Hunting Season Opens Tomorrow

Tomorrow, at sun up, September 1, 2011 dove season opens, beginning the 2011/2012 hunting season in Texas. Because of the severe heat and equally severe drought conditions, this time it’s kinda’ a blah feeling. Always in the past I’ve been looking forward to, even eagerly anticipating, this singular event, but this year, blah! Maybe it’s because the water holes that I have access to have dried up, maybe it’s because afternoon temps, pushing 110, make it too hot to touch your shotguns, maybe it’s because, even with a sweat band, sweat still gets into my eyes, I can’t even get excited, so it’s still blah!

However, come sun up tomorrow, I’ll be sitting in the shade, in a field north of San Saba, looking for some pass shooting. In the past this has been a fine venue, limit or near limit shooting, but this year, when I talked with Ted, the landowner, he told me that it’d been so hot he’d not even noticed if any doves were flying around, still, I’ll be there.

Dove sightings have been slim around here, I’m seeing a few mourning doves, fewer ring necks and still fewer white wings. Last Friday night as we were sitting in the grandstands waiting for the Goldthwaite, Thrall kickoff, in past years we had always been greeted with hundreds, maybe even thousands of white wings, flying over us heading for their roosts, not this year. Missing the doves, all wasn’t lost because Goldthwaite, ranked 4th in the State in football, won easily, 33-0.

I hope all of our white wings have flown to San Saba!

Girl Friends

During the summer of 1954, speckled trout fishing had been excellent along the broad sand flats from Galveston’s East Beach Lagoon around to the base of the South Jetties, a curving distance of approximately two miles that was protected from any wind except north or northeast. This area, at the far eastern tip of Galveston Island and the western side of Bolivar Channel, between the Island and Bolivar Peninsula, is also the mouth of the Galveston and Houston Ship Channels. It was good fishing and just plain fun to go down there and watch the ships and the girls.

The week before this day’s events, my cousin and fishing buddy, George Pyland, and I had made a killin’ on school trout on the north side of the flats. The fish were everywhere, plugs or live shrimp, even a bare hook. We spread the news among our fishing group and everyone eagerly awaited a break in the weather.

The break in the weather came the following Saturday morning when another fishing buddy, Bobby Baldwin, called saying, “Fishing look good around the flats this afternoon”. My reply, totally unacceptable to him was, “I can’t go fishing this afternoon because I have a date”. His girl friend, out of town for the weekend, didn’t like fishing anyway, so he was free all day and tonight. However, my girl friend was game for anything, she wasn’t a fisherman (back then gender wasn’t a problem), but liked to wade out and watch us fish. After tempting me with, “I’ll buy the gas”, all of $.18 a gallon, I called my girl and told her of the change in plans and she reluctantly agreed to go with us.

The tide was running in and the wind was light as we bought shrimp at Bobby Wilson’s East Beach Bait Camp and headed for the flats. Bobby, to my right, and I were about 30 feet apart and girl friend was behind me, my stringer floating off to my left with the breeze and incoming tide as we waded out about 75 yards into waist deep water. The fish were there and we started catching some nice specs, up to two pounds, that we strung on my stringer, still floating away from us.

With 7 or 8 specs already caught, my cork went under and as I set the hook I remarked, “Hey, this is a real nice fish probably a big red”. My companions watched intently as I struggled to keep the line tight as the fish bored towards me. Ten feet in front of me a beautiful five foot long, black tip shark cleared the water, mouth open, the teeth getting my attention and hit the water, splashing some on me. My question was, what do you do when a big shark hits your speckled trout outfit, then runs 15 yards towards you, and all the while I was thinking that it was a big red, until it jumped out of the water in front of me and then stripped off all of my line?

The shark headed off to my right towards where I thought Bobby was located, but my valiant fishing partner and girl friend had already halved the distance to shore, leaving me alone to battle this denizen. Not much of a battle, 15 pound braided line on a Shakespeare Direct Drive reel and a fiber glass popping rod, all being no match for an 80 pound shark. The line was tied on the spool of the reel and popped as the shark stripped it, then I headed straight for the shore where my stalwart friends were awaiting me.

