Nanny Stringfellow

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I thought, “Dude is that a cow, or a bear?’  as the big black pig stepped out of the yaupon holly in front of us.  Keegan, nicknamed Captain for the Captain America costume he wore constantly during his 4th year of life,  turned over his shoulder (he was looking the other way) and stood up slowly so his 8 year old frame could see out the front window.  The pig was in a half trot, half walk, ambling its way toward us.  It would stop and start.  Our box blind was roomy, but that extra room meant sitting on one end made it impossible to shoot out of the opposite without standing up.  Keegan crept and climbed onto my knee and steadied the little .243, searching for the moving target as it closed in closer and closer to us.

Suddenly the pig smelled us and ran 30 yards away and to our left.  I lifted Captain’s rifle, moving it from the center window to the left window and he steadied himself.

“Take your tim..BOOM!”

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I’ve made it a habit of applying to all of the in-state drawn hunts I can.  This year we have been drawn twice and on one the dates didn’t work out for us.  But boy howdy, the hunt last weekend was a dandy.  A gun, either sex, deer hunt with unlimited pigs was on the menu for us.  No guns for adults, strictly a youth affair.

My dad came down to help, and I put my oldest son with him and my 8 year old with me.  We were able to choose our hunting compartment based on the order in which we were drawn in Austin.  We chose fourth, and elected to hunt a pipe line clearing well away from the rest of the hunting areas.

Keegan and I’s stand was on the way to Oliver and Dad’s.  They dropped us off and drove on to their location.  As Keegan and I settled into our stand, a shot rang out from the direction they drove.  Naturally, I worried a shot so soon would be an accidental discharge.  I immediately texted .  Of course, when they didn’t text back I started to get a tad uncomfortable.  But here’s what happened.

As dad unloaded his UTV, a sounder showed up in the first shooting lane.  Oliver saw them from the blind and told Papa still standing just outside the box blind,

“Do you want to shoot them?”

“Yes, the fat one!”

And before Papa was even in the stand, Oliver had a pig down.

 

It’s now only 1:00pm and rules stated if you weren’t in the blind by 3:30 you couldn’t hunt the rest of the day.  I’m faster than my Dad cleaning pigs, so we decided he’d stay with Keegan and I returned with Oliver to skin and quarter his. Still we needed to hustle because the cleaning station was a couple miles away.

We were in a hurry and so we didn’t weigh this one.  I’m guessing about 80-100 pounds.  Nanny Stringfellow has a fine place to process big game.

Oliver’s bullet passed right through the atriums and the pig didn’t stand a chance.

 

Pork on ice, I climbed back in with Keegan around a quarter to three.  Oliver and Papa returned to their blind and the wait was on.

Suddenly, a group of pigs shows up for us.  At the range, Keegan doesn’t dally when getting ready to shoot.  In fact, he’s a quick shot and surprisingly accurate.  However, I’m not accustomed to such rapid fire and my camera work was too slow.

 

We waited about 20 minutes to check for blood.  A pig’s fat will often clog bullet holes making tracking them almost impossible.  However, with no squealing or limping, I’m sure he missed.

While waiting, a raccoon visited.

As we watched the raccoon munch our corn, a “megafat red pig” passed by Oliver and he slung lead in its direction.  No blood, but according to the grandson/grandpa combo, an apparent hit.  Staggering into a knee deep swamp, the megafat red pig squealed in rage.  I think this rage intimidated the dynamic duo and they elected not to wade in after it.

A little while after that, Oliver missed a long shot on another sounder.  He also failed to find in his scope a pair of doe crossing his area, but all the game kept him pumped.

About an hour later, the largest buck I’ve seen not on TV stepped into view and immediately saw us.   Antlers a full 4 inches beyond each ear tip, it looked to be a classic 12 point buck in rut.  Swollen neck, sway backed–a thing of beauty.  Just at the edge of Keegan’s shooting abilities, he took his time and fired.  Miss.  We looked hard for blood both during daylight and after.  Nothing.  No blood, it didn’t limp off, or fall down.  Bummer!  After an hour of looking we got back in the stand.  After dark, we looked even more with no success.

