Celebrate National Trails Day at Shaw Nature Reserve today

There are a few places just beyond the Jefferson County borders that are close enough to claim or cool enough to covet, so that when someone mentions how close they are to our home, I wouldn’t dare correct them.

Magnolia Hollow Conservation Area is just downstream on the Mississippi River in Ste. Genevieve County, and Washington State Park has a De Soto address. The Jay Henges Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center gets its mail through a High Ridge Zip Code even though it is decidedly in St. Louis County.

It’s a stretch to try to make a claim on Gray Summit in Franklin County, but the Shaw Nature Reserve just past Pacific has hundreds of reasons to make you want to call it your own. This weekend the public is invited to see it for free in recognition of National Trails Day on June 3.

Crescent Glade is awash with the colors of wildflowers in the spring along the Wildflower Trail at Shaw Nature Reserve.

The 17 miles of hiking trails are just the beginning for this beauty, which legally belongs to Missouri Botanical Garden.

In cooperation with the state Department of Conservation, the nature reserve is hosting an Explore MOre event from 9 a.m. to noon for visitors to learn about nature and the habitats being preserved and restored at the park. Regular admission is only $5 for adults, so if you can’t make it this weekend, it’s worth the visit any other time.

At the special event, nature reserve and conservation department staff members will welcome guests to education stations ranging from history to habitats and much more. An event passport will be stamped at each location with chances to win prizes at the welcome center.

The St. Louis based Missouri Botanical Garden purchased five adjoining Franklin County farms in 1925 as a refuge for plants that were threatened by industrial pollution in the city. The mission continues to provide a protective environment for plant and animal species while educating the community about the importance of connecting with nature.

The natural areas restored on the 2,400 acres between Route 66 and the Meramec River include prairies, glades, woodlands and wetlands. Four miles of roads allow visitors to discover portions of the property from their vehicles.

Several historic buildings are also available for viewing at the reserve including a brick home built in 1879 for a Confederate army colonel, and a rustic stone and log pavilion that serves as a starting spot for several of the hiking trails.

The Dana Brown Overnight Center is a collection of buildings from the 1850s that were moved from their original locations and reconstructed on the site. The log and timber structures can be reserved for school groups, workshops or other events. The Sod House was built by the reserve staff to depict the type of home that would have been common on the country’s original prairies.

As mentioned earlier, the celebration on Saturday is in recognition of National Trails Day and Shaw Nature Reserves delivers for those looking to explore the outdoors on foot. Most of the trails are shorter than a mile in length, but the 17-mile network could provide a full day of hiking and discovery.

The longest trek in the park is the Rus Goddard River Trail at 2.5 miles. The loop can be steep as it passes through the natural surroundings en route to a gravel bar on the Meramec River. The trial is named for a long-time volunteer who helped maintain the pathways for more than 20 years.

Other notable hikes include the Wildflower Trail and the Bluff Overlook Trail that both are less than a mile and depart from near the Maritz Trail House. Both offer glade and river valley views. The Wetland Trail along Brush Creek is a fraction more than a mile and includes a 300-foot boardwalk and an observation blind and spotting scope for viewing plants and animals.

Members of the Missouri Botanical Garden can visit free year-round. For more information about the event or memberships call 314-577-9555 or visit missouribotanicalgarden.org

Originally published by Leader Publications June 1, 2023.

Finding flowers on a float trip and everywhere else this spring

My cousin AJ and I were floating down the Meramec River earlier this spring when I mentioned the pretty purple flowers along the bank.

“Sweet Williams, I think,” he responded with a degree of confidence.

“That’s impressive,” I replied. I was feeling pretty good about just noticing the flowers and acknowledging something besides the water and places to make my next cast, and AJ came up with the flower name.

“Well,” he fessed up. “Sweet William is my go-to guess whenever I notice little purple flowers.”

Fair enough. We didn’t paddle over for a closer view, even though the spring stream side gave us ample opportunities to work on our wildflower identification skills. We wanted to catch fish, but in hindsight, we probably would have been better served by a botany lesson.

