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Outdoorsmen and women are in a holding pattern right now. It’s mid-February and one of those "tweener" periods for much of the country. The cold fronts that rotate with the South winds make the fishing very unpredictable. The weather is still harsh in a lot of areas; in others, it’s just not comfortable enough to sit in the boat fighting the wind and catching little. It’s a great time of year to check your gear and set-ups for the approaching Spring. When the calendar starts to round the curve from winter to spring, it’ll all ramp back up...and quickly. When it does, I like to BE ready, not GET ready.
I spend a lot of garage time on the chilly windy days re-spooling reels for various applications: fluorocarbon for drop-shotting, clear water, deep cranking and other low line visibility needs, braid for the flippin and pitchin gear, and mono for most murky southern waters that I spend a great deal of time on. It's also time to check the tackle bags and reload terminal tackle needs: various hooks, sinkers, beads, rattles, bobber or weight stops, swivels and snaps, split rings, weights etc.
Finally, it’s time to reload on the baits that worked so well last year in those spots that you’ll visit again this year. I always make sure that I have a variety of soft plastics in watermelon with red flake for the closest (making it the most fished) bass lake to my home, June bug soft plastics for Florida waters, and small bait fish themed swim baits for my smallmouth trips up north, hard baits that were lost to deep water structure, overhead obstructions and shallow areas that I couldn’t reach with the boat. Hard baits with multiple treble hooks are predestined for loss. Snagged and stuck in an area that leads to broken line and with today's prices, broken hearts and wallets. What extremes would you go to to retrieve that $20 Whopper Plopper? For me, crank baits and golf balls are the same...I’ve never retired one from old age.
Top-water baits, hard swim baits, spinning and chatter baits...the list of off-season chores is truly endless but all part of the excitement. The first steps to landing that giant starts in the "tweener" time out in the garage. So, pour another hot cup of coffee, start undoing that big pile of treble hooked baits that have worked themselves into one big deadly ball and practice your pitching technique in tight quarters 'til it’s finally time to hook up to the boat. The Lord tells us to “Be anxious for nothing…” but it sure is tough just weeks before the shallow water spawn and gobbling long-beards!
February 17, 2018
It's not a place that I’d ever been, nor would even consider. Heck, this place would not interest or occupy my mind at all if it weren’t for a beautiful blonde headed grand girl. Ever heard of American Girl? It’s Barbie on mega growth hormone. Barbie had a doll house and a convertible; American Girl has it's own free standing two story building outside the Dallas Galleria filled with every race, lifestyle and interest doll that you can think up. There’s camping girl, astronaut girl, singer girl, skateboard girl, beach girl...hey, they even had a banjo pickin girl. It’s an amazing place. All of these before mentioned girls, have an endless line of accessories too. All very life-like, all greatly overpriced. It’s a place I can’t afford to go, but I do...I’ve got a beautiful blonde headed grand girl. I’m sure that somewhere in this doll house is a whole troop of vacuum girls that go around sucking up the money from glazed over grandpas like me. I was pleased though, when blondie chose camping gear for her American Girl.
When I stepped in the front door, my view was overwhelming. No, not wall to wall dolls, but the strongest voice in 2nd Amendment support on planet earth. Turns out that Wayne LaPierre has a granddaughter too. There was Wayne in his sweats and tenny shoes. A ball cap and wallet rounded out his attire. This is all that he and I would need on this day. Armed with credit cards and dressed in stuff that would allow us to keep up with the little darlings. Here we were, a guy that loves and understands that without Amendment 2, I would not have American Girl freedom. My trusted 270 would by now be an Obama plow share with Hillary riding guard to make sure I didn’t have any others laying around. And there’s the other guy, Executive VP of the NRA and my voice many times in cocktail conversations that I’m not invited to. We could have shared like-minded conversation that covered the hours of doll frenzy, but we had smaller fish to fry. Young’uns that need our nurturing and support now, so they’ll know how to do it later.
