More than three decades ago, one of life’s simple turns smiled upon me.
My wife’s brother, Greg Doak, bought a condo at Lake of the Ozarks. A medical doctor practicing in Eldon, MO, he had decided to give lake life a try. For the next 15 years or so, Debbie and I spent countless weekends on that beautiful body of water.
The residence at the four-mile marker became our outdoors headquarters, and it is there my fishing education began in earnest. Oh sure, I had fished before – as a small boy and while in college – but nothing as intense as my time on the dock in the shadow of The Condo.
An early riser, I would walk down to the docks at the marina. Sometimes, someone was fishing. Many times, there was no one but me. I would set up with my chair and fishing gear, and for hours I would catch fish. Lots of fish. All kinds of fish.
Those same mornings, Debbie and Greg would sit on the porch drinking coffee while listening to National Public Radio.
For me, there on the dock in the dark, I could hear the haunting last vestiges of the coyotes’ mad song giving way to turkeys gobbling on a nearby ridge. Great blue herons staked out prime hunting waters, and the crows complained about nothing.
A BIG CATCH
Once, I hooked a huge carp, possibly four pounds or so. For several minutes, he had his way with me and my light spinning gear. As I walked around the dock, maneuvering through and around cables, the fish finally gave in.
I hadn’t noticed a nearby fisherman watching the battle. He clapped heartily when I raised the behemoth from the water, only to return my prize back into the lake.
I became obsessed with my new hobby. I started reading outdoor magazines. I bought a floating fish basket to hold my creel. I learned to clean the fish I caught, and I learned to cook them, too.
I bought a couple Loomis rods and Shimano reels. I experimented with different types of lures and became proficient with live bait. A simple hook and worm guarded by a bobber worked great at times, and over the years, I caught and cleaned hundreds of blue gills, bass and catfish.
In a small advertisement in an outdoors magazine, I found JaDa Bait Company out of Wisconsin. They shipped live bait, overnight. I bought wax worms, mealworms and spikes (maggots.) I tried it all.
I ordered so much live bait from JaDa that I got to know the folks by their first names. Eventually, Debbie got tired of fighting through critters in her refrigerator, so I bought a small unit to store my live weapons.
Shortly after we started Outdoor Guide Magazine in the early ‘90s, I met Louie Mansfield of Caruthersville, MO, at a fishing show. He had just invented an artificial fly using a 1/80 oz. lead head dressed with grizz feathers from a duck. He called it the Grizzly Jig.
I fished with Mansfield on his home lake, Reelfoot, and immediately fell in love with his new bait. My fishing success off the dock at The Lake improved, and I found tipping the hook with a wax worm worked wonders. I became a fan of the Grizzly Jig for life.
Soon I met crappie-fishing guru Guy Winters at a St. Louis County Parks seminar, and we became great friends. Winters had a lure company in Camdenton, MO, and I joined him at Linn Creek several times over the years, and my fishing world grew.
Eventually I began to explore other parts of The Lake. I hired guides on occasion, and Debbie fell in love with fishing, too. The Niangua arm became a favorite, as well as the Gravois. We caught hybrid stripers, catfish, white bass, blue cats, buffalo and other species.
Fishing on the dock at The Condo led me down a path to a wonderful career and many outdoor adventures. It’s hard to believe what has transpired since those days when my legs would fall asleep sitting on that dock, all those years ago.
It was at The Condo that Debbie and I reaffirmed our love for each other. Sitting in a porch swing overlooking the lights on the lake, a warm summer breeze blowing, drinking margaritas and listening to Jimmy Buffett gave us time to reflect on our past while we talked about our dreams and hopes for the future. The Condo had become a special place in our lives.
During those years at The Condo, I got to know my brother-in-law, a fine doctor and even greater man. He personifies dedication to his profession – honorable and hard working. I must confess though, while at The Condo, Greg left his work and worries behind He bought a boat. He became a pirate and was self-dubbed “SeaDawg,” a moniker he carries still. With a penchant for Shiner Bock beer and schnapps, he wasn’t one with whom to be trifled, either.
The Condo became known as the Margarita Clinic. Many Friday and Saturday nights over the years, we celebrated lake life, experimenting with different brands of tequila-mixed margaritas. Life at the lake was good. But one day, Greg took a position in Sedalia, MO, and The Condo was history.
I know it is cliché to say times were simpler then: no computers, no cell phones. And I wouldn’t trade today to go back. But I will fondly remember those days, watching my bobber disappear, fishing in the shadow of The Condo.
While counting blessings during the upcoming hunting season, we should be sure to give thanks for those volunteers who have made our sport safer by dedicating themselves to educating the next generation of hunters.
The state acknowledges those volunteers each year, selecting a winner in each region. This spring, Kenneth Barrows of Barnhart was named the hunter education volunteer instructor of the year for the St. Louis region. Conservation agent Jeff Breuer said the involvement of volunteers like Barrows is vital to the program success.