Shortly after getting back in the stand, Keegan slammed the aforementioned hog.  A big one!  160 pounds of pure pork perfection.  Returning to the skinning station we found a backup of youth hunters skinning nice bucks, big and little pigs and lots of doe.  Keegan enjoyed dawning the gloves and helping me with his very first game kill.  I’m super proud of my guy.

Sunday came and Oliver and Papa picked up where they left off.  In Papa’s own words:

“Life is good in Yellowbush! After traveling to the coast to guide my grandson, Oliver, on a trophy whitetail/hog hunt at the Nannie Stringefellow WMA, where he proceeded to anchor a nice pig before I could unload our ranger, we sat from noon until dark in what I’d describe as nothing less than a sweat box. We reigned terror on several large and vicious ferral hogs in the ninty plus degree heat. We saw several large deer, but the young pup was unable to get the bead on any of them. In the other stand, the young huntsman, Keegan Spencer, dropped a “gianormous”, his word, hog with an earhole shot that would make any granddad proud, under the watchful eye of his dad. We finished skinning the beast around ten that evening. It was a long day. Then next morning, the eager young man under my care and guidance, spied a nice buck at about sixty yards. With the stag approaching straight away, I, in my infinite wisdom, counseled to wait for a broadside shot. Advice was taken, and the good eight point buck dropped like a bad habit. Not looking forward to another hot day in the sauna, we opted to depart the torture box for home, where we ground the swine and venison into future sausages and chilli. Watching these fine young men make the transition from bb guns to rifles is good for the soul.”

All in all, fantastic weekend.

Michigan

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Back at the goal again.  It’s been a while, so to refresh you loyal readers (Mom) I’d like to shoot a squirrel in every state.  Sometimes I travel just for the squirrel, but mostly it’s a side trip during another family escapade.   Recently, I tried to turn a trip to the Big Apple into a New England hunting foray,  but after asking about flying into NYC with a shotgun, I found it was not such a good idea and jail time was a real possibility.

The only squirrel open for hunting during August in Michigan is the Red.  About half the size of a fox squirrel, they make a weird almost tropical bird-like noise and are mean little turds. They don’t hibernate and will run off the much bigger gray squirrels from their 2-5 acre territories.

I hunted just off the North Country Trail in the Hiawatha National Forest where the southern deciduous forest transitions to boreal in the Upper Peninsula.  Impenetrably thick undergrowth make seeing the squirrels on the ground nearly impossible, and the mosquitos–slow and clumsy compared to the mosquitos in Matagorda–made it necessary to bathe in DEET before heading out.

I hadn’t walked 20 minutes before a flash of fur bounded across my trail into the dark green ferns and disappeared into a jack pine thicket.  I stared intently, but couldn’t detect movement.  I began creeping down the trail again.  After about 5 steps, strange high pitch screaming harried me from behind.  I turned and the little buck was berating me just 10 feet off the ground,  tail quivering with hatred.  I silenced him with my trusty Ithaca 20 gauge double barrel, and it felt nice.

I could hear more in the woods screaming at me, but with Michigan now crossed from the list, I opted to return to the lake and resume catching yellow perch with the boys.

I love the Upper Peninsula and the Great Lakes.  Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald played in the background as we journeyed from one outdoor activity to the next. Food was surprisingly good at the taverns, and the only fast food we saw was in Grand Rapids. A good thing.

My buddy Jeff over at Homestead Dad gave us the inside scoop on must see spots.  The first one we hit was the glass bottom boat at Kitch-iti-kipi.


Jeff mentioned the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore of Lake Superior and surely it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.   Definitely worth seeing.




We paddled Lake Michigan in our kayaks and splashed around Lake Huron, but Lake Superior proved too cold to paddle.


We looked for Petroskie Stones and Agates while Gichi Gumee sneaker waves wet my shoes and made us shiver.

All in all, fantastic trip.

Jelly Legs

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“Buck fever”, “performance anxiety”, “the yips” whatever you call it—looking through the peep sight or scope at an animal can cause even the most steely nerved to get shaky.  

This weekend, my son and I hunted the Chaparral Wildlife Management Area’s Youth Doe/Spike hunt.  Located down by the border in the Brush Country, this is a highly managed game preserve by the Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Stephen Lange is the project leader, and he gave a short orientation where he discussed the goals and rules of the hunt.

