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.