“Ken Barrows has been a dedicated hunter education instructor for years,” Breuer said. “He is always enthusiastic, and his support of conservation and safe hunting is immeasurable.”
Barrows has taught thousands of young hunters about the sport since he earned his certification as an instructor in 1993. In 2015, he participated in 18 hunter education classes including six where he served as chief instructor. He contributed 104 classroom hours to the program and helped to teach hunter education to 416 students.
MENTOR TO VOLUNTEERS
Barrows also worked with the most recent class of volunteer hunter education instructors and continued to mentor new volunteers as they worked to gain the certification he earned more than 20 years ago.
“When I think of the dedication and integrity required of our volunteer hunter educators, Ken Barrows is an outstanding example,” Breuer said.
Barrows is proud of the award, and the work he and volunteers like him accomplish.
“We save lives. That’s easy to prove statistically,” he said. “Also, we work to recruit new hunters and to maintain the hunting tradition. Occasionally we get letters of appreciation from parents or grandparents, and that is a wonderful feeling.”
He has been enjoying that feeling for 23 years. He was looking for an opportunity to volunteer somewhere and saw a notice in the Missouri Conservationist magazine. He called that coincidence, “perfect fit, perfect timing.”
The program has changed since he started in 1993, he said, most obviously the move to the online portion of the class, which must be completed before attending the skills session. He also has noticed positive trends.
“Another big and continuing change is the makeup of the classes. There are more women and minorities all the time, and that is a very good thing,” he said. “One thing hasn’t changed and never will is the Golden Rule of safe gun handling, ‘Always point the muzzle in a safe direction!’”
FRIENDS FOR LIFE
In addition to saving lives and making hunting safer for everyone, the volunteer receives many personal rewards, he said.
“You make lifelong friends across a spectrum of people that includes men, women, white collar, blue collar, young and not-so-young,” Barrows said. “You’ll have a whole new community of friends who have an interest in safe hunting in common.”
Getting involved as a volunteer instructor is as simple as attending an instructor class and joining an education team.
“Anyone should get involved who believes strongly that hunting is a safe, healthy activity. Complete the process and come be a part of our team,” he said. “We can always use serious volunteers. That’s how all of us got started.”
Students learn about safety, the history of the Department of Conservation and the value of being responsible, he said.
“I tell lots of people the class is really more about accepting responsibility than firearm safety. If you embrace the privilege of hunting, you will accept the responsibility to be safe, to be a good woodsman, a good marksman, to be knowledgeable of the rules, the game and your tools like your firearm, knives, clothes,” Barrows said. “Like any activity, you can immerse yourself in the details and learn so much more.”
That learning starts with a search of classes at mdc.mo.gov. Thank you to Ken and to all the volunteers who give their time.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @johnjwink99.
(Editor’s note: Following the recent terrorist attacks across our great country, this is a new version of an old column I wrote shortly after 9/11/2001.)
A young woman rang our doorbell. She handed me a plate of brownies and smiled.
“What are these for?” I asked, giving her my best poker face wondering what “cause” I would be contributing to next.
“They are for you and your family. Enjoy,” she said with a pleased look.
“Thank you!” I offered as she walked away carrying a half-full shopping bag of brownies.
She had written something on a small scrap of paper neatly wrapped and placed inside the cellophane that enveloped the chocolate treasures.
“This is a random act of kindness. Keep your thanks and pass it on.”
I smiled, popped one of the luscious morsels into my mouth, and couldn’t wait to tell my wife what had just happened.
On another day, I might have been suspicious and would not have eaten food from a stranger so quickly. Yet, in the years since terror struck our nation on September 11, 2001, random acts of kindness have become common here in our glorious country. I immediately recognized this as such.
Ironically, the recent horrible and historic attacks upon our nation and its people have triggered a “coming together” of all Americans.
Every day now, I witness all kinds of acts of kindness, courage and heroism. Folks all across our great nation are espousing pride in our country, and there is a feeling of brotherhood unlike anything I have ever seen or felt.
I am a Korean War baby boomer, having lived my teenage years during the Vietnam War. I remember when “Viet Nam” was spelled as two words.
Vividly I remember the Hostage Crisis in the early ‘80s, and I’ve seen my share of terrible things over the years.
Yet, my generation and the one that follows me, I’ll wager, are experiencing for the first time the collective emotions a country’s people can muster when under fire, when freedom and life are threatened. And if some of you didn’t realize it already, there is a price to pay for being fee.
On the way to work, around that fateful time, there was an apparent tie-up ahead. Traffic was backed up where normally it was not.
As I got closer to the intersection, I could see firefighters holding boots and collecting money.
