by Clay Newcomb

I used to not like the summer. I viewed it as like a lag period unbeneficial for the overarching objectives of my life. However, I now see it as a time of preparation, both in my life and ecologically. When I look across a vast summer landscape, I see the green leaves as a conduit of energy for wildlife. It’s a time of plenty in preparation for a time of lack - plenty of food, sunlight and warmth. The older I get, the more I see value in the totality of the seasons, not just the one I enjoy the most.

ozark mountains

A typical view of the Ozark National Forest we saw on our mule ride on Tuesday. The dominant feature of this landscape is vast, unbroken vistas of green decidious leaves. Summertime makes this landscape quite inhospitable between the ticks, chiggers, spider webs and snakes. However, this is some great bear country. 

            I see long days as an opportune time for archery practice, mule training, and spending time with my family. The heat can be oppressive, but I think much of its power to stifle human activity is mental. Drink lots of water and wear a hat – that’s my advice. In the 1980s movie Rambo, Colonel Troutman sums up my philosophy on discomfort in describing Rambo’s training, “Rambo, was taught to ignore pain.” My wife has a picture of me hugging a crying River when she was three years old while quoting this movie.

            On Tuesday of this week, River and I took off into the Ozark National Forest on mules. Our goal was to ride ten miles and continue training my young mule, Ellie. We tried to get off the road, but found our trail blocked by a large slide (like an avalanche). We traveled the dirt roads instead. Temperatures were in the low 90s, but we found the roadways to be quite shaded. Our mules aren’t fast, but we stayed at a steady clip for five hours. Conservatively, we likely traveled over 10 miles. Ellie did good and didn’t have any troubles (mule troubles includes but aren't limited too: bucking, running off, not wanting to go certain places, getting scared of stuff, being ornery, etc.)

clay newcomb mules

River and I at a scenic view in the Ozarks with mules Parker and Ellie. 

            Our goal was to see one of three things: a bear, a bear track or a rattlesnake. On the last leg of our trip we did find a bear track. We got off our mules and admired it, and I told River never to take things like this for granted. A long stretch of time in Arkansas history provided few bruin tracks, because there weren’t any bears to leave them. I’ve always loved bear tracks and I suspect I always will.

Ozark bear track

We found an Ozark bear track near the end of our ride. I told River to never take a find like this for granted. 

Ozark bear track

It wasn't a big track, but that didn't matter. It appeared the bear was crossing the road to get into a grown up field likely full of blackberries.  

Mountain Hunter Oree Province

           On our way home we stopped by the house of an old Ozark farmer/logger/hunter by the name of Oree Province. About six years ago, I wrote an article about two bucks he’d killed in the 1960s on public land near his home. Oree is an exceptional fellow and always ready to talk. I was worried that I might find him in bad health because it had been several years since I’d seen him.

            When I knocked on the door I was happy to hear his voice, “Come on in!” The house smelled of roasting sweet corn as I greeted Oree who was wearing overalls and a cowboy hat. When I reminded him who I was he said, “Well, of course I remember you. Are you still printing the magazine?” I was impressed by how much he remembered. His mind was sharp, his hearing was good, and his spirits were high. The only thing slowing him down was a bad hip. With a smile, he told me a change in weather was certain because the pain in his hip had changed. I didn’t know it, but by Friday the temperature will be about 10 degrees below average. He was right.   

            Shortly after we arrived I asked him, “Oree how old are you getting’ to be?” With a slight delay and mischievous look in his eye he said, “I’m 16 years old.” Then with a laugh he said, “I’m 90 years old.”

            River and I had a nice visit with he and his sweet wife, Mrs. Mary. Oree told us about the first whitetail he ever killed and the numerous bear encounters he’d had over the years. Before we left I took a picture with Oree and one of the big bucks. The non-typical is impressive today, but back then it might as well have been a World Record. After drinking a Dr. Pepper and eating an ear of sweet corn we headed home. I told River, “Never forget these experiences. People like that won’t be around forever.” Overall, the day was a massive success – ten miles atop the mules, a bear track, and a nice visit with an old mountain hunter. 

Oree Province and Clay Newcomb

Myself and Oree Province with the non-typical whitetail he took in 1965 on public land in the Ozarks. I wrote a story about this buck (and another big one he killed) in the Arkansas Bear and Buck Journal several years ago. Oree is now 90 years old and still doing well. 

Oree Province and Clay Newcomb

Oree told me the story again of how he killed the big buck. The buck easily weighed over 200 pounds on the hoof - a big deer for the mountains.  I think moments like this are special, and I know for sure they are few and far between. I've always enjoyed the old hunters, especially the ones that never asked for any attention, but were just good hunters in the their own woods.