My wife and I are “recreational landowners” in the Ozarks, meaning our land is used primarily for family enjoyment, not to produce a living. Three years ago, I used this space to write about our “Bridges Place,” 180 acres of remote wild land, a long way from our home.
The Bridges Place was once owned by my father-in-law, Joe Heavin, a skilled and enthusiastic hunter and angler. When Joe passed away, my two sons and I promised to hunt together at least once a year to preserve Joe’s passion for the outdoors. The boys are now grown with families of their own, and they also live far from the property. We could find better deer hunting, but we are drawn to this land every fall because it reminds us of Joe and our many adventures.
The three of us are not expert hunters; in fact, we failed to harvest any deer during the last four years. For most of my career, I was a conservation agent who worked long hours during Missouri’s fall hunting seasons. Conservation agents are a dedicated lot, and I am proud that I was one of them. However, the demands of the job made family hunting trips with Jay and Jeff a rare treat.
This past season, the boys were determined to break the drought. Two weeks before opening day, we each drove three hours to scout for deer sign. Jeff even hauled his fancy, custom-welded, two-seater tree stand to prove he was serious.
We found enough tracks, trails and buck scrapes to keep our enthusiasm high. After much debate between my sons, they put Jeff’s stand where they could see a pond and three of the five small fields. I picked out some sites for my portable climbing tree stand in a nearby wooded area. We had a plan and a mission!
Opening day, we all three claimed our spots. Jeff and Jay climbed in the big tree stand and I perched myself in a tree about a half-mile north. I now really understand why hunters use tree stands. Not only do they provide a much better view of passing deer, the stand is also a great place to watch the squirrels and birds.
My nature watching ended abruptly with a single report of a rifle from the boys’ direction. A clean shot from over 150 paces away made Jay the first family member to take a deer from the Bridges Place. Of course, there is the rest of the story—Jay was actually reading a book when the young buck approached and his brother had to alert him to take the shot!
Together, we hauled the deer to the farm house, checked it via Telecheck, and processed it ourselves. We finished the hunting weekend without further success, but it was a great time to be outdoors and enjoy the wildness of the area. Fortunately, Jeff was able to return four days later and harvest his own deer after less than two hours in his fancy stand.
This tale illustrates why being a recreational landowner is important to our family and why we are willing to expend the time, money and effort to take care of the land.
In previous years, we saw few deer and took none, but we made gradual habitat improvements to native grasses and forbs and established green browse plots. The work to convert the old fields took time, still has much room for improvement, and just is not pretty to some. But, the transition is pleasing to watch and deer tracks, trails, shed antlers and scrapes have increased.
We see turkeys occasionally, lots of rabbits and squirrels and a variety of songbirds. We hope for rebounds in the bobwhite quail population in seasons to come. This kind of progress takes time and patience, yet the personal involvement pays rich and immediate personal rewards. Over time, there is also a promise of future memories with children and grandchildren if we stay the course.
Conservation management on private land is a challenge for those who lack the expertise or equipment, but it is critically important to ensuring future wildlife populations. If you need help in achieving conservation goals on your property, Department of Conservation employees are here to serve. Please call us, we would be delighted to help. This service is hugely important to us as conservation professionals and to everyone who cares about the fish, forest and wildlife.
John D. Hoskins, Director
This column is dedicated to my brother, Joe Hoskins (Aug. 16, 1962–Jan. 8, 2006). Joe was a farmer who loved his family, land and its natural resouces as much as I do.—John Hoskins
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