the past 30 years. They reproduce prolifically, breeding any time of the year and producing litters of up to seven piglets twice per year.
Advanced trapping systems allowed state Department of Conservation efforts to remove 3,649 feral hogs in 2015 and 5,358 in 2016. The numbers for the first half of 2017 are even better, with 4,128 feral hogs removed in the first six months. The trend line shows that efforts are working.
In addition to trapping, the strategy also includes aerial gunning, a method that added to the totals with more than 250 feral hogs in one week this year. Conspiracy theorists claim that state officials are just trying to keep all the fun to themselves and that individual hunters – without restrictions – would be more effective.
But two decades of “shoot on sight” and hunting efforts actually brought increases in feral hog populations since the 1990s. Captive hunting operations began raising wild boars for hunting, but some of those animals escaped to the wild. Even more problematic were other individuals releasing domestic swine on private and public land for sport hunting.
In response, the state has made it illegal to hunt feral hogs on lands owned or managed by the conservation department. Hunters often disrupt bait sites and traps set to catch entire groups.
Economic losses from feral hog damage are estimated at more than $1.5 billion annually in the United States. In addition to eating farmers’ crops, their rooting nature damages property and natural resources.
They also eat young wildlife and the eggs of ground nesting birds like wild turkeys. They have been known to kill deer fawns, and they eat a lot of acorns that provide deer and other wild animals’ primary food source. Feral hogs also are known to carry diseases that can be transmitted to other domestic swine and could threaten human health as well.
Steve Christ, who raises beef cattle along with row crops and garden vegetables, is keenly aware of the trouble wild hogs could do to a farming operation like his. If he had been carrying a firearm instead of his camera on the tractor, he could have rightfully chosen the gun to prevent the potential damage.
The state prefers that landowners report feral hog sightings and damage rather than shooting them, because in most instances the wild animals are traveling in large groups called sounders. Hunting or shooting them can remove one or a few at a time, but trapping can catch and eliminate whole groups.
The state has received grants to purchase additional traps, building materials and trail cameras for the feral hog strike team to assist landowners. State wildlife biologist Mark McClain leads feral hog elimination efforts in southeast Missouri. He spends a lot of his time with landowners and conservation groups working for feral hog elimination.
“With the new innovations in traps and with more landowners on board, all of us getting together and working at it, we can saturate that landscape with effort and come up with better traps, better baits and better ways of doing things,” McLain said.
Increased efforts and better technology continue to show success. The state and its partners will continue improving until their goal is met.
“As an agency with our partners, our goal is complete elimination of feral hogs from Missouri,” McLain said.
For more information about feral hogs and how to help with elimination efforts, go to mdc.mo.gov/feralhogs or learn more about feral hog damage by listening to a podcast at on.mo.gov/2veW83k. The state recommends that anyone who sees feral hogs or suspects damage that may have been caused by wild animals call (573) 522-4115 ext. 3296. John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.
OK, I am not a good outdoorsman. It’s true, and I admit it. But I am lucky to know a few.
Larry Dablemont comes to mind right away. Then there’s Larry Woodward, the late Denny Dennis, Ralph Duren, Ray Eye, Bob McVey and so many other people I am lucky to know.
While I’ve been blessed to have fished from Canada to Belize, hunted wild turkeys from New Mexico to the Yucatan, and spent many days and nights camping on gravel bars on Ozark rivers, I could never survive in the wild, left to my own devices.
Often I have wondered how I would fare if suddenly stranded in the wilderness.
One time, fishing with a good friend and superb fishing guide, Gene Cailey, the boat’s main motor malfunctioned on a cold and windy Canadian lake.
Had Cailey less skill, we would have blown ashore several miles from our take-out.
He rode the trolling motor like a wrangler on a crazed bronco, and we made it back safely.
While we had a harried bit of time to grab essentials, it was obvious we were not prepared and extremely lucky that day.
Since that event, I often wondered: What would be essential survival gear if stranded?
I posed this question to several of our top editors and writers:
“If you were suddenly and unexpectedly stranded outdoors, what five items would you wish at your side?”
One writer shot back, “Four beautiful women and a bucket of Viagra!”
At his age, I will forgive him for a bit of off-color humor and hope you do, as well.
Bill Cooper, our Gravel Bar Gourmet, longtime friend and outdoors mentor, suggested:
“A knife, rope, fire starter, sheet of plastic for shelter and water gathering, and a good-sized candy bar.”