I’m not sure when I took this picture of a Sensitive Briar wildflower, but with the state Department of Conservation’s on-line field guide, I was able to learn a lot more about this pretty plant, including its Devil’s Shoelaces nickname.

This is definitely a great time of year to discover the creative colors nature has to offer. In the past week the state departments of conservation and natural resources hosted wildflower walks and even a virtual class on how to identify those glorious little signs of spring.

My schedule didn’t match up with those events, but the Taum Sauk Mountain State Park hike sounded like a great way to learn more. I decided to visit the conservation department’s webpage for a self-guided tutorial, and now I want to get out in the woods for some field research.

Navigating the website was not as tricky or exhilarating as a three-mile walk to Mina Sauk Falls, but I was able to find quite a bit of information at mdc.mo.gov by clicking on Discover Nature, then Field Guide, then Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants. The site has descriptions of 411 entries in the category and photographs of most of them. (On closer review, the Field Guide includes several duplicates, so the actual number of unique species is closer to 300.)

Wild Sweet William, formally known as blue phlox, in a Missouri Department of Conservation photo by David Stonner.

Of course, I looked first to check out Sweet William, whom AJ knows so well. Blue Phlox is the official name, and based on the details I found online, I am pretty sure my cousin got it right. The other thing that caught my eye in the guide was how much fun someone seemed to have coming up with the names. Wild Sweet William was tame compared to what they call many other natural gems to look for in the woods and on the river banks.

I have to learn a few of them just to be able to shout them out as a best guess. See a cluster of bright yellow: “That’s a Showy Partridge Pea.” Spot a cluster of little sky blue and white faces: “Blue-Eyed Marys.” What are those white ones? “It could be Foxglove Beardtongue.” Do you know those flat-faced violets? “I’m going with Johnny Jump-Ups.”

There are names that match the flowers’ appearances, at least in someone’s eye, including several different Lady’s Slippers, and the Dutchman’s or Woollen Breeches. It seems easy to guess how they settled on the Purple-Headed Sneezeweed.

Other names made me think I was looking through a listing of punk rock bands that were printed on an upcoming show bill. Would you consider buying tickets to see? Deptford Pink, Goat’s Beard, Downy Skullcap, Smooth Spiderwort, Philadelphia Fleabane or Jerusalem Artichoke. One of my favorite descriptions said Dead Nettle had a close relative named Henbit.

Of course the best way to check out these natural beauties is to explore the hills and dales. Since we all rarely go anywhere without a camera, it is easy to capture images and then return for identification. I was too busy trying to catch fish while AJ and I were floating along, but I do have some other pictures from previous trips.

The online field guide allows you to narrow your search by flower color, habitat and other key identifiers. I was easily able to figure out that I had a shot of a Sensitive Briar in my collection. Now I know it is more than just a good-looking wildflower, which is why I took the photo. Its Devil’s Shoelaces nickname is pretty cool too.

Missouri wildflowers bloom from early spring into the fall, so they can be a reward for a hike or float trip almost anytime. Learning about them can be fun too.

Originally published by Leader Publications on May 18, 2023.

Antler scoring event returns to Henges Center near Eureka

The annual antler scoring open house at the Jay Henges Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon on Sunday, Feb. 19, this year. Hunters can stop by anytime with their harvests from this fall, shed antlers they have found, or racks from deer they shot in previous years.

Reservations are not required, and there is no cost to have antlers measured. For more information, call 636-938-9548. The center is at 1100 Antire Road near the Interstate 44 exit 269 between Valley Park and Eureka, Missouri.

Missouri Department of Conservation press release

Birds and Bows program provides another opportunity to enjoy a winter walk

The bow along the paved footpath at World Bird Sanctuary was sure to catch the attention of area hikers.

The Bows for Birds program sponsored by Audubon has been encouraging winter hikers for three years, but I first learned about it this winter and took my first hike on January 1. The program welcomes hikers to 12 parks and natural areas in the St. Louis region for fresh air, a chance to win prizes, and a bit of bird education along the way.

Utilizing clues to a mystery bird and its whereabouts, hikers search for a bow and a wooden cutout of the bird in each location. Walkers who complete a scavenger hunt worksheet can submit it for a chance to win raffle prizes.

