Thursday, December 31, 2009

Shot a doe this morning . . .

Well, I'm ending 2009 on a pretty good note. I was able to take a doe this morning and put some more venison in the freezer. It was about a 65-yard shot with my .30-06, and there was no tracking this one. She dropped in her tracks. I'm partial to archery equipment, but taking this one with the rifle this morning helped to get rid of the bitter taste in my mouth from losing the big buck last week.

I tried to take a picture with my trail camera, but apparently I was too close and the picture only includes me and not the deer. I couldn't help but laugh when I got home and looked at the pictures of me kneeling on the ground with a big grin on my face and no deer in the picture.

I was able to check some trail cameras and a new buck showed up on one of them that I have never seen before. We usually don't get much snow, but this past week we got a couple good snow storms. So this is a unique picture for me. Check out the tine-length on this dude!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Oink Stops Here

I just got these pictures yesterday in an email from Clayton Bowen, who is an old buddy of mine that I used to run around with in my younger days. (Not that I'm old, but now that I'm 30 I can say that.) These hogs were killed in Grayson County, Texas, just a stone's throw from where I grew up.

So I replied back and asked him what the story was on these hogs, and here is what he had to say:

"Well I started walking through the woods with the wind in my face looking for them. I actually didn't see them first, I smelled them. Once I smelled them I got really still and slipped up on them and shot the orange one first. Then about 200 yards later I happened on another pair of them and got a head shot on the black one. Both of them weighed about 100 pounds. These two were part of the five that I shot and trapped two weeks ago. I shot another big sow Saturday night on the same place. But there were only about 50 in that group!!!"

If you have never been around any of these wild hogs, then you probably don't understand how he could have smelled them before he saw them. Trust me, you can! When my dad and I were looking for a doe I shot a few weeks ago, we were walking through a really thick part of the woods and we both caught wind of a really rank, musky smell. (I could insert lots of jokes here . . .) I said I bet it was hogs, and sure enough, about 10 minutes later one jumped up and ran ahead of us. They are definitely odoriferous!

Even though wild hogs are a nuisance to many landowners and even some hunters, they make for a great game animal to pursue! In Texas we have no closed season on them and they can be hunted with any means or methods, so the opportunities are almost endless.

Sounds like you had a great hunt, Bowen! It doesn't sound like there is a shortage of pigs on that place either! Thanks for the pictures.

Monday, December 28, 2009

More memorable moments . . .

In one of my last posts I mentioned that my latest hunting trip had several memorable moments (in addition to the encounter with the big 10-point). One of those happened while we were searching for the buck. During the course of combing the woods to find the elusive "Ghost Buck", I stumbled across a pretty nice shed antler. I was walking through an area that was really thick with mesquite, and as I ducked under a low-hanging limb I saw this antler lying on the ground.

This is only the third shed antler I have ever found, and it is definitely the biggest. Only one of the three antlers did I find while actually looking for sheds. The other two have just been by accident. This one is missing the brow tine, but still tapes out at over 40". That's not bad for a mainframe 8-point.

On Tuesday morning my dad and I decided to sit together for the hunt. We both sat on the ground - he on one side of a tree and me on the other. Shortly after sunrise I thought I would see if I could get a response to some antler rattling. After one rattling sequence, I heard my dad whisper, "Rob, here's one." I looked back over my shoulder and a young 4-point had responded to the call and was standing about 30 yards in front of my dad.

Since we got such a good response I thought I would try it again. So I made another rattling sequence and this time we had a nice little 8-point come in. I was able to snap a picture with my phone looking over my dad's shoulder.

These close encounters are what make deer hunting so much fun! This little buck lived to see another day and hopefully I can rattle him in again when he grows up.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top 50 Hunting Blog Posts of 2009

Sometimes I wonder who is actually reading the stuff I write on this blog. I originally started this blog as sort of an online scrapbook and a way for all my friends and family to see the results of my latest hunting trip. But none of my friends or family ever leave a comment on this blog, so I have no clue if they read it or not. (Yeah, I'm a little bitter about it.) I can make a new post and get a hundred hits on this site in a day's time and maybe have one or two comments to show for it, usually from people I've never met in my life. I think I've gotten hits on this site from every continent but Antarctica, so I'm always curious who my readers are.