Billy is one of those who would survive in a bad situation, I truly believe.
How could you disagree with any of his choices? A man who cooks outdoors that much would surely appreciate a large candy bar, too.
Brent Frazee, one of our top freelance columnists, formerly of the Kansas City Star, lists these five items as essential: “A flashlight, waterproof matches, knife, rain gear and either a compass or handheld GPS.”
I am not sure what I would do with a compass, but his selections would be high on most folks’ list.
Our food editor, Claudette Roper had this to say:
“This answer would vary much by location and time of year. Those factors would also influence what I would carry with me when out hiking or hunting.
1. Water/portable filter/iodine tablets – We have to have water – and safe water.
2. A weapon – Something to protect myself and/or provide food.
3. A multi-tool – This would provide a means of gutting and skinning whatever I shoot or catch. It would have multiple additional uses including cutting vegetation/twigs, etc., for firewood and shelter.
4. A 35mm film container (if anyone still knows what that is or has one or something similar) – Filled with wax-dipped matches, fishing line and a hook.
5. Dehydrated meat and vegetables or trail mix – The real stuff, not a bunch of chocolate chips, etc.”
Now that is well thought-out. I like the idea of a firearm for protection and securing food, and the multi-tool might come in pretty handy.
Another of our top writers, Randall Davis, had this to share:
“The question posed was five items you would want available to one’s self.
Offhand, other than a comfortably furnished, climate-controlled geodesic yurt complemented with gourmet chef, full pantry, brimming wine/beer cellar and a stable of supermodels possessing massage therapy licenses, things might get a little rough in the outback.
“So, to be realistic:
1. A tea-billy. You know, one of those one-gallon metal lard cans Canadian guides use to boil up tea (or heaven forbid, coffee). You could also use it to carry water, pick berries, and, with a handful of rocks inside, it’s a fine maraca to scare off bears.
2. A spool of 80-pound braided fishing line with a dozen 3/0 circle hooks. Not only would this be essential in harvesting aquatic meals, it is mighty be handy should the maraca not work and you need to stitch up some wounds from that bear.
3. A harmonica. Not only does it stave off madness from being alone, but it can assist with the bear deterrent. And even if you can’t play, simply throw it into the tea billy. Then you’ll have no excuse about ‘Can’t carry a tune in a bucket.’
4. A quality GoPro. I mean, who’s going to believe all this anyway? Besides, should everything go south, there will be recorded evidence that you were eaten by coyotes instead of bears.
5. And finally, a well varnished cedar canoe with a hand-hewn birch paddle. “That way you can comfortably record a selfie while playing ‘Amazing Grace’ (because after a few days, you’ll think this is appropriate) while sipping Labrador tea and trolling for lake trout, as you paddle back to that magnificent yurt and staff you should have never left in the first place.”
Not to be outdone, outdoor scribe, great friend and mentor Gerald
Scott had this to offer:
“Your being stranded for several days problem is intriguing. Since he/she knows that no help will arrive for several days, and that getting out unaided isn’t possible, I’m going to assume that having a cell phone, a GPS unit or even an old-fashioned compass wouldn’t help the situation.
“Under those parameters, the first item on my list would be some type of water purification device, because you absolutely will need water before several days have passed.
“Number two would be a survival fire starter. I like the magnesium ones, but there are other good choices.
“Number three would be a hatchet. It’s possible to do anything with a hatchet that can be done with a knife, but the reverse is not true.
“Number four would be at least 100 feet of 300-pound-test braided cord – not fishing line. If you weren’t the editor, you could use up all of your assigned column inches describing the ways to use cord in the wilderness.
“Finally, I would want an 8-foot by 10-foot waterproof tarp for obvious reasons.
“If you would let me have a sixth item, it would be a small cooking pot with lid. Please note that all six items would easily fit into the game bag of a turkey vest.
“I sure hope that helps you get out of the woods safely. But if it doesn’t, can I have your stuff?
“By the way, you owe me $50 for the world-class information.”
Happy to pay it, Gerald. Great information.
And finally, words from a good friend and superb Ozarks stream fishing guide, Dennis Whiteside:
“Five good friends: One to pitch the tent, one to build the fire, one to cook and clean, one to tell stories and one to bring me back home.”
I will ponder these choices as I prepare for fall endeavors. I am sure you have your list now, too. Share them with me at email@example.com, and we’ll send you Andy’s Seasoning should we publish your thoughts.
