In January 1958, my cousin, Dan Gafford, from Marlin, Texas, came down to visit after hearing of the fabulous Duck hunting my Dad and I had been enjoying between Crosby and Anahuac. One of my Dad’s former employees was now manager of a rice farm/ranching operation (they had oil wells too) and gave us free rein to hunt on the 1000 acre property. My Dad and I were in “hog Heaven”, having this place all to ourselves.

There were sloughs and potholes scattered all over the ranch and, convenient, since most were accessible by the oil field roads that connected the oil and gas wells. We would put on our waders, drive to a likely spot of standing water, put out my twelve plastic decoys, hastily construct us a makeshift blind, hide the car as best we could and begin our hunting.

The secret of our success was “luck” and being at the right place. This ranch contained plenty of fresh water and was not far from Trinity Bay and was an easy flight for the ducks from the salt water to the fresh.

Early in the afternoon my Dad and his former employee dropped Dan and me off near a likely looking fifty-foot wide pothole. I waded out and set the decoys while Dan made us a blind of logs and grass. It wasn’t much of a blind, but it would do.

Before we had settled down, a flight of Teal buzzed our decoys and as they were passing. bam, bam, bam, and two fall on the other side of the pot hole. Both of us were using number 6 shot with our full choked, pump, shotguns. Duck poison! Bunches of ducks, Teal, Gadwall and Widgeon kept us busy for most of the afternoon, and we had bagged nine, when we see a flight of ten mallards inspecting our layout.

Blowing a “hail” call to them, they wheel around and circle behind us. A few chirps of a “feed” call sets their wings, their orange feet drop, wait a minute, something’s wrong with these Ducks I think to myself, since they are landing in the edge of the pothole, not ten feet in front of us!

Dan and I jump up and bam, bam, six shots, and not a feather. We look at each other in amazement. Dan asks, “How could this happen, it seemed as if I could have reached out and grabbed them?” Maybe we should have. Remembering what my Dad had told me years ago, “Our patterns were too small at this close range.” And I added, “We should have let them gain some altitude, and not have been greedy and taken such close, “easy” shots.”

We had a nice “bag” of ducks anyway and didn’t get any more shots that afternoon. While cleaning the Ducks, my Dad chided us saying, “Boys, you got greedy with those big Greenheads and didn’t take your time!” Dan had fun anyway.

Under The Lights

Continuing my initiation into the world of Speckled Trout fishing, a cold January afternoon, my Dad and I met Dave Miller, a good fishing friend, at a non descript, bait camp, near Matagorda, Texas, where the Colorado River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. We were going to fish for Specks at night under some bright flood lights.

This old picture shows some of the specs we caught that night

The principle was simple, the reflection of the lights on the water draws small fish and shrimp in to feed on the minute sea life and the abundance of small bait draws the larger predators, the Specks. The action can be fast and furious, and it was!

Starting about 8:30 PM, the three of us beat the water to a froth and to show for the effort, had only caught and released 4 small Specks. Dave and I choose to take a nap on the couches inside the bait camp and two hours later, my Dad woke both of us exclaiming, “Get up quick and come see all the fish!”

“All the fish” was right. The tide was coming in and with it, bringing in stained, almost sandy, water, and in the reflection of the large lights, the water was dimpled by hundreds of Specks slashing through the thousands of bait fish carried in with the tide!

Savoring the spectacle for maybe 5 seconds, our primal urges kicked in, and we began casting into the melee. Using a Tony Acetta #7, silver spoon, with a yellow buck tail attached, every one of my casts resulted in a solid strike and a spirited fight and a 1 to 2 pound Trout flopping on the dock.

This action continued for nearly 30 minutes. Then, the tide changed heading back out to the Gulf and with the water movement, the bait and predator fish followed. As hot as the action was, it was all over now. Nothing remained except for us to clean and ice down the fish, collect our tackle, bid adieu to the camp operator and start our two hour drive back to West University, a Houston suburb.

