|Vol. IV, No. 3, Winter 1991|
by Robert Flanders
Too many deer around here," says Don Schnable. "They're into everything--a nuisance. Local people can go out the back door and shoot their deer sometimes." Schnable is owner-operator of the Spring Creek Guide Service in Ozark County, Missouri. Bob Gilmore and I have come down for some OzarksWatch-lng in preparation for the Hunting and Fishing issue. It's a good place for it, and these are good people to talk to. Our host is L.B. Cook, founder of the Theodosia Marina and Resort, Inc., on the Little North Fork arm of Bull Shoals Lake (see "The Oldest Resort on Bull Shoals Lake," OzarksWatch, Spring, 1990).
It's November 14, the middle of Missouri's one week standard firearms deer season. Many hunters were out today; but it's Wednesday--not the same as the weekend, when a crunch of hunters is expected. Besides, it's hot for November with mid-day readings in the seventies. Hunters may be hoping for a drop in the temperature, which will improve deer hunting. Despite a large deer population, the animals are not moving much in this weather. We hear only two shots all day.
Schnable has joined Flanders, Gilmore, and Cook for a good steak dinner in the resort's restaurant. He has arranged an angling experience for us to take place the next day. Don is a handsome man in early middle age, twenty years a St. Louis policeman. Now he is "retired" to Ozark County. His speech has a touch of a "d" where "th" should be, like many other men of urban background and German or Irish descent.
During seven years in Ozark County, Don has built a guide service: he has a string of expert fishermen who take patrons on Bull Shoals Lake for serious angling. Different guides specialize in different kinds of fish. Don Schnable also purveys package tours, primarily for St. Louisans, including bus transport, accommodations, special cookouts (fish fries, barbecues), and "processing'' of venison or fish--cutting up, packaging, and icing for the return trip.
The dinner conversation is about deer hunting. The Missouri Department of Conservation has estimated that the state deer harvest for 1990 will be 160,000-180,000. Some will be females. Doe tags have been awarded to a set proportion of applicants, in order to manage Missouri's surging deer population.
"The irony," Don continues, "is that the more deer there are in Ozark County, the fewer the hunters." Why? Ozark County is almost a wilderness, seemingly ideal for hunters. "Now there are deer in practically every county in the state. People don't have to come clear down here. They can hunt at home. Like hunting rabbits used to be."
As Don anticipated, the final deer harvest was low here. The season of 1990 finally produced some 161,000 deer kills in Missouri, up from 157,000 in 1989. But in Ozark County the 1990 kill was 1724, down from 2231 in 1989. The bow hunting season, November 19-December 31, yielded commensurately fewer deer as well.
Somewhat abruptly I ask Don, "Why do men hunt?" He looks away and draws deeply on his cigarette. It's an advantage smokers have.
Earlier that afternoon, L.B. had put us in his shiny new four-wheel-drive Bronco for a destination with the somewhat anomalous name of"the Farm." The secrecy of its location adds to the air of mystery. "It's Bill and Nadine's private retreat, a sort of personal hunting preserve," L.B. explains, as we wind over backroads. He wants us to meet son Bill and daughter-in-law Nadine, who with their adult sons Ben and Brett have taken over day-to-day operations of the resort.
The Cooks need a retreat. Theirs is a complex and demanding operation--housekeeping, docks, rentals, sales, boat and engine repair, guide service, real estate, and all the details required of a lessee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They must interface both with the Corps, which "owns" the lake as agent for the government, and with many user publics, of which we, at the moment, are one. But we're not ordinary customers; we're invited guests in every sense of the word, and much honored to be SO.
The Farm turns out to be a 320 acre semi-wilderness somewhere between Theodosia and Ava, bordering the Mark Twain National Forest. It is a mixture of second or third-growth timber, grassy openings, and food plots for birds and game.
Bill lays a rifle across the handlebars of his new four-wheel drive Kawasaki all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) and guides us around the Farm, but the gun is zipped into its case. "I've seen some bucks, but I haven't taken a shot yet. I like venison; but I don't care much anymore about killing it. I don't keep count like I did when I was younger. I don't need to hunt anymore." He points out a sapling rubbed clean of bark. "The bucks are starting to rut," he says. Similar saplings scattered along our tour around the Farm tell the same story. "This one wasn't here yesterday." Bill kneels beside another shiny white sapling, savoring its meaning. "Bucks rub their antlers like this when they get excited."