Places where the 12 birds and bows can be found include Powder Valley Nature Center in Kirkwood, the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Jefferson Barracks, Laumeier and Tilles parks in south St. Louis County, Missouri Botanical Garden and Forest, Lafayette and Bellerive parks in St. Louis, St. Ferdinand Park in Florissant, Spanish Lake Park in north St. Louis County, and the Audubon Center in West Alton, near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

I actually spotted the great horned owl cutout before I found the giant bow.

Participants have until Feb. 5 to find the bows and birds and submit their scavenger hunt form. Those who find at least seven and email the information to bows4birds@gmail.com are entered in a drawing. The grand prize basket includes a $680 pair of binoculars, and other donated prizes include a Big Muddy River adventure, gift cards, bird feeders, St. Louis Cardinals tickets and more. Participants are also encouraged to share images on social media utilizing the hashtag #BowsForBirds23.

You can find all the details, the scavenger hunt form and clues for each park at riverlands.audubon.org. The prize drawing is scheduled for Feb. 10 during the organization’s Great Backyard Bird Count virtual training.

We went to the World Bird Sanctuary near Eureka. For more than 45 years the facility has served as a rehabilitation hospital for raptors and a showcase for many other avian co-inhabitants of our planet.

The birds—and the work that is being done with them—bring visitors from all over. A paved footpath leads past large enclosures that serve as homes of injured birds that have been rescued, but for many reasons can not be returned to the wild. The hiking trails are a bonus.

Located at 125 Bald Eagle Ridge Way, the bird recognized as our national symbol is an obvious star of the show. The bald eagle’s story of recovery in North America is symbolic of the work that goes on at the sanctuary. Once exploited and nearly extirpated, wild flocks are now a main winter attraction in our area along the Mississippi River.

Along the footpath you can observe birds from big emus to comparatively tiny sharp-shinned hawks with a menagerie in between. Owls, pelicans, pheasants, falcons, and others from our backyards and around the world watch you watching them, try to hide from prying eyes, and in some cases answer back to a visitor’s greeting.

Dozens of birds recovering from a variety of injuries and circumstances are available for viewing. The sanctuary and its hospital are home to about 270 different critters including eagles, hawks, parrots, vultures, reptiles, and other injured or endangered species.

The 305-acre property works cooperatively with the state Department of Natural Resources. Outreach programs have educated more than a million school children. The rehabilitation hospital has treated more than 21,000 injured birds, and the facility has connections for bird conservation on four continents.

An admission charge funds the work at the sanctuary. The cost is $8 for an individual, $12 for a vehicle with two or more people, or $20 for buses with 10 or more. Children ages 5 and under are admitted for free. The facility is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Other ways to support the birds include direct donations, memberships, guest experience events, volunteering and more. For additional information call 636-225-4390.

John Winkelman has been writing about outdoors news and issues in Jefferson County for more than 30 years and is the Associate Editor for Outdoor Guide Magazine.

Guided fishing experience makes great gift-giving idea

Ryan Walker demonstrates flawless flycasting for the novices he shared his boat and knowledge with on an early spring day.

As a veteran last-minute shopper, I know there are plenty of people out there who still have someone or 10 others to check off their lists.

I remember my teenage years when Lucky Jim and I scoured the aisles of Kmart on Christmas Eve hoping to find that certain blue-light special for friends, family or acquaintances whose wishes remained unfulfilled.

I attribute my gift wrapping talent to being able to handle packages, paper, scissors, and tape in the front seat of a pick-up truck as my cousin, Bones Malone, drove us over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house on Christmas Day more than once when we were in our 20s.

I still do most of the wrapping, but I haven’t had to fight the crowds for more than 30 years, since the arrival of my own Christmas angel. Kelly considers last-minute shopping to be any date after Thanksgiving. She scouts for thoughtful things all year long and usually has most of “our” gift giving wrapped up before the stores have put away the Halloween decor.

In years past, I have recommended bird feeders and seeds as great gifts for anyone with even a slight connection to the great outdoors. The state Department of Conservation’s Natural Events Calendar gives all year long with its remarkable photography and daily reminders about the world outside the windows here in Missouri.