At the time, my family didn’t have a freezer, so all of our friends and relatives enjoyed the fish we happily gave to them

Different Decoys

In December of 1956 we left West University (a Houston suburb) well before first light for the 30 minute drive to a rice field on the Katy Paririe that we had permission to hunt on. Spending over an hour spreading out our decoys, Wes Reynolds and I were now laying along the edge of a levee in an 800 acre, harvested rice field with a mud road bisecting it. Wes, was a friend and neighbor and had been hunting with my Dad and I for several years. In the far northwest corner of the rice field, probably five thousand Geese had roosted the previous night and provided a serious impediment to our decoying efforts.
On the Katy prairie it was cold, with low hanging clouds and a steady north wind blowing, providing us with a day made for Goose hunting. The early morning quiet was broken by the sounds of Geese squawking in the distance and we were doing our best to imitate these sounds and coax the six young Snow Geese to “come on in” and land with the large gaggle of geese, really our decoys, already on the ground, on this side of the large rice field.

Not your normal Goose decoy spread that you see now days with hundreds of large full body, plastic and foam ones, Geese “flying”, wings spinning rapidly, hunters dressed in white overalls packing 10 Gauge, 3 ½” magnum shotguns; but newspapers, old diapers, piles of mud with goose feathers stuck into them and hunters with “early” camo parkas and green waders packing, 12 gauge, pump shotguns with 2 ¾” paper shells. But it worked!

Setting out the decoys wasn’t rocket science. Spread the diapers over clumps of rice, wrap a full sheet of newspaper so it looks like a Goose head and attach a glob of mud to each in order to hold them so the wind won’t blow them away. The “mud” decoys were the easiest, just make a pile of mud and stick Goose feathers into in, not like a porcupine, but slicked back like a Goose.

Young Geese make mistakes, and these six did, setting their wings and “falling”, looking like leaves drifting down from a tall tree, right into the decoys and bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, four geese tumble to the ground. We pick them up and unceremoniously propped the Goose’s heads up with rice stalks and added them to the decoy spread.

Later in the morning, with two Specklebellys down and added to the spread, Wes and I noticed the large gaggle of Geese in the northwest corner of the field become agitated, some starting to take off, some up and circling and a noisy cacophony of Goose sounds filling the air. We snuggled down behind the levee and waited, and soon were rewarded with the sight of thousands of Geese taking the air, and heading right toward us!

Over the noise of the Geese, I whispered to Wes, “Wait until the leaders have flown past, pick out a bird and shoot him before you get on the next one.” The noise of the approaching Geese and the numbers of them were astounding to us as closer and closer they came. The leaders passing over us, the sound deafening, I shouted, “Take ‘em,” and we both stood and shouldered our shotguns, We both had two additional shells stuck between the fingers of our left hands, and let go on the Geese.

Picking out a huge Canadian, not over fifteen yards away from me, bigger than any goose I had ever seen, swinging, putting the barrel of the shotgun about 24 inches in front of the giant Goose’s bill and bam, the giant kept flying, quickly shucking another shell into the chamber of the full choked, Winchester, 12 Gauge, Model 12, bam again, nothing. Shortening my lead on the giant, bam again, nothing. Quickly reloading the two “back up” shells, the giant being long gone, I acquired new targets, two Snows stretching out for altitude and dropped them cleanly, probably 40 yard shots.

Looking over toward my accomplice, who was standing there shaking, I said, “How many did you knock down?” Wes replied, “I shot five shells and never hit a bird. I got excited and shot into the flock on my first three, reloaded and just kinda’ shot at another one. Nothing!”

As we picked up our “decoys”, the diapers, newspapers and goose feathers, I remarked, “Eight birds isn’t bad, but you should have seen the one I took three shots at and missed. It was twice as big as the rest of the Geese. I first thought it was a Swan, but it had distinctive Canadian Goose markings. I don’t know how I could have missed it?”