Now, where is that damn flashlight?
Catching sunfish is fun. Almost all anglers got their fishing feet wet by landing these prolific and plentiful little guys, but I confess to taking the activity a little too seriously. My legitimate excuse is that they are really good to eat.
In early April, Lucky Jim and I visited our favorite little conservation lake, and in true fisherman fashion, I refuse to tell you how to find it. In general, these free public fishing opportunities are all about the same. You are likely to encounter other anglers at any of them, but probably not too many trying to catch sunfish almost exclusively.
What might be considered too seriously? We spent more than five hours trying to catch a limit of 20 fish apiece. The average weight of all our keepers was probably less than 8 ounces each. We did manage to catch quite a few that were larger than that, which is the exact reason it’s our favorite conservation lake.
Most of the biggest fish we caught were red-ear sunfish. While it is not necessary to know the difference between the subspecies, it can be helpful in making the most of your daily limit.
common sunfish in Missouri is the bluegill. Farm ponds and just about every other body of water in the state are filled with them. A really good-sized bluegill is 10 inches long and weighs about three-quarters of a pound. They have small mouths, dark green backs and sides, and a small black patch on the edge of their gill flaps surrounded by just a bit of blue.
Red-ear sunfish are similarly shaped and colored, but their gills have a white border and a prominent red or orange spot. That distinct mark is the best way to tell the difference, but another telltale sign is size. Red-ear sunfish can be more than 12 inches long and closer to a full pound.
The other difference is where to catch them. While all sunfish move to shallower areas of the lake or pond for spawning in the spring, red-ear are commonly in deeper water. Also known as shell crackers because of their taste for snails, they are regularly looking for food on the bottom of the lake.
On the other end of the size spectrum of the common sunfish in the state is the long-ear. Their maximum size is about 7 inches and about a quarter of a pound. They are much more likely to be found in streams than lakes and are best recognized by their bright coloration. They look like something almost tropical.
Some people call them pumpkinseeds, and they do look like the non-native Missouri fish with that name, but they are different. The telling trait is the feature that gives the long-ear sunfish its name. The black spot on the gill edge is elongated on the side of its head and looks like a long ear.
The coloring of the green sunfish is much like its brethren with green, blue, yellow and white features, but its shape is distinctly different. The others are more round, almost plate-shaped, while the green sunfish is much longer than it is tall. Its mouth is also significantly larger than those of the three others. They are similar in length and weight to the bluegill and red-ear sunfish. What sets them apart is noticeable during the cleaning process. Their flesh is not as firm as the other two.
Many ponds are stocked with hybrid sunfish that are a cross between green sunfish and bluegills. They grow quickly, which makes them desirable for stocking, but they don’t reproduce to provide food for other predator fish, and they have the mushy flesh of their green sunfish parents.
Other sunfish found in Missouri include the somewhat rare flier and warmouth, and the secretive rock bass, also known as goggle eyes. Technically, crappie and black bass – like the largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass – are also part of the sunfish family. Most everyone else on the lake that day was trying to catch any of those while we targeted our little favorites.
While I won’t tell you where that was, I will offer one sunfish catching tip. Early April is not as good as May or June, so the next time out is bound to be much better.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for Outdoor Guide Magazine, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.
Editor’s note: The following updates a piece I wrote several years ago. Since then, the Folds of Honor has continued to help sons and daughters of fallen warriors. Would you consider helping them by going online to foldsofhonor.org?
The young and immaculate Marine’s hands were shaking. I watched as he meticulously, and with much ceremony, folded the American flag that had adorned my father’s casket.
That folding is known as the Folds of Honor.
A gun salute ensued while the bugler’s Taps sounded its proud but sorrowful song. My mother accepted the triangle of honor from the Marine, and my life was changed forever.
My dad had served two terms in the Korean War. He died at the age of 36 with a brain tumor that the doctors said he might have contracted while overseas. That service, held in St. Louis, was over half a century ago.
Many years later, I was sitting at a Bushnell press conference at the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoors Trade Show (SHOT) in Las Vegas. A woman in her college years told of how her father had been killed in a foreign war while fighting for our freedom.
Her story was tender and touched our hearts. She spoke of the hardships and hurdles she and her family faced following her father’s death.
And while she paused from time to time, her voice breaking, her message was uplifting. She spoke of a group called the Folds of Honor Foundation. She thanked them for helping pay her college expenses. And more than that, for helping her family cope with that tragic loss.