Those make fine gifts, but this past year I discovered another great idea in a gift to me. For my 60th birthday I received a guided fishing trip with Ryan Walker from OSA Guides and Outfitters. My gift certificate said that the Ozarks Smallmouth Alliance founder would take two anglers—on a mutually agreeable date—for a chance to battle bronzebacks on a southwest Missouri stream.

I have always been a do-it-myself kinda guy, and I certainly didn’t need someone to bait my line or take fish off of my hooks. But I have to admit that’s a pretty nice perk. Ryan said we could bring our own equipment and do all we wanted, or we could just show up at the boat ramp and he would take care of everything else. We chose the latter and had a terrific day.

No one was too disappointed when spring rains in the week before our scheduled trip made the smallmouth streams a little too swift. We called an audible to try our luck at catching walleye in tailwaters below a dam where the current was much more under control.

Walker offers gift certificates for smallmouth or walleye fishing trips on his website osaguidesoutfitters.com, and our experience was much more than fishing. We were able to learn tricks and tips from a true professional, and we collected a few new fish stories along the way.

I took the trip with Lucky Jim, who is an accomplished angler himself, but I realized that a guided trip would be great to share with someone of less experience. Lessons from a patient master of the craft may resonate better than instructions from Dad or a spouse. The together time would be the gift, while the guide did all the work.

Ryan Walker with a smallmouth bass on a southern Missouri Ozarks stream.

I have had the good fortune to take a guided trip or two through the years. I have never had a bad experience, but picking a professional partner may require a more than randomly selecting someone based on a roadside sign or other solicitation. Walker and OSA Guides and Outfitters came recommended by a mutual friend. If you check out osaguidesoutfitters.com you’ll see a website as professional as the angler, and his work is on display on social media too. For more information call 417-366-3617.

If you still need to land a great present for an angler on your list, the memories from an experience gift like a guided fishing trip will outlast most of the other things you could find in the store. I know because I have been in those aisles and the pickings can be pretty slim.

Originally published by Leader Newspapers of Jefferson Vounty on Dec. 23, 2022.

State seeks comments on plans for new and improved fishing accesses

The state Department of Conservation recently completed renovations on the Truman Access at the Mississippi River in southern Jefferson County.

A press release from the state Department of Conservation late last month caught my eye. The agency is looking for input about places that provide access to lakes and streams. A few years ago I offered my evaluation of a few, and the issue still gets my attention.

This time they were actually asking for my opinion rather than for me to begin a random rant. Alas, there was more (or less) to the request than I thought. Throughout the month of December the state is collecting comments about public places to reach rivers and lakes, but it is specifically regarding an environmental assessment procedure.

The 60-plus pages of report that is available for review reads as raw and redundant. For what I could glean from the document, they want to use a simpler method for determining how plans for river and lake accesses affect the surrounding properties, including the human, plant, and animal residents in the area.

The suggested change would save money and time for building new accesses or renovating, and relocating existing properties. Trying to reduce the taxpayers’ burden and speed up the process for government work would not likely have many detractors. By my interpretation, potential environmental impacts are addressed, and when a conflict with the new rules arises, the old requirements return.

A public comment period for saving money and time seems like a waste of both. Either way, if you want to provide your input, the Draft Generic Environmental Assessment for Public Access Sites in Missouri can be viewed online at https://mdc.mo.gov/media/118586, and you may send an email to state fisheries program supervisor Laura.Ruman@mdc.mo.gov before Dec. 31.

The need for more and better accesses is evident, and according to the press release, the state is obligated to spend a specific portion of federal money it receives on providing anglers and boaters better ways to reach the water.

“Over time, new and improved boat accesses are necessary to help meet increasing demand generated by increased boat ownership and leisure time,” Ruman said in the press release. “Accesses are frequently damaged during flood events and may require closure until the damage is repaired or the access is relocated.”

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service provides Sports Fish Restoration funds to the states, and 15% of that money must be spent on access renovation, construction, or maintenance. The taxes come from federal excise on fishing equipment, import duties on boats, and portion of the fuel tax. It is distributed based on a state’s geographic size and number of fishing permits sold.

