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I know we still have a week left in 2017, but I want to take this opportunity to discuss some New Years thoughts as they pertain to planning for 2018 ... and about making some outdoor resolutions.

Everyone, especially those of us blessed to be living in the Ozarks, should add conservation and outdoor activities to their “I’m gonna do better at ...” list for the coming year. While I’ve never been one for making new year resolutions, I do take some time each late December to reflect on how I’ve done on the things I planned to accomplish in the past 12 months, and revise or draft a new list for things I’m aiming for in the coming year.

Over the years while taking that time to reflect and plan ahead each year, I've honed in on five key areas nearly anyone could consider to increase their time spent outdoors. They include: spend time with friends or family, get outside more, relieve stress, learn something new, and mentor another person.  

• Spend more time with family or friends: Nearly any outdoor pursuit which can be done solo can also be enjoyed with other people. Be it large or small game hunting, fishing, hiking or taking a leisurely stroll, you can get an entirely new experience by sharing that time with family members or friends. 

I do most of my hunting and some of my fishing alone. I may travel to and from the woods or water with one or more people, but once I’m “in the zone” I tend to like to put all my thought into what I’m doing. That said, I’ve also had many enjoyable hunting and fishing outings with my wife and kids, siblings, good friends and (when I was much younger) my parents.

Family time can be so much more than going to a movie or a restaurant, or sitting at home. It doesn’t have to be something expensive or organized. Simply grab a couple bottles of water and a couple apples and get out on one of the short trails at one of the nearby public parks for a morning or afternoon. 

The first couple months of the new year is a great time to wander the woods and field edges searching for shed deer antlers. Unlike cattle which keep their horns for a lifetime, deer shed their headgear (antlers) each year and then grow a new set starting in the summer. The antlers let go after the rut is complete and as hard winter sets in. Good places to search are feeding areas and where deer trails go through dense brush and the loosening antlers tend to get caught on limbs and brush.

Shed antlers make great rustic decorations for the home or office, and can also be cut into antler buttons or knife handles or many other craft uses. Or they can be left near bird feeders or other areas of the yard to provide a source of calcium for small animals. That's why antler hunting is usually over by March, because any antlers which are shed and not collected by humans will be consumed by rodents and other animals as a vital nutrition source. 

• Get outside more: If you take any of these five suggestions you’ll accomplish this one by default. Promise yourself to get outside more in 2018. Have you visited every national park in the United States? Didn’t think so, not many of us have, myself included. But this past year my wife and I did make a week-long loop through portions of Nevada, Arizona and California and took in the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite National Park, the Pacific Coast Highway, Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave Desert.

Then three weeks later we led a mission team on a trip to northwest Montana where, while there, we floated down the Clark Fork River, drove to the top of Pat's Knob lookout, visited Glacier National Park, the Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, crossed the Continental Divide twice, spent the night in Sturgis and saw everything between here and there. In 10 days we passed through 8 states, drove some 4,000 miles, and made countless restroom, refueling and eating stops in neat little towns and small cities along the way.

Not up for that much traveling? How about this ... have you visited every national site, state park or recognized historic landmark in this state? Or how about every state park in the Parkland? Or maybe every city park in St. Francois County? Now add in the dozen or so conservation areas and natural areas in the county, or surrounding counties. 

Why not set a goal to visit a set number of parks or conservation or natural areas you’ve never seen before in 2018. You’ll find hills, glades, swamps, valleys, shut-ins, natural prairie, rivers and lakes teaming with all kinds of wildlife and flower and fauna just miles from your front doorstep ... I guarantee. The Missouri Department of Conservation and Missouri Department of Natural Resources have dozens of online or print pamphlets guiding you to your next free adventure.

God didn’t bring us to these glorious Ozarks for us to pass our days sitting indoors. Get out and smell the roses (or pine trees, or wildflowers, campfire smoke, even cow pies) a little bit. 

• Relieve stress: On the low end this could mean taking a short walk down the street or sidewalk. On the other end of the spectrum it could include paddling down the Missouri or Mississippi rivers in a canoe, off-roading on an ATV at St. Joe State Park, horseback riding a trail in Eminence or one of several state parks with equestrian amenities, backpacking or day trekking sections of the Ozark Trail, boating on one of the state’s signature lakes, or ziplining over the tree canopy at one of several private parks that offer the adventure in southern Missouri these days. 