Not a single car passed our heroes without making a contribution, the drivers oblivious to the green light ushering us along. The firefighters were earnest and determined and, for the first time in many days, I knew we were going to be OK.
LOVE IN BRONZE
Later that day, I watched the evening news as Senator Jean Carnahan honored the Missouri firefighters’ contingent that had joined its New York brothers and sister at the disaster site shortly after the attack. They returned to our state as heroes and were honored before thousands of thankful Americans.
And how about the story of the bronze statue of a firefighter kneeling, exhausted, head down, holding himself up with one arm on his grounded helmet? The monument was in New York awaiting shipment to our state. It had been commissioned years earlier.
Our firefighters said, “Leave it there! Let it stand as a memorial to our brothers and sisters who lost their lives that fateful day.”
The hauntingly beautiful and possibly pre-ordained statue was displayed within hours of the disaster and became an instant shrine.
Just hours after the attack on freedom, I received an email from my youngest brother, Buddy Pearson. He was the sports editor for the Cookeville, TN, daily Herald-Citizen, and like many of us, he was coming to grips with the significance of his job and sports in general in light of this great tragedy
He sent me a draft of his column slated for the next edition. He hadn’t had much time to absorb fully the impact of what had just happened. Events were unfolding as he wrote.
I was barely a teenager when Buddy was born. I remember his first hours, and the subsequent days, months and years as he became a man of whom I am so proud.
Following are excerpts from his column:
“Catastrophe makes sports insignificant. Yesterday morning, as the news began to break regarding the cowardly terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I had to compose our sports section.
“People were losing their lives, the United States was embroiled in one of the most tragic events in its history, and I was looking for photos for a sports story.
“As I read the horrific reports coming across the AP wire, my heart sank. I wanted so badly to help somehow. Working on the sports section seemed to demean the many victims and their loved ones.
“Yet, we have made a commitment to you, our readers, to bring you the best sports coverage possible. Our staff will continue to cover sports during this period of shock and tremendous grief. Perhaps our light news will serve to lighten your burden. We will continue to do our jobs, as is our duty. But we will do this keeping in mind those who have suffered immeasurable tragedy.”
JOB AND DUTY
At Outdoor Guide Magazine, we echo the words spoken by my brother and those of our leaders. Despite our grief, we will continue to bring you the finest outdoor news possible. It is our job, our duty.
Now more than ever, we encourage you to seek the peace afforded by the great outdoors. Float a pristine Ozark river. Take your family to a park, go fishing, hike a nature trail. Grab your loved ones and hold them close.
Watch the moon as one of its many phases lights the sky each night, and let the stars shine upon all that is good.
Embrace your American blood brothers and sisters and send a message to all who would threaten our lives and our freedoms. Set your resolve.
For the battle for freedom and the fight to conserve our Earth and its precious resources begin in earnest now. And your random act of kindness could make all the difference.
Generally I don’t write product review stories, but I am hooked on some new spinner baits I purchased recently, and I am hopeful that many other anglers will discover these fish-catching treasures.
There is an old saying that fishing lures are designed to catch fishermen more than fish, and while these are attractive and effective, it’s where they come from that gives them their added appeal.
The spinner baits are among an assorted number of lures assembled by the employees at Jeffco Subcontracting Inc. (JSI) in Arnold, MO.
“At JSI, we have 114 adults with developmental disabilities who work in our shop,” said Russ Kuttenkuler, executive director. “Our fishing lure business started about 10 years ago. The lures were being made by a man who had more orders than he could handle. He sells them under the name ‘Wizard Custom Tackle and Fish Hog.’”
The non-profit JSI organization now makes lures for three other companies and has been talking to four others about beginning production.
“Typically we will get the painted lure heads with hooks and attach the skirt, bend the wire and sometimes add beads or swivels, and then attach the spinning blades,” Kuttenkuler said. “We have a whole rainbow of colors for skirts and heads. The customers tell us wheat combinations they want. They are the experts on how fish think and what they like to eat.”
ONLINE OR DIRECT
The companies like Wizard sell the lures on their websites and Facebook pages, he said. JSI has just started offering lures for sale directly to consumers.
“We have a test display at Buchheit in Herculaneum. We’re seeing how that’s going to go. You are always welcome to stop by JSI from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday,” Kuttenkuler said.
The JSI workshop is at 2065 Pomme Road, just off of Old Lemay Ferry Road, in Arnold.
Since 1979, JSI has provided employment for adults with developmental disabilities. The non-profit is funded primarily by the contracts that it has with companies. It also receives subsidies from the state and support from the Jefferson County Disabilities Resource Board through property tax funding.
The employees appreciate the extra spending money they earn at their jobs, but they also are proud of their workmanship.
“Just like you and I, they take a lot of pride in where they work and what they do,” Kuttenkuler said. “They go home at night and tell their families about everything they are working on.”