I have no doubt that our state spends its required allotment on the hundreds of access across our wide Missouri, but I always want the ones I might use to be better or even available. I have visited a few that are barely accessible.

An ongoing initiative in Missouri invites anglers to complete its Smallmouth Slam, by landing at least one bronze beauty from 12 different streams where special regulations protect them.

Three of those options are in or near Jefferson County. The entire length of Big River has multiple locations throughout its length to join the flow and try to catch a fish. It may be the most accessible of all the streams in the state. The Mineral Fork and the Joachim Creek are near the opposite side of the equation.

Walther Park in De Soto has fantastic facilities for just about everything you could want from a public property, but its potential for providing significant smallmouth bass fishing is limited. The rest of the Joachim Creek in the special management zone has better angling options, but it is almost exclusively in private ownership.

The conservation department’s Kingston Access in Washington County is a parking lot and quarter-mile hiking path to the Mineral Fork. Wade fishing is possible, or kayakers and canoeists who are willing to carry their equipment can float the three miles to Big River for downriver access sites.

Even with the new and improved environmental assessment plans, the state’s opportunities to reach its fishable waters face significant limitations.

Originally published by Leader Newspapers of Jefferson County Dec. 15, 2022.

New 2023 firearms deer hunting opportunities to increase antlerless deer harvests

With only the alternative methods portion of firearms deer hunting left for 2022, hunters in Jefferson County and in many other areas of the state have a few new chances to say “wait till next year.”

The new “2023 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information” booklet will outline several changes meant to increase antlerless deer harvest.

At its Dec. 2 meeting, the state Conservation Commission approved dates and new regulations for next season. The primary schedule stays the same for fall deer and turkey hunting in 2023, but two new firearms portions have been added, and the number of anterless permits available for most of the state, including Jefferson County, will get significant liberalization.

A new early antlerless deer hunting season and a CWD portion combine to provide eight more days of firearms hunting in specific locations. Those two regulations were among proposals that hunters and the general public were asked for public comments about earlier this year, so they come as little surprise.

The increase of available antlerless permits from two to four in 82 of the 114 counties in Missouri seems more significant. How many hunters will take advantage of those additional opportunities remains in question. What is answered by the changes is the need to harvest additional does in the state to moderate a healthy and growing population.

“The changes to deer hunting regulations for the 2023-2024 deer season were motivated by increasing deer numbers throughout much of Missouri and in response to changes in the distribution of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the state,” said Jason Isabelle, cervid program supervisor with the state Department of Conservation. “With a growing deer population in most Missouri counties, we’re increasing opportunities for hunters to harvest deer both within and outside of the CWD Management Zone next year.”

Jefferson County has been in a CWD management zone since the disease was detected in Franklin County in 2015. The following year, a deer that was harvested near the Meert Tree Farm south of Festus revealed a positive test result. Since then, pending this year’s numbers, 21 cases have been identified in an isolated area of the county south of Festus and east of De Soto.

The new CWD segment of the fall firearms season will immediately follow the November portion, which is most commonly known simply as deer season. It includes the 11 days that begin on the Saturday two weekends prior to Thanksgiving. The new CWD season will run from the Wednesday prior to the holiday and continue through the weekend.

The late youth portion three-day weekend, which has been the Friday through Sunday after Thanksgiving will coincide with the new CWD portion in 38 counties. During the new season, hunters may take deer based on the number of unfilled tags they have remaining.

“When looking for the best time to provide hunters with more opportunity in CWD Management Zone counties, we considered a number of factors including the potential for good deer movement, level of hunter interest, and potential conflict with other hunters,” Isabelle said. “The late November time frame avoids peak archery hunting weeks and occurs during a time when deer movement is generally good, and when hunters are eager to be in the woods.”

The new early antlerless season is scheduled for Friday through Sunday, Oct. 6-8, 2023. It will be open in the same 100 counties where the antlerless season is currently available.

“The early antlerless portion will help to increase antlerless deer harvest prior to the November portion of firearms season when the focus of many hunters is on harvesting a buck,” Isabelle said. “The timing of the early antlerless portion was designed to occur when weather conditions are generally comfortable and during a time that will minimize conflict with archery hunters, who spend the most time hunting during late October and early November as the rut approaches.”

