Workshop welcomes teachers to add fishing, hunting to school curriculum

Obviously children are the future of everything, and the case is made frequently by those who promote outdoors sports like hunting and fishing. Less than a century ago, kids spending time trying to catch or kill a meal for the family would have been common.

“We want kids to discover and learn outside as much as possible,” Conrad Mallady told the teachers who attended the Discover Nature Fishing workshop he coordinated at Hillsboro High School earlier this month. “I want you to go back to your schools and tell other teachers about the programs we have available. I’ll do as many of these workshops as I can to get this into schools.”

Conservation educator Conrad Mallady talks about equipment available to teachers during the Discover Nature Fishing workshop at Hillsboro High School.

The state Department of Conservation has offered Discover Nature Fishing as a community program for years, but the effort to get it added to school curricula is new, Mallady said. The success of the National Archery in Schools Program provides a positive blueprint.

Jessika Jacaty, the Agriculture Program coordinator at Hillsboro, invited Mallady to hold the workshop at the district’s barn and lake. After an introduction and review of the lesson plans, the teachers at the workshop put the elements of the education into action at the lake.

Four basic lessons teach how to cast and handle fishing equipment, tying knots and baiting hooks, fish habitat, and lures and regulations. Teachers who complete the workshop are eligible for a long-term loan agreement that provides rods, reels and other tackle. Transportation grant funding is also available to cover the cost of fishing field trips.

“We buy the stuff and you get to use it,” Mallady said. The education component becomes the responsibility of the teachers. “I’m not going to talk about everything that is in the teacher’s book. You are the professionals and you can go do what you do best.”

Mallady brings plenty of his own experience to the workshop. He has worked for the conservation department for 31 years with his first job in 1990 in Montauk Trout Park.

“It was fun working with and learning about the trout,” he said. “I also got to do a lot of mowing and weed-eating.”

The next year he was accepted into the conservation agent academy through the State Highway Patrol and served as an agent for 10 years before moving to the education division. Now serving as a conservation educator, he is also hopeful to get the hunter education certification program into the schools where possible.

“With the challenges of COVID we are seeing a lot smaller and fewer classes,” Mallady said. “Where we have been able to get into the schools, we are finding it very successful and the teachers are enjoying it.”

The only requirement to attend a Discover Nature Fishing workshop is a fishing license for teachers under age 65. To be certified to teach hunter education, teachers and volunteers have to complete the student course themselves first.

“The hunter education program has been strong since 1988 when it became mandatory. It used to be two or three days of lecture with 10 or 12 hours of classroom time,” Mallady said. “Now its half home study and half skill session.”

Teachers can also find other resources to introduce outdoors, ecology and conservation education to their classrooms through an online portal at mdc.mo.gov. After creating an account, teachers can access free materials.

“Outdoor time can be healing and can be healthy. That’s what our curriculum is all about,” Mallady said. “The goal of Discover Nature Fishing is to help kids and their families gain the skills they need to continue fishing on their own for the rest of their lives.”

To find out about bringing the workshop to your school, email conrad.mallady@mdc.mo.gov.

Originally published by Leader Publications Dec. 23, 2021.

Spread of chronic wasting disease in county strikes close to home

Over the past few years I have talked to Jasmine Batten several times, so when I answered a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize, it was pleasant to hear a familiar voice.

If her name doesn’t ring a bell for others, her work certainly will. Batten is the wildlife health program supervisor for the state Department of Conservation. She is the field general in the local army’s battle with chronic wasting disease.

All of my previous conversations with Batten have started with a telephone call or email from me to her. Why pray tell was she calling me?

This buck looked healthy chasing a doe through the woods,
but a post-harvest test proved he was infected with chronic wasting disease.

I had a fairly good idea of the answer before she confirmed that John Winkelman, the hunter on her list to call, was the same outdoor writer she had talked to frequently in the past. I shot a pretty nice buck with my bow the weekend before firearms season in southern Jefferson County and submitted a sample in the voluntary CWD testing program.