Driving home, we thought our eight Goose day should have counted at least a dozen, but when we got home, my Dad almost lectured us, saying, “Boys, whenever you can go out, on your own and get eight, nice Geese, be thankful of that, and I don’t want to hear anymore grumbling about it!” I said, “But Dad, I really messed up not getting that giant Goose and I still don’t know how I missed three shots at fifteen yards.” My Dad replied, “Boy, that’s easy, at fifteen yards the pattern of your shotgun has probably a six inch diameter and the shot string length is probably ten inches at the most. It’s easy, you led the Goose too much!”

Later that day, Wes and I were talking with a neighbor Dave Miller, who hunted with us regularly. He told us, “The giant Canadian that you missed was a Canadian Goose alright, a Canadensis Maxima, the largest of the species and supposedly extinct since1922! However, several sightings of the giants have been reported during the past few years.”

Thinking out loud I replied, “Missing those three shots wasn’t so bad after all.”

A Pickup Full Of Geese

My Dad always watched me play football, but this particular Friday, I had hurt my arm and was suited up but not scheduled to play. My Dad took this opportunity to go Goose hunting with some of his buddies, promising me that I could come over to Barrow Ranch, in Chambers County, south of Anahuac, Saturday, and hunt with them.

We won our game and I didn’t play so my Dad didn’t miss anything, but that evening as I was getting ready for a date, my Dad called with a strange request. He said, “Son, come meet us at Truitt’s Garage at 8:30 (PM) and pick up some of these Geese. We have our 2 day, bag and possession limit but since we’re hunting tomorrow, we’re going to send these back to town!” He added, “Joe’s loaded up his pickup and he and I will meet you.” Not asking how many they had shot, my plans quickly changed and my Mom, date and I picked up my Dad’s 10 Geese, took them back home and cleaned them.

Just before sun up, it had been a real short night for me, I met them at Barrow’s Ranch. Joe and my Dad had on white hats and white dusters and I was decked out in my early style, camo parka and loaded down with guns, ammo and 300 diapers, we “slogged” several hundred yards into the rice field to our hunting spot and put out our decoys, the diapers. Our “rags” were spread in a rough oval and we stationed ourselves near the front with the wind to our backs. Geese will land into the wind and we planned to shoot at them when they hovered, or slipped overhead, into our spread.

The Geese wouldn’t start flying until around 8:00 AM, but dawn was welcomed by a cloudy, windy morning that brought clouds of Ducks, mostly green heads (Mallards) and sprigs (Pintails). Sprigs will come in to Goose rags and several bunches of the graceful Ducks buzzed us. Quickly shucking out our #2 shot and popping in 6’s, we welcomed them to our “spread”. We had some great shooting and bagged 8 and as the flights of Ducks dwindled we could hear the Geese calling over the rice fields and slipping the 2’s back into our pumps, we settled down awaiting them.

Right on time, here came the Geese, snows and blues, struggling to gain altitude against the heavy wind and we began our calling. With three of us calling, we could make a lot of noise, and our noise, caught the attention of a flock of around 20 snows and on they came.

The flock made their decision early, set their wings 100 yards out and began a lazy descent toward us. Not looking up or moving a muscle, we continued calling, then my Dad said, “Take ‘em!” Jumping up, we cut loose, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom and four of the big birds came tumbling out of the sky.

Since we didn’t have a dog, I was “named” the retriever. Three were dead and easy to pick up. The fourth had a broken wing and the chase was on. I finally called a halt to the proceedings and popped the running Goose at 40 yards. End of chase!

This day was, “one of those days” and we three hunters could do no wrong. The Geese decoyed perfectly, our shots were true, we lost no cripples and were finished by 10:00 AM. Our count was 15 Geese and 8 sprigs. Leaving one wing on each bird, we plucked, singed and gutted them, wrapped them in a tarp and headed back home.