When I am coaching kids, I’m all about positivity.  Even if I have to fake it.  During little league this year, I experimented with  what I call manufactured enthusiasm.  I’d tell the boys “I’ve got a good feeling about tonight’s game,” or “Kaiden I have a feeling you are going to get a big hit for us.”   

 Its manufactured because it’s conscious decision I make regardless of of how I feel after work, my thoughts on the team’s focus, or the ability of our opponents. I find the smurfs feed off of your emotions, so you might as well generate the ones you want them to emulate.  

The flip side is that kids can just as easily have the wind sucked out of their sails.  And I’m really good at doing that as well. On this last hunt, we were getting out of the truck to walk to the deer stand, I started to hand my little guy his rifle, but he couldn’t grab it because his hands were full of a Pokémon catching IPad. I chastised him for video game hunting while we were out hunting for real.  I didn’t go overboard or abuse him, and he didn’t start crying or anything, but I did the exact opposite of what I wanted to do….stole rather than stoked his enthusiasm. 

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We arrived and things cooled down and we were going over our shooting lanes, but before we could finish, out came a javelina at about 100 yards.  The stand was cramped for two people.  Throw in a couple of backpacks, and this forced Oliver to leave his seat to shoot to the right, over on my side of the blind.  

I could tell he was nervous, still a bit deflated from my tongue lashing and he couldn’t get comfortable.  He tried to half stand/sit, rushed his shot, and missed.  Way to go Dad.  

Now I could tell he was visibly upset, and we were literally just five minutes into the hunt.  I hated to see the look of disappointment in his eyes. Something had to be done so I went on a total positivity overdrive:  

“Shake that off dude, we all miss sometimes.”

“You will nail the next one.”

“Don’t worry about missing.”

“Be like a cornerback–have a short memory.”

“Get ready, I know you are going to make the next shot.”

“You can do it.  I know you can.”

Things like that.  I told him I’ve missed several times, asked him why he thought he missed.  We made a plan for him to get totally seated and stable before the next shot.  

God smiled on us and about fifteen minutes later, out came another Mexican Musk Pig and this time Oliver was ready:  

Can you tell he was excited to redeem himself?  Pretty cool stuff.  

So now we were faced with a decision.  Temps were edging close to 80 degrees and it was only 1:30.  We had lots of hunting left but there was no way I could leave the javy lying there, or really even just field dress him.  We needed to get him cooled down.  

Fortunately, the Chaparral WMA is the premiere public hunting spot in Texas.  They have a walk in cooler and for the second weekend in a row, the biologist asked if something was wrong when we showed back up to the check station less than half an hour after being dropped off.  

“Nope, we have something for you. ” Oliver said and quickly told them about his javelina.  

The biologist then aged our stink pig, at about 8-10 years old, and weighed him at 47 pounds.  A nice mature specimen.  

We field dressed him, hung him the walk in cooler, and got back to our stand at 3:00.   

We sat for three hours and the only things we saw were a solid covey of quail. 

Then, in about the same location as the collared peccary, out came a pair of spikes.   Brimming with confidence, Oliver carefully took aim and dropped his first deer.  

On each of these public hunts in Texas, the biologist want to extract information from the animals brought in…age, weight, location, and they also wanted to test for Chronic Wasting Disease.  

Biologist John Clarke writes down information from Oliver’s kill, while wildlife tech Chris Schroeder calls out measurements.

All of the young hunters stood around basking in the lights of the porch and the triumph of their kills.  The energy of the young ones is infectious and the parents were equally happy.   

 

Letting go of a Tarzan screamed appropriate at the time 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jelly Legs is very real condition.  But with the right attitude, even Double Jelly Legs can be overcome. Just put your mind to it.

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Youth Hunt in the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area

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Oliver is one lucky little hombre. He wasn’t drawn once, but five times to hunt various state parks and Wildlife Management Areas (WMA).  In Texas over 700,000 acres are divided into 47 different WMAs. Controlled by the Wildlife Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife, these acreages are representative of nearly all ecological regions in Texas. Biologists use each area to study wildlife. The public can use it to hunt, and that’s what Oliver did.