As a courtesy, she was calling to tell me that my deer had tested positive for chronic wasting disease. With still more samples to test and confirm, my deer was one of three new cases found in Jefferson County this year. In Ste. Genevieve County, four more deer have tested positive so far. With more than 20,000 tests complete, 28 new cases have been identified statewide.

Looking at a map of the previous positive test results from rural Festus, I knew I was hunting in an area with increased possibility for disease detection. None of the little gray boxes actually reached the farm property where my tree stand hangs, but I was in the neighborhood.

Because my voluntary submission was ahead of the thousands of bits collected in the mandatory sampling days of opening weekend, I was surprised that my conservation number continued to say “pending” when I looked online for results a month later.

It’s protocol for the state biologists to call hunters when they get a positive result. Everyone else finds out by checking for the news on the department website. Batten said the conversations she has with hunters allow questions and answers about next steps. Reactions range from “no big deal” to frightened heartache.

My reaction was somewhere in between. I was disappointed that all the work that follows the shot had gone for naught, but I was glad that I hadn’t done anything with the meat except store it in the freezer waiting for the results to arrive.

There is no evidence that the disease can cross species from deer to humans, and the butchering I did never included cutting into the spinal column or skull where the disease can be found. But I don’t want to be the test case that proves transmission is possible. Many times over the past few years, as an advocate for testing, I have said I wouldn’t eat or feed deer to my family that had not been tested.

Batten asked for a more specific location pinpointing the spot that had marked my lucky day. The map of southern Jefferson County now includes new shaded areas marking positive cases. The proximity to previous positive tests is not a prerequisite because mature bucks often travel significant distances, Batten said.

Chronic wasting disease is a deadly infectious disease that eventually kills all animals it affects. Hunters can help manage the disease by getting the deer they harvest tested. More information about testing options, and the map showing positive case locations, is available at mdc.mo.gov/cwd.

The next steps for me is disposal of the meat I have in my freezer. Batten said it could be discarded in a landfill or through municipal trash pickup, but she also offered that the department would pick it up for incineration.

The department also could offer a replacement tag, she said, but I declined since I still have a couple unfilled permits left. Now it’s time to get back to work with the remaining days of archery season and the alternate methods portions. I’m going to miss those butterflied buck chops.

Originally published by Leader Publications Dec. 16, 2021.

Deer hunting memories are the sport’s best rewards

For all the things you hope to bring home from hunting camp, the most important may not be venison, trophy antlers or the thrills of being outdoors. The memories you make are the true treasures, and they can last a lifetime.

A ready smile and wealth of hunting knowledge,
Big Ken Ebert was one of my mentors.

Big Ken Ebert was the patriarch of our small Camden County hunting camp. Around the campfire at night he was always quick with a joke or a slick barb for the whippersnappers surrounding him. His brother, who we all called Uncle Ray, joined occasionally to even the score, but my college buddy Steve Ebert and the rest of us “kids” still had them outnumbered.

Big didn’t just describe Ken’s physical stature. He commanded every room he entered. He had a solid gold heart and would give the shirt off his back. He was always ready to share his hunting knowledge, his best tips for sharpshooting expertise, and as a union butcher, he could handle a boning knife better than anyone I have ever seen.

It’s been more than 20 years now since we all hunted together, but thoughts about the last time still linger in my mind. Those memories flood back strong with every visit to the big woods in the fall.

Everyone was out for opening morning on the 80-acre patch we affectionately called Deersneyland. The first shot rang out just after sunrise in the bottom of the bottom, a deep gorge that paralleled the property’s northern border where Uncle Ray was stationed. Everything in that mostly dry creek bed led straight up to the food plots and the stands dotted along the ridge top.

When we convened for a late breakfast, Uncle Ray said he shot at and was sure he hit a doe, but he hadn’t found much evidence or his deer. Big Ken agreed to accompany his brother on a search and recovery mission. The two diligently tracked up and down the holler, but by the end of the day there was still no deer hanging at the cabin.