I was tired of cleaning Geese and promised myself that I would limit this activity, at least until next weekend!

A Miraculous Recovery

The Katy Prairie was the winter home of a concentration of over 100,000 Geese and nearly as many Ducks and drew me and my friends like a magnet. We “snuck” large and small gaggles of Geese, “jumped” the Ducks from the potholes and stock tanks and made ourselves a general nuisance to the local rice farmers.

Hunting leases were just catching on and on most of the land we “used”, we had some type of permission. Maybe one time we ask the farmer if we could sneak that big bunch of Geese in his rice field. He says OK and we take this as permission ad infinitum.

One of my hunting companions, Mel Peavey’s, Dad, had leased a small rice field of about 300 acres, near Brookshire, for Mel and his friends to hunt. Brookshire is on the western side of the Katy Prairie. Better this little, lease than us sneaking into some rice farmer’s property, getting caught and being in big trouble.

One afternoon, Mel and I got “sick” and had to leave school after lunch. Once off the school grounds, we enjoyed a miraculous recovery and decided we would try out his new Duck lease. We stopped by my house, no one was home since my Mom and Dad both worked, picked up my twelve plastic decoys, pump shotgun, waders and camo parka, Mel’s stuff was already in his car, and made speed for the lease.

Putting out the decoys, we climbed into the makeshift blind we had thrown up and waited for the ducks. Soon we saw a group of six Pintail Ducks, or Sprigs, approaching our pond, which was really a flooded portion of the field, and we began a soft whistle, who knows if the ducks heard it, but we knew Pintails responded to them. The graceful birds circled the decoys once, caught the wind and set their wings; they were coming in to our “spread”.

Letting them get about ten feet off of the water, we jumped up and, bam, bam, bam, bam and two birds splashed in. I had drawn down on a drake and went to pick him up and marveled at the beauty. This was the first of the species I had ever shot and the flowing browns and whites of his head and breast were amazing to me and the long pointed tail feathers only enhanced the picture.

Mel had shot a hen, not as pretty, but just as tasty and we hunkered down again awaiting more Ducks. Mallards circled us, but we couldn’t entice them to land and eventually settled for two Spoonbills and a Green Winged Teal.

We stopped hunting at the end of shooting time, sat on a rice levee and began to clean the ducks in the field. There was plenty of water here to wash our hands. Mel didn’t want to stop shooting, but the last thing I wanted was to get nailed by a game warden. Mel reluctantly resumed cleaning his Duck, then, all of a sudden, up he jumps with his shotgun and, bam, bam, his gun spewing sparks in the near darkness, and I hear a splash. It is almost dark and he just shot a duck, well after quitting time. I know it will be “curtains” for us now.

Looking over our shoulders, we load our gear into the trunk, and head back to Houston, awaiting the inevitable game warden roadblock. Some of our friends (their Dad’s) had just paid heavy fines for them shooting too many Geese and evading arrest. They had changed out of their hunting clothes and didn’t look like hunters and had put the Geese and all of their gear in the car trunk and came up to a roadblock, panicked and tried to outrun the law. They were caught quickly and taken to the county jail.

Mel and I fared better, finding no game wardens on the ride home. My luck wasn’t as good when I went into my house and my Mom and Dad were clearly upset that, one, they didn’t know I was going hunting and, two, they didn’t know where I was. The problems were resolved and the next night we enjoyed roasted Duck, rice, sweet potatoes and turnip greens!

