If you are really an outdoorsman, late January, February and early March can be a great time of the year. First of all, there’s no one out there. If you want to be alone and pretend it is the winter of 1840, you can find places that will convince you that there isn’t a soul in the world but you.

This is the time when wildlife is the most active, because food is harder to find than it is any other time of the year and most species which do not hibernate must move more than they ever will during the fall and spring. That’s why you see nocturnal creatures out during daylight hours now, raccoons, coyotes, foxes and bobcats, even owls early and late. And the lack of foliage means you can see and photograph much more than usual.

If a wild creature has to keep its body temperature up, then it requires more food to do it in the cold. I intend to hunt deer and turkey and waterfowl all through the next couple of months… with my camera. When you add a little snow to the landscape, photos can be a great way to bring home the game, in photos.

My freezer is full already so I don’t need more wild game to clean. I will bring home pictures instead. The ones I long for the most are pictures of wild ducks and geese over decoys. Duck hunting is much easier when you don’t have to fiddle with a shotgun. And ducks work better when all hunting has ceased. A big flock of ducks over decoys with a beautiful background and the sun just right, is perhaps the most amazing photo an outdoorsman can get. With a camera, I can get the whole bunch.

I say this every year, but it is amusing to me how many city folks head for the same old foot-worn trails year after year for hiking. If you want to see some of the Ozark Mountains that no one else sees, go hiking where no trails are made, in the national forestlands of Missouri and Arkansas. The natural wonders you will find may be a little smaller than you’ll see where everyone else has been, but no less amazing. Leave your vehicle where a secluded little creek intersects a county road, and look for falls and pools and caves… then climb to the ridges, cross the valleys where points lead gradually down to the creek again. You can take similar hikes on Bull Shoals and Truman lakes where development is not great, and tracts of wild country remain. You will be seeing some huge timber, and in a time to come, loggers will get control of that wild country from our government and end the beauty and wildness of it.

Then there are the rivers, abandoned by the chaos-and-capsize crowd that will be hollering and yelling and drinking along these streams in May and June. If you know how to paddle, you can arrange a little blind of natural foliage on the bow of whatever you have to float in, and drift slowly down the river, surprising everything. Right now eagles are adding to their nests in anticipation of spring, and hooded mergansers seem to adorn every eddy.

If you don’t call yourself a photographer, there never was a better time to become one. Outdoor cameras with built-in telephoto lenses are plentiful, easy to operate and not expensive. You don’t have to spend the money I once spent annually on film.

If you want to see some of this, I use a big pontoon boat to take folks to a wild place on Truman Lake this time of year where we have a fish fry and two three-hour hikes into an area which abounds with all sorts of wildlife and has some monstrous trees.

We can only take twelve at a time and these day-long trips leave from Wheatland Mo. One such trip usually takes place in March, and another when the mushrooms are out in April. If you want to go, you need to email me your name and phone number and get on the list as soon as possible.

We will have another fish fry some Saturday after mid-May, at our Panther Creek Wilderness Area for underprivileged kids up near Collins Mo. I am doing this as a way of showing this project to those folks who have helped us make it possible, with work or donations of any kind. Anyone can come and join us, by letting us know you want to be there, but I need to know who wants to come so I know how many fish to catch! It will be another opportunity perhaps for churches and organizations to see how they can use the place for underprivileged children they work with, absolutely free.

And my gosh, I can’t believe this, but our big outdoorsman’s swap meet at the Assembly of God Gymnasium at Brighton Missouri is only two months away! It is the last Saturday of March. Anyone who wants a table to sell outdoor-oriented items needs to let me know soon. This must be the seventh or eighth year we have held it, and there will be more there to buy than ever before.

I intend to use that occasion to get rid of a lot of my wildlife art and to eliminate some of the valuable historic items in my museum which has caused members of my family to refer to me as a ‘hoarder’. By golly when you have lived the life I have, lots of things you come across need to be hoarded! Anyways, a bunch of things I have treasured for so long will be in someone else’s museum this spring, including some hand-made sassafras paddles my grandfather made almost a hundred years ago and a couple that Uncle Norten made as well.

As you might have guessed, that money we make on that day from such priceless treasures will go into the account of that children’s’ retreat I just mentioned in this column. It takes lots of money to make that project work, and I would rather earn it than ask for gifts and donations.

Someone said there is a website called ‘gofundme’ on the computer that will help people raise money for good causes, but I’m not about to use it. If God means for something to work, it works through hard work, not funds derived that often go into someone’s pocket rather than what it is supposed to go for. It is the way of the world now.

The ASPCA spends millions I suppose for ads showing poor little cats and dogs while they play “Silent Night” in the background and beg for your donations. I don’t care to donate anything to such television ads, knowing that they spend so many hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising and administration, and it is donated money that pays it.

In the lives of no one, are the years unnumbered. The good you do in your life, which has nothing to do with what you put in the bank for yourself, is all you have to show for being here.

If indeed a man will be judged for what he did on earth, that time isn’t far enough away for any of us. I want to be sure that when God and I finally have that talk, money doesn’t enter the conversation!

Emails work better than letters through the post office if you want to send me your opinions and ideas, or articles for our magazines. In both magazines, we use letters from you readers quite often. Let your newspaper know what you think of this column, good or bad.

The Department of Conservation makes a good effort to have it eliminated when they can. But still, 35 newspapers in three states have continued to use it. My email is lightninridge@windstream.net, the address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo, 65613.