Keep up with all things, outdoors, with Big Billy Kinder...
Hey, if you're a dedicated bird hunter, you've been behind good bird dogs all of your life. You will NOT be disappointed with the dogs at Joshua Creek Ranch. It's so special to see a well-trained setter on point, head and tail high, setter feathers waving in the breeze.
AND THEN...They turn the "Fat Girl" loose!
Her real name is Stella. She stands maybe 14 inches tall, and she enjoys her meals. She carries a few extra pounds therefore she's earned the name "Fat Girl". She loves to hunt as much as she loves to eat. And when you turn this little English Cocker loose, there's no down time. She takes no breaks. And even though the cover is three times taller than her, she somehow, with the miracle of God's creation that HE put into a Cocker and bird dogs in general, tunnels through this thick cover unable to see the game being played. It's all nose and instinct that leads her to that bird that she promptly puts in the air and then retrieves to hand. The smile on her face that you can visibly see will put joy in your heart and a smile on your face.
There are lots of "Stellas" at Joshua Creek Ranch. They employ the little English Cockers to do the flushing and much of the retrieving. Most of the little Cockers are much more dainty then Stella; all work equally as hard. You're gonna want to take one home. I promise! (That's not a maybe) AND...from time to time, they do have litters available. Check with the folks at the ranch about that.
June 30, 2022
Next season starts now. As I exited the deer woods for the very last time a few days ago, it had a melancholy feel. Each trip is full of wonder just like that first trip when dad toted me along. This day had been wonderful as well. Cloudy, breezy, warm for mid-January with a great lack of critter movement. Still, it was a great day. As I locked down the old hunting blind and walked away with two days left in the extended Texas doe and spike hunt, I knew that this whitetail season was in the books for me. There would be no time over the next couple of days to come back, watch, walk, wait and soak up the scene. My time in the field this deer season was more limited than past years. Personal duties had demanded my attention and time, and I was paying the price-no venison. This marks the first whitetail season with no protein in the bed of the truck since…I don’t know. We’ve run short or out of a few things like taco meat, but we’re still better stocked than a lot of grocery store shelves. Whitetail season a year ago ended with a couple of mature does in the freezer. A week or so later, a wonderful axis buck found his way next to them. We eat a lot of venison. It is our primary protein in the Kinder home, thank You Lord! Fortunately, we still have plenty to carry us, especially when accented with the crappie fillets and turkey breasts that I plan to accumulate in the next few months. Pork is never hard to find. We like those feral tamales, tenderloins, peppered, German and smoked sausages. Heck, not much can beat a tow-sack half full of bullfrogs. Concerning bullfrogs and those athletic legs, you might not admit it down at the country club, or maybe you don’t even know it, but you like ‘em too! We won’t starve.
On my way down the trail a quarter mile or so to the truck, the low hanging oak branch was an uplifting sight and thought. Still two months from Spring’s first day, the tiny buds that will eventually blossom into strong healthy leaves caused me to pause, look and take a couple of pictures. Here we go again I thought. Next season starts right now. Robert Earl Keen wrote a great tune entitled, “The Road Goes on Forever (and the party never ends)…” The title fits how we live, think and breathe as whitetail hunters. November to a whitetailer seems like a distant birthday celebration for a six year old. “How many months is it?” The long arduous wait begins. We’ll watch the off season antler growth thru remote eyes fixed on our hunting grounds. Make an occasional trip to shore up the corn and protein supplies. Filling our vacant and hurting hearts with big green bass, maybe a good trout trip this summer, redfish on the half shell, and a dove shoot or two. All good medicine for whitetail flu. Nothing drops a whitetail hunters off season fever quite as quickly as a five pound bass (That’s another Robert Earl Keen song) on a topwater plug. Like a good dose of nighttime chug-a-lug from the neighborhood pharmacy, the 5 lb’ber makes you forget you ever had a cervid sniffle. An occasional follow up glance at your phone temporarily settles whitetail jitters. Your giant smile and outstretched arm, making five pounds look like twelve. Yep, we all do that.