The Las Palomas WMA, specifically the Arroyo Colorado Unit, is in a region known as the “brush country” of south Texas. It is a veritable sea of thorns. I’ve hunted in it before, but this area is a little wetter.  There is abundant wildlife due to the large amounts of cover and food.  Further west water is a rate limiting factor, but not here.  Cameron County has these things called resacas. Either coming from a contraction of rio seca meaning “dry river” or from resecar meaning “to dry out”they are naturally occurring diversion channels off the Rio Grande.  Except they are usually dry.   The brush around the resaca is dense and blood thirsty.  It’s not hard to imagine the blood shed when old General Zachary Taylor fought his disorganized and bloody battle in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma against Mexican General Mariano Arista on May 9, 1846 in the Mexican American War.

The picture shows where we hunted and the aerial photo was taken during much wetter time.

Snow melt from Colorado used to cause the Rio to flood and fill these with water.   The Rio Grande doesn’t swell much any more and so what’s left over is a big dry river bed with only a few areas of marsh and fresh water.  These and the senderos make for animal highways.   All kinds of critters make their way up and down and across the resaca, like turkeys:

and this bobcat I called up by kissing my finger:

and a whole lot more.   A scorpion visited us, fiddler crabs burrowed just outside the door to the blind, and we almost ran over a blue indigo snake.

The success of this hunt started with my efforts back home. I applied to as many hunts as possible in the “youth” category boosting our shot at getting drawn. It will make for a lot of travel, but I dig travel hunting.

The next and most important thing I did was give Jimmy Stout, the head biologist for the unit, a call. He gave us lots of info and seemed like a swell dude. He verified the hunt was an assigned blind hunt, because the Arroyo Colorado Unit is only 700+ acres and answered all my queries.  There hasn’t been a wild pig killed since 96, but deer and javelinas were plentiful.  Oliver and I were both pretty stoked about his chance to shoot a “stink pig.”

When we arrived Jimmy guessed it was us despite having not met. He went through the rules and regulations, assigned our blind, off we went. A nice fella close to retirement named Alex took us to the blind and got us tucked in.

This is the view of the blind from where I spread a little extra corn. 

 

A circle of corn, hopefully to attract a whole herd of collared peccary, aka Javelina.  

 

After spreading the additional corn, we were quiet and in the blind at 9:45. Then, at 10:02 this happened:

I’ve been bear hunting, I’ve chased elk, and I kill a bunch of birds, but this is by far my favorite hunt to date.  .

Earlier I made up scenarios of a javelina coming from the left, right, behind us, etc.

TPWD has a nice cleaning station, and the guts are just thrown over to the alligators in the arroyo. But don’t fall! 

We drove back to the check station and they guys thought something went wrong, because we were back so quickly.  Nope things went really well.

A couple of admirers came and offered up there opinions and congratulations. 

Next weekend we are hitting the Chaparral WMA looking for some more javelinas, a fat doe, and possibly Pumbaa.  Stay tuned.

 

First Split Produced Lots of Firsts

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Well the first half of duck season is over and with it saw many firsts in my circle of manly influence.

My oldest little alpha male got his first duck.

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His friends got their first as well:

Brayden

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Ronnie

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One of the Middles got to go on his first hunt, with his own waders and face paint!

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Even got a new hunter, a work friend, his first duck.

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Fiona retrieved her first duck. 194.JPG

I got my first:

Black Belly Whistler (the brown duck)

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Fulvous Whistler

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and Ringneck.

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Despite the hunting being fairly slow, thanks a lot El Nino, we’ve had a good time.

Sometimes I got bored and we opened up on some coots.  This did not impress Fiona or the oldest boy.   But my cajun buddy is cooking a giant pot of gumbo and we are stockpiling the little water chickens.

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The look of shame says it all. She made me bathe her when we got home.

 

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Shoot a coot?  Dad!

So far here our season totals.

Birds to date

Poldeaux: 32

Blue Wing Teal: 22

Ruddy: 12

Gadwall: 5

Spoonies: 4

Green Wing Teal: 3

Wood Duck 3

Redhead: 1

BlackBelly Whistler: 1

Fulvous Whistler: 1

Ringneck: 1

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So now we give the ducks a two week break, during which I’ll chase some geese, pigs, deer, snipe and perhaps a squirrel or two.

 

Do any of you keep a log of the birds you kill?