We come to a watering place--a tiny pond in a patch of grass, surrounded by trees. In one of the trees a wooden platform, a shooter's stand reached by a tall ladder, overlooks the scene. "This deer hunting is a funny sport", says L.B. "It's a sit-down-and-be-quiet thing. You wait in a deer stand for those antlers to show up. You better be still or they won't come. Then one shot--and the season's over." One deer per hunter is the legal limit.
The late afternoon of Indian Summer slants its low, clear light over the quiet oak opening where we stand, a place arranged to kill a deer.
Back on the porch of the Farm's "cabin"--actually a comfortable trailerhouse--we converse about hunting. The fragrance of simmering brown beans wafts out from the kitchen. The grassy, tree-fringed land slopes away a quarter mile into gentle intersecting swails before rising into a succession of distant forested hills. The porch commands what might be a broad field of fire for scope mounted, high powered deer rifles. Instead of guns, however, three pairs of good binoculars rest on the railing. I peer through the largest at a slope across the valley. One could as well study a rabbit as a deer with these glasses.
Bill looks down at the large food plot a couple hundred yards below the porch, two or three acres of millet hand-sewn the previous spring to provide forage for deer, birds, and other wild creatures. "Just before dawn, before you can see, the deer are there grazing. You can hear the rustling." Bubba, the big black Labrador, hears them too, says Nadine. "He goes 'Bwof' but he doesn't bark or chase them. And you know, we spotted our first ruffed grouse out here the other day! .... That's what its all about," says Bill, "the deer, the birds, the solitude. Right over on that slope is where we're going to build someday." Nadine has plans in mind. "It'll have a walk-out basement and ...."Someday may not be too far away. Retirement? "Well, more of a retreat, you know, a place to get away."
L.B. Cook had said the Farm was a hunting retreat; but it seems at least as much a game refuge.
The next morning after our steak dinner conversation, Don Schnable takes Gilmore and me out on the lake, ostensibly for a look around. But what he really wants is to talk some more. He shuts down the engine and looks at us very directly. "1 have to be careful," he says. "When you asked last night, 'Why do men hunt?' I wasn't sure where you were coming from. You know, some animal rights people feel very strong, are against hunting, and are starting to focus on us in the industry." He relates a recent incident at a cookout-~perhaps a fish fry--provided by his firm for a tour group. A woman guest asked him if fishermen always kill their catch before gutting and filleting them. When he answered, honestly,"no," she became very upset, left the table and ran to her room where she remained, crying. Don is disturbed by the recollection. "But," he says "I went home last night and read your magazine, and I feel I can talk to you."
Men have a predatory instinct, he suspects, that is satisfied in the hunt. Maybe it establishes masculinity and promotes a masculine image among peers. The urge to hunt and the urge to fight must be related. Whether or not hunting is "fun," he does not hazard an opinion. Surely it must be satisfying. But, he says, "1 don't keep count of what I kill like I used to when I was younger. I don't need to kill anything anymore." Singular that he and Bill Cook, both hunting industry professionals, men of similar age and analogous backgrounds, say the same thing about themselves as hunters.
I want to see dawn come up over the lake. When I first step out on the veranda, it is still dark. The air is mild, clear, and clean-smelling. Then, in the silence, light begins to differentiate earth, water, and sky. At the base of the scene is a long horizontal strip like black smoke--the near shore. Then a strip of dark slate blue--the water. The far shore and the hills behind is another smoke-black strip. Above the horizon, dark dove gray slowly turns pale peach. Hover-lng above the line of light is a luminous, slate gray, feather-edged mass of fog. Over all is the still-black sky spangled with stars and a new moon.
Watching the dawn nourishes the soul, but not the body. The restaurant opens for breakfast promptly at seven.
The Cooks lease the restaurant to Don and Pat Stevenson. "We're into too many things to be in the restaurant business too," says L.B. But their 38-year-old lease with the Corps of Engineers requires food service. The Stevensons, an energetic middle-aged couple from Galva, Illinois, took it over two years ago. "We vacationed here for twenty-three years, so we decided to come down to stay." "What's it like running this restaurant?" I ask. "Twelve hours a day, seven days a week," Don replies. But after Thanksgiving they close until March. Pancakes and ham for Gilmore; eggs, hash browns, bis-cults, and a side of sausage gravy for me. Breakfast for the compleat angler, I think.
"Catching a twenty-four pound bluegill is easy," says Frannie, regaling a group of coffee drinkers at the nearby Lying Fisherman's Table. "All it takes is a three-pound grasshopper? Frannie EIliott retired recently from the grocery business. His arms aren't good enough to cast a fishing line, so he trolls and runs trot lines. He fishes much of the time.