TRY A TOUR
In addition to purchasing lures on a visit to JSI, Kuttenkuler said, they love to give tours of the workshop in action.
“That’s our best selling point. When we get customers in here and they see how the work gets done and meet our workforce, they’re sold,” he said.
I know that I’m sold on my newest fishing lures. In addition to hooking me, I was happy to catch and release several very nice bass at my favorite farm pond.
I also lost one, fishing a little too close to the underwater structure. Fortunately, I know where I can get more, and now you know too. You will feel good about the fish you catch and the proud Americans your purchases support.
For more information about JSI call Kuttenkuler at 636-296-6211, ext. 1.
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.
This Father’s Day Tribute is dedicated to the late Argle Pearson, who lived in Killeen, TX, was a World War II veteran and became my dad. This was originally written and published shortly before he died in December, 2010.
Since you’ve been sick and unable to talk much, I am sending you this note. Been thinking about you today.
How’s the weather in Texas? Spring coming late here.
It’s hard to believe you’re 85. I remember when you came into my life all those years ago.
It was the mid-60s. Can you believe that? I know, it seems so long ago.
You were a young man then, strong and handsome, 35 or so, and you married my mom a couple years after my dad died when he was only 36.
I was 12 and the oldest of four brother and sisters. My dad was a Marine, having served two terms in Korea. You were a bit older, and joined the army at the beginning of World War II. You were only 17, but they were taking any and all able bodies.
It was politics that brought you and my father together, though.
You supported my dad in his bid for township committeeman, and he supported you in your quest, as well. Both of you won your elections. It was a happy day.
In those early days, you guys soon became the best of buddies and had much in common, too.
Both of you were strong Democrats. Dad was a mailer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and you worked at the Ford plant and as I recall, you both loved to drink beer and play cards.
You got my dad to join the VFW, and at one time, you were Illinois State Commander. Patriotism wasn’t just a theme to you and my dad, it was a way of life.
As I write to you today, Pop, I think back and remember some things and smile.
Shortly after you married Mom, we moved from St. Louis to Festus on that lovely piece of ground on Plattin Creek out by the slab.
Your Tennessee roots had been calling to you for a while, and you finally got to live your dream: To own a place in the country where you could grow a garden and have some cattle.
I was just a sophomore at Crystal City High School then, but it turned into a wonderful adventure for me, those years in the country, and they surely had an impact on my life over these many years.
Remember that huge garden we made? It was a lot of work, but you showed us kids how to grow stuff. Remember that cantaloupe you grew back in the ‘70s? It was so large the local newspaper ran a story and picture. I am lucky to have seen that same smile on your face a thousand times over the years
Man, oh man, could you grow tomatoes, too! Heck, I’m still teaching folks your tricks.
For years after I left home and went out on my own, wherever I lived along the way, I’d try to find a place where I could plant tomatoes and whatever else I’d have room for.
A CLOSE CALL
Hey Pop, remember the day the Allis Chalmers almost rolled over me? You and I were unhooking the mower from the tractor, and it began to roll backwards. The tire’s tread caught me at the ankle, knocked me to the ground and rolled up my leg.
When I yelled, you raced to the tractor and pushed it off me. I’ve not seen that look on your face since. You were a crazed man, and it was obvious you summoned every drop of adrenalin to save me that day.
You and I used to love to squirrel hunt together. Squirrels were your favorite quarry. You showed me how to get in between their food source and the trees in which they lived. Never met a better squirrel hunter than you, Pop.
Your love for the great outdoors in general, and just for being outside, grows in me now still. I have you to thank for that.
After moving to the country, your commute to work became more than an hour each way. I remember how tough that was for you. But you never complained.
And I remember how, all those years, Ford could not produce enough cars for the demand. You never missed work, and for so many years you worked 10-hour days, six days a week. That is when honesty, strength of character, and made-in-America meant something.
I remember one late summer evening, a couple of buddies dropped me off at home. We saw an opossum running across the gravel road in front of our house. We jumped out of the car, chased it and killed it. Then we buried it next to your garden.
The next day you asked me about the grave. I was so ashamed to have to tell you what had happened. I’ll never forget the look on your face. That was a sad lesson learned, but I’ve tried to make up for it in many ways, many times over the years, Pop.
As the oldest, I always wanted you to be able to depend on me. I hated it when I let you down.
Hey, Pop, remember that day I told you a kid had been bullying me at school? I was afraid of him. He finally embarrassed me enough in front of a bunch of kids that I agreed to meet him for the final fight at the playground.
I didn’t want to go. You got out the boxing gloves and worked with me. You gave me the confidence I needed to face him.
You went with me that day, and he never showed up. You and I were triumphant on our walk home without having to say a word to one another.