 

Young Ducks and an Alligator *Experience*

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“Listen Oliver, let’s just wait till duck season is over before we tell Mom about the alligator.  Ok?”

“Sure dad,” he replied.  Yet, somewhere during the 20 minute drive home this hush-hush agreement got lost in his little memory bank because as soon as we opened the kitchen door at home Oliver loudly announced “Dad almost got eaten by an enormous alligator!”

This is what happened:  Oliver and Braden knocked down a couple birds in the rice canal.  I sent Fiona, my lab, to get the birds.  She brought the first one, but dropped it somewhere before getting to me. I sent her back to get the one she dropped, but instead she grabbed dead bird number 2.  I then step down into the canal, thinking she dropped the first in the grass at the edge.  With my back to the canal, and up to my waist in water, my son exclaims “Alligator!”  I startle and scold him as a look over my shoulder “Oliver, don’t joke about….” I then set a personal record for high jumping with waders, and scrambled out of the canal.  I did not see it’s head, only its tail , which looked about 6-8 inches wide.

This is what I think happened:  splashing from half dead birds and the dog brought a large, hungry alligator to chomp down on something juicy.  By the time the beast gets there, I’m in the water.  The monster, (looking back I figure its at least 14-16 feet long, twice as big as the initial estimate by my friend Brent), started to eat me, but realized I wasn’t bird or dog and left without attacking.

Anyways, other than my second near death experience with alligators, we had a great time taking a couple young hunters on their first gun carrying duck hunts. Despite hurricane Patricia bearing down on us, we managed to get the boys their first ducks (bluewing teal) and their first poule d’eau.  As a bonus, while setting out the decoys, I managed to channel my inner Swamp People and grabbed 15 bullfrogs.

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All in all, exciting start to the waterfowl season.


Thundered and rained the whole time, but lightning only in the far distance.
 The teal were super fat, but this was the fattest.

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Nice amount of fat rendered from just three teal.

Looking forward to cold weather and the arrival of the big birds, but this was a great start.  Any of you hunt the youth weekend?

Duck Pond Planting–Timing is Everything

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Just before I closed on The Hermitage™ I managed to get stuck. To the axle, in 6 inches of water and a foot of mud.  I called my friend to come pull me out, but his truck got sunk before he could even get to where I was stranded.  He’s since replaced his Chevy with a Ford.  Just saying. Nonetheless, in our desperation to become “unstuck” we first tried this trick, but alas it doesn’t work if there is moisture at all.  As a last ditch effort, we spread some wild birdseed hoping to make traction, but all we really did was plant a nice little food plot. 001

Luckily, we were rescued by a couple of youngsters from Michael’s church.

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As a pleasant surprise, it seems the often flooded clay I own is fairly fertile.  A month later, and it’s a veritable milo miracle.

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This led me to plow straight into my grand plans to grow Japanese and Brown Top millet in my fast evaporating ponds.  I say plow, but really, all I did was spread the 100 pounds of Japanese and Brown Top millet onto the pond mud.  There really is no “raking” of the millet because of the sticky mud.  Just good seed contact with the mud is all I was looking for.

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I placed a fence post into the pond to mark the approximate water level as of July 20, the day I planted the millet.  As you will see, the water level will keep receding and with each recession I broadcast more seed.

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It grew quickly, and was soon discovered.

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The ducks and dove are eating the unsprouted millet while the pigs and deer are getting some water and munching some sweet millet shoots.  Bodes well for my deer food plots don’t you think?

The millet grew and grew and managed to produce really good heads of grain and well timed rain really had me excited.

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Then, the Monday after Teal season closed, a flock of 20-30 bluewing teal moved onto my pond.

The little fat brown paper bags managed to eat every last stick of millet.  Within about a week and a half, despite my efforts of scaring them off the pond.  Once the millet was gone, haven’t seen them once.  I’d hoped the millet would last until at least the Youth Duck Opener, October 31, but within a week, the teal had eaten every last bit of the millet.  Not a duck was shot.  Next year, I plan on doing two plantings, July 20 or so and again on October 1.  Lesson learned.

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big crow 2big crow 3 Last picture on my game camera, this dude enjoyed my schadenfreude.