A couple days ago I was reading a blog post by Rick Kratzke of the Whitetail Woods blog when I came across a pleasant surprise. His blog post mentioned that one of his blog entries had made the Top 50 Hunting Blog Posts of 2009. Rick mentioned that there were some other familiar bloggers on the list as well, so I thought I would check it out. I followed the link he provided to a website called Hunting Business Marketing, where the author of this site had listed "The Top 50 Hunting Blog Posts of 2009".

I scrolled down seeing names like Michael Waddell and David Blanton (both of Realtree Outdoors),, and Cabela's. Then there at the bottom of the list at number 50 was Rob's Hunting Journal. Apparently my "First Day of Fall Pheasant Wreath" post made the list. I thought that was pretty cool that somebody thought my blog was worthy enough to be included! If you get a chance, check out the link above to see the entire list.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times . . .

The deer season calamity continues. I write this with much sorrow and anguish.

Rewind to Saturday morning at about 8:15 when my cell phone rings. My good friend Lee Flannery (who also hunts the same property I do) called with the sound of excitement in his voice. He and his son were out deer hunting and had just had a close encounter with a REALLY nice 10-point buck. Lee described the deer as "the biggest one he had seen on this place". Problem was, the deer was just across the fence on the property to the south of us. Lee had rattled the buck to within 50 yards, but he just couldn't coax him across the fence to be able to make a legal shot. However, he was able to snap a quick picture before the deer walked away.

This was actually Lee's second encounter with this big deer. The first time he saw him was a couple weeks ago, but the deer was several hundred yards away and it was really early in the morning when the light was still too low to really get a good look at him. Both times the deer showed up in pretty much the same spot - the edge of a winter wheat field on the very far south end of the property we hunt.

Lee was planning on hunting through Sunday morning, and said he would email me the picture as soon as he got home that afternoon. I had put in for some vacation days at work, and my plans were to go hunting beginning on Sunday evening. So I eagerly waited for the email with the picture of the bruiser buck. Although he saw a lot of deer over the course of the weekend, this buck never showed back up for Lee.

My dad and I have both been strictly bowhunting for the entire season. For this weekend we decided to change gears and break out the rifles in an effort to put some meat in the freezer. This would be the first time I have rifle hunted in several years - not because I don't like rifle hunting, I just love bowhunting that much.

We got to the lease in time to hunt Sunday evening, and we both hunted this same wheat field - my dad on the south end (where Lee had seen the big one) and I was several hundred yards away on the north end. I was planning on taking the first doe that provided a shot, so I picked out a spot where I had been seeing alot of deer cross from a mesquite thicket over into the field. I saw several deer that evening and even had a young buck within range, but the does I saw were in some real thick cover making even a rifle shot almost impossible. Most of the activity I saw was a pretty good distance to the north, and it seemed like quite a few deer were passing through a clearing on the opposite side of the thicket. So I decided that Monday morning I would move north about 200 yards and set up where I could see this clearing.

After the Sunday evening hunt, the much-anticipated email arrived on my inbox on my phone. I opened it up and this is what I saw.

"Oh my goodness! Lee, you weren't kidding. That's an exceptional deer!" - These were the thoughts going through my mind as I looked at this picture.

The area we hunt is not known for trophy deer. A buck in the 140" to 150" range would be a real trophy for this part of the country, and anything over 125" is definitely respectable. After looking at the picture closely I called Lee and we discussed the deer. We both agreed that he would go 130", as we had tried to conservatively estimate his Boone & Crockett score.

Monday morning arrived and we almost accidentally overslept. We headed to our spots and I found a good spot to sit on the ground against a mesquite tree. It was about 7:00 AM when I got situated. Sunrise was at 7:30, so it was already legal shooting hours by the time I got in place. The wind was out of the south, and I figured it would be in my favor if the deer crossed in the same spot as the evening before. About 20 minutes after I sat down I glanced to my left and saw three does about 50 yards away. The closest one was a nice mature one, so I eased the gun into shooting position and squeezed off a round. She bucked and ran about 50 yards and I saw her go down.

I have to admit, at that point I was thinking there is nothing to this whole rifle hunting thing, because that just seemed way too easy. Little did I know how quickly that thought would come back to haunt me.