Debbie sends her love, and you should know she is bristling to get her flower pots out. Each year when you visit, we love sitting out on the patio among her lovely creations while we talk and cure the ills of the world. We missed you not coming this past summer.
Thank you, Pop, for your service to our country, and for making a place where our dreams can come true, and we remain free.
Thank you, Pop, for coming into our lives when you did, and for all the love and strength and wisdom you’ve shared over the years.
I leave for Florida in a few days to hunt turkeys and wild hogs. When I get back I’ll call and tell you all my stories. Let’s plan for a few days when I can come down, and we’ll head to the lake and use some of those fancy lures they send me from time to time.
I’ll be ready for a cold beer. How about you, Pop?
A few weeks ago I had one of those flashback moments to a childhood memory. It is always nice when those come around.
I was driving along a seldom-traveled road, when just making his way onto the pavement was a fairly good-sized snapping turtle. I slowed to nearly a stop and stuck my head out the driver’s side window for a closer look. About the circumference of a basketball, the wayward reptile froze in his tracks.
The situation reminded me of a fishing trip with my dad and Uncle Wink. I was probably about 10 years old. As we rumbled toward home from the river, Uncle Wink hit the brakes. We screeched to a stop and my two mentors jumped out of the pickup. One of them grabbed the beast by its pointed tail and held it aloft.
This was long before the days of high fives, but the two brothers were obviously satisfied with their catch. The turtle was unceremoniously dropped into the bed of the truck, and we continued for home. I don’t remember specifically, but I am sure I kept a watchful eye out the back window of the cab, making sure that scary looking thing didn’t get too much closer to me.
I remember portions of the turtle cleaning process. Without being too graphic, it begins with a procedure similar to the more well-known chicken butchering first blow, except that while a chicken may resist with pecks and flailing, a snapping turtle brings a much more sinister demeanor and appearance.
I am sure the turtle soup was tasty. I have never eaten any that I didn’t like. Throughout my high school years, we caught and cleaned a few from the neighborhood park lake, and my friend Lucky Jim led me to the most famous fare available at the St. Mary’s Church picnic in Brussels, IL, every year in early August.
Despite the mouth-watering trip down Memory Lane, I really never intended to jump from my truck and capture the creature. I don’t think Kelly would have been keen on my supper plans, and I had not yet bought my fishing license for the season. I was pretty sure I needed one to take the turtle home.
“Yes,” said Jeff Breuer, a Missouri conservation agent. “They are identified as a game species, so you would need a fishing permit. You could not just keep one as a pet because they are protected.”
No one in his right mind would keep one as a pet, I thought but did not say.
Agent Breuer quickly flipped to the page in his handy Wildlife Code Book and gave me chapter and verse.
“Common snapping turtles and soft-shelled turtles may be taken by hand, hand net, bow, crossbow, trotline, throw line, limb line, bank line, jug line, snagging, snaring, grabbing or pole and line. Shooting turtles with firearms is prohibited.”
The season is open year-round for snapping turtles, with a daily limit of five. Soft-shelled turtles may be taken only from July 1 through Dec. 31. I have never tried to clean or eat a soft-shelled turtle. They are not as menacing looking as a snapper, but they are not attractive either.
My conversation with the conservation agent led to a discussion about box turtles, which will be seen commonly in coming weeks crossing roads or maybe even seemingly sunning themselves on pavement. Unfortunately, many get hit by vehicles. Please be sure to steer clear if you see one crossing the street.
The agent said he doesn’t recommend people stopping in the road or on the roadside to help box turtles across the pavement because of the potential danger for the Good Samaritan. Even though people regularly are tempted to take box turtles home, they are also much better off left in the woods and fields rather than confined as pets.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for the Outdoor Guide Magazine, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.
(Author’s note: A good friend and longtime Outdoor Guide reader, Burton Mandel, passed away recently. The following is a piece I wrote about Mandel several years ago. When he read it back then, he said it made him smile.)
His hands shook violently as he grasped for the bullets to load into the .357’s cylinder. I stood at his side, wondering if he could do it. Wind whistled through the canyon. Gun smoke filled the air, and the smell of burned powder was inescapable.
A few short weeks earlier, an old handball buddy had called me. He hadn’t signed up for his CCW (Carry-and-Conceal Weapons) class yet, and he wanted to take it with me.
Burt Mandel and I had met almost two decades earlier on a handball court. Fifteen or so years my senior, he became my handball teacher. He definitely helped me to a higher game over the years, but more than that, he also taught me much about life.
Burt always was suspicious of things that came too easily.
Also, he demanded, if I were to play him, that I be on the court and ready to go at 6 a.m. Like Ben Franklin, he believed getting an early start on the day was paramount.
Always a handshake before the game and always one after, he taught me to lose graciously and never gloat after a win.
Back in those days, strong and rugged, Burt could serve a handball with a hop you couldn’t touch with a tennis racket.