That area, the East Beach Flats including Bobby Wilson’s Bait Camp no longer exists. Natural erosion assisted by a small hurricane that came up the channel in the mid 70’s, complete with north and northwest winds, changed the landscape, eliminating one good fishing spot.

At least the shark didn’t get the fish on my stringer, but my girl friend never went wade fishing with me again.

The Water Trough, August 27, 2011

On Tuesday afternoon, the 22nd, celebrating the arrival of a new camera, around 5:00 PM I walked outside our front door and looked toward the water trough.  It’s only a little over 200 yards from our house and running up to the water was a roadrunner, fumbling around with the new camera, I finally got this “shot” of the bird.

No more action with my new camera, but during the afternoon of the 24th, I replaced the memory card and reaimed the game cam and when I displayed the card, on the 22nd at 5:20 PM, 7 deer came up to get water.  Then on the evening of the 23rd, 3 spikes, all in a row, came running toward the water
So by the afternoon of the 23rd I had become quite familiar with my new camera and was rewarded with some fine pictures, even in our extreme drought conditions, of some great deer!  Hoping to almost synchronize some camera “shots” with some game camera “shots”, it didn’t work out, because the big bucks were watering at the far end of the trough and the game cam wasn’t aimed at that end.  This situation was corrected with the card replacement on the 24th.

Here is my new camera “shot” of 2 good, 8 pointers and notice how much bigger the big 8 is than the other buck and on the other “shot” when the flash went off, the little one looked up.  This is the “shot” I was hoping to synchronize, but my game cam was aimed wrong.
With the big 8 posing, another young one walked up, not fazing the big ‘un.

But a short time earlier on the afternoon of the 23rd, these other deer, 3 bucks, one a good 6, a doe and a spotted fawn, came to water.  This “shot” shows how one end of the trough was masked from the game cam.

It’s pretty obvious that right at dark on Tuesday afternoon, the bucks were really out!

The Water Trough, August 25, 2011

On the afternoon of the 17th the first ones up were a doe and a roadrunner.  The doe looks like an old one, potbelly and all and I’ll start looking to see if she has any fawns this year.

Look closely, there are 8 deer in this picture, one’s legs can be seen between the two trees.  The old, fat doe is getting another drink and there are 2 fawns in the picture, maybe they’re hers?

Two bucks showed up a little later, nice ones!  One is a young 8 pointer and the other looks like a 7 and he appears to be around 4 or 5 years old.

Now there is a first for the water trough, a possum, or opossum, marsupials that have a short gestation period, 12 to 14 days.  As the fat doe walks away, still no fawns and for a drink, this possum has to reach way over for the water.

Before dark on the 20th, some young bucks showed up at the trough, one’s horns aren’t entirely visible, one looks like a 10 pointer, not well developed horns, however still young and the last may be a palmated 7, the first sighting for this one.

Me ‘n Buck

During the summer of 1959, while I was in college, before and after my attendance at ROTC Camp at Ft. Hood, Texas, I worked for an uncle of mine, Shelton Gafford, in Falls County, Texas. At the time, Uncle Shelly farmed and ranched over 3,000 acres of prime Brazos River Valley land and on this, he ran almost 500 head of cattle. This was right at the end of the famed drought of the 1950’s and back then we didn’t even think about La Nina or El Nino (missing tildes) and their effect on our weather patterns.

My job was to drive over the barely flowing Brazos River to his ranch along Perry Creek across the river, but still in Falls County and, at least, there was a concreted, low water crossing for my daily trips. Falls County is one of the few counties in Texas that span a major, river, obviously a carryover from the Texas colonization days with Mexico. Taking this route eliminated a 20, mile drive through Marlin to Perry Creek.

The trips were for checking the several hundred cattle on the place for screwworms, a blight on the cattle industry and certain death if the grown animals weren’t treated within 5 to 7 days and a calf in 2 to 3! Screwworms were a terrible pestilence that hounded our State’s cattle industry until a cure was found. The cure, developed at Texas A&M during the 1960’s, was the releasing of millions of sterile, male, screwworm flies. This procedure saved our cattle industry and spawned the terrific deer herds that we now have across Texas! Treatment was begun in 1962 and by 1966 screwworms were eradicated. Texas hasn’t had a recorded case of infestation since August 1, 1992.