So, Wayne and I ooo’ed and awe’d and kept our eye rolling to a minimum. We watched joyfully as we overpaid for mini hairdos for the dolls which we had overpaid. Heck, if Wayne and I had hair enough to work with, we’d have had ours done too. There were overpriced tea parties with the dolls, constant trips from 1st floor to 2nd and then back down. There was laughter, and wide eyes. There were thank yous and hugs...there were happy little girls and grown men with names like papaw, gramps, big daddy and pops. There was, right before our eyes, every reason that our 2nd Amendment exists, and every reason it must stay iron clad strong! Neither Wayne nor I had to say it; we were both living it. Our girls were having a great time, and American Girl at that moment was one of the safest places on earth. Nice seein ya Wayne!
Are you a member of the NRA? If not...why not? Oh, I get it if you're scared of guns to the point that you think no one should possess them. I understand that. You’ve just never been around them. Know what? Chances are very high that if we went to the range together, you would not only change your opinion but have the time of your life. That’s a safe bet for me because I’ve seen it too many times already. As part of the Dallas Safari Club and Outdoors Tomorrow Foundation, I’ve had the great pleasure to assist at the annual S.A.F.E.T.Y event.
At these events, kids and one of their parents learn to shoot bow, pistol, shotgun, rifle and muzzle loader. I teach shotgun. At EVERY annual event, even though the shooting and teaching is intended for the kids, mom and dad get involved. They want to try it, and when they do...a new shooter is born. I’ve seen it first hand and heard the stories time and again. Folks that were scared of guns beforehand, purchasing them and kicking off a life-time of target shooting and or hunting afterwards. There are folks full of hatred on the far left that dream of a Stalin society or something that will never be good for the U.S. They know that we must be disarmed for their dreams to come true. There are folks to the right and folks in the middle. I’m convinced though that our founders were God-inspired in their formation of government and that grandpas that respect both God and government have and will continue to protect those precious young’uns with that 2nd Amendment right. They protect your foul mouth too lefty.
January 26, 2018
There’s something peaceful about a cold day at the lake. Alone on the boat with God. The quiet still of winter on a calm cloudy day. This is the same spot that frustrated me so much last summer with ski boats and jet skis buzzing within casting distance of me. I fought constantly to keep my boat from wake washing right on top of my hole. A good drop off that moves abruptly from 14 foot water to 21. This ridge holds bass and crappie year round, but in the hot summer time it’s a slam dunk! Position the boat back a bit from the drop. Throw a six inch watermelon and chartreuse Zoom worm or a Strike King Rage Craw in the same colors up in the fourteen foot water. Slowly work it to the edge, and pay attention while it drops. It might be a light tap or maybe your line just starts swimming off to the side. It might even just stop dropping before it should. This is where the old adage “setting the hook is free” comes in handy. When in doubt, set the hook! This is a proven hang out and travel area for bass positioning themselves to ambush shad. The massive balls of shad seem to be here year round as well. Colder weather usually means working the baits slower or even dead sticking, meaning no movement at all. Cast, sink sit. Colder water means slower moving fish. Give them time and be patient. Its easier to be patient now, all of the lake rocking summer activity has stopped for a few months, heck, most of the fishermen stop coming after the temps drop below 60 or so. There might be a sail boat or two slipping along and kayakers taking advantage of calmer water, but for the most part it’s just you and God’s watchful eye.
There goes my worm! The line is swimming sideways! After a hook set that Jimmy Houston would be proud of, I bring in a nice sized crappie. Crappie are insecure little buggers. They can’t stand alone time. Even when tending a spring time nest of eggs, there will more than likely be another nest close by. They enjoy each other’s company and are most times in large groups. Time to slip the bass rod back into the box and pull out the crappie pole! Easing up on the drop off I keep a close eye on my graph. I’m looking for the change in depth, and a stack of fish. Crappie will look like a Christmas tree on your graph, or maybe a tall stack, like a tree stump. Bass will be singular many times. Once I locate the school, I’ll toss a buoy out about 10 or 15 feet on the downwind side. I’ve marked my spot, noted the depth of the fish, and now I’ll just feed 'em crappie jigs until I can’t take it anymore.
If your water doesn’t freeze up in winter, it’s still a great time to get out on the lake. Take plenty of hot coffee or cocoa, dress right and by all means stay out of the water this time of year. Your catch survives better in the live well. The traffic is gone and there’s no one sitting on the special spot that multiple boats race to in the summer.