Each opening day of the Texas Whitetail season, somewhere between 5am and sunrise, either Larry or I will lay a match to the kindling of a new whitetail fire. Tucked away in the dark, several hundred miles apart, so excited for legal light to arrive we share our joy and delight with each other thru text. “Are you hunting the family property? Are the grandkids with you? I hear pigs scuffling and rooting nearby. I saw a goodun pass thru the moonlight. Gonna fry crappie tonight.” Larry has been at this a while and so have I. Between the two of us we have seen well over a hundred opening days, and we still get breathlessly excited to sit propped on a tree, in the dark, awaiting God’s glorious sunrise and what it might bring-overjoyed at the start and sad to see it fade away. Hondo Crouch, the fella that turned Luckenbach Texas into an international tourist stop, once said, “Havin’ fun is hard work sometimes.” That describes perfectly the whitetailers spring and summer months. Scouting, documenting, feeding, hauling, moving, cleaning, building, feeding again, trimming, spraying, etc. All done with a smile on his or her face in anticipation of what? Pulling the trigger? Absolutely not.
When I visit the deer woods, it’s soul medicine. I breathe in fresh health. The brisk north wind ushers in the perfect finale to a Texas summer. Sparkling frost on sunlit mesquites is a light show designed by God Himself. In the pre-dawn, I listen for the wonderful sounds that are unique to the current place and time-the owl, or if I’m lucky, owls, abruptly breaking the morning still. In certain woods, the old whippoorwill eases his song through the trees. Soon a crow caws, the sun rises shortly thereafter and a new day begins. In the end, it is this scene, smell and sound that causes my end of season melancholy. Don’t get me wrong. Big antlers make my heart race and I will joyfully execute God’s words to Noah and his boys in Genesis Chapter 9 Verse 3 when He said, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And, as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” God said that and He hasn’t changed His mind since. So, here we go. All together now let’s watch the big football game, fish the shallow spawners, call a gobbler, share pictures of our 12 pounder at the family reunion, vacation in a speckled fish hotspot, laugh it up at the dove hunt and bide our time ‘til we can lean back on that November morning and text our whitetail pals. It’s closer than it feels. Next season has already begun.
By Billy Kinder
DSC Life Member
Owner-Kinder Productions, Inc.
Host- Kinder Outdoors-SiriusXM
Radio Stations & Podcasts Across the U.S.
January 26, 2022
The most recent deer season just wasn’t what we dream of. The previous year was. Last year, on opening morning it was perfect! Robin and I had made the drive on a bright cool and sunny November day and enjoyed precious and rare relax time for an afternoon, a good meal and a solid night’s sleep at the hotel. I rose early in search of venison! It was opening day and that same excitement that I felt as a young teen is still exactly the same now, decades later! I had a couple of sausages and biscuits, coffee and more coffee and made my way 6 miles north of town on the blacktop and then 8 more down the caliche road to the ranch gate. Thru the gate, up the hill, slow rolling past the thick oak and mesquite to the area that I park, then a quarter of a mile walk to my spot. It’s still about an hour and a half until legal shooting time. I like to settle in with plenty of time for the area to be at ease with the surroundings. You can legally harvest deer at 30 minutes prior to official sunrise. Sunrise would be about 7:50 am, meaning that I could legally shoot at 7:20am.
I killed a nice buck at appx 7:30. Tag gone, easy as pie and the sun hasn’t crested the horizon yet on opening day. This most recent season? Total opposite. Deer season (1st Saturday in November thru the first Sunday in January) came and went without much activity at all. They just weren’t active and in my area during daylight. I saw and passed on a few young bucks. The does were not using my little area of the world nearly as much this year either. Deer season expired without me pulling the trigger. That means a shortage in the Kinder freezer. Fortunately the Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists keep a close eye on our deer numbers in Texas county by county. Those numbers say that good management means taking some does and spikes out of circulation. To do that, much of Texas enjoys an extended doe and spike season, two extra weeks after the official close of the whitetail season.
I had hunted hard at every opportunity for two months and seen no dependable pattern in the deer movement that would build excitement. But, taco meat and German sausage and backstraps on open fires are wonderful, so...I loaded up on patience and carried on into the extended doe/spike season. My final day to hunt would be Saturday the 16th. I had church duties on the final day to hunt, Sunday the 17th. The sun set on my deer season without a cervid in my freezer for the first time in I don’t know when. It was eating on me when I woke up at 2am Sunday morning. I figured in the drive time etc and discovered that I could hunt for 2 hours and still make it to church on time! So, up at 2am, 80 plus mile drive, blacktop, caliche, oaks, mesquite, quarter mile walk and in place plenty of time prior to first light. With 30 minutes left until the absolute end of my deer season, three does popped out. I know that doesn’t sound like much but this year it was huge! I loaded two in in the bed of the truck. Glorious joy! Weeks and months of slow burning patience, 10 minutes of deer hunting thrill, one year’s supply of very good and healthy things to eat in out freezer. Patience!