Most days I’d pull a horse trailer and saddled horse, spending my day in and out of the saddle, but behind the seat in the truck I always carried my fishing tackle because there were 2 stock tanks on the Perry Creek place that were full of bass. And even back then, I’d rather fish than eat! By late afternoon, after making my rounds and checking the cows for any evidence of screwworms, I’d stop by my favorite stock tank, get out my rod and reel, with my favorite plug, a Piggy Boat spinner bait and make a few casts.

As the cows used the water up, it had been getting lower and lower, until most of the moss was gone and now I know that most of the oxygen was too! That particular day, my first cast was met with a solid strike and after a couple of jumps I reached down and slipped my fingers between the bass’ jaws. However, something was wrong with the bass, it had lost most of its coloration, was a pasty, white color with very little green showing. Throwing that pound and a halfer back in the tank, I made another cast and my spinner bait was gobbled up just as the bait hit the water and this one, a nice 2 pound bass made several leaps before I lipped it and same results, a lack of colorization.

Pitching the bass back in, I thought I’d better let Uncle Shelly know that the bass weren’t doing very well, but before I started the drive back it dawned on me to go check the other stock tank. Same results as the first, moss dying, water getting lower almost as I watched, greedy hungry bass with a lack of color and now I believe that the lack of oxygen and food caused this trauma with the bass. Over supper we discussed the strange color of the bass, but couldn’t come up with an answer or reason.

During the epic drought the stock tanks never went completely dry, but fishing in them never returned to the excellence of past years. By the time the drought had broken, I had gone into the Army and Uncle Shelly had sold the ranch across the river. At least for me no more hazardous river crossings, but Shelly did tell me of once that when the water was flowing over a foot over the concrete, he drove his pickup and horse trailer across, scaring him sufficiently, so he came back the long way through town.

Also, now I know that in 1845 or 46, to enlist in the Texas Army following a border incursion by the Mexicans into Texas, one of my relatives, a Great Uncle, Buck Barry, crossed the Brazos, at this same spot, over a hundred years before, on a trip from Sulphur Springs to the new capital of the State, Austin. Between the two towns, that were well over 100 miles apart, the one settler he had seen along the trace had located at the falls of the Brazos. It turned out the settler was the only survivor after a Comanche Indian raid and when Buck arrived on the scene, just missing the Indians, the settler had lost everything, his slaves, cattle, horses and women. This was Buck’s initiation to the Comanche’s and by far, not his last one!

The Water Trough, August 20, 2011

After trying out 2 different, 4 GB, HC cards and finding out that the particular cards  work in my camera, but they won’t work in my game cameras, I finally got back into the business of monitoring the water trough.  Having ordered a new camera, I’ll just use the 4 GB cards in it and take advantage of the one hour of video, anyway, as Shakespeare once wrote, “All’s well that ends well.”

Sunday afternoon the 14th, around 3:00 PM, I put the 2 GB, HD card in the game cam at the water trough and not much later 4 doe and 2 fawn showed up.  You have to look for two of the deer, but the 4 at the trough are easy to spot.

The action picked up around before 9:00 PM on the 15th, when this lopsided buck showed up.  This guy is a new one around here and the “weather affect” has gotten the best of his horns!

Then around an hour later this 8 pointer, along with a spike showed up.  This is the first identifiable, good buck that I’ve seen and it’s questionable if it may be the big 6 that was “shot” in my post of “[he Water Trough, August 8, 2011]”, but since both bucks have pot belly, they may be one in the same.  A couple of more “shots” should make the identification positive.

Last, just before sun up on the 15th, this mother coon and her kittens were walking, all lined up, along the edge of the trough.

After the debacle of the 4GB, HC cards, I was just making sure the game cam worked OK and the afternoon of the 15th, I swapped the 2GB, HD card out with another, so there’s only 2 days of “shots” on this one.