Plan time to shake off the cares and worries of everyday life of cellphones, computers and 400-channel television that bombards us with too many stressful or negative details. You can still find places in the Ozarks where the cell reception doesn’t reach, and I can think of dozens of places where the glow of the street lights still don’t overpower the thousands of stars visible from a blanket spread on the ground or in the back of a pickup truck.

My wife and I have established a new oasis for ourselves in the form of a new hunting/weekend cabin. The cabin sits in the middle of 80 untamed acres of overgrown fields, woods, food plots and ponds. A few miles from the nearest blacktop road, there's no streetlights to block the view of the stars or traffic to be heard. We've opted to make it a "no television, social media or Netflix on the laptop" zone. We have a box of books (classics, westerns, mystery) to read, a woodstove to sit by, a deck of cards and a bag of popcorn to cook on the top of the stove for evening snacks. Long winter nights make for lots of time to relax and recoup and relieve the stresses of the usual daily grind.   

When our daughter first moved away to attend a university a few years ago, she'd occasionally return home after spending several weeks away from the “country” in the city, and she'd comment on how she was amazed at how bright the stars were and how nice the peep frogs and other noise-making small creatures of the night sounded. Take time to appreciate rural life. Plan to “de-stress” in 2018. 

• Learn something new: There’s so much to explore in Missouri that no one has done it all. Have you ever fly fished for trout on one of the state’s spring-fed streams? How about snagged spoonbill catfish just downstream from a reservoir spillway? Or maybe hunted pheasant? How about gigging suckers on a clear Ozark stream at night? Or shot geese or ducks while sitting in the middle of a swamp or flooded farm field?

Not to mention more common things like hunting squirrels or rabbits, turkey or deer? Or fishing a lake for largemouth bass or crappie or catfish, or a stream or river for smallmouth, goggle eye or walleye? Have you ever set limb lines, or jug lines, trotlines or yo-yo reels? Or tried your hand at taxidermy, competitive shooting, or running a 5K or marathon? 

Don’t let 2018 pass you by without learning something new, and the outdoor sports are very rewarding. 

• Last but not least, mentor another person: Whether it’s fishing, cooking, hunting, playing an instrument or quilting or woodworking, resolve that in the coming year you will pass along a skill to another person.

My simple existence can be boiled down to a handful of beliefs and resolutions that I feel strongly about and try to live my life by. One that tops the list, and I've constantly remind my children of over the years, is that when all is said and done and your time here on Earth is reduced down to the final years, days, hours or minutes, it won’t be about how new or expensive a truck or car you drove, the size of your mortgage, the name on your sneakers or jeans or camouflage. What will matter is the experiences you lived — the places you visited, the sights you witnessed, and, most importantly, the influence others had on you and you had on others.

This year saw many good times for us. Our son met a wonderful girl and they were married. Our daughter became engaged recently to a great young man. My wife and I were able to travel and make improvements both at home and at the rural hunting property. But the one sad moment in 2017 for me was the recent passing of my mom. She was 82 and after a long life of relatively good health she quickly succumbed to a disease only identified less than a month earlier.

But in that last few weeks of her life she was able to visit with family and friends, share stories of her life, help make her final arrangements and assure her husband and children that she was headed for a better place than this one. She didn't hold to the size of her home, the brand of cars she drove over the years, or the label on her favorite dress or purse. Life, when her 82 years was boiled down to a few fleeting days and hours, was about what she had seen, who she had met, and the love of family and good friends.

During her time she passed on many helpful skills, traditions and tips for living a good life.  

What greater gift than to have someone years after you’re gone pass along a tradition or skill they learned from you. In that way a piece of you can live on forever. It can be baking cookies, making a special dough bait for catfishing, or teaching someone the types of trees or birds found around them. I recently taught an adult couple how to fillet fish. They were tickled to learn the skill they had only seen done on a poorly-produced “how to fillet a fish” video on You Tube. Cleaning fish was something I learned at a very early age and was a big part of my life growing up near one of the Ozarks' signature fishing lakes, but that hadn't been the case for them. They were delighted to have learned the new skill.

So consider what I've shared today as you map out your coming year. And here’s hoping you take these things to heart and consider expanding your outdoor experiences in 2018.

Good bless and Merry Christmas!

Doug Smith lives in an old house, drives an old truck, tinkers with old tractors, is married to a young woman, hunts and fishes often, and can be found on any given day wearing his Buffalo plaid flannel jacket and matching Elmer Fudd hat (... and vows to get outside “even more” in 2018 than he did in 2017).

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