Option Period–Using a Game Camera to Determine a Hunting Land Purchase

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I’m currently in the option period of my land purchase–meaning the contract is turned into the title company, but I have a 21 day “option period” to decide not to buy it.  I’m interested in buying land solely for the recreation purposes, mainly somewhere to take my boys hunting, fishing and various sundry outdoor shenanigans.

So to verify if there is going to be critters to shoot, skin and eat I tossed a little corn on a trail on my land and set the camera to see what strolled by.  Here are the results.

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My first capture, we’ve jumped this pair many times as we drive in.

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A second doe

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First Horns!

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It’s a dude party

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Some dudes are genetically challenged…

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Bromance?

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Didn’t think so…

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I believe this is a second bachelor party….

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A little close to the camera…or a elk swung by

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Possibly a third group of bucks? Notice the spike in the lower left corner.

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This one should meet the antler restrictions come season.

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I wonder if this spike’s antlers have been damaged.

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This little eight looks like it has thicker antlers than the others.

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Night time porkers!

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And some early morning pig action as well.

I want to hear from you folks, would you be pleased with the amount of game seen in this three day period on my camera?  Let me know in the comments below.

Javelina Heartbreak

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I second guessed my decision to sleep in my pickup at a truck stop when I cruised past the 12 or so black leather clad fellas sitting on motorcycles.  Decked out in bandannas and gear adorned with demonic looking insignia, they stared at me as they not-so-discreetly passed around a paper bag covered bottle.  I doubt it was kombucha.   So I thought it wise to park and sleep on the other side of the lot, under the lights and video camera.  That is, until the flat bed truck and trailer piled with no less than 50 leaning mattresses pulled in beside me blaring the latest Tejano hit.  After 15 minutes it was clear the music was staying on.

So I eased around to the back of the truck stop where 20 or so big rigs were lined up sleeping for the night.  I parked next to the one on the end.  I was the only pickup parked among them, but I liked my odds better with a mad trucker or two than with a motorcycle gang.  With nothing but a hatchet to defend myself,  I spread my sleeping bag out in the back seat, set my Iphone to “Do not disturb,” and figured if my alarm went off, it meant I’d survived the night. Still, sleep was uneasy–hearing the strange big rig sounds during the night, subconsciously thinking I might have to make like Pee Wee Herman, and about 6 inches short of having enough room.

I was en route to hunt Javelinas with high school friends I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years.  They left Northeast Texas around 11 pm and would meet me just off I35 around 6.  My drive was shorter, right at 4 hours.  Problem was, my friends–both Caseys, one Reynolds the other Wightman– had no idea what I was driving and arrived 2 hours early.  So, walking quietly to each pickup in the parking lot, they shined lights in to see if it was me. Bold moves I must say.

When they shined the light in my cab, I startled, twisting in my bag, and fell to the floorboard.   Reaching for my hatchet– I took the laughter I heard as a good sign, since it didn’t sound like Sociopath Mexican Biker Gang laughing.  Glass wasn’t crashing in on me, another good sign, but when I fumbled for my keys I set my truck alarm off.  I then dropped the keys, making it another 30 seconds of HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK.  Finally I shut it off and climbed out.

“Crap Casey, I thought you were ISIS coming to chop my head off.  Good to see you man.”

“Well, we didn’t know what you were driving. We tried to call you.  Look, we better get out of here before these truckers wake up and kick our ass.”


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And so started my first javelina bow hunt.  We were hunting the South Texas brush country, an area defined by dense thorn covered trees, shrubs and cactus.  By far the most game rich environment I’ve hunted, this desert is full of small and big game alike.  I saw blue quail and bobwhite. Turkeys gobbled along the oak lined creeks in the morning and whitetail deer crept out of the mesquite choked brush in the evening.  Tracks of javelina and feral pig  criss-crossed the senderos (Spanish for paths).  I saw a bobcat, the largest armadillo I’d ever encountered, and several coyotes.  Tons of rabbits, even sand hill cranes and snow geese could be heard overhead. Unlike many hunting ranches this part of the Texas, it was low fence.

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Wednesday we scouted a sendero where Wighty killed two javelina last year, and others in his group had shot opportunities.  Most of my research  had been for hunting them in the Big Bend, New Mexico and Arizona region.  Mountainous areas.  This was not a mountainous region, nor was it like the Hill Country.  It did have some long sloping hills, but nothing like canyon land.