First Go At Predator Hunting

Summers in Texas are hot and in the last few days of August, time slows to a crawl!  Hunters are checking their gear, or the young ones, if required by the state, are taking a [hunter course], a good one is Online Hunter Education Courses and a click on the link will get you set up.   If they fish too, along the Texas coast it’s either too windy, or the waters too hot.  Offshore it’s either too rough for the pounding required for the 20, 30 or 40, mile boat ride, or if the winds not blowing, it’s too darn hot!  Bass fishing slows and if there’s no breeze, it’s too darn hot to lake fish too!  However, a bright, light awaits because on September 1st, the north and central zone, dove season opens welcoming in another hunting season.

In late August of 1970, Jim Buck and I had taken advantage of the poor fishing weather to go and see if any doves were flying around some stock tanks on a friend’s place, north of I-10, along the San Bernard River, between Sealy and Columbus, an hours drive west of my southwest, Houston home.  This spot happened to be north of I-10 in the central dove zone.  Jim had also just purchased a distressed rabbit, game call and we thought we’d “kill two birds with one stone” and check on the doves until dark, then try to call up a coon, bobcat or coyote.

We checked out three stock tanks and mourning dove were plentiful, good shooting next week and as the sun set we drove over toward the river, parked Jim’s truck and walked on into the thick stuff.   Armed with Jim’s single shot .22, we picked us out a clearing, hastily constructed a small blind that we’d sit behind then waited for dark to set in.

It was both of ours first go at predator hunting and right at “dark 30”, Jim blasted out several notes of a distress call, he was manning the rifle and I was handling the light, a spot with a 6V battery.  Having read that you turn the light off when calling, then switch it on and shine it in the trees and it would reflect the animal’s eyes, I switched it on and my sweep of the area revealed nothing.  At pitch dark we tried again, then we heard it, a high pitch scream, then another, that scared the snot out of both of us, then silence!

Not knowing what to do, Jim readied his .22 and I turned on the light and shined it up into the trees, nothing but silence.  We just sat there for a good 15 minutes, scared “snotless”, but finally cooler heads prevailed, we decided to make a lot of noise walking back, successfully made the 300 yard walk, and none to soon, climbed into the truck.  All the way home we debated what it was that gave us the jolt, not an alien (we had them back then too), but decided on either a cougar or bobcat.

Back before WW II, once when my brother was in his convertible with the top down, driving back from a late date, when passing through what is known in Texas as The Big Thicket, back then it covered hundreds of square miles, he heard a series of screams, that later were identified by a local as a “painter” or cougar.  Now I know that a female cougar will scream when looking for a mate.  We didn’t know that then when we were scared “snotless”!

The Corn Feeder, August 15, 2011

Finally getting the high protein deer food mixed with corn, the second feeder is set up and throwing, a game camera will also be set up soon.  The 20% protein pellets seem to work well with the spin feeder, especially since it’s hyper-dry around here because in the past, sometimes the pellets would gather moisture, clogging up the feeder, slim chance of that now.

In the morning, at softball practice last week, Mickey Donahoo and I tasted the protein pellets, basically they were dry and tasteless, ugh!  We have both found that dog biscuits are much more, moist and quite tasty!

Look closely at the picture, scattered about is the corn and, looking real close, some of the protein pellets are visible, now, however, the deer have responded to the feeder and are really cleaning up the corn and protein.

We are covered up with spikes, it’s probably from the lack of moisture and food for the bucks and at least 5 have been identified and they won’t make it until next year!

Finally seeing a young buck with good antler formation, the best I’ve seen so far, maybe he’s been getting healthy food somewhere?  I’ll be sure to tell everybody not to shoot him too!

Finders Keepers

Both families had taken advantage of the cool morning to do some exploring and try to find some coveys of quail.  Back in the mid 70’s, we, the Schroder’s and my family, were looking for quail in the higher, desert elevations, along a creek, southeast of Phoenix when one of the girls spotted what looked like a cave nestled under a rock overhang.