December 7, 2017
I would really love to know how many miles I’ve traveled, walking behind my bird dogs over the years. These days you can do that. Garmin, and other companies, have products that count your steps, heartbeats, blood pressure and probably even the hairs on your head. Back when I started, beeper collars were the latest and greatest technology. You would charge it up, or in most cases, install fresh batteries, strap it around your pointing dog’s neck along with his training collar and off they would go. A shrill beeping sound would echo thru the West Texas mesquite flats and Montana coulees, giving you an approximate location of your hunting dog. It was pretty neat tech really. It would beep maybe every five seconds or so while the dog was running, and every one second when the dog stopped to point or pass along the leftovers from last night’s dinner. Someone got real tricky and designed a collar that would beep while the dog was running, and screech like a hawk when the dog was pointing. Game birds don’t like to get airborne when a predator with sharp claws and eyes, and Air Force jet speed is nearby. So, the hawk screech was meant to fool the birds into holding tight on the ground until you could catch up with your pointing dog to make the flush.
The desire of a bird dog to hunt and point upland birds is so strong, that after a few short minutes of obtrusive noise, just inches behind their ears, they seemed to totally ignore it all together. After the first beeper collar hunt, it was always welcomed by the dogs. The collar was a sign to them that once they were fitted with their jewelry, it was time to hunt. My friend, Ted Gartner with the Garmin company is an avid bird dog man. He and a few techie types made the old beeper obsolete. Once on a hunt, Ted wondered around the camp-fire one night if he could duct take a GPS unit to one of his dog's training collars and take the first step towards a quiet dog locating collar. The Astro was born from that evening of pondering and red-necking around with GPS technology and duct tape. Astro, now several generations older, shows you where your dog is and what he is doing at all times.
Waaaay back...before the battery powered beeper collar was the simple little brass bell. Obviously making noise while the dog runs, and falling silent when the dog locates birds and points. Purely from nostalgia, I held on to that old bell method. Yes, I always had and primarily used the latest and greatest technology, but could easily step back in time by removing the tech collar and replacing it with a simple bell. I especially enjoyed this practice when hunting alone, working a smaller patch, and partnering with only one dog on the ground as opposed to two, three or even four. If I saw little Button, or ol’ Jill disappear into a plum thicket and the bell jingled no more, it brought an instant smile. Birds!
I still have those old bells that carried the jingle of fall, and the collars from many of my dogs. I can look at a particular collar and tell you about the dog that wore it. I can tell you in detail about how they liked to hunt, how hard they ran, how far or close they felt necessary to hold birds, and how I loved each one. When you step into the fields of fall, behind a well trained bird dog, it's magical. Matters not the technology or lack of. Enjoy your bird season and throw ol' Nose an extra treat tonight. They will give you every ounce of heart that they can muster tomorrow as they jingle off into the plum thicket.
October 12, 2017
It still overwhelms me when I hear the numbers. 59 dead, more than five hundred wounded and injured. Sitting like sheep at the slaughter while pure evil lurked above them. Watching, waiting for the crowd to grow to its maximum, after months of plotting and planning Satan's work.
Please don’t underestimate prayer. It's never made sense to me to tell someone that my thoughts are with them. It’s a nice gesture I guess, but it really doesn’t do anyone any good. If you say that you're praying for someone in times like this, well that means something. Prayer is an action bowed down before Holy God; asking relief and healing for someone is strong medicine.
A lot of people that were in Las Vegas on that concert lawn need our prayers, so do family members that stretch around the globe. They will need them for a long time. Many times we say, “we will not forget”, but then we do. I believe that the strongest way to remember is through prayer. For God to actually hear our prayer, we must know the intercessor, Jesus Christ. The bible says that if we profess that Jesus is Lord with our mouths and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. We will then know the Intercessor, and our pleas will reach the Father. We have all sinned, God can’t co-mingle with sin, but if we truly ask forgiveness and ask Jesus for salvation, He is faithful to do so. He will forgive us our sin and make us fit to plea to the Father and spend eternity with Him in His glorious Heaven.
A lot of people shamelessly feed on these tragedies. Hillary Clinton was the first one that I heard screaming gun control. A bunch of other folks disguised as the Democratic party then jumped on board. This happened while emergency surgeries were still in progress. These people claim to want my guns, to protect me. In reality, they want a dis-armed America. These anti-gunners don’t give a hoot about you or me. In fact, if you love our country, respect its great past and live within the law while exercising your 2nd Amendment, you are the enemy to many. Satan works tirelessly.