Around the campfire that night we all shared stories about the day’s experiences and talked about prospects for the next morning’s hunt.

“I’m hoping for better luck tomorrow; the only thing I saw all day was two old men stumbling through the woods,” Steve said with just enough salt in his tone and a big smile as he hit the target with the best shot of the evening.

This buck may not be a trophy of record book proportions, but the 10-pointer is a reminder of the years I got to hunt with Big Ken Ebert.

Later that winter, a quick and bitter battle with cancer called Big Ken home at 64 years old. That summer, Uncle Ray had a heart attack and joined his brother. The close knit family was devastated, and our hunting camp would never be the same.

Opening weekend dawned bright the following fall. Around 8 a.m. I was waiting quietly in the Lucky Dogwood Stand. About 50 yards away coming up from the bottom, the biggest buck I had ever seen on the hoof was walking slowly toward the field, where Big Ken’s Treehouse sat empty.

The adrenaline hit hard and then the commander’s voice came to me offering calm and confidence. I felt like the guide was sitting in the stand with me.

“Don’t move. Be patient. Breathe.”

“If you can see his eyes, he can see you.”

“When he goes behind that tree, turn slowly. Raise your rifle.”

“See your shooting lane. A few more steps he’ll be broadside in that opening.”

“Breathe.”

“Just a couple more steps. Safety off.”

“Find the spot. Aim. Let the trigger travel, don’t jerk it.”

The gun went off and the deer went down.

I chambered a new cartridge, slumped in my seat, put the safety back on and stared at the patch of brown laying on the ground.

Once my heart stopped racing, I was able to climb down and walk toward the deer. On close inspection I found an almost perfectly symmetrical five-by-five rack. One point for every year I hunted with Big Ken on his farm.

I love deer hunting, and I have since Steve first took me under his wing and introduced me to the sport. I have had the good fortune to take a several deer over the years, including a few that were bigger than the first trophy I hung on my wall, but that one will always be special.

I know it was not my woodsmanship, scouting skills or anything I did other than sitting in the right place at the right time.

I had hunted in that location for 10 years, and I had seen deer travel on that ridge top from every direction, but never had one climbed that steep hill and walked straight out of the bottom. What made that big buck leave his sanctuary? There may be more plausible theories, but I am pretty sure that it was “two old men stumbling through the woods.”

Originally published in Outdoor Guide Magazine September-October 2020.

Truman Access on Mississippi River reopens after new repair strategy

Last fall when the state Department of Conservation announced that the Truman Access on the Mississippi River in southern Jefferson County would be closed indefinitely, the prospects of getting back to the mighty waterway seemed even more remote than the site itself.

But earlier this month the state issued a release that the 20-acre property adjacent to the Rush Island power plant reopened for public use. With improved drainage and higher roadbeds, the area is expected to be less affected by frequent flooding in the future.

The concrete boat ramp is the central feature at Truman Access in southern Jefferson County, and hopefully it will remain more accessible despite frequent Mississippi River flooding.

With the river hovering near its zero level this month, high water worries may seem like a low priority, but the Mississippi has been out of its banks five times in the last two years including an event in March of this year when it exceeded flood levels by over a foot. (The zero-level does not mean there is no water in the river, but it indicates that the nine-foot deep navigation channel needed for commercial barges may not be maintained.)

Flood events in the past have deposited significant amounts of silt sediments, so the department used that material to raise the road levels. The excavation work also included adding new drainage pipes.

“After the long closure of Truman Access, we have reopened the gates,” said Tim Schuette, a conservation department maintenance supervisor. “With the combination of raising the road and parking lot and replacing a couple of culvert pipes that were silted in, drainage will be much better.”

Portions of the access road, and the parking lot near the boat ramp, were raised from two to four feet using the accumulated river sediment. After the silt was bulldozed into place and graded, conservation department crews covered those areas with an additional foot of rock base.