I grabbed my phone and texted my wife and a couple friends to let them know I had just shot a doe. I thought I would sit there another half hour or so and maybe get another shot at a doe if one walked by. About 10 minutes later one of my friends replied back to my text and was asking me if I was really excited about shooting the doe. I started to reply back, and my text was going to read something like this - "Yeah I'm excited, but this rifle hunting doesn't get me as fired up as bowhunting". The text never got sent. Right as I was in the middle of typing it I heard something behind me.

I glanced over my right shoulder and noticed a little fork-antlered buck about 50 yards behind me. He was looking my direction, but then he started moving to the south so I slowly turned my head around the other way to watch. That's when I saw him - the buck from Lee's picture. The big buck was between 40 and 50 yards away standing directly facing me with his head turned to his right looking at the younger buck. The sun was just starting to creep over the horizon, and the silhouette of this buck against the pinkish-purple backdrop is an image stamped in my brain.

I immediately knew he was a shooter. There was no doubting that. I was already holding my binoculars so I eased them up to my face to take a better look. I took a quick look at his left antler and counted 5 points. I don't even remember looking at the other side. I eased the gun into shooting position and stared through the scope. I put the crosshairs right on his neck and then lowered them to the center of his chest and fired the gun.

He dropped like a sack of potatoes. It was like all four legs just collapsed underneath him. He was just laying there. I was so excited I couldn't believe what had just taken place. I could see him on the ground with his left antler sticking up above the grass and I just kept thinking how awesome he looked. This was my best deer ever.

I grabbed my binoculars again to take a better look at him. I stared at him for probably 20 or 30 seconds and I noticed he started flopping a little bit, but nothing unusual as it takes a little while for a deer to expire after the impact of the shot. He layed still again. I raised up to my knees to see a little better and I noticed that he tried to raise his head up but he wasn't having much luck. I continued to watch as he just lay there and then he started moving again - this time he tried to get to his feet and he staggered around for a few steps and fell back over. I figured he was down for the count. I continued to watch for another 20 or 30 seconds as he just lay there.

Then the unthinkable happened.

About a minute and a half after I had shot the deer, the buck hops to his feet and runs off, jumping a fence about 40 yards away. He disappeared into some mesquite trees and I lost sight of him. I called my dad on the phone and told him about the two deer I had just shot. He was really excited and he started making his way toward me so that we could look for the buck. It took my dad about 15 minutes to walk to my location, so I just sat there and waited for him. After he got there, we went and recovered the doe and brought her closer to the truck.

We found blood at the site where the big buck was standing when I shot, but not very much. With a straight-on chest shot that is to be expected, because more than likely there was not an exit wound. We found more blood at the fence where the deer had crossed and then began to pick up a decent blood trail. We followed the trail for about 60 or 70 yards and then couldn't find another drop. I was on my hands and knees looking and couldn't see a speck of blood anywhere.

To try to make this long, miserable story a little shorter - we never found the deer. We looked for the better part of the day. We gridded the area and tied ribbons to mark transects we had searched. I tried to find someone in the area with tracking dogs but had no luck. We searched more on Tuesday morning. Nothing.

I don't know what happened. I've had so many questions and emotions go through my mind since that shot that it has all been a whirlwind experience. It was one of the best hunting experiences I have ever had, and it was one of the worst hunting experiences I have ever had.

I've tried to look back at this episode and draw some kind of a positive from this whole turn of events and here is what I've come up with so far.
1. It was definitely a memorable moment that my dad and I will share for years to come.
2. I've learned some things I will do differently next time (like wait for a better shot angle).
3. Most importantly, it was a life-lesson in humility. Just when I thought I had it all together, things came crashing down. Pride comes before the fall.

I'm not going to let it ruin my season. The weekend did have a couple more memorable events that I will have to discuss in another post. There are still a few weeks left in the season and I plan on trying to take another doe to fill the freezer. For now, here is a picture of the doe I shot Monday morning. The big smile on my face is not only because I was happy about harvesting the doe, but I seriously thought I would be posing with a big 10-point in the near future. It just wasn't meant to be.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Nephew's Deer

I just got this picture from my nephew, Ryan Anderton. He harvested this doe earlier this morning with a rifle on a ranch in Montague County, Texas. Ryan is 16 years old and this is his second deer.