Most of the people around Theodosia are retired, in one meaning or another of the term. For the men, at least, fishing seems to be the principal occupation--fishing and talking. Deer hunting lasts one week or until one's deer is killed, whichever comes first. But one can fish almost all the time. In the Ozarks, with its open winters, most years don't have thirty days so bad a hardy angler can't be out.
Mid morning, Don Schnable ferries us seven miles or so down the lake to the Pontiac marina and turns us over to Norman "Doc" Klayman, who is to take us fishing the rest of the day. Doc is a dentist who practices two or three days a week in Gainesville, the county seat. The rest of the time he fishes. The previous two weeks he had been fishing down in Texas, so he doesn't know "what the Bull Shoals fish are doing at the moment."
Doc is a black bass expert, and Bull Shoals is a good black bass lake. Bass tournaments are popular nowadays, and some are held here. He and a partner recently won first prize of $1220 in an eight-hour tournament with a catch of just under seventeen pounds. "You get to weigh your ten best fish," he said. "Second place was just ten-hundredths of a pound under us. It was close." But Doc is not pleased about the impact of tournaments on the sport of angling. "Fishing used to be relaxed, quiet, and slow-paced. Competition was good-natured, and not the main thing. In tournaments, competition is everything. The pace is frantic. These big, high-speed bass boats are necessary to get you from place to place fast, hunting for fish. It's work. Tournaments turn fishing into circuses with all their hype and money.
"Doc's boat is a professional bass boat, a big, powerful, luxurious Champion. The fiberglass hull has a finish called "metal flake," sparkly particles embedded in a deep, clear coating, ruby and black diamond. At the stern is a monstrous, sleek, 175 horsepower Mercury outboard engine which will drive the boat up to 70 miles per hour. "But we're not going to go that fast," Doc assures us. The motor alone costs $8,000; the boat another $12,000. Perhaps Doc paid less. As a major bass fisherman, one-time holder of the Missouri small-mouth bass record, he is sponsored both by Champion boats and Mercury engines.
Doc is a pleasant, cigar-smoking, mildly profane man somewhere in his forties, who is at once sociable and businesslike. He doesn't quite understand our purpose at first. Since we are from a magazine, he assumes we must be in the bass fishing business one way or another. But he sees that Gilmore is a fisherman and I am not. If not a team of experts, what are we up to? "We're more interested in the fisherman than in the fish," I explain, realizing as I speak that it sounds like a dodge.
Still, we are here to catch fish. L.B., Bill, Don, Frannie, and finally Doc, have all assured us that we will catch lots of fish. Bull Shoals has so many fish it is almost impossible to miss, we were told, especially when guided by an expert, in a boat equipped with sonar to "see" schools of fish displayed on liquid crystal screens mounted at the bow and near the steering wheel. Even to me, the situation seems propitious-professional guide, perfect Indian Summer day, and a lake teeming with bass.
The Missouri Department of Conservation takes annual "census" of the portions of Bull Shoals that extend north into Missouri (the lake is mostly in Arkansas). The population sampling method is to stun the fish in selected coves with an electric shock, after which they float to the surface. They are then netted, carefully placed in an aerated holding tank, measured, counted by species, and returned unharmed to the lake. Electrofishing," as it is called, is a technique in use for nearly fifty years, and is an accurate way of charting changes in populations over time. It is also safe for the fish, with a negligible mortality rate of perhaps .01%. Arkansas's census method is more comprehensive: selected coves are "fenced" off, and treated with rotenone, which kills the fish in the small target area. Thus all, rather than a sample, in an area will be counted. The Missouri electrofishing census indicates 100-150 black bass counted per hour in Bull Shoals, a "medium density" population. It is a desirable mean between scarcity at the one extreme or overcrowding of habitat at the other.
Bull Shoals is not the easiest black bass lake to fish. Its clear waters make the fish skitterish. Bass do not like light; they cannot close their eyes, and they seek shade, especially if water turbidity does not mediate the intensity of skylight. On the other hand, Bull Shoals contains a significant population of big bass, increasingly prized by anglers. Almost half the fishermen who put out on Bull Shoals are after black bass exclusively.
But the unusually warm weather, bright sunshine, and glassy smooth water defeat catching efforts this day. Doc catches a fine spotted, old Kentucky, bass, on the first cast. Then for hours and hours, nothing but ar; occasional juvenile bass little more than bait for Bull Shoals. We don't feel too badly, however. Even Doc, a first-rank black bass professional, doesn't catch anything after that initial cast.