Closer inspection showed it to be a cave, at least 7 feet tall, extending back into the bank 20 feet, or more.  As the girls walked into it, they noticed a rock ledge running along the back, the ledge was around five and a half foot tall and they couldn’t see what was stored on it.  They called to Jake and I to come runnin’ and see what was up there.  He and I were astonished with their find, because up on the shelf was the remnant of a straw basket and in the basket were what looked like, at one time, fletched arrows, but over time the fletching had deteriorated.

As we removed the basket it fell apart, but definitely, once, the basket had been an arrow container.  There were no arrow points, or arrowheads, to be found anywhere, just long, uniform, arrow shafts, but the hard work of fletching the arrows had already been done.  Looking over the shelf and standing on my tiptoes, back in the shadows, was a turned over rock.

The last smooth rock that I had seen turned out to be, when I turned it over, a matate, or Indian corn grinder.  When an Indian village was attacked, many times the women would just turn over their matates and high tail it out of there.  Attackers wouldn’t notice the “rocks”, but if a matate was found, it was summarily destroyed.  At the time, the thinking was that if you couldn’t grind corn, you’d starve!

Jake gave me a boost as I wedged myself into the rock shelf and, expecting to see a rattler, I carefully turned over the rock.  No rattler, but a partially worn matate along with its mano (the grinding tool).  Finders keepers, as I tugged both to the edge of the shelf and hefted the 60 pound rock, the matate, to my shoulder.  It would be long carry back to our trucks, over 2 miles and one of the girls gave me a hand towel to put as a cushion on my shoulder, saving the day for toting the rock out of there.

Long and heavy carry it was, three cross country moves, a divorce and 40 year later, Bradley, my grandson and I photographed the mano and matate at his place.  Now it belongs to Bradley’s Mom, Brad’s widow, and he and I thought that this story should be saved for posterity!

Kinda’ Spooky

Even though we were both past retirement age our jobs required our presence on site so days off were scarce, so Jimmy Buck and I jumped at the chance of a hastily organized fishing trip.  Hastily organized because Brad had just returned from a tour in Korea and had been transferred into the First Cavalry Division, at Ft. Hood and they were currently training for a bout with the aggressors at Ft. Irwin.  It also happened that at the time Iraq was being fumbled by the U.N. Inspectors.

Brad had called and said that he had this coming Friday off and so did his kids and he would like to take his son, Bradley, salt water fishing.  Bradley, at the time was thirteen and had been fishing with me several times, so I quickly said OK and called Jim and he said that since his nephew and great nephew would be there, he would make time to go, so the trip was on!

The night before Brad and his family drove down from Copperas Cove and when Jim drove down we were almost ready to shove off.  Months before, Layla and I had moved full time to Bayou Vista and I had my twenty-two footer in the boat stall on the canal, so all we had to do was load up the ice, water, food and Jim’s tackle.

Brad and Bradley were using my tackle and shrimp were no problem since I had bought some the night before and kept them alive in a specially remanufactured, plastic, garbage can tied to the boat stall.  Transferring them, using a long handled net only took a short time and then we were off.

My “party” wanted to fish Jones Lake to see if my bragging was correct and the fishing was as really as good as I had been saying.  Since it was Friday, as we glided under the railroad bridge, boat traffic was almost non-existent.  At mid tide the bridge’s clearance was almost seven feet and the distance between the bridge supports was about eight feet, with signs clearly marking both channels.  Several years before, a new bridge had been built that really opened up Bayou Vista’s access to West Galveston Bay.

This is a picture of Highlands Bayou flowing under the new, Bayou Vista bridge.  The old bridge had half the clearance of the new one.  The Bayou empties into Jones Lake and then on into West Galveston Bay.  When I took this shot, the tide was high, it was cloudy and threatening rain, the precursor of Tropical Storm Erin, that one week later caused serious flooding in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Sometimes you get lucky and today was one of those days with the tide flowing in all morning, light winds from the southeast and nice, green, clear water.  All we had to do now was find signs of baitfish or shrimp popping out of the water as the predators chased them.