Congratulations Ryan!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, December 14, 2009

Deer Season Woes

This deer season has been filled with lots of memorable moments, but unfortunately I still have a license full of deer tags. I've seen more deer this season than in any other season I have hunted, but I just haven't been provided many shot opportunities with the bow.

This past Saturday morning I finally had a doe within bow range. At about 7:30 I had three does walk by my stand. The wind was in my favor, and one of the does was standing broadside in front of me at about 28 yards. I loosed an arrow and felt confident in the shot I made. I waited about 30 minutes, then called my dad who was in a stand about 300 yards away, and we began the tracking job.

I immediately found the arrow. It was a complete pass-thru and there was blood on the arrow all the way from the broadhead to the nock, but it wasn't covered in blood like you would expect to see after a good shot. I didn't see any blood on the ground in the immediate area where the deer had been standing. We found the first drop of blood about 20 yards from the site of impact. I began to get concerned, as that was not a good sign.

For the next 4 1/2 hours my dad and I followed a very skimpy blood trail that covered about a 1/2 mile in distance. It was such a small amount of blood that we actually lost the trail on more than half a dozen occasions. It was like someone had taken an eye-dropper and squeezed out a drop or two every 8 - 10 feet. If it weren't for my dad's excellent tracking skills, I would have lost the trail early on during the search, but he had a keen eye to spot those tiny drops and to notice areas where the leaf litter had been disturbed. The deer had gone about 300 - 400 yards south of where I shot her, looped back to the west another 100 yards or so behind the stand my dad was in, and then cut back to the north another couple hundred yards, almost making a complete circle. The last two drops of blood we found were about 20 - 30 feet apart on a trail that was heading toward a large stock tank. The whole trail looked like she had just gone about her business browsing along as there never was a place that looked like she had bedded down. It almost looked like she might have gone to the tank to get a drink and then went on her way.

I hate that we weren't able to recover her. My hope is that I didn't hit any vitals and the deer will survive the wound. As I think back on the shot, the deer ducked slightly as I shot, but I thought it was a double-lunger. I must have hit a little high and too far back. I could make excuses and blame the conditions or my equipment, but the matter of the fact is I just didn't make a good shot. My fault.

After calling off the search, my dad and I were starved. So we each filled our guts with more than one double-meat-double-cheese burger from Herd Hamburger in Jacksboro. That, combined with a cold Dr Pepper, hit the spot and helped to ease some of the frustration brought about by the morning's events.

Later that evening we hunted along the edge of a winter-wheat field. I saw 17 deer that evening with all of them being does. I had taken my bow as well as my rifle with me, but I decided not to shoot.

Next week I am going to get down to business when it comes to deer hunting. I've got some vacation days planned, and it will be my number one goal to put some meat in the freezer. Until then, here are some recent trail camera pics.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Aren't You Missing Something?

I got this picture from one of my trail cameras the last time I checked them. I assume this deer lost his antler in a fight with another buck, but I guess there could be other explanations. It is hard to tell because of all the raindrops on the lens, but I think this is a buck that I have gotten pictures of a few weeks ago that I call "Unfinished Business". He had really small brow tines and G-2's that were quite a bit shorter than his G-3's. Anyway, I thought it was an interesting picture.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Iowa Trip Recap

We had another great trip to Iowa this year. My dad and I have been pheasant hunting with our friend Denny up there since the mid 90's, and I look forward to it all year long. There is nothing better than getting to spend some time with old friends doing what you love the best.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, the first day started off really great with the group taking 14 birds. Sunday afternoon was a little slower as we were able to bag another 3 or 4 roosters. Monday also produced a few more birds, and Tuesday ended up being a rain out as the weather decided not to cooperate. Personally, I ended up getting skunked due to my shooting ability (or lack thereof) and my misfortune of not being where the birds decided to flush. I still had a great time and look forward to next year.

Here is a picture from our hunt on Monday morning. (From left to right: me, Marc Gustafson, Mike Hanson, my dad, and Denny Somers)

We were also able to get the trail camera I built for Denny out in the woods shortly after I got there. We checked it a couple days later and it had taken a dozen or so pictures and seemed to be working properly. Here are a few pictures from the camera.

