This week’s master naturalist question, for the hundreds of ‘master naturalists’ out there in the suburbs of who have their master naturalist certificates… In actual weight, which one is larger, the adult gray squirrel or the adult red squirrel? All of us who hunt squirrels and skin them and eat them, and send their tails to the Mepps spinner-bait company to trade for fishing lures, will know this one easily.

In late January we cut a dead white-oak tree at Panther Creek because we were worried it might fall on one of the cabins, and a hollow limb had a litter of baby gray squirrels in it. The mother squirrel came out of it like a streak of gray lightning, but we strapped the limb up high on a nearby live tree and left it. Sure enough, she came back and moved the four babies to another hollow tree nearby.

When you consider the fact that squirrel season does not end until the middle of February, you see what might happen anytime you bag a squirrel in February. It is exactly why no one should hunt squirrels after mid January! The rule-makers in Jefferson City seldom have ever been around squirrel hunters or woodcutters. The reason most of us country people have had so many pet squirrels when we were youngsters is the fact that so often when our folks were cutting trees for firewood in late January or early February, there were squirrels with young ones inside those trees.

Since it is a time when so many squirrels are bearing young, why in the world allow squirrel hunting then? And yes, you can make the argument that it makes no difference if a small number of baby squirrels starve to death in a hollow tree during that time, but why permit it to happen at all. Squirrel seasons should not ever run into February and I do not know of one competent or knowledgeable outdoorsman who would hunt them at that time of the year. Only a greenhorn would do that.

The same thing could be said about the ‘first of September’ opening of dove season. Few dove hunters today know that there are still fledging doves in scattered nesting in early September who will die in the nests because the adults are killed. I have seen young doves being fed in a nest on the first day of September here on Lightnin’ Ridge.

I know… there aren’t many times you will see that, but still, it would be eliminated completely if the season were set back to September the 20th. It makes common sense, but common sense hasn’t been prevalent in our conservation departments for many, many years. The people in those agencies who grew up in the outdoors are no longer a majority.

The truth of the matter is, young doves dying in a nest doesn’t make any significant change in the overall surviving numbers the next spring. But who can feel good about such a thing. Can anyone be so indifferent that they do not feel bad when they see a young fawn dead along the highway, or a baby rabbit being eaten by a housecat.

I was taught a ‘reverence for life’ as a boy-- introduced to hunting at a very young age. I see no reason why anything in the wild must die without a purpose to it. Squirrel seasons and dove seasons cannot be changed to make dead babies less likely. The one thing about dove hunting is, it is always too green and hot and dry in early September for hunting. I am not going to be out there with a retriever that I think so much of, putting him through the misery of those early September days. Early September is the best time of year to be fishing for bass with topwater lures anyway, and the best of the dove migrations will likely be at the coming of October.

The crops which I put out in the Panther Creek bottoms are paying dividends now, and during the months of January and February when food gets the scarcest for wildlife. I saw 14 deer in one of them just last night about an hour before dark. And you will remember I wrote about the 51 turkeys I saw parade out of one back in January. But what tickles me the most is rabbits and quail and varieties of songbirds that feed and take cover in those plots of varied crops.

Not far from me is the most barren, lifeless tract of ground you will ever see. It is the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Birdsong Conservation Area, which is planted and harvested each year by a tenant farmer who rents the ground and leaves it bare. Such an arrangement is meant to leave a percentage of crops for wildlife. It is the place where five beagles couldn’t come across a rabbit trail a year ago. Come by sometime and see what is left for wildlife there, under that idea of ‘wildlife management’ and what we do with a much smaller acreage at Panther Creek. See the tremendous difference in both places.

I hope that you have read or heard about the St. Louis Post Dispatch story about huge amount of money being paid to the MDC ex-director who resigned to go to work for Johnny Morris with the Bass Pro Shop dynasty. If you can find that news story about how much money he is receiving from the MDC months after leaving there, you will be amazed. It is hard to believe that a director who directs free labor and equipment for a ‘for-profit’organization, at no cost to anyone except Missouri taxpayers, can then go to work for that organization, making a huge salary, and still be paid a great deal of thousands of dollars by all of us through the MDC.

But that has happened, and there isn’t a thing anyone can do about it. If Al Capone had been so invincible and untouchable, he would have become President! I urge everyone to read the letter I sent to Johnny Morris in my spring magazine asking him to show all of us what he is doing in the field of conservation for common working class outdoorsmen of this state, so I can put pictures of that work in my magazine.

I will put the news story and that letter on my website this week. If you care about conservation, and if corruption in a state agency concerns you at all, please read it on your computer, or someone else’s, at larrydablemontoutdoors. Every Missourian needs to know what has happened. It is the second time an MDC director has been hired by Morris, after securing a large sum of money for Bass Pro Shop. Last time it was 2.5 million dollars. And after leaving the position of MDC director and going to work for Bass Pro Shop, that man received a one hundred thousand dollar gift from all of us through the MDC as a consultant fee.

When I wrote about that, the ex-director, in a fit of rage, called me on the phone and made physical threats. Keep in mind that in many of the newspapers I write for in major cities, this cannot be printed. That is the kind of power these folks possess.

There will be about 30 underprivileged kids spend the weekend at the Panther Creek retreat this coming weekend, free of charge. What an experiment it is going to be. If you’d like to join us and actually spend next Saturday helping us make it a great day for them, just call me, at 417-777-5227. My email is lightninridge@windstream.net.

The answer to the quiz is a tricky one. Red squirrels are tiny little rascals found way up north, much smaller than grays. Our Ozark fox squirrels are commonly referred to as red squirrels, but they are not. Fooled you on that one didn’t I?