The night we were to take our class, I met him at a restaurant a couple blocks from where we were to take the four-hour classroom session.
As I sat and chatted with him that evening, it was evident his shaking had gotten worse since I had seen him last. He had told me of his affliction years ago, and time certainly had taken its toll.
We reminisced about our handball glory days, talked about carry-and-conceal, and traded our ideas and opinions on the Second Amendment. I had a few cocktails while he drank his soda, and when we left, I asked him to drive my truck. Despite his shaking hands, his driving was fine.
John Ross was our classroom instructor that evening. He is an investment broker and financial advisor in the St. Louis area, and a self-proclaimed member of the gun culture.
Ross, author of the book Unintended Consequences, is a well-known gun expert and is known nationally for his efforts on behalf of Second Amendment supporters. The book is a fictional account of how our rights under the Constitution have eroded over the years, and it was clear from the first moment of his seminar that this wasn’t his first shooting match.
For four hours, we discussed gun safety, training and preparation. We talked about the mindset of carry-and-conceal as well as the moral and ethical aspects regarding the Second Amendment.
Ross closed by explaining that the second half of the class would be on his shooting range a couple days later, and to pass the test, each of us would have to shoot a handgun with accuracy.
After the class Burt and I walked to my truck. “Do you think I can do this?” he asked.
I thought for a moment, not knowing what to say, and then an idea occurred to me.
“Look, you drive great. Think of it this way: When you’re loading the bullets into the gun, it is like putting your key into the ignition. When you shoot, it’s like you’ve got your hands on the steering wheel.”
He smiled, and we parted happy that our first session had been successful.
AT THE RANGE
A few days later, as we drove to the range, Burt and I talked about a lot of things. We discussed the social implications of carry-and-conceal and shared our thoughts about the great responsibility that comes with the right of gun ownership.
Ross’ shooting range was in an old quarry north of Grafton, IL. He had tables set up under a pavilion with guns of many calibers spread out like an exhibit at a gun show.
After his safety talk and a demonstration, each of us took turns firing for record. I stood at the table after shooting and motioned Burt to come up and shoot next.
I handed him the revolver. Ross stood on his left. I was on his right. About 25 folks sat at picnic tables under the pavilion.
Burt’s hands shook as he loaded the gun. But he loaded it. He stood squarely and confidently and fired. He fired again and again. Each shot rang true. He loaded the gun again and fired; again and again. All shots found the short-range target.
“Next!” bellowed Ross. It was over. Burt had done it.
President John F. Kennedy wrote a book as a young man called Profiles in Courage. His book chronicled courageous acts by eight members of the U.S. Senate, detailing how each man, during a critical time in our history, displayed the courage to do what a man rightfully should do despite personal consequences.
Burt wanted his carry-and-conceal permit badly, so badly he risked failure and humiliation to get it.
It is ironic, I know, but had JFK been at our side that day, I am sure he would have taken note of the courage displayed in that little quarry, not far from nowhere. In that chasm that could have consumed another man’s spirit, my buddy put it on the line.
The echo of friendly explosions rang out as we walked the quarry road back to my truck. The smell of gunpowder followed us down the trail.
Burt was smiling, looking at his certificate of completion. John Ross had signed his name at the bottom authenticating the event.
“Mr. Ross has a nice signature,” he said. “Would you like me to sign your certificate?”
I laughed and politely declined.
Later that evening, I changed my mind. The next time I saw Burt, I asked him to sign my certificate after all. I gave him a felt-tip pen and had him sign his name boldly across my certificate. Then I framed it and hung it on my wall.
I haven’t idolized Joel Vance my entire life, just for as long as I can remember, so in reviewing his new book, I acknowledge a bit of partiality.
Imagine a pre-teen boy excited to see the latest edition of the Missouri Conservationist in the mail and flipping past the pictures to the table of contents to see if the magazine included any stories by his favorite writer. That was me. Vance’s work was, and still is, witty, wise and a whole lot of fun to read.
His latest book, “The Exploding Elephant,” is a collection of short stories. It follows Bobby through his final year of high school in the fictional town of Birch Lake, WI. Filled with colorful characters – many of whom are Bobby’s family – Vance depicts one adventure after another.
Peppered with exaggeration and imagination, the stories put our young hero in predicaments that range from lost loves to run-ins with the IRS and the Secret Service. Through creative cunning, a few misdemeanor offenses and sheer luck, Bobby finds his way to freedom or at least resolution to never do that again.
Vance is an outdoor writer, so most of the tales revolve around or include a nod to hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. Readers will find references to obvious and esoteric brands like Evinrude, Mepps, Dardevle, Pflueger, and Northwood.