Denny, thanks for hosting us on another great trip and I hope you enjoy the camera. I can't wait to see some of the pictures you get! To my friends Marc, Mike, Ralph, Roger, Mark, Jeff, and Nate - I enjoyed hunting with you guys. Thanks for the memories.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Iowa Update

We're having a blast in Iowa on our pheasant hunt! The first day was very productive as our group harvested 14 roosters. It was one of the best days in the field that I have seen in 16 years of pheasant hunting, but I went 0-for the whole day!

When we first got here on Saturday morning my friend Marc Gustafson pulled up and wanted me to jump in the truck, because there was a big buck standing out in a field about a mile down the road that he wanted me to see. We hurried that way and the deer was still standing out in the field, and we were able to watch him for about 10 minutes. Marc estimated the deer was in the 150-class range and probably somewhere closer to 160".

Well, Marc went hunting this morning and when we got back to the house there was a deer hanging out by the shop. Marc had spotted the same buck again and was able to stalk within bow range and arrow the deer at about 45 yards.

Needless to say, it is one heck of a buck! It was a main-frame 10-point with two sticker points on the brow tines. My friend Denny and I put a tape measure to it and our unofficial scoring session produced a gross score of 155 5/8". Once again, that is very unofficial, and I believe the score will be higher. Three of the four mass measurements on each side were over 5", with the bases being over 6". The inside spread was over 17".

Congratulations on a great buck Marc!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Another Camera Finished

I'm really getting hooked on building these homemade trail cameras. I have been thoroughly impressed with their performance, and building them gives me something hunting-related to do when I can't actually be in the field. I finished another one up this past week. This one is headed for some big buck country in Clay County, Iowa. I built this one for a close, personal friend and will be delivering it to him when we travel northward to spend a few days pheasant hunting.

I added some custom touches to this one. It has a 3-D textured camo pattern on the exterior of the case as well as an adjustable mounting bracket on the back for attaching it to a tree, so you can get just the right angle you need - even if the tree is leaning.

I would really like to see this camera take some pictures of an Iowa giant! The property this one is headed for is known for producing some Boone & Crockett caliber bucks over the last several years, and to me - getting a picture of one on a camera I built would be almost as good as harvesting the deer myself.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Friend Bags First Whitetail

I just got this picture from my good friend Allan Kuykendall earlier today. Allan was hunting in Eastland County last weekend for the opener of the general season for whitetail deer in Texas, and he was able to harvest this nice 9-point buck on Saturday morning.

Here's what Allan said in the email: "It was my first deer and I thought I was going to hyperventilate when I saw him (they always look bigger than they are right before you shoot). He walked behind a tree so it gave me a few moments to calm down and when he walked out from the tree I took a shot and hit him right at his shoulder. He ran about 20 yards into some pretty thick trees/brush and that's where I found him."

I know what you mean, Allan. My heart starts pounding and the adrenaline gets to flowing everytime I have a deer in range - whether its a buck or a doe!

Allan also tells me that his friend he was hunting with caught the whole thing on video. He also said he weighed the deer and it field dressed at 101 pounds. Allan caped the deer out and took it to a taxidermist to have it mounted.

Allan - That is AWESOME! I think that is a beautiful buck and definitely a nice one for your first deer. I can't wait to see the shoulder mount you are having done! Congratulations on harvesting your first big game animal!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Future Bowhunter???

A few nights ago, my oldest daughter Katy had a performance during the Fall open house at her preschool. One of the songs her class was performing was about the Pilgrims and Indians. It had hand motions that went along with it, and during part of the song the kids were pretending to be the Indians shooting their bows. I guess Katy has watched me practice with my bow enough to have a good idea how a bow is supposed to be held. She just turned 5 and she doesn't have a bow of her own yet, but the last time she went to Cabela's with me she spotted a kid-sized bow that she really wants me to buy for her. (She has good taste too, because it was a junior model Diamond bow in pink camo with a price tag of about $200.) I couldn't help but notice during the performance that she had the best form of all the kids on stage! And look how serious she is. She looks like a natural!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Opening Weekend of Gun Season

This past weekend produced lots of fun and quite a bit of deer activity at our deer lease. All six of us were there at some point during the weekend, so we had plenty of eyes in the field.