Doc's high speed boat enables us at least catch a late lunch at the Pontiac marina--a lunch fished out of the freezer case and heated in the microwave. We wolf down sandwiches, chips, canned dip, and soft drinks like starveling Breakfast seems long ago and far away.
We eat underneath wall-mounted specimen of the lake's piscine grandeur--great black bass and monstrous striped bass. "Stripers," planted in the lake by the Arkansas fisheries people through the 1960s and '70s, grew to immense size. A striper hanging above our heads in the little marina was forty-five pounds live weight But Arkansas discontinued the striper program more than a decade ago because stripers were suspected of eating the prized rainbow trout which the state had established in the lake. Since stripers do not reproduce well here (they are an introduced species), they have mostly disappeared, fished out or died of old age. Many anglers and some fisheries people believe that the danger to trout was overestimated, and hoped that stripers will be reintroduced. Certainly they have been a popular game fish.
Come back in the winter, Doc says as part, come back in dark weather, when the cold wind ruffles the water and makes life miserable for humans. Then, he will show us some real fishing!
Hunting and fishing are similar in some ways. Men seek elusive quarry with stealth, ingenuity, and, especially in the past, bravery.
The ultimate fishing exploit was the quest for great fish--think of Moby Dick, or a modern manifestation, the movie "Jaws." But modern technology makes whaling simply a form of harvesting; and in real life few seek out the Great White shark. Bravery, like the whale, seems rarer now. Still, only in the seas do vast populations of wild creatures remain. In the Alaska Zone of the Bering Sea alone, some two hundred million metric tons of fish are netted annually, reminding us that sport fishing is a meager and rarified enterprise.Perhaps the main difference between fishing and hunting is that we hunt on land, our own habitation. We have a special relationship with animals and even with birds that we do not have with fish. To primitive man animals and birds were a form of The Significant Other--perhaps brother, perhaps god. To modern man a shadow of that relationship remains. A "true hunter" has respect for the prey. Those who do not are mere butchers.
The butcher-hunting of wild things reached a kind of frenzied climax in our country a century ago with the extermination of the passenger pigeon and the near extermination of the buffalo. Both had been legendary in their vast abundance. Passenger pigeons in the Mississippi River flyway blotted out the sun from dawn to dusk. Millions of buffalo blackened the plains, as far as the eye could see. Buffalo were common in the Ozarks, as many early accounts attest. But then, in a relatively few years, both were slaughtered with a kind of gleeful innocence that causes us to gasp.
One reason was the expanding urban market for game. The demand for wild meat surged among the newly affluent urban middle classes of the late nineteenth century, with a corresponding growth in market hunting. Passenger pigeons were excellent meat birds, somewhat larger than the common pigeons that we know. They were ridiculously easy to capture or club to death on their perches, or to net, which made hunting them a child's sport, and a profitable business for adults. Pigeons sold often for a penny apiece, thousands of barrels of them. In thirty years they were gone.
Buffalo were shot by white hunters not for meat, but for their hides. Buffalo robes and coats were less expensive than those made of fur and enjoyed a virtually limitless market. An observer riding the railroad in the 1870s reported hides ready for shipment along the Union Pacific track near Ogalalla, Nebraska neatly corded, four feet high, four feet wide--and eight miles long.
The great Ozarks wilderness is nearly gone. But fish and game, together with their habitats, are now "managed," a new concept of our own time. Consequently more fish and game exist today than our grandfathers could have imagined possible.
Facts and Figures
45% of angling on Bull Shoals is directed toward black bass (of this, 60% is for large mouth, 20% small mouth, and 20% spotted, or Kentucky, bass).
The 55% of angling that is non-black bass directed divides: crappie, 10-15%; white bass, 10%; and 30-35% other, including wall-eye, cat, striped bass, or "whatever's on the hook."
50% of the bass catch is probably released. This is a good indication of angler intention, because Missouri has no length limit on Bull Shoals that would require the release of undersize fish.
Bass angler habits and attitudes are shifting toward catch-release fishing and emphasis on trophy fish, and away from "freezer fry pan" fishing.
Bull Shoals has produced groat trophy-sized striped bass (up to 50 pounds). Stripers are an introduced species (Arkansas only), do not reproduce well, and since the cessation of the stocking program more than a decade ago, have virtually disappeared.
Size of black bass in Bull Shoals:
|in one year:||8"|
|in two years:||11 "-12"|
|in three years:||14"-15"|
|in four years:||15"-18"|
Missouri and Arkansas share three major Ozarks reservoirs: Bull Shoals, Table rock, and Norfork. Missouri waters comprise 53%; Arkansas 47%.
Copyright -- OzarksWatch