The Katy Prairie

In the 1950’s the Katy Prairie stretched from Farm Road 1960 west to the Brazos River and from the pine tree line northwest of Houston, south to the farm country around Richmond/Rosenberg, an area of over 400 square miles. The corner of Texas Highway 6 and F.M. 529 was known throughout the area as “Wolf Corner” (today a shopping center) because the trappers and hunters would string the carcasas of Red Wolves, Coyotes, Bobcats and Foxes from the barbwire fences. “Wolf Corner”, that is F.M. 529 was one of the entry points to the Prairie.
Rice, cattle, oil and gas were the main products of the Prairie, but the sub-product of rice farming was Geese and Ducks, at one time, hundreds of thousands of them, and the hunters flocked to it. I have hunted with and without permission, as a guest and had my own leases, but finally the urban sprawl of Houston closed down this wonderful enclave. Most of the Prairie now is sub-divisions, schools and shopping centers and the Geese and Ducks have moved away.

Just this year, on a Pheasant hunting trip to the Texas panhandle, Brad and I spotted hundreds of thousands of Geese and Ducks. I thought then that years ago, I relentlessly chased their fore bearers across the Katy prairie!

In 1952 I shot three times and missed at the largest Canadian Goose I have ever seen, later finding out it was a Canadensis Maxima, thought to be extinct since 1922, however some sightings are still reported. In 1980 I saw an “extinct” Red Wolf cross a road that ran through my hunting lease. And to top that story, in 1988, while quail hunting near Waller, on the Katy Prairie, I came upon, and my Brittany Spaniel, “Gus”, pointed two “extinct” Red Wolves. “Gus”, me, and the Wolves, all froze. “Gus” and I both held our points, while the Wolves trotted away into the thick grass and brush. This ended our Quail hunt.

In the past the State Of Texas had tried to plant Pheasants on the Prairie and apparently into the 1980’s people were still running across some. The birds couldn’t cope with all of the winged and fur bearing predators. In 1989, I was Quail hunting south of Hockley, on the Prairie, and shot a male Pheasant, pointed by “Gus”. Maybe that was the last one?
Isn’t progress wonderful?

Goose And Duck Hunting

Now that Deer season is ending and our special doe and spike hunt ends on January 20, I wanted to recount several stories about a couple of wonderful Goose and Duck hunting spots, “The Katy Prairie”, west of Houston and the marshes and rice fields around Anahuac, east of town. Always having lived on the west, I spent much more time on “The Prairie”, but was involved in some memorable hunts on the Anahuac Prairie side. Anahuac was east of Houston, in Chambers County.

Both places had huge concentrations of Geese and, I believe, that Anahuac had more Ducks. Urban sprawl has killed “The Prairie”, but Anahuac still offers some fine Duck hunting. Its secret is that Trinity Bay, and the Trinity River bottom lands, blocks the eastward sprawl of metropolitan Houston.

Like any hunting spots, I had good days and bad ones, but a bad one never kept me from going back again! Some of these adventures follow.

A Hot Time In Crystal City

By chance, in 1990, I met up with a person I hadn’t seen in years, Eldred Lawrence. Eldred was a friend of my former father-in-law, with whom I had remained on good terms with over the years. Eldred was looking for another gun on a two thousand acre, quail/dove lease in Crystal City, Texas. Boy, did he find one! I was on this lease for three years and from first hunt to last hunt, this was some of the consistently best shooting I have ever experienced.

Jon and Gus “on point” near Crysal City pictured above.

Layla and I drove down to look it over and quickly decided it would work out fine for us. The lease was a three-hour plus drive from our home in Cypress so I could leave at 5:00 AM and be hunting by 8:30 and be back by 8:30 PM. Gasoline prices were around $.75 per gallon.

Haney’s Ranch – The Chase

Bubba Broussard and I had driven up to Haney’s ranch to chase some Quail and this particular hunt stands out in my memory for a number of reasons.

Our first afternoon, we had enjoyed good hunting and the next day as well. Sonny, my Brittany’s, work finding and retrieving the birds was excellent and we welcomed the steaks cooked over Rick’s “old timey”, fired brick, barbeque pit. After the meal we talked for a long time about hunting, ranching and business and turned in around midnight.