The evil coward that followed Satan's leadership has a brother that has spoken up. He didn’t say much, but his few words told the entire story. He said that his brother had no affiliations with religion, politics etc. He didn’t fool with any of that stuff. Can't blame him for running from the politics, but when you run from God, there's only one other direction. The dead coward made a very bad, and eternal choice. There are a few things that we can do to heal.
October 5, 2017
The fourth Saturday in September each year is, as proclaimed by our esteemed leadership in Washington, D.C. back in 1972, National Hunting and Fishing Day. A day that celebrates several things. Not the least of which is...
NHF Day also celebrates...
We can blame a lot of things, not the least of which is technology advancement in the past 20 years...Instant entertainment right at our fingertips that has stolen a whole generation’s attention. Virtual whatever, replacing actual hands on skills from field to table. We can blame the usual suspects like lack of public hunting property, high cost of carrying out our hunting traditions (hunting trip related expenses rose 15% 2011-2016) and a shamefully high divorce rate. Yes all of these factors contribute to the decline and decay of wonderful heritage and tradition, but ultimately, we must horseshoe the pointing finger back around to ourselves. No matter how many dollars we spent at the DU banquet, or how many bass baits we bought last year, or contributions to great conservation efforts, if we didn’t spend at least one day taking and teaching someone new, we failed ourselves and drove a nail in the American hunters coffin.
I like the leadership that we now see from U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke. He is part of our heritage; he gets it and he’s working to make things easier for the next bunch coming along. He's attacking the Obama administration’s senseless, science-less attack on lead ammunition by punching holes thru the regulations that prevent us all from accessing many of OUR public lands. OURS! We can sit comfortably in our warm deer camps, enjoying God's blessings, creation and protein (keeping it to ourselves and grinning in our self satisfying little bubble), or we can actually do something to impact our grandkid's hunting and fishing opportunities.
Spend the money! Guided trips, product, essentials to hunting and fishing. It keeps the wild places wild when you do. Teach someone! It won’t take long. They will love it. You will too, and hopefully you will instill in them the desire to teach others as they move down life’s road. Vote! Educate yourself responsibly, and let's “drain the swamp”, as a famous billionaire has said, of those that hate the fact that you and I follow God's plan to be the head of the animal kingdom.
Enjoy YOUR National Hunting and Fishing Day! We are still the strongest voice and best friend that the wild things and places in America will ever know.
*U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Survey Preliminary Findings
Se[tember 21, 2017
Work is a four letter word. It would be real easy to place the word work in the same category as other four letter words not fit to be uttered before decent folk. Work gets in the way of important stuff. Work forces us to think of pushing the lawn mower instead of pulling crappie from late summer brush piles. Work brings forth reluctant hours of computer screens instead of a view from a pop up blind, bow in hand. Work is something Tom Sawyer thought his way out of when it was time to paint the fence. Tom had the mighty Mississippi river in mind, thoughts of adventure and big catfish securely hooked on the business end of a stiff cane fishing pole. He, while working on the fence schemed up a plan, and his friends, none of which made a run at valedictorian I believe, did the white washing of the fence for him while he was off tending to rabbits and crappie and other important matters. Tom had convinced his friends that they would find no greater pleasure on that beautiful Saturday than he would have slapping a new coat of paint on the old fence. They believed him and asked if they could have some of that fun. You bet!
I think someone pulled this same stunt on my friend, Jim Zumbo, the famed outdoorsman many years ago. Jim is obsessed with cutting and stacking firewood. Listen to him talk about this out of control addiction, and you’ll see him beam like a kid holding a paper with a passing grade. Do they still use paper in school? He can tell you to the rick/cord/square footage or log exactly what he has stored up. You know that bar-b-que place that you pass all the time...the one with a small forest of cut wood stacked on the 3 acres in back...Jim's backyard right there.
Work many times involves long slow commutes through dense traffic and demented drivers that are real eager to display a one count with the free hand, instead of long slow drives down a two track road and rolling the combination lock in the headlights. Hondo Crouch is famous because he bought a little Texas hill country town and invited musician Jerry Jeff Walker and friends to come visit. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings sang about Hondo’s little Luckenbach, and the rest is history. Hondo talked those guitar pickers into white washing his fence. It was Hondo that coined the phrase, amongst many others, that “havin fun is hard work sometimes.” I think of that phrase often while filling and maintaining feeders, yoyo’ing the weeds to cut down the wind pics on the trail cameras, setting and anchoring blinds, cutting pickup sized drive thrus in the harsh vines that block all of humanity from that special spot back yonder, etc etc.