July 15, 2021
I see people with house dogs do it all of the time. It’s 98 degrees and they have ol’ Rusty on his leash because it’s time to “go poo-poo for mama”. So, Rusty leaps from his plush doggie bed in 72 degree air conditioned comfort and is bouncing up and down by the door waiting for the leash, an opening and the wide open spaces of the local park! When he first enters freedom’s bliss, he looks like a calf in a rodeo. Run fast, hit the end of the rope, bounce back, repeat. Just a few short minutes into the trip, ol’ Rusty has slowed down considerably. His tongue is hanging out about 8 inches long and he’s panting like the chug-a-lug of a Model T. He might even be involved in more of a drag than a walk by now, but he must continue on until mama leans down with her rubber glove and does the dirty work. Back home once again, Rusty foregoes the cozy doggie bed and stretches out belly down on the cool tile of the kitchen or bathroom.
Overheating and dehydration is serious business with our dogs, and as bad as it is in the dreaded August heat, I believe winter may be even hard on them from a dehydration perspective.
For bird hunters, summer workouts are imperative. September brings teal for lots of folks across America and in places like Montana, there are huns and sharptails to chase. Field trials even start back up around Labor Day. You can’t afford to just take the summer off. Common sense plays a huge role. Take steps to get your dog work done in the best of the bad conditions.
Enjoy your dogs! You’ll be working together in the dove field, teal blind and upland pastures before you know it…Get ready!!
Quick tip…If you have a kennel setup that allows you to run a garden hose across the top, buy a long sprinkler hose. You know, the kind of flat water hose that has little holes in it from one end to the other? Zip tie it in place, sprinklers aimed down into the runs. Set it up on a watering timer for 5 minutes each of the hottest hours of the day. Not only does it give your dogs a beneficial cool down, but it helps keep urine washed down as well.
August 11, 2020
We've been locked up in our homes while making only the most necessary trips. We've Lysoled everything, a dozen times. We've watched the coronavirus news nonstop. Looks like we will be living this way for a while. A trip to the lake is wonderful therapy. An emotional band-aid. Even so, we can’t afford to let our guard down there either.
The Game and Fish folks in North Carolina have come up with a short list of recommendations for boaters. They are...
...maintain your distance at boat ramps and fuel docks
...avoid using boat ramp docks while other people are on them
...no beaching your boat right next to someone else
...no rafting up-keep your distance on the water
All good recommendations and I will add a couple of my own...
...if you are a shoreline fisherman, please don’t fish from the boat ramp docks-They are essential for boat passenger loading and unloading
...keep the hand sanitizer, bleach wipes and plastic gloves on the boat
...only boat with members of your household
...avoid all unnecessary contact with others
Spring turkey hunting carries new concerns this year as well. No long trips in the enclosed cab of a vehicle with members of a separate home but only with members of your home is not only a great idea, but possibly lifesaving.
Hunt solo, do your own calling. Don’t share calls, camo (especially face masks) or equipment. Common sense. (if solo hunting or boating be sure to leave an emergency plan with loved ones…where you are…time you should be back etc.) It’s a good year to skip the mouth calls and stick to your slates, boxes etc. Your hands back and forth to your mouth right now is not a good thing.
Once we have settled into that quiet cove or leaned up next to that tree in the turkey woods we can finally relax a little. Just be diligent.
April 16, 2020
I hear that song about My Favorite Things around Christmas time each year. Some ol’ boy named Richard Rodgers wrote it back in the 50’s, then Julie Andrews made it famous in “The Sound of Music”, which I am proud to say I’ve never seen. I have, though, turned the volume up on the radio and listened to the lyrics of the song. That part about crisp apple strudel always conjures up a picture for me. I’m not a Broadway guy. Not much of a movie guy. I probably can’t name 5 show tunes with any confidence and that they actually came out of a show. In fact, I’m having trouble getting to two right now. But, ”My Favorite Things” kinda got me to thinking. We all have favorite things or situations that we cling to a little too much or dwell on while we should be thinking of more productive efforts. But what the heck, it’s okay to idle away a few minutes here and there I guess. You’re doing it right now, so, in no particular order...
The thump that you feel in the cork handle of a good crappie rod. The force with which a crappie sucks in a small jig is actually strong enough from 18-20 feet deep to send a vibration up the line to the rod tip and then to your hand that triggers a reaction in the brain, to send the thump back down the line and set the hook in ol spec’s mouth. All of this takes place in about 1 second. The thump is absolutely one of my favorite things.