As we cruised slowly towards Tiki Island, the boat seemed to handle a little sluggish, but I thought it was just the load of our food, water and equipment, plus the four big guys.  There were bait fish in the water as we started our drift and began casting out our shrimp, under rattling popping corks and soon, whamo, Jim was into a nice fish, a speckled trout, definitely a keeper, that when netted it was unceremoniously pitched into the big cooler.  Shortly Brad connected and we iced down another trout.  Bradley had a solid strike, a spec that he landed, but it proved to be below the minimum length so back into the water with it.  We iced down another and seemed to have drifted out of the fish, so we made a slow circle back, near to our original starting point.

During this move the boat was still sluggish, so I gave it more gas and as we started our drift, Bradley cast out and was rewarded by his cork slowly going under.  “Bradley, let it go under, slowly take up your slack, now hit him,” I instructed, and his bowed rod and line peeling off his reel, gave tentative identification to the fish, probably a nice red. Several years before when Bradley hooked his first big red, he was afraid it was going to pull him into the water, but not this time because he successfully brought the fish, a keeper red, to the boat and it was added to the cooler.  This spot slowed so we prepared to move to another proven spot about a half mile away.

Bringing the boat to plane, I was now certain something was wrong with the motor, it bogged down and barely got the boat up on top, but reaching the new spot OK, we started our drift.  Soon we had boated 3 more keepers and as the fishing slowed we decided to circle back and drift through this spot again.

Attempting to start the motor, grind, grind, nothing happened.  No ignition.  Grind, grind again, nothing as Jim said, “It seems like it’s broke.  You have plenty of gas?”  Looking at the gauge, I replied, “Three fourths.”  Brad added, “Dad, does this boat always ride so low in the water?”  “No,” I exclaimed, kneeling down and opening an inspection plate, I spied our problem.  The entire bilge area was full of water, that’s why it was sluggish.  Obviously the bilge pumps had shorted out but the motor should have started.  Trying again, grind, grind, nothing.

Facing my “party” I told them, “Boys, it looks like were stuck.  Get on the life jackets and Bradley tie a rag onto the end of your rod and put it into the rear rod holder,” and the “crew” complied with the orders.  We were less than 2 miles from my canal house, but the channels had some 10, foot plus holes, so wading and pulling the boat back was out of the question and swimming the boat through and under the railroad bridge was virtually impossible so we’ll have to sit and await a rescuer.

Now the story gets real strange.  We had been the only boat in Jones Lake, but in the distance there was one boat heading our way. It turned out to be a nice, bay/offshore fishing boat, 23, feet long with a 225 on the back end, a nice rig, and nice to see him!  Pulling up beside us, the driver said, not even asking if we need help, “I’m here to pull you all in.”  “That is fine with me.” I replied, as I tossed him a line, then adding, “Getting under the bridge is going to present us some problems.”  He said, “If all of you all can keep it from banging into the supports, I believe we can sneak through OK.”  Never having seen this man or his boat before, I wondered how he knew about the bridge?

We putted up Highlands Bayou and, with no damage, manhandled the boat, riding low in the water, through the bridge, the flotation keeping it up.  Asking the Good Samaritan if he would tow us on to Louis’ Bait Camp to use the ramp and load up there, he gladly complied.  Calling Layla on my cell phone, I told her we had a problem and asked her to hook up the trailer to the Suburban and come on down to Louis’.

Once we were tied up to a pier at Louis’, I offered to pay the man for his help, “No,” he replied, “I broke down a couple of weeks ago and was pulled in from 20 miles offshore, and I’m returning the favor. I knew someone needed help and I’m more than glad to offer it.”  Wow!  How did he know we needed help, kinda’ spooky wasn’t it?

We loaded the boat onto the trailer, took it to the local boat shop, and two weeks and $720.00 later, it ran like new.  The leak in the bilge area was caused by a worn water line going into the live well and a loose fitting had allowed the water into the gas tank.  From then on I used the live well for storage and closed the valve to its water intake.

Having pulled in several boats, once finding an empty boat and even saving 3 men from drowning in a sinking fishing boat, this was different, me getting pulled in, but it all ended well because we did have enough fish for a big fish fry that night!  However, it has passed through my mind that I never saw the man or his boat again!