A few times a year I volunteer with The Missouri Department of Conservation to teach Hunter Education. I always enjoy the enthusiasm of the kids (and the adults) as we discuss and learn about the history of hunting and fishing in the Ozarks. For me this is a great time to pass on some of our Ozarks heritage to the next generation. Until then, most of them don’t realize that the Ozarks as we know it would probably be much different if it wasn’t for our unique hunting and fishing heritage.
One of the first settlements in what is now Missouri was a fur trading post at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers where present day St. Louis is. Some of the first explorations into Missouri were for trapping and hunting. This trapping heritage continues in the Ozarks even today. As a matter of fact, between 1920 and 1950, cash paid to Missouri trappers amounted to more than the original purchase price of the entire Louisiana Purchase. Presently the furs harvested in Missouri are valued at more than $8.5 million annually, which in turn generates more than $60 million to the state’s economy (2003 MDC).
In the picture above, my uncle Bill stands proudly with the skunks and opossums that he trapped and hunted that year. You might think, “What’s the big deal about a couple of dead skunks?” Well, in 1939, a good skunk pelt could bring between $2.00 – $4.00 and the possums could bring $1.00 – $2.00. That barn wall looks to me like there is somewhere between $17.00 – $34.00 hanging there. Good money for 1939 in Shannon County, Missouri.
But, trapping isn’t all of our outdoor history in the Ozarks. Hunting and Fishing has played a huge role in making our state what it is today. The start of tourism in the Ozarks was brought about by fishing and the Ozark “johnboat.” People from the larger cities in the East would travel by train to the Ozarks to experience “float-fishing” on many of Missouri and Arkansas’s pristine rivers and streams, something the “tube-floaters” and conoeists still enjoy today.
Fishing continued to be a boon for the Ozarks as Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock, Beaver, Norfolk and Bull Shoals Lakes were built. These lakes not only brought power to the Ozarks, they brought a new flood of tourisits who wanted to fish, swim, recreate and explore the Ozarks we love.
Whether it be turkey, deer or mushroom, the tradition of hunting has been a way for Ozark families and communities to connect and remain close. Many traditions like “deer camp” have been passed down for generations now. One of the traditions I miss the most was the “Check-In” stations during deer and turkey seasons. I think the younger generation is really missing one of the best parts of the hunting experience without these.
Even if Dad and I came back empty handed that day, we would always go by the little convienance mart and see how our friends had fared. Dad would get a cup of coffee (hot chocolate for me), and the next hour would be spent leaning on tailgates, counting “points” and listening to stories of past hunts, tall -tales and the days news from around the county.
As a Hunter Education Instructor, teaching the new hunters about safety, ethics and responsibility is the most important part of my job. Teaching them about their Ozark hunting and fishing heritage is the part I enjoy the most.