Good dogs on point and birds that hold tight. It is amazing to watch what God put into a bird dog. The indwelling drive to hunt game birds. I’ve watched ‘em for years running at ¾ speed through dusty, windy, dry, rainy, thick cover. Meadowlarks, sparrows and chee-chee birds of all sorts popping up and flitting away as the dog runs, but he gives them none of his attention...none! Not even a glance, but 1 single molecule of scent from a quail, pheasant or grouse makes the dog flip back-end over front and land with a hard stop! Head and tail high, smoking the pipe. The dog breaths scent in with his nose, exhaling with his mouth which in turn makes his cheeks puff out and back in...giving the impression of a pipe smoker. Many times, a covey of bobwhite quail will hold tight on a snowy morning, so will early season young birds that have never met a birddog before. Walking up to that view will always be a favorite.
A big bass jig swimming from that shallow little pocket that you threw it in to. You know it didn’t come to life and start swimming on its own. No, a bass has that jig in her mouth and she’s headed for deeper water with her prey much like a dog will seek out a private spot to enjoy a treat. You “catch up” to her with your reel, then set the hook like your name is Klein, Brauer or Evers! Oh, what a feeling and favorite.
Any fish on a topwater bait. Matters not if its sunfish on a little popper delivered by your fly rod or a big 6 inch walking-bait targeting bass. When the lightning fast explosion occurs, that very second is on my favorites list. You want to see it again and again, the feeling never grows old! You could do this all day, but the sun climbs higher and the topwater bite dies off. Special moments reserved mostly for short periods of time and then left to bounce around in your mind while you should be listening to the preacher.
Pre sunrise in the pasture or on the lake. The temperature drops another degree or two as if the night is tightening its grip on your world not wanting to let go. The first birds of the morning, outside of chuck willows will or an old owl, start to make their presence known. Faint light begins to creep into your surroundings like water seeping into a marsh. The sun’s not officially up yet but is steadily working on it and is precisely on time, the same today as it was on that first morning when God put it in motion. The world is waking up around you. Barely visible are a couple of deer. How did they get there! I’ve been watching so closely, every second! It’s like they grew straight up out of the ground. Unseen turkeys lightly yelp from the roost and get more vocal as they fly down. In the stillness of pre-dawn you clearly hear the flapping of their wings and they depart the tree limb for breakfast. The slow gentle ride across quiet water to a favorite fishing hole with red and green lights leading the way. Trying not to spill your coffee as you go, you have just enough light to see “feeding rings” on top of the water, raising your expectations and thinking about that trusty old “Pop R” that you tied on last night.
Two-lane blacktops and worn dirt roads, especially those that you’ve never travelled before. Wonder and excitement, looking at new country and looking deeply for the flash of a white tail or a summer herd of elk. Snow topped high places in June. Ripe Montana choke cherries growing wild along a public right of way or wild West Texas sand plums in a pasture, ready for picking and making jelly. An old dry goods/grocery store from a bygone era that somehow manages enough business from area farm families and wide-eyed adventurers to keep the lights on. A winding Ozark farm to market road that leads toward the farm, not the market. As it leads you across the creek for the 3rd time, you catch a glimpse of a flock of eastern turkeys running up into the thick southern woods.
A crackling fire. The fireplace on a chilly winter’s evening, reading old Gene Hill stories for the 15th time. Maybe it’s a hot bed of coals with fresh logs popping on top, circled by satisfied hunters after a day in the field. Some facing the fire with glowing faces and cold hands extended, palms out, others warming their backsides with hands stretched backwards. Someone’s telling a story. You’ve heard it before and know the ending well, but the moment is so agreeable that you in quiet eagerness give it your full attention. The story is good, but so is the thick blanket of quiet that follows that laughter.
Smells...fresh gunpowder in the air on a clear blue morning, fish on your hands, spring flowers in the turkey haunts, smoke from the last pipe that exists in deer camp.
Time, places, experiences, tools of the trade, some people, well-mannered dogs. What was that?? Sounds. Peach pie in summer and my old Ruger Red Label 20 gauge. Just a few of my favorite things.