The night was cold and Rick’s old ranch house, built in the 1900’s, was drafty and hard to heat. As usual, Rick was hidden under his covers with his AC running full blast, when I was jolted awake by my door being thrown open and Bubba running through my room in his long-johns, .357 Magnum in hand, shouting, “Where is that son of a bitch, I’ll shoot him if I catch him!” He continued his “hunt” for several minutes, bursting into Rick’s room and awakening him, and then, Bubba told us his story.

He said, “I woke up and saw someone/something standing at the foot of my bed. Then it ran and opened the door to Jon’s room and I’m sure it ran through his room.” By that time, Bubba had armed himself and given pursuit. He added, “When I chased it into Rick’s room, I “lost” it.” We looked around inside the house and found nothing, no sign of anyone else with us and both outside doors were locked.

Rick went into his patented speech about having to sleep out here often and not wanting to disturb anything. Bubba said, “But something was standing by my bed.” Rick laughed, made sure his AC was roaring, got back into his bed, slipped his cap over his ears and covered his head with the covers.

Two years later, Rick “rebuilt” the old ranch house, and even before the stonemason had finished his work, the rock wall on one side of the house developed a serious crack. Rick said, “We put too much load on the rocks.” I answered, “Sounds like something didn’t like it being rebuilt.”

Bubba still doesn’t talk about “The chase”.

Haney’s Ranch – Snow Storm

Sonny, on my back porch. Notice that he is predominantly white.

Having a free weekend, we, the we being myself and Sonny, my Brittany Spaniel, hurried up to Rick’s ranch Friday afternoon, for a go at the Quail. Hurried because a severe, cold front, a “norther” in Texican, was supposed to hit the Abilene area Sunday afternoon, and by then, we should be on our way home with a good tail wind!

Low clouds greeted us Saturday morning along with a medium, south wind offering wonderful scenting conditions. Rick and I scored heavily all day, even though we took a break to watch a good college football game.

Instead of our usual steak cooked over mesquite logs on Rick’s “old timey”, fired brick, bar-b-que pit, we grilled 8 Quail halves. They were spiced up with a half of jalapeno pepper, then both wrapped with a piece of bacon and grilled until the bacon was done. Add a baked potato, along with chopped, green, Ortega, chilies and onions and we had a feast!

We were up early on Sunday, Rick going to church, and Sonny and I were greeted by more low clouds and a steady, light northwest wind and it looked like the “norther” had arrived early, beating the forecast. One hour later, we were hunting into a strong northwest wind and large flakes of snow were swirling down. Sonny, being predominately white, with a few reddish brown spots, was getting hard to see as he worked fifty yards to our front.

We soldiered on for the next hour, fighting the wind, snow and poor visibility, until we were “whited out”. No Sonny out in front, one mesquite tree, out of the thousands on the ranch, close by, nothing but white, up, down and around me! Stopping in my tracks, I whistled Sonny to come in and then surveyed my situation.

Sonny and I huddled together for nearly 10 minutes, as I debated my options. That 10 minutes of debate and indecision, along with never having, or dreaming, that I would be caught in a situation like this caused my feelings to race from panic, to fear, until logical thought took over. Then I used my head for something other than a hat rack, and figured out what to do.

No compass, of course, since I was ONLY hunting on Rick’s ranch. I knew northwest was to the front, since since I had been hunting into the wind. I knew the ranch road, where I had left the Suburban, was behind me. So, I decided to try to walk back to the truck.

Always carrying a check cord for the Dog, I snapped it on to his collar and he “heeled” along, and keeping the wind to my back, carefully walked the mile back to the ranch road, turned right (hopefully) and within 200 yards found the truck.

Before heading back to Houston, I waited for over an hour for the snow storm to break, then for the next eight hours (normally an easy 6 hours) slowly drove home. All of my life I have tried to beat nature and weather forecasts, and I lost again!

On this trip there was not a single incident of “thumping” or any “funny” occurrences!