Founded by Major Dan Rooney in 2007, Folds of Honor provides educational scholarships to the spouses and children of service members disabled or killed during U.S. military service.
Rooney, a former F-16 pilot who served three tours in Iraq, also spoke that day, saying he founded Folds of Honor to ensure that families of fallen service members never have to endure alone.
While a passenger on a commercial flight, Rooney had witnessed an event that would profoundly change his life.
As the plane landed, the pilot announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an American hero on board, Corporal Brock Bucklin, and his twin brother, Corporal Brad Bucklin, is accompanying him home from Iraq. As a sign of respect, please remain seated while Corporal Bucklin’s family receives him in his final homecoming.”
Rooney had watched through the window of the plane as the flag-draped casket was lowered.
He saw a family waiting for Brock, and a four-year-old boy waiting for his father.
This tragic homecoming inspired him to create Folds of Honor.
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down, 87 percent of more than a million dependents affected by those wars did not qualify for federal scholarship assistance.
But as of 2015, Folds of Honor had provided 9,500 scholarships to the children of fallen warriors and the effort continues.
After Rooney spoke, country singer Craig Morgan sang a couple of poignant songs he had written for the foundation, and I found myself glad I had worn my sunglasses. I could see others quietly wiping away tears.
THE TWO DADS
The event brought to mind another special occasion, the military ceremony in Fort Hood, TX, for my step-father – my other dad – who had served in the Army in World War II and lived until he was 85 years old.
As Taps sounded from the hillside close by, my sister crumpled like a wilted flower. I held her close and whispered to her:
“Stand strong and proud sister. We are lucky. We have had two dads bestow upon us the Folds of Honor.”
For more information or to contribute to the Folds of Honor cause, go online to foldsofhonor.org.
As much as I enjoy watching the birds in the woods and around my backyard, I know I could be much better at it if it weren’t for a few challenges that I can’t do anything about.
My aging eyes and ears don’t see and hear like they used to, and in reality, they were not real good for bird-watching to begin with.
Due to a disadvantage called Daltonism or deuteranopia, I don’t see colors well. I’m especially challenged by browns, greens and reds. For bird identification, red and browns are often important colors, and finding the feathered fliers among green leaves can be a real trick.
My bird books also offer clues to telling certain birds apart by the songs they sing and the sounds they make. Those phonetic spellings almost never make any sense to me, and my tone deafness will not allow me to distinguish even simple song differences.
When a couple of hawks were having quite a squabble in the woods just behind our house, I wanted to make sure I knew exactly who was responsible for the ruckus. I guessed red-tailed hawk right away, but based on almost everything I could see and hear, I thought there was a chance they could have been red-shouldered hawks.
Red-tailed hawks are more common in Missouri, so I had the percentages in my favor. Their sizes are different, but not really something that can be judged at a distance or without a tape measure. An average red-tailed hawk is 22 inches from tail tip to beak, but the red-shouldered hawk’s average length is 19 inches.
Both species prefer a forested habitat with cleared areas for hunting. They eat rabbits, squirrels, snakes, mice and other small animals. Actually, they will eat anything they can catch, including birds, frogs and insects.
The high-pitched screech they make is similar but distinct enough, according to Peterson’s Field Guide. The red-tailed hawk will squeal “keeer-r-r,” while the red-shouldered hawk is a distinct two-syllable scream “kee-yer.” That sound is frequently compared to the noise made by blue jays.
In flight, the underside of the red-shouldered hawk is usually darker, but immature red-tailed hawks can be harder to distinguish because of their similar size and color. That fact required extra consideration, because I believed the commotion in the woods may have been the parents convincing their young to venture away.
Earlier this spring I began watching a pair of hawks frequently in a tall tree in the woods. I could never spot a nest, but I was sure that was the goal. The male and female build the nest together, and both incubate the eggs for more than a month. Another 45 days will pass before the fledglings begin leaving the nest, so the timing made my theory a possibility.
The mated pair will return to the area next spring to start the cycle again. The young birds will have to find new hunting and home-building territories to call their own.
Missouri has several other raptors, but their sizes or habitat make them distinct from the first two. Broad-winged hawks are the smallest of the bueto family, but they are most likely to be seen in the state during migrations in April and September. Rough-legged hawks are similar in size to the red-tailed hawk, but they nest in the northern arctic and are seen here in the winter.