February 6, 2020
It has always kinda baffled me. A guy that LOVES to hunt whitetails, waits all year for it! Time in the woods is bigger than the shot. He/she loves everything about hunting but…they totally ignore the turkeys. What a treasure these birds are and absolutely delicious on the table. I truly have never eaten a pen raised bird from the grocery store that can hold a candle to a wild turkey. I think, in my humble opinion, that as the once plentiful turkey in North America plummeted in numbers during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, we went several generations without hunting them and passing those skills and recipes down. Now turkey numbers are good, turkey hunter populations are low.
The bird, native to America, was found to be dang tasty to early settlers pushing westward-so tasty that we nearly ate all of them. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that turkey restoration was noted as successful and working. In 1991 turkey seasons finally were open in all of the 49 states that hold wild turkeys. We all have turkeys outside of Alaska. The great frozen tundra is the only state without turkeys. Yes, you can hunt them in Hawaii! 1960 and 1991 are just a blink in time back from now. That’s not a lot of time to re-establish turkey hunters. A generation is generally thought to be 30 years. If turkey hunting was all but totally shut down in the 19-early’s, that puts between 3 and 4 generations between the 1st North American turkey hunters and the youngster that wants to hunt today. We simply have a nation of folks that didn’t grow up hunting turkeys, don’t know where to start or how to go about it. It’s easier than you think. Turkeys are an exciting and rewarding hunt and a pretty inexpensive way to round up a great meal. So let’s get started, and this spring will be the time to do that. You will need a place to hunt...
• A lot of land owners don’t hunt turkeys and wouldn’t mind you hunting them. Ask! Maybe you have a deer lease and simply haven’t explored what it takes to kill a turkey. Turkey hunters require only a few acres as opposed to the quail hunter that needs thousands of acres or the deer hunter that prefers hundreds. Do your homework. You will need a place that holds turkeys; preferably they roost there on that property at night. Tall trees and creek bottoms are prime places to look for wild turkeys.
• You’ll need camo; turkeys have incredible eyesight. Blend into your surroundings, break up your outline and BE STILL. They will see movement at great distances. This sounds crazy but even with this tremendous eyesight, they don’t mind a pop-up blind. I don’t know if they relate it to a bale of hay or a bush or what, but if you’re regularly seeing turkeys at your deer feeder or know where they likely will fly down from the roost, set up a pop-up blind. When you set up a new blind in an area, the deer typically will shy away for a week or two until they realize it’s immobile and safe. Turkeys on the other hand will walk right into an area with a new blind setup that wasn’t there an hour ago. If you want to take the youngsters, buy a pop-up to conceal movement. You can find them for under a hundred bucks these days. You can actually stand up inside and walk your pop-up blind closer to the turkeys, and it won’t rattle them. Try it when they hang up out there and won’t come any closer.
• You need a shotgun and heavy loads. I prefer a 12 gauge with an extended “turkey” choke and 3 ½ inch turkey shells. These heavy-feathered birds are tough, and I like to throw a powerful punch. Plenty of turkeys have been taken with a 20 and even a 410, but my goal is to kill a turkey, and I place the odds in my favor here. I also enjoy hunting them with a bow. That’s a whole nuther subject and probably not the right choice for the new turkey hunter.
• Spring means love to the tom turkey, so learn to speak the language. You don’t need a vest full of calls to have success hunting turkeys, but after you call in that 1st one and shoot him, you will be hooked and buying an assortment of calls and goodies! To break this down to its simplest form: (1) buy a slate call or box call. These two are easy to use and they won’t require a ton of practice time. (2) Visit the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) website and listen to the recordings of actual birds. The NWTF site is a trove of great information!
Take advantage of that small family owned parcel of land, or that deer lease that gets locked down in late winter and not used again till fall. You will not believe the rush of excitement that a gobbling tom turkey brings at 10 yards!
Remove and thoroughly clean the 2 breasts from your wild turkey. Cut the breasts into strips approximately 2 inches wide. Use an egg wash, then bread them good in flour, salt and pepper. I double coat by using this process twice on each strip of meat. Deep or skillet fry at 350 degrees. Hint: I like Kentucky Colonel seasoned flour for chicken fried turkey breast, and it also makes great cream gravy! The recipe is on the box as white sauce. But its cream gravy.
This is simply a beginner’s guide to the thrill of hunting turkeys. Give it a try! If you enjoy the sights and sounds of a fall deer stand, just wait ‘til you watch spring bloom right before your eyes, and Mr. Tom comes running to your call, stops, gobbles and goes full fan right in front of you!! THAT is when you invite him over for dinner!