Bobby provides outdoor survival tips like someone who knows his way around the woods. To build a fire after a soaking rainstorm, he uses his pocket knife to scrape tinder from under the bark of a dead tree, then assembles the driest pieces of wood he can find from small twigs to larger branches and sets them on a space he has raked clear.
Vance’s craft is buoyed not only by his outdoor acumen but also his artistry with the written word. He painted pictures of places around Birch Lake, most specifically the Bluegill Bar, where more than a few of his stories land or get launched.
“Dust motes swirled in the hazy sunlight filtering through the dirty windows. The geriatric ceiling fan squeaked rhythmically as it stirred the stale, beer-flavored air in the bar.”
But it’s Bobby’s adventures more than Vance’s way with words that make the book so enjoyable. Any young outdoor enthusiast, or adult who used to be one, could read himself into Bobby’s shoes. I know that is how I pictured the stories in my mind.
Though not my favorite chapter, the title namesake Exploding Elephant, offered another hidden gem with a bit of trivia. Who knew that an abandoned case of dynamite at the end of a long-shuttered mine shaft would grow more volatile with the passage of time? We learn this fact at the expense of an otherwise peaceful pachyderm.
We pick up other subtle bits of probably useless knowledge based on Musky Mike McCready’s affinity for opera and the artwork of Cuffy Morris, Bobby’s primary fishing buddy other than Uncle Al. We don’t learn anything from town bully Mervin “Scuz” Olsen, but we all probably know someone like him.
As a long-time editor, I know that I too frequently read for technicalities even when I’m just supposed to be finding enjoyment on the pages. I noticed a few typographical miscues, and times when the setting seemed to jump from the idyllic 20th century to the troubles of today’s world.
Still I heartily recommend Vance’s latest book for anyone with a love of the outdoors. The language is a little salty – it’s set in a bar and the woods of Wisconsin – for really young readers, but I know I would have loved it at any age.
Most of the time when you see a book review in the newspaper or anywhere, the writer is telling you to buy something he received for free from the author or publicist. I paid full price ($14.95 plus $3.50 for shipping and handling) for my copy and all the other Joel Vance books on my library shelf. They are worth every penny.
You can add to your library with “The Exploding Elephant” and nearly a dozen other titles at joelvance.com.
John J. Winkelman is marketing and communications regional 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.
I got the call yesterday: The “Big Man” had passed. He had given in to cancer at 82. The following is a piece I wrote about Rich Baumgartner more than a decade ago. God is lucky, for now he has a manager to run his big hunt club in the sky.
As I drove the narrow lane toward the hunt club, I could hardly believe what I saw. Huge felled trees lined the road. The destruction was massive, and I was not prepared for it.
I could see where the road had been cleared, somewhat. Someone had been using a chain saw. I picked my way through the debris to the lodge only to see half a building standing.
Where the roof used to be, a tarp had been hung. The five-stand clays course next to the partially destroyed building was wiped out, nothing remaining but remnants of a fallen tower and shooting stand blown to smithereens.
Rich Baumgartner, owner of Big River Hunting Club and Kennel, stood in the open doorway. His shoulders were slumped. He greeted me with his familiar smile, yet I could see sadness in his eyes. Despair filled the air.
Just days before, a tornado had struck in Jefferson County, MO, causing more damage than anyone could remember.
“My god, Big Man, I’m not believing what I’m seeing,” I said.
“It was awful, Bobby,” he replied. “I knew the storm was coming, but there was nothing I could do about it. Right after the rain started, I heard a tremendous roar. I went to the front door of the lodge, and the force was so great I couldn’t open it.
“I ran to the pool table and jumped under it. For almost an hour, it sounded like a runaway train charging through the building. I think it was more wind shear than tornado. I watched the corner of the roof tear away. I thought I was a goner.”
We toured the property on his ATV. He showed me where things used to be. Huge hardwood trees lay everywhere, some uprooted, some broken in half.
“I estimate 3,000 trees down on 600 acres,” he said, hanging his head. “Let all your buddies know I’ve got firewood and plenty of it.” We laughed.
I wished Rich well and was on my way. I was sure that was the end of Big River Hunting Club, and I hated it.
Rich started his hunt club about the same time we started Outdoor Guide Magazine. Early on we became good friends, and I spent many hours at his place. He taught me how to shoot my first sporting clays. At times I sought his sage advice.
There were times over the years when I’d drive to his place, and we would just sit and watch the sun set and talk about all manner of things.
The view of the lake from his lodge is lovely. A small lake serves as a centerpiece with rolling hills behind. Huge hardwoods encompass the lodge and kennels.
But on this day, the dam was partially destroyed, the lake had dropped drastically, downed trees were everywhere and the sporting clays course was only a memory.
As I drove away, I recalled how hard Rich had worked over the years to build his shooting preserve. There were times, especially early on, when he felt he might not make it. Owning and managing a sporting clays course and a hunting preserve are no easy tasks. Hours are long and the rewards had been few.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he told me. “We were just coming into our own. I was just starting to make a little money and now this.”