Accipiters such as the sharp-shinned hawk and Cooper’s hawks are smaller than red-shouldered hawks, and they have longer tails. They are much faster fliers, and because of that they are more likely to include more birds in their diets.
Missouri also is home to several falcons, including tiny (by comparison) American kestrels, which are less than 12 inches in total length and are best identified by their habit of hovering over grassy areas before dive-bombing their prey.
The peregrine falcon is similar in size to our common hawks, and its claim to fame is as the fastest living animal. They can dive at speeds up to 200 miles per hour in pursuit of birds. Nearly extinct in the state at one time, they are now making a strong comeback with assists from nesting programs high on the ledges of city buildings that mimic the cliffs the birds naturally call home.
They are welcomed in the cities because of their ability to catch and kill pigeons.
I never definitively identified those big birds in our back woods, but they certainly provided an entertaining evening. They screeched and challenged each other until eventually they went their separate ways.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for Outdoor Guide Magazine, e-mail email@example.com and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.
Play make-believe with me for a moment, OK?
Let’s say you die and then you are reincarnated as a bird. What bird would you be?
Would you choose an eagle? Regal and majestic, the symbol of our nation might be a popular choice.
What about a crow or a raven? I think a crow would be cool. If they do not get their way, crows always complain, and I have seen them give hell to a turkey gobbler. The fray follows a crow, it seems, and could such a raucous life be boring?
WHAT BIRD WOULD YOU BE?
Once you got used to eating carrion, it might be interesting to be a ranger of the road, flying with the pack while letting the sultry sentry provide your security.
There are many species of ducks and some beautiful ones to be sure. But they get shot at a lot, and I would not care for that. Doves get shot at, too. So, bird of peace notwithstanding, no dovey for me.
What about a great blue heron? Now that would be the life. I could be talked into spending my second life living on the river eating frogs and fish. How about you?
Maybe you would be a songbird, a redbird or a robin. It’s hard to argue against wanting to be any of those sweet-singing songsters.
It would be sweet irony if Ray Eye were to come back as a wild turkey and Joel Vance were to reappear as a quail. They certainly have harassed their share of birds over the years.
There are other choices and I am sure you have your favorite.
For me, it would be the mockingbird.
I work in downtown St. Louis with city buildings all around. We are lucky because we have a parking lot lined with trees and shrubs, and the wildlife that has survived this concrete mega-muck hangs around, holding onto what little habitat remains.
Over the past 30 years, we have had several generations of mockingbirds make their homes here.
One became tame enough we could feed him choice seeds atop a parking post right out our back door while we stood at his side. One time he came bolting in for his breakfast and skidded on the icy asphalt, almost falling down.
Despite the deep indignity he grabbed his grub and lived on through another winter.
The northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), “many tongued mimic,” can sing the songs of 200 other birds.
While our mockingbird imitates other birds, he also makes other sounds.
City sirens constantly wail. Emergency and traffic ‘copters often skirt across our sky, and an incessant city clamor provides him a vocabulary selection that would have made Daniel Webster proud.
The mockingbird is a loner, spending time only with his mate. He does not flock and he will not tolerate others of his kind infringing upon his hallowed haunt. He is a bully in a way, often chasing doves, sparrows, grackles, starlings and the like away from his world.
Large hungry hawks, he fears not.
ON DREARY DAYS
There are early deadline mornings for us here at the magazine and during the dark, cold, blustery days dreary, it is uplifting to see him sitting in his tree or on his power line, surveying and protecting his kingdom.
With elegant black chevrons upon his gray sleeves, the mockingbird exudes a sense of simple elegance and an understanding of a brotherhood that transcends species and defies anthropomorphic logic.
He is my little buddy. And while I know that, like his ancestors, his lifespan will be short, his progeny will live on long after I am gone.
Noted writer and author Larry Dablemont once said, “It is not necessary for the individual to survive but that the species live on.”
Excuse me a moment, would you? It is cold and icy here. I need to step outside and throw a few choice kernels on the ground.
ECSTASY AND IMITATION
“With expanded wings and tail glistening with white, and the bouyant gayety of his action arresting the eye, as his song does most irresistibly the ear, he sweeps around with enthusiastic ecstasy, and mounts and descends as his song swells or dies away.
“And he often deceives the sportsman, and sends him in search of birds that are not perhaps within miles of him, but whose notes he exactly imitates.” — Alexander Wilson