January 31, 2020
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
September 21, 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
I lost one of the best and most loyal friends I’ll ever have on this earth a little over a month ago. I didn’t write about it then because it was too raw. I never thought that I could mourn the loss of a dog so much, but I cried. I wailed. Bear’s talent was above that of most bird dogs. I am qualified to make that call, because I have had many hunting partners throughout the years and know what I speak of. I’ve had some slow learners, and many average students. I’ve also been blessed to partner with some dogs that would produce a little better than others in the wild bird fields and win a field trial here and there. BUT...I’ve only had one Bear.
His nose was impeccable. I remember a hunt when he was about two. He locked down hard on some West Texas scrub, and a rabbit flushed from under his nose. The guy that I was hunting with that day broke open his gun and laughed out loud. His dog was backing ol' Bear...again, by the way. While he was bad mouthing my little Brittany, I noticed that Bear hadn’t moved a muscle. Still rock-hard rigid. Eyes and snoot focused on the tangles ahead of him, smoking the pipe, as my writer friend Ray Sasser would say...taking in bird scent through the nose...venting through the mouth. You’ve seen your dogs do that. The covey of bobs scared my cynical friend when they flushed right up our britches' legs. I killed two and said nothing. Bear had done my talking.
Bear came from good stock. Directly out of Nolan Huffman’s Buddy (Nolan’s Last Bullet), and tracing back to Rick Smith's fine line. I’d always had pointers and setters which I still dearly love, but these guys were breeding "Brits" that would destroy the “shoe polisher” image. I noticed that these dogs were running big, running hard and running tough! I watched Buddy at a championship trial in Indiana retrieve a bird that had fallen on the far side of a goat wire fence. I wondered why in the world Nolan would shoot that bird, knowing that it would fall on the far side where his dog couldn’t reach it, and he could lose his retrieve score. Turns out, he knew that Buddy would find a way, somehow, to bring that bird to hand. And he did. He found a hole in the fence, just big enough to squeeze through, gather the bird, and squeeze back into the playing field. I decided that morning that I would have some of that in my kennel, and one year later at 5 weeks of age, I did. On day one, my wife Robin said the pup looked like a "little Baylor Bear", her alma mater. That’s how he got his name.
One of Bear's litter mates, Bull, and Bulls’ partner Nolan came to Texas to hunt with me back in 2005. It was a great year for the birds; they were thick and the coveys were big. Nolan and I turned the pair loose on the south end of a pasture and had the time of our lives watching them tear up the ground in bird finding fury. One would point, the other would back and vice versa all the way up to the north fence where we picked em up. When we did, the two brothers had pointed 26 coveys of bob white quail. Nolan told me, “That’s the best quail hunt I’ve ever been a part of.” Bear had the smarts too. He had become a big country pleasure. The little dog could roll! He eagerly covered big West Texas and Montana country and in a hurry. I took him to South Dakota for pheasants. We were hunting strips and shelter belts. He figured it out in short order and never hunted beyond 25-30 yards ahead of me. He worked pheasants that day like he’d done it his whole life, and these were the first ones he’d ever seen.
When the economy ate my job up in 2009, Bear went to work with me entertaining and teaching at various events and sporting goods dealers in the Dallas-Ft Worth area. He easily converted from the wide open spaces, to arena floors and huge tents. Everyone that met him at these events fell in love. The folks especially loved it when I would ask a kiddo to go hide Bear's Dokken dummy someplace. I would tell Bear to "hunt dead", and he’d climb through boats and expo booths, crowds and funnel cake vendors to find it and bring it back to me. I needed him to help me at that time, and he did. He wasn’t trying to be a showman, simply trying to please me, and in the process was indeed something to see. He even made it into a national Ad for Forti Flora with all of the Smith boys. Surgery had me on a walker for over a year, and I couldn’t take him hunting, or so I thought. I wondered if he would adapt to retrieving doves...he did. Sat by my side like a lab.
If I walked out of a door, he was lying beside it when I came back through. You could bet money on that. I start work many times at 3 or 4 am. There was no way to sneak out of the bedroom without him. Off to work with me he’d go. Every day. When friends and family betrayed trust, he didn’t. Not once. You know, you’ve been there too. His talent was great, his nose was unreal, his heart was bigger, and that’s what set him apart. I borrowed a line from Winnie the Pooh when I thanked God for giving me something I loved so much, that it hurt this bad to lose it. I hope that I haven’t bored you with my story. I hope that I have brought back fond remembrance of your “Bear”. Bear died just 3 weeks before his fifteenth birthday. I still cry.
May 26, 2017