The weekend started on Friday evening with me, my dad, my uncle, and my cousin going to watch the Bryson Cowboys take on the Woodson Cowboys in a six-man football game in Bryson, Texas. The game ended at half-time with the score Bryson 0, Woodson 52. My cousin took some of his new photography equipment to the game with us, and when we pulled into the parking lot to pay the attendant, I jokingly asked if the media got in for free and claimed to be with the Dallas Morning News. The lady didn't buy it. But, later on during the game, one of the cheerleaders came up into the stands and hand delivered us all four one of the plastic footballs they throw into the crowd and a rally towel, both with the Bryson Cowboys logo stamped on them. I thought that was pretty nice!

On our way back to the bunkhouse from the game, we saw a couple does out by the road. One of them had a BIG buck with her! He was standing about 30 yards off the road in an open field and we watched him for three or four minutes - he never would leave that doe. He was a 12-point that had split G-2's, and I'm guessing he was a 150-160 class deer. So we had high hopes for the rest of the weekend as it appeared the rut had kicked in.

Saturday evening, my dad and I decided to hunt the wheat field north of the bunkhouse and see if there was any activity there. We saw lots of tracks and we brushed in a couple spots along the edge of the field about 200 yards from each other. About 5 minutes after we got situated, what I thought was a doe stepped out into the field about 70 - 80 yards from my dad. My dad is still after his first harvest with the bow, and I thought this was going to be the day! I could see the whole thing unfolding from where I was sitting, and my heart was racing as the deer slowly made its way toward my dad. It fed in the field for at least 45 minutes, but it never got closer than 45 yards away - just a little too far to be comfortable with the shot. As it got closer, my dad noticed that it was actually a button buck. Even though he didn't get to take a shot, it definitely got my ol' man's blood pumping and he was excited about the experience.

We all saw quite a few deer from our stands throughout the weekend. I had this 2.5 year old 8-point walk by at 12 yards on Sunday morning, but he needs a couple more years before he will be a shooter.

My cousin Shane took some really cool shots with his new camera lens. He is a very talented photographer. Check out his website at to see more of his work.

My friend Lee and I both had Wednesday off for Veteran's Day, and Lee decided to take Monday and Tuesday off as well to make it a 5-day hunting weekend. He had his wife and son with him for part of the hunt and was able to see a total of eleven deer in the wheat field on Tuesday evening, all of them being does.
Lee did a little duck hunting on Wednesday morning and was able to shoot a few ducks in the fog. His wife took some really neat pictures during the hunt.

After duck hunting, Lee and his son were walking up the ridge to his hunting spot to take down a pop-up blind when they jumped a deer that was bedded down. Lee noticed it was a spike buck and was able to harvest the deer, making a really good shot through a small opening in some heavy brush. Good job, Lee! Looks like you made an excellent shot. I can't wait to try some of those deer sticks!
Up next - an Iowa pheasant hunt. I can't wait!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bleak Quail Forecast

I was checking out the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's website earlier today when I stumbled across their annual quail forecast. According to the website, the state has been conducting quail surveys since 1978 in an effort to monitor the quail population and determine trends throughout different regions of the state. They use randomly selected 20-mile road surveys to gather the data.

Since I primarily hunt in the Cross Timbers region of the state, I clicked on the link to see the 2009-2010 quail outlook for this particular region.

Not good!

This year's survey results revealed the worst quail numbers in the Cross Timbers region in the 30+ years of the survey. The mean number of bobwhites seen during this year's roadside counts was a whopping 1.11 birds. That is a far cry from the 38.26 birds seen on average during the 1987 counts!

There is no doubt that quail have been in a downward spiral for the last two decades. I decided to look a little closer at the numbers and do some of my own calculations. Here is a quick breakdown of the quail survey numbers since the roadside counts began.

1st decade (1978-1987) - Average of 22.65 bobwhites observed per 20-mile route
2nd decade (1988-1997) - Average of 14.31 bobwhites observed per 20-mile route
3rd decade (1998-2007) - Average of 5.30 bobwhites observed per 20-mile route
This decade (2008-2009) - Average of 2.26 bobwhites observed per 20-mile route

The numbers are staggering. Why the downfall? Just like with any wild animal, there are many factors that affect the population. Some people claim the fireants have played a role in the quail decline. While that may be a factor, I don't think it is the primary reason.