The 2022 fall deer hunting seasons still include one more segment for firearms hunters with the alternative methods season (mostly muzzleloaders) from Dec. 24 through Jan. 3, 2023. Archery hunting season runs concurrently with all firearms hunts, except the November portion, and ends on Jan. 15, 2023.

For more information on the changes for the 2023-24 hunting season, visit mdc.mo.gov.

Originally published by Leader Publications of Jefferson County on Dec. 8, 2022.

Winter trout program expands fishing opportunities for anglers

For the fair-weather fishermen like me, this is the time of the year to re-spool the reels, restock the spinners, and sort through the rest of the mess that served as a tackle box through the spring, summer, and fall.

But for the hearty boys and girls who don’t let a little cold or blowing ice interrupt their ichthyological interests, opportunities abound year-round. Of course I’m talking about those folks who will forego the visions of sugar plums associated with upcoming holidays, and dream exclusively about wading waist deep in ice water on March 1.

Anglers do not have to wait until March 1 to get their trout fishing fix thanks to the Winter Trout Program in the St. Louis region.

Thanks to the state Department of Conservation and many local municipalities, trout anglers can fill their stringers close to home while they wait in anticipation for the end of February. Eighteen lakes in the St. Louis region will receive about 40,000 rainbow trout this winter.

Closest to home for Jefferson County anglers are the 6.5-acre Island Lake and 1.5-acre Carp Lake at Suson Park off Wells Road on the other side of the Meramec River. Both lakes have available fishing platforms and handicap accessibility. Anglers with a valid fishing license and annual trout tag may keep up to four fish daily.

Anglers at the other side of the county may consider traveling south for their winter trout fishing adventures. Legion Lake in Perryville, Giessing Lake in Farmington and Rotary Lake in Jackson will receive about 9,000 trout this winter from the conservation department. Fishing in these lakes is catch-and-release only through Jan. 31. Anglers may only use artificial lures and flies and must return their catch immediately, unharmed until that date. After Feb. 1 fishermen may use any bait and keep up to four fish each day.

Back up north, about half of the participating lakes are catch-and-release only, and the rest, like those as Suson Park, allow anglers to keep what the catch. Lakes 7 and 21 at August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area in St. Charles County are for catch-and-release fishing only, but Lakes 3, 22, and 23, there allow anglers to keep up to four fish.

Other catch-and-release only lakes in the winter trout program are Jefferson Lake in Forest Park, Koeneman Park Lake in Jennings, Tilles Park Lake, Union City Lake in Franklin County, and Walker Lake in Kirkwood.

The additional catch-and-keep lakes include Boathouse Lake at Carondelet Park and O’Fallon Park Lake in St. Louis City, Gendron Lake in St. Ann, January-Wabash Park Lake in Ferguson, and Vlasis Park Lake in Ballwin,

Anglers are only allowed to fish with one pole and line at a time, and any type of chum is prohibited at all locations. The conservation department stocks additional fish through the season. A local phone line, 636-300-9651, is updated following each stocking, providing information on the most recent number of fish added to each lake.

The thrill of the catch awaits all anglers and those who plan to put fish on their stringers know that the hatchery raised rainbows are delish fish when they are baked, smoked, fried, or prepared just about any other way.

Most of the fish that are stocked in area lakes are about 12 inches long, but the program includes occasional “brood stock” lunkers that may weigh up to 10 pounds. Opportunities like that can tempt even the wariest of us who worry about the weather to consider wetting a line in the winter time.

Originally published by Leader Publications of Jefferson County on December 3, 2022.

Field to Freezer program provides deer processing primer

Even before I started deer hunting myself, I had a pretty good idea about the home processing process. My college buddy Steve had killed a small buck on public ground outside of Kirksville, Missouri, and he requested my help to retrieve it and get it to his dad for butchering.

Big Ken was a union meat cutter for National Supermarkets and a virtual magician with a boning knife. I watched in awe as he turned that carcass into steaks, chops, roasts, and a pan of meat that would become ground venison and eventually, delicious deer bratwursts.