I felt ashamed and saddened as I drove away. I was ashamed because I wanted to help but knew I had little to offer. Even I could see that rebuilding what he had spent a decade to create was more than daunting. And I was sure it was over for him.
A couple months passed. I hadn’t heard from him, so I decided to call. I smiled as I drove the lane to his place. The fallen trees had been cleared. I saw a new green roof on a new building. The five-stand clays course had been rebuilt. The familiar barking of dogs resonated from the kennels, and I could see the dam had been restored, the lake sparkling and full.
Rich greeted me with a huge smile. “You didn’t think I could do it, did you?” he said.
“No, I didn’t.” We laughed.
I was amazed. In just a few short months, he had rebuilt, restored and made improvements beyond what he had accomplished before the tornado.
“This is incredible, Big Man. I can’t believe what you’ve done here. I thought you were finished,” I told him.
He smiled. He had the tired but satisfied look of a man who had beaten the odds.
“You know, Bobby. It’s been a struggle. But that’s life. And I don’t and won’t ever give up. Maybe that was God’s way of pruning the arbor. In fact, I’ve redone all my shooting stations, and the building is new. We even built a screened-in deck off the lodge and I’ve got a new five-stand course. I made a deal with a logger to remove the downed trees and now I’ve actually got more hunting area than before.”
We sat for a while watching the sun set behind his lovely lake. He, like always, told me about other plans he had for the property as we sipped our sodas, glad to be alive.
Regardless of where you live, believe it or not, you are never far from wildlife. Of course, encounters with deer and turkeys, foxes and other furbearers, are much more likely the deeper in the woods you live, but even the biggest part of any city is not without some very adaptive critters.
Amateur naturalist Mark Glenshaw shares his “Hiding in Plain Sight” program throughout the St. Louis metropolitan region. He has been documenting owls in Forest Park in St. Louis for more than 10 years, and he shares photos and videos of great horned owls at the big St. Louis City park.
Because of their tremendous natural camouflage and nocturnal behavior, great horned owls are rarely seen despite their physical stature, standing up to two feet tall and weighing up to five pounds. Still, most people know what they look like.
“If you were to ask most people to draw a picture of an owl, they would draw the great horned owl,” Glenshaw said.
They are the most widespread and commonly found species of owl in North America, adaptable to almost any habitat.
“They are pretty close to the top of the food chain,” Glenshaw said, noting that they are willing to take on just about anything smaller than themselves and occasionally something bigger.
“I’ve seen them attack great blue herons that were twice their size,” he added. “Squirrels are tough for them to catch. They are fast and agile, and have great eyesight and hearing. Just like all predators owls, miss more often then they hit their targets.”
Glenshaw says he uses that fact to console human hunters who go out to the woods and don’t see anything they are hunting for, or don’t get a good shot at what they see, or miss what they had their sights set on. It happens to some of nature’s best hunters.
“Their tools help level the playing field. Owls have great eyesight. They fly fast and silently, 20 to 40 mph, and their talons are deadly, combined with incredibly strong leg muscles,” he said.
Their silent flight is achieved by the shape and texture of their plumage.
“Next time you see a bird flying, listen to how much noise they make,” Glenshaw said. “The leading edge and trailing edge of an owl’s wings are serrated, allowing air to pass over them silently. The material of their feathers is incredibly soft, so even as the feathers move against each other, it makes no sound. Silent flight allows them to approach undetected, but also they can hear while in flight.”
In addition to their impressive features, owls are also very beneficial in controlling populations of rodents and other critters. They are undeterred by the skunk’s well-known self defense mechanism. While the smell doesn’t bother the owls, if they make the black and white polecats too large a part of their diet, the owls nest can develop the skunk odor.
In addition to a mated pair of great horned owls that Glenshaw has documented in Forest Park since 2005, there are pairs of barred owls in the park and many other birds of prey. While those big birds all seek the same food sources, it is more often territory than food that causes conflicts among the flying hunters.
“There are lots of birds of prey in Forest Park. I always use a geopolitical analogy of North and South Korea. It’s an uneasy peace with moments of tension. Most of the time the hawks are day active and owls night active, but conflicts can come up,” Glenshaw said.
The park is open for anyone to try their luck at finding the owls that live there, but Glenshaw is happy to guide “Owl Prowls” late in the evening, arranged individually rather than on a set schedule, by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no minimum number allowed on owl prowl excursions, but the maximum number is 10, he said.
For more information, follow Glenshaw on Twitter @forestparkowls or see his photos, videos and documentation on his website forestparkowls.blogspot.com.
John J. Winkelman is marketing and communications regional manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for the Outdoor Guide Magazine, e-mail email@example.com and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.