“I believe we have the road and parking lot at an elevation where excessive silt deposits should not form during a typical high water event as they’ve done in the past,” Schuette said.

The strategy to allow the sediment to build up and use it to in the fight against future floods has been successful at other river accesses in southeast Missouri. It is opposite of previous recovery efforts, which worked to remove the silt and replace it with rock. But every subsequent flooding event buried the new rock surfaces in more silt.

The single-lane boat launch ramp at Truman Access is concrete, but the parking area and roads are all gravel. The current low river levels showed the bottom structure for the large fishing areas that attract summertime anglers. A wing dike just upstream from the ramp creates a large pool away from the river’s strong current.

In addition to fishing opportunities, Truman provides access to Harlow Island, a 1,200 -acre tract that is part of the Middle Mississippi River Natural Wildlife Area. About 800 areas of the property had been cropland, but the flood of 1993 over-topped the agricultural levee protecting the property, and it has since be allowed to return to its natural bottom land forest habitat.

The refuge is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is one component of a network of lands along the river between St. Louis and the Ohio River near Cairo, Illinois. The wetlands and woods are set aside for the protection of plants and animals that call the habitat home.

A mile-long slough creates Harlow Island, separating it from the Missouri mainland. The current low river level has the slough looking more like a wet ditch, but spring rains and snow-melt in the north will bring the river and its side channels to their former glory soon enough. Hopefully the raised roadways and improved drainage will limit the time the area is closed “indefinitely” in the future.

Truman Access is on Big Hollow Road about 10 miles south of Crystal City off US Highway 61 at Hwy. AA.

Originally published by Leader Publications Dec. 9, 2021.

Deer harvest totals follow recent trends, provide predictable coming seasons

Once the leaves finally fell off of the trees, the deer season took on a look of normalcy. The unofficial numbers from the November portion of firearms season were very similar to recent years. (Actually, it seems there are still a remarkable number of trees still holding tight to their summer wardrobe.)

Conservation agent Cpl. Lexis Wilson with a young hunter at the CWD sampling station in Herculaneum on opening weekend. (Photo from the MDC Facebook page.)

Opening weekend weather included a mix of wind and rain through two days of pretty typical November weather, and hunters responded by taking nearly 90,000 deer. In round numbers it’s pretty easy to predict what to expect throughout the state’s four months of deer hunting.

Opening weekend usually accounts for a quarter to a third of the overall harvest, so a number close to 100,000 has come to be expected. The rest of the November portion can count on just about the same number of deer, as hunters add to their personal totals or use the second weekend and last nine days to make up for missed opportunities.

The other segments, including archery, two youth seasons, antlerless and alternative methods are likely to reach or exceed another 100,000 deer, bringing the annual total to nearly 300,000, which has been a consistent mark.

Other true to form data regards the top harvest counties. Franklin and Texas counties take full advantage of their large geography and strong habitat to lead the way year after year. Jefferson County found its way into the top five this year with about 4,200 deer taken.

When the archery season paused for the November portion, Jefferson County was maintaining its dominance, leading the way for the tenth consecutive year with 1,173 deer checked. Callaway and Franklin counties were the only other locations to top four-digits with 1,031 and 1,034 respectively.

Still to come is an extended antlerless portion beginning Dec. 4. The season that allows hunter to only shoot does or young bucks with antlers less than three inches had been three days long, but this year will stretch through two weekends until Dec. 12.

Only 15 of Missouri’s 114 counties are excluded during the season. Hunters can use their any-deer or antlerless firearms permits. Limits are determined by county. Hunters in Jefferson County may fill two antlerless permits again this year.

The alternative methods season opens on Christmas Day and continues until Jan. 4, 2022. Known mostly as muzzleloader season, hunters can use cap and ball or other muzzle-loading long rifles or pistols that shoot a .40 caliber or larger, single projectile. Also legal are .40-caliber air rifles, centerfire handguns, airbows, long bows, crossbows or atlatls.