The Field to Freezer classes at Jay Henges Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. on Oct. 4. Advanced registration is required.Missouri Department of Conservation photo

That was not my first introduction to dead animal amelioration. Every fall and winter of my childhood, we would go to my grandparents’ farm near High Ridge for butchering hogs and beef cattle. I eventually worked my way up from little kid in everyone’s way to operating the grinder, skinning, fat trimming, and strong-boy sawing.

In addition to that experience, I knew how to turn the squirrels, rabbits, and doves we shot into table fare. Similarly I could wield a knife for cleaning fish, turtles, or frogs. Still when I saw the state Department of Conservation offering a free program about making a dead deer into supper time staples, I signed up.

Field to Freezer is offered annually at the Jay Henges Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center near High Ridge. This year the presentation is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4. Pre-registration is required through the online link: https://short.mdc.mo.gov/4cX.

Led by local processors and conservation department staff, those who attend the program get to see a step-by-step demonstration that takes the deer apart piece by piece. Beginning with a discussion about field dressing techniques, participants can watch how to skin and butcher their own venison.

The program will highlight equipment that makes each step easier with a focus on safety, not only with the sharp objects, but also in making sure the meat doesn’t get contaminated and how to prepare packages for long-term storage.

In the session I attended a couple of years ago, the most common concern focused on how quickly the hunter had to act in the field to make sure the food source stayed safe. Obviously it is more essential earlier in hunting seasons. Bowhunters last week had a chance to harvest their buck on days when the heat index topped 100 in Missouri.

The cooling process begins with field dressing. Opening the body cavity and removing the internal organs allows the body temperature to decrease more rapidly. During the November portion of the firearms season, it is usually much cooler, but any delay should be avoided if possible. Putting blocks of ice, like frozen water-filled milk jugs, inside the deer can offer some protection, but getting the job done is the best strategy.

Removing the hide makes a significant difference in the meat’s ability to dissipate its body heat. As is the case with squirrels, rabbits and other small game, the sooner you can begin skinning your deer, the easier it will go.

A few years ago I started using a procedure that skips the field dressing process. The gutless method is used most frequently for those hunting in remote areas where hauling the entire animal out is difficult. It is also an option for hunting in areas with chronic wasting disease because carcasses should not be removed from those management locations.

A video from the conservation department shows the process, which starts with skinning and removing the back-strap muscles. Each of the four legs (quarters) are removed without opening the body cavity. I have unscented plastic trash bags for temporary storage to get the meat to cleaning with a cool water rinse and eventual refrigeration.

Removing the meat from the bones is the final step before grinding or cooking. The Field to Freezer program identifies specific cuts of venison and explains which are best for the grinder. To turn those parts into chili, spaghetti, bratwursts or summer sausages, you have to rely on your own special recipes.

Originally printed by Leader Publications on Sept. 29, 2022.

Local artists shine in State Parks contest honoring Earth Day

Gabriel Sedrick of Festus Elementary School took first place for his Earth Day artwork in the first and second grade category.

Jefferson County artists demonstrated their talents in the virtual youth art contest sponsored by Missouri State Parks in honor of Earth Day in April.

In the first and second grade category, artwork by Gabriel Sedrock of Festus Elementary School was selected as the first place winner, and Lena Massa of Crystal City earned third place honors. Faith Dedson of Hillsboro won third place in the third and fourth grade division. Other winners from nearby Jefferson County included Emberly and Ellyn Drury of Bloomsdale, and Laila Underwood of Tiff.

A happy Earth was the focus of the artwork by Lena Massa from Crystal City Elementary School. Her effort earned a third place award in the first and second grade category.

Nearly 600 Missouri artists from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade entered the contest. Submissions came in a variety of media including finger paintings, pencil sketches, watercolors, 3-D models, and clay sculptures. A panel of judges selected the award winners in five categories. First-, second- and third-place winners receive medals, and honorable mention recipients were sent certificates.

The award-winning artwork can be viewed on the Missouri State Parks Facebook and Flickr pages, and will be displayed at the Missouri State Museum in the Capitol during September.