I guess most of us would make an even swap of work for a smooth rocker in a brushed up and shaded boathouse, dipping jigs for delicious fillets, but it just wouldn’t work. First reason is: The Good Lord is a big fan of work. He, Himself, created work, and then after Adam and Eve ate the bad apple that day at the farmer's market of all farmer's markets, God told us to get to work. It’s part of His plan, therefore no other plan will work, just won’t. Second reason is: We couldn’t afford the rocking chair, much less that nice boat house. So with that thought, I’ll shut down this laptop now at five am, fill the truck with tools and diesel and head for the pasture. I’ve got two full days of work ahead in prep for opening day. But, YOU will find no more pleasure on this beautiful day than I will! Join me?
September 15, 2017
I’m about to share one of the most fun recipes that you’ll ever come across! Proof? Okay, it requires that you go fishing...how’s that? It’s a cooler than normal August in Texas, but it's still August in Texas...Brutal heat that doesn’t really go away even at night. When I arise dark and early, I count is a blessing if the temp is below 80 and the humidity below 90. The heat and what to do about it is a standard part of every conversation. Well, here’s one of my favorite ways to battle the heat of a Texas summer. Ceviche!!!
Ceviche is a cold salad or salsa of sorts that includes any number of different ingredients, according to your personal taste, but one common denominator is FRESH fish or shellfish. Oh sure, you could visit the fish market and pick up some shrimp for your ceviche, but for less money, and in my opinion, equally great in taste when used in ceviche, sand bass or white bass or maybe they’re called silver bass where you come from, are delicious! Plus, you're way more likely to have a boat or a friend with a boat capable of catching up with some "sandies" than you are a shrimp boat so...let's go shopping...I mean, fishing!
Sand bass are plentiful in these United States, found in waters from Canada to the gulf coast, and catching them in the summer is an absolute blast! When we are in the mood for ceviche, as I am headed out to crappie fish or bass fish, I keep two rods ready and available for the sand bass. One is a small jigging spoon, the other a top water bait. During the hot summer months, sand bass will push huge schools of shad to the surface and gorge on them. This feeding frenzy will make the water appear to be boiling. When this happens, I drop the crappie stick and reach for the top water bait. Over the past few days that’s been a Whopper Plopper, but I’ve caught them on Zara Spooks, Buzz Baits etc. It is so much fun to watch the retrieve of a splashy top water bait as the sandies swipe at it. Sometimes they will hit the bait body, but not the hook and the lure will go airborne. Sometimes two fish will grab it at the same time. Sometimes it will go straight under on impact with the water. It's crazy!
These top water frenzies sometimes will last only a few seconds, sometimes 20 minutes. When the water stops boiling the fish are still there. Use your big motor to stay up with the moving pod of sandies and bait. When your screen is covered with bait, drop that spoon or slab directly down to the proper depth and vertically jig it up and down. My good friend, Omar Cotter with Luck O’ the Irish Guide Service in north Texas specializes in these fun to catch fish. He tells me that even when the top is boiling, he employs the jigging method, because the bigger fish are down deeper. Whatever floats your personal boat. In Texas, to keep a sand bass, the fish must be at least 10 inches
Five 10 inch sandies are required for this recipe. Once you have your fish, head for the grocery store. You’ll need:
Finely chop the vegetables and dump them in a mixing bowl. After filleting your fish, cut into small chunks, and add to vegetable mix. Add salt, more than you think you’ll need, but don’t go nuts. You can add more salt tomorrow when the ceviche is finished. For a little crunch, add sliced almonds. Cover contents with lime juice and stick it in the fridge, you’re done!
When you come back tomorrow, the first thing you’ll notice is that the fish has turned brilliantly white. Key indicator that your ceviche is ready. You’ve just cooked fish with chemistry! The acid in the lime served as your cooking element! Break out the chips and dip away the summer time blues. This is fun from catch to crunch for the entire family...Enjoy!!