Mandatory chronic wasting disease sampling on opening weekend in Jefferson and 33 other counties resulted in collection of lymph node tissue samples from 18,700 hunter-harvested deer for testing.

“We greatly appreciate the participation and support of the many thousands of hunters who presented their deer for CWD sampling during opening weekend,” said Jasmine Batten, state Department of Conservation wildlife health program supervisor. “The high number of samples collected during opening weekend gives MDC scientists a much better understanding of the distribution and prevalence of the disease. It also helps us to find new cases in new areas as early as possible, which is very important.”

Including the recent sampling efforts, the state has collected more than 173,000 tissue samples for testing since the disease was first detected in wild deer in Missouri in early 2012. To date, the state has found 206 confirmed cases of CWD since sampling began.

Hunters are encouraged to take the deer they harvest in other portions of the hunting season to voluntary sampling locations at taxidermists and meat processors throughout the state. The testing is free for hunters and results are available in three to four weeks through the conservation department website. For more information visit mdc.mo.gov/cwd.

Originally published by Leader Publications Dec. 2, 2021.

Magnolia Hollow offers many amenities even if its hiking trail needs attention

Magnolia Hollow offers many amenities even if its hiking trail needs attention

As it turned out, mid-October was a little early, and unfortunately the first week of November may be a little late, but the opportunity to enjoy the fall colors is not the only good reason to check out Magnolia Hollow Conservation Area just south of Bloomsdale in Ste. Genevieve County.

Witnessing the transition from lush green in the oak and hickory forest to a palette of red, orange, yellow and purple is one of autumn’s most redeeming features. Throw in a bright blue sky and cool enough air to keep you from sweating along the hiking trail, and you’ve got an outdoor masterpiece.

The viewing platform at Magnolia Hollow Conservation Area in Ste. Genevieve County provides a tremendous panoramic view of the Mississippi River valley far into Illinois.

The early turners were already losing their leaves when we visited, but the bulk of the woods remained dark green. A couple of cool weeks following our visit has brought on the brighter colors, but strong winds and storms will soon leave most limbs bare.

The disappointment of the leaf peeping was only the start of my list for things that could have been better at the rural outpost that borders Establishment Creek until it empties in the Mississippi. Parking was inadequate on a Saturday morning at the trail head, and without a port-a-potty or privy on site, it is important to be prepared before making the drive.

The one designated hiking trail is estimated at about 1.3 miles and is accommodating for most skill levels, except for one glaring flaw. Other than the trailheads, it is not well marked. Technically the loop begins at the last parking lot on White Sands Road. A paved section of trail leads to a viewing platform overlooking the Mississippi River valley and the expanse of land between the bluffs along the creek far into Illinois. The pavement allows strollers, wheelchairs and just about anybody else access to the overlook.

We actually passed a wedding party with guests of all ages on their way back from the scenic spot, as we were walking in. I’m sure the ceremony and photos were very nice. The few dozen participants were the reason the four-spot parking area was woefully inadequate, and we had to find an off-road ditch area along with many other well-wishers.

During the pandemic last summer when hiking trails seemed to be the only place to be safe outside of the house, parking was a big problem almost every weekend.

After the happy couple and their entourage left, we never saw another person near the trail, but there were still several cars left on the road. Magnolia Hollow is a popular spot for archery hunters and is also open during firearms seasons for deer and turkey hunting. Several miles of area access trails provide routes throughout the 1,740 acre property.

The boardwalk bridge at the lowest level of the hiking trail provided solid evidence of need for a little TLC. Some parts of the bridge were not very solid.

As you would imagine with a name like Hollow, the terrain can be steep and deep. The difference is just more that 300 feet from the highest to the lowest part of the property, but the ups and downs are plentiful. Both ends of the unpaved hiking trail welcome walkers with a sign that says, “Danger Steep Bluffs”.

We only walked the hiking trail, but for those looking for more challenges, the access roads would offer a solid workout. With hunters in the woods, we didn’t want to try other areas for concern about disturbing their efforts. There is plenty of space for everyone to enjoy the area, but the access trails are probably best left to the hunters, especially during the firearms portions of deer season.