May I suggest it is due to a combination of the following conditions:
habitat fragmentation, overgrazing by livestock, and the lack of fire.

Quail habitat definitely isn't what it once was. Large ranches and farms with contiguous habitat are becoming increasingly fewer and farther between.

Many ranchers allow their cattle to graze the same pasture year-round without rotating them or allowing the pasture to rest for an extended period.

And everybody and their brother are on the local volunteer fire department and get grass fires put out before you can say "Bobwhite". Yeah, one might get out of hand occasionally, but most wildfires are contained before large pastures are burned. Quail thrive on fresh growth after an area has burned, and believe it or not, that fire puts essential nutrients back into the soil and activates a seed bank that could have been dormant for years.

While the outlook isn't good, quail are a very resilient bird, and they always seem to bounce back. I just hope they haven't gotten past the point of no return.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Deer Camp Cuisine

This weekend marks the opening of the general firearm season for whitetail deer in Texas. Take a drive on just about any highway across the Lone Star State this Friday evening and you will be hard pressed not to see a pickup truck loaded down with hunting gear bound for a deer lease somewhere. Alot of those hunters will be meeting up with friends or family for an entire weekend of hunting and fellowship. Some of them might even have a meat smoker in tow, ready to be fired up for some deer camp cookin'.

Here in Texas, one of the favorite cuts of meat to cook on the smoker is beef brisket. For those of you unfortunate enough not to know what brisket is, let me explain. (I used to think everyone knew what a brisket was, but one time on vacation I encountered a family from Ohio that thought I was talking about a type of bread.) It is a cut of meat taken from the breast section of a cow, beneath the first five ribs and behind the foreshank. See chart below.

Brisket requires long slow cooking to make it tender, and the best way to accomplish this is by smoking it for an extended period of time. There are several methods for smoking a brisket, but I prefer to place the cut of meat in an aluminum roasting pan and cover it with a dry rub. I then build a fire in the firebox of my smoker and place the tray of meat on the grates inside. Some people use Hickory or Pecan wood, but I prefer to use Mesquite which is readily available in our area. In fact, the Mesquite wood I usually use comes from my deer lease. I decided to buy a brisket this past Sunday and I cooked it up for my family. I allowed this one to smoke for about 15 hours yesterday. I sliced it up this evening and it turned out really well. Drizzled with my favorite barbecue sauce this is hard to beat! We will be eating sliced brisket and chopped beef sandwiches for several days!

What is your favorite deer camp cuisine? Let me know what you and your hunting party like to dine on back at camp.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Duck Season

Duck season opened Saturday morning with some crisp Autumn air falling on North Texas. While I've been focusing most of my efforts on archery hunting for whitetails the last few weeks, I don't want to forget about another one of my favorite pastimes - waterfowling. Up until late Friday evening, I had seriously pondered getting up early for the duck season opener and hitting a local lake within walking distance of my house. But I would have been hunting alone, and waterfowling to me is more of a social sport, so I decided to sleep in.

However, I did speak with two of my waterfowling comrades yesterday evening who had both been in their waders yesterday morning. The first report came from one of the local DU guys who had real good success on public waters at a North Texas reservoir, with he and his 4 hunting buddies almost filling a 5-man limit. The other report came from one of my coworkers who had also hunted on some public land, at a pond located near another well-known lake. He and a couple other guys were able to bag 5 birds.

I typically wait until deer season is over to really get geared up for duck hunting - unless I hear of a really hot spot where the action is good. So what is the report from your area? Leave a comment below and let me know how the ducks are flying where you hunt.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Still No Tags Filled

After some family activities Saturday morning, I was able to make it out to the lease that afternoon in time to get in an evening hunt. I climbed up into the stand where I have been getting pictures of the nice 10-point lately at about 3:45 yesterday afternoon. I sat there until dark and didn't see anything.

My game camera had a few pictures of some younger bucks cruising the area earlier in the week, but apparently I had left some weak batteries in the camera because it had lost power after only a couple days. So I didn't have any pictures from Tuesday through Saturday.