August 10, 2017
Dad didn’t hunt. I never saw him shoot a gun. In fact, the only time that I ever saw him hold a gun was when he took me to Whites Auto in downtown Mineral Wells, Texas after school one day. I guess I was about 10, and he knew that I had a strong hunting bone! God put it in me. Dad didn’t teach me, and the 3 channels we pulled in with the TV antenna didn’t show much hunting activity. It had to be built into my genes when the good Lord formed me.
Dad didn’t say anything on our way to Whites. He seldom said anything at all; he was a very quiet man. He had simple perfected. I sat next to him, full of nerves on the evening of my first date. I didn’t know what to say to a girl. I just knew she smelled good, and I had asked her out to dinner. “Dad, what do I talk to her about?” “Tell her about your dog” he immediately replied. I did, and it was the perfect thing to fill awkward quiet moments. He’d obviously made arrangements with the guys at the store, because when we walked in they immediately reached under the counter and pulled out a single shot Stevens 12 gauge and a few boxes of shells. I thought “WOW”! Dad bought himself a shotgun! Does this mean that maybe he’ll let me tag along on a hunt or two? Maybe even fetch his birds for him? It was a standout moment in my life, even before he turned and handed the treasure to me. I was beyond stunned, and happy!
Dad loved to fish, particularly for crappie. We didn’t have a boat, so sometimes the wait on the bank between bites was hours. I never got bored with it. I can still see him squatting, fishing pole in hand, bobber afloat, waiting. He taught me a lot about hunting without even knowing it. “Crappie like cover”, he said, “and edges”. Turns out all critters do, you and I are no exception. “They will likely be around shad or some other food”...same as deer, elk, bear, turkeys, me, all. The crappie hole was special to me, because most of the time it was just me and dad. That was my private time with him. I cherish it now, and miss him so.
I had broken the Stevens down and cleaned it several times before we actually had a chance to go shoot it, but after what seemed a lifetime, the day came. I still remember my first shot. A meadowlark in flight. I downed the song bird. Immediate remorse weighed heavy. I’d killed this lark for the wrong reason. I would not eat it. Dad watched in silence. I’ve never shot another non game bird.
He taught through living. I picked up some of it and wish I’d learned more. Thanks Dad for the time on the creek banks, the love of critters and creation, respect for others both 2 and 4 legged, and the great gift of time. I will hug his neck in heaven. He heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he believed it in his heart. He asked God to forgive him of his sin and save him. God did. That’s the greatest gift that a dad can give his son, even better than a brand new Stevens.
Happy Father's Day!
June 15, 2017
I’ve spent my fair share of nights sleeping in uncomfortable situations. Pickup beds, rotted out farm houses and dilapidated old travel trailers, and of course the cold hard ground. I can remember a deer hunt that was so cold and wet that my hunting partner and I zipped our sleeping bags together to fend off the frost bite. On another trip, I dumped the lump out of my pillow case. The lump was a field rat. I awoke one morning so stiff from the pickup bed I’d used for a mattress, that reaching down to tie my boots seemed impossible. I’d do it all again too!
Our passion for this hunting and fishing heritage that we live can lead to some tough places and times, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve also been spoiled with some fine lodging, dining and terrific hunting and fishing opportunities. Robin and I have spent the past week at one of the absolute finest resort hunt/fish destinations that I’ve ever, yes I used the ever word, visited. Joshua Creek Ranch has the credentials. Two Tridents from Beretta, ORVIS Endorsed, heck, George Strait even visits for a little wing shooting from time to time. Everything, and I mean every detail at JCR is tended too. Your mattress, your view, your meals, your linens, your lodging, your everything will be the finest offered. It’s flying first class, and it's good! This is our third trip to this wonderful ranch located about an hour northwest of San Antonio, Texas.
The same detail that’s woven into your lodge experience is applied to the habitat on this near 1,400 acre ranch as well...Two decades plus of back breaking work by the Kercheville family. Years of cedar removal, planting, pond building, etc have produced perfect habitat for the wildlife that love this place. IT'S LOW FENCE. The critters have a choice where they spend time browsing, loafing and raising babies. That’s the best testament to this conservation project-an endorsement from the wildlife on this free range ranch in the Texas Hill Country region.