Back to the poorly marked hiking trail, other than that deficiency, it offers a nice walk in the woods. Approached from either end it goes down about 100 feet in elevation to a low open area with an old boardwalk bridge. A missing timber or two added to the area’s accumulated shortcomings.

Hiking doesn’t require wooden bridges, but adequate trail blazes would have been a big, but easy improvement. The state Department of Conservation areas are usually much more meticulous about those maintenance issues, but Magnolia Hollow was missing out.

With an archery range, clay pigeon shooting area, primitive camping spot, and more, there are plenty of positives at the place. Wildlife water holes and woodland food plots provide benefits for the hunters who use the area. The five-mile drive from the state highway is a highlight too. Winding through through the valley farmland past old barns and along the creek provided plenty of picturesque places, even if the leaves were not quite ready for prime time.

Originally published by Leader Publications Nov. 4, 2021.

Bennett Spring offers much more than just trout fishing options

The lure of a place like Bennett Spring and its trout park is easy to see, and it goes way beyond the fishing. In one compact package it provides a wide variety of outdoor activities and really nice amenities.

Of course the fishing opportunities are the primary draw, with open stream available from March 1 through Oct. 31 and Nov. 13 through Feb. 8. Open stream may be a overly generous description on opening day when crowds can be huge, but the option to fish later in the day during the regular season, or throughout the winter catch-and-release period, there can be plenty of time with fewer anglers.

Anglers try their luck in the pool just upstream from the Whistle Bridge at Bennett Spring State Park.

During the regular season, fish are released each night from the on-site hatchery based on the number of permits expected to be sold the next day. Most of the rainbow trout are more than 12 inches long, and a few “lunkers” of three pounds or more get released to the stream during stocking.

Segments of the spring branch that leads to the Niangua River cater to different skill levels of anglers and types of fishing. One stretch only allows fly-fishing for the purists. A second area hosts casters with flies and other artificial lures, and Zone 3 is for natural baits and soft plastic lures only.

A daily fishing tag is required from opening day through Oct. 31. The cost is $4 for adults and $3 for anglers ages 15 and younger. During the catch and release season and outside the park boundaries on the river, an annual trout permit is required. The revenue from permit sales pays for the hatchery and fish that are fed and raised for anglers.

The hatchery pre-dates the park, which was purchased by the state in 1924. The history is evident throughout the 3,338-acre property and documented at the park’s nature center along with the ecology and natural environment of the spring and river system. Tours of the hatchery provide up close looks at fish that seemingly grow before your eyes as you walk past the raceways. The spring itself is quite impressive pumping out more than 100 million gallons of water per day.

The spring branch flows past cabins, campgrounds, a lodge with restaurant and store, and other park facilities including churches. Playground equipment and abundant, well-manicured flat ground is available for kids to run and have fun when the fishing is done.

Nearly 200 camping sites are available and can be reserved up to a year in advance. All of the campsites have electricity available, and 43 spots in Campground 1 have full water, sewer, and electric hook-ups.

Lodging options at the park include motel rooms, individual and duplex cabins, and recently remodeled four-apartment units. The motel rooms have refrigerators, and the cabins and other housekeeping units have one or two bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms.

The daily trout tags and other required fishing equipment are available in the park store. Concessionaire Jim Rogers offers fly-fishing lessons for those wanting to learn the craft or improve their presentation.

Five hiking trails range in length from just more than a quarter mile to almost 7.5 miles. The oak and hickory forests are the primary feature of all the routes, but each have interesting elements of their own including natural and man-made structures. Caves, bluffs, upland and bottomland terrain, an historic cemetery, and a natural tunnel that is almost 300 feet long as it forms an S-curve through the hill.

Like all state parks, the site is managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The hatchery is operated by the state Department of Conservation. The two agencies work in coordination providing amenities and activities for everyone.

Originally published by Leader Publications Oct. 14, 2021.