This morning I got in the stand well before sunrise and enjoyed a beautiful starlit sky. It was a bit breezy, but shortly after daybreak the wind died down somewhat making it a little easier to hear the sounds of the woods. About 9:00 I had two does move in along the edge of the heavy cover off to my southwest. They got within about 30 yards of me as they browsed around eating acorns, but they never stepped out from behind the thick brush to offer a shot. I was able to watch them for about 15 minutes before they finally made their way down the west side of the ridge I was hunting.

So, as archery season quickly nears a close giving way to the regular gun season, I still haven't filled a tag. Hopefully my fortune will change as the rut begins to kick in. I would love for nothing more than to have an increased taxidermy bill!

Here are a couple of the young bucks I had on the camera this time:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

To Shoot or Not To Shoot - That is the Question

When managing a local deer herd, one of the most important aspects is age. A healthy deer herd should have a mixture of younger-aged animals, middle-aged animals, and older-aged animals. Managing for age is one of the primary goals of the antler restrictions that have been implemented by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in various counties over the last several years. By defining a legal buck as one whose inside antler spread is 13 inches or greater, the department hopes to produce a deer herd with a steady number of mature animals.

One of the challenges associated with a restriction of this sort is enforcement. Texas does not require that harvested deer be checked-in at a check station, and many hunters process their own game, which means that the animal would never be brought in to a commercial meat processor allowing a Game Warden to easily notice an illegal buck. It will be up to the many hunters across the Lone Star State affected by this restriction to make an ethical decision - Do I shoot or not?

With the possibility of a hefty fine or a guilty conscience looming, I want to make certain that any buck that presents me with a shot is legal. One proactive measure a hunter can take is to analyze trail camera photos. Utilizing trail cameras to familiarize yourself with the bucks on the property you hunt is a good management practice that will not only aid in your management efforts but might also keep you from making a costly mistake. A fun thing I like to do is to name each of the bucks I have pictures of to help myself and my fellow hunting buddies to be on the same page when we discuss the deer we see in the field.

This year I have created a slideshow that contains all of the bucks I have captured on trail cameras over the last few weeks. As you can see, several of these bucks are borderline on meeting the antler restrictions. Everyone sees things differently, and while I personally wouldn't shoot a buck that I knew was borderline, I could easily make a spur-of-the-moment mistake. Or one of my hunting buddies might have different standards than I do. While these names might be a little silly, it will be beneficial for my hunting partners and I to review these pictures and familiarize ourselves to help avoid a regrettable pull of the trigger.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Long Day in the Stand

With a big buck showing up on one of my trail cameras at 2:30 in the afternoon a little over a week ago, I decided that Saturday I would try to sit in my stand all day long to better my chances at getting a shot. And I would have sat there all day, but I forgot to grab my lunch out of the truck when I headed to my stand in the morning.

The day started off pretty good with three does moving across a clearing off to the south of my stand at about 8:00 AM. I had planned on taking a doe if given the opportunity, but they never got within bow range. About thirty minutes later I stood up in my treestand to stretch a little, and as I did, I noticed a doe standing straight out in front of me in some thick cover. She noticed me before I noticed her and she immediately took off.

I got down out of the stand and walked back to the truck for my lunch and some water at about 11:00. I sat there in the truck for a few minutes and listened to a little bit of the Red River Rivalry Texas/OU game on the radio (Hook 'Em Horns!). Then I got back in the stand for the rest of the afternoon. I ended up sitting in that stand for a total of 10 1/2 hours yesterday, and those early morning does turned out to be the only deer I would see. It made for a really long day, and my body felt it this morning, but it was still fun.

Here are some of this week's game camera pictures:
This is the fourth different buck I have gotten a picture of on this camera in the two weeks I have had it in this spot.

This deer is the reason I sat there for so long with such anticipation yesterday.

This is my best game camera picture ever! Getting a big buck to pose like that with a gorgeous sunset in the background is a pretty rare occurrence.

I had made a mock scrape in this spot the day I put the camera here. I don't know if that made a difference or not, but he is definitely marking his territory.

I'm not sure when the next time will be for me to have an opportunity to get back out and hunt again. The weekends are pretty full for the next few weekends, so I may have to sneak a quick trip in for a half day hunt. Stay tuned as the quest continues.