I’m here to hunt my favorite protein-Axis deer. Axis are found free ranging in very few places across North America-Florida, Hawaii and here in the Hill Country of Texas primarily. They love it here; I guess the country is very similar to their original home in Sri Lanka. Everything about an Axis is good! They are beautiful critters with an orangish brown coat accented by snow white spots just like a whitetail fawn. God must have favored the Axis a little more than the whitetail, because He allows them to keep their spots for life. Axis are bigger than most whitetails too...Up to 250 pounds for the bigger bucks, or "bulls", your choice. They are more closely aligned to elk than whitetail deer. Typical males will grow three points on each side-main beam, a couple of impressive brow tines and secondary points about halfway up the main beam. Thirty inches and longer is considered trophy. They are gorgeous animals and fine, fine, fine dining! That’s 3 fines from the red neck that has consumed a lot of wild game. No wang, no wild taste, better than beef! Axis are a challenging hunt as well. They are spookier than whitetails. If you bang or booger something up in their neighborhood, you might as well move along. They did. Unlike the whitetail rut where single males cruise the country, axis stay in groups most all of the time. Lots of eyes to spot you. They will flock to feeders. If that is legal in your state, jump on it. One of the coolest reasons to hunt axis deer is non-typical hunting times. Axis are considered exotic game in Texas, and can be hunted year round. It's June, and it feels great to be in the deer blind!
My most regrettable miss with rifle came about five years ago right here on JCR. I had a nice 30 plus inch axis in my sights after three days of hard, HOT hunting...Shot right under his belly at 135 yards. The bullet made a cloud of dust, and I’ve watched him run off in my head over and over again...Again this week, three days of hard, not quite as hot hunting with no meat to show for the effort. There are probably 25 to 30 blind locations on this ranch. We have hunted daylight to dark most of the time and visited maybe 10-12 of those blinds. We have glassed a lot of Axis deer too. Several hundred I’d say, searching for the right buck. About 1:30 yesterday afternoon, we made a move to a blind that we’d not hunted yet on this trip. When we rounded the corner in the road, I knew instantly that this was the exact spot in my reoccurring nightmare miss. I had been here before in person and many more times in bad memory. We spotted a small herd of Axis back in the thick cedar brush and one of them was a hard horned buck. I was hunting with Billy Torkildson, JCR guide, who can take a 5 second look at an axis buck and tell you how long he is to within a half inch of antler.
At about 4pm, the herd made a move, and out he stepped. Five seconds of analysis, and Billy T said, “shoot him”. I was situated in the same blind, taking aim from the same window, with a 30 plus inch Axis standing about 30 yards behind the missed shot from five years ago. I put that old memory behind me and collected my breathing and focus. Does were milling about, and I had to hold my shot for a couple of minutes, waiting for them to clear. When the opportunity opened, I was ready, and he fell in his tracks. 30 inches on his right side, 31.5 on his left, heavy bodied and beautiful! The ghosts were gone. Billy T had no idea that I had missed from this exact location before, or that this was my birthday. When I finally had my hands on this magnificent animal, I shared the story with him. Back at the lodge, I would enjoy a hot shower, delicious pan seared Axis steaks prepared by Chef Holden and an incredible mattress for the first full eight hours of sleep in several days. This time though, the dream was different!
If you go...
Axis can shed, be hard horned or in velvet at any time of the year, however, late May to September are the most active rutting and hard horned times. Take plenty of gun. These animals are extremely tough, and probably bigger than the whitetails you’ve been hunting. My setup: Weatherby Vanguard in .270/Winchester ballistic silvertip 130 grain. If you normally hunt with something smaller (.243) I’d step up a bit. The 300’s are good choices. Dress cool! Talk to your outfitter before you go. Will you be stalking or blind hunting. Stalking these critters is very difficult since they run in herds. If you are still/blind hunting, shorts, t-shirts etc. Light, cool clothing. Stay in the blind. Yes, they are active at the most popular times, dawn and dusk, but, you will see them meandering mid-day as well. Patience has killed more critters than Tarzan. Range finder. Great tool. In the rolling terrain that Axis favor, depth can be deceptive. Naked eye would tell you that my shot would be 120-130 yards. The laser reported differently-169 yards. Depending on bullet rifle combo, that’s enough distance to affect trajectory.
June 9, 2017