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Like any animal I hunt, I focused on food, water and cover.  Yet, unlike other animals, water is not an issue as Javelinas can go ten days without water.  Moreover, they get a lot of water from the cactus they eat, mostly prickly pear.  So in short: food is everywhere, dense cover everywhere, and water though in short supply, isn’t too important. Rut is long past done.

Thursday morning found us hunting the productive area last year, but I didn’t feel good about it for some reason.  I found tracks, but the desert can hold onto a track a long time when they are made in mud.  I didn’t find any freshly eaten cactus and found no poop when I walked about a half mile through the brush.   I did nail a cottontail. IMG_3411

Doug, another friend of the Caseys, needed something back at camp and  managed to drive past a herd not 200 yards from our tents. They quickly piled out of the Rhino, but the javelina ran back into the brush.  They stalked a little ways, but never managed to come upon them.

When we met for lunch, they mentioned seeing the javelina and I said I wanted to check it out.  Doug opted to stay and hunt the prior year’s spot, but me and Reynolds went back to the spot near camp.  While easing through the brush, we both found areas we liked–about 300 yards apart.  While scouting, I ran across several impressive sheds, and a monster skull.

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The above picture is a rather open area for the Brush Country.  In a thicker spot, a cottontail tried to slip past Casey and while he was stalking it, he nearly tripped over this impressive skull.

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We heard something escape through the thick brush, and we were seeing tons of javelina sign.

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So by now it was near 2 y and Reynolds and I made our stand in the thick brush.  He hunted deeper into the brush in a dry creek, and I hunted a slight draw where he and Doug had seen the javelinas run.

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I caught all kinds of hell for wearing my sniper ghilley suit.  But I was looking at an area about 15 yards wide and figured I needed all the help I could get since I was new to bow hunting.

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Night fall came and I saw jack squat.  Wighty, Walter, Doug and David saw nothing at the hotspot from the previous year. Reynolds on the other hand, forgot his range finder, but had a shot at 30 yards.  He didn’t want to risk over/under shooting it, so he passed.  I respect his decision.

Doug did manage a trophy jack rabbit.  This might make the book for low fence rodent.

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Though we were all disappointed in the lack of stink pig action, Reynolds excluded, we were upbeat that night in camp.camp

Casey and I decided we liked the sign we’d seen in our area and elected to return the next morning.  Wighty and the rest wanted to give the old spot one more morning, and then scout a new area.  After a huge dinner of venison fajitas, we turned in.

Daylight came and found me staring at the same 15 yards or so I had the night before.  I didn’t like it.  Fifty thousand acres to hunt, and I was looking at this well traveled but small area.  Still I hung out till 10, then texted Casey who wasn’t happy about his spot either, despite the last night’s action.  We decided to go scout as well.

Wighty and Doug left one way, we went the other.  I didn’t know if we were making the right choice, leaving an area with so much sign, but it was really close to camp and we were not a quiet camp.

We covered lots of ground in the ATV’s and the dust was incredible.   Hunting from ATV’s in the brush country, goggles and a face mask are mandatory.

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We found some likely areas, but never felt like we found anything better than where we’d been hunting.  We decided to return to the same place for the evening hunt.

At about 1:30, Reynolds and I head to the brush. Though I thought I knew where Casey was hunting, I didn’t.  So when I moved deeper into the brush, I actually moved within 60 yards of his area.  I knew the cross wind would be tricky, but I thought he was further in and the cross wind wouldn’t affect his area. Nope, blew right at him.

During hunt research, I read calling can be effective.  I practiced a few times and thought I had it down pretty well, so with 5 minutes of light left, I let’er rip.  I thought it sounded decent, something like this, but in reality Casey likened it to a pig with a smokers cough, or someone choking on a cotton ball. Only 3 doe responded.

We returned to camp, to find Wighty successful.  I asked if they got any and he told me to go look at the back of their Rhino.  This is what I saw:

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Not one, but three.  Closer inspection showed one full javelina and two extra heads.  Turns out, some dudes killed a couple but didn’t want the heads. Strange.  Nonetheless,  Wighty has a tannery and does skull mounts so he took them for display purposes.

While scouting they rode up on an empty ground blind with javelinas all around it.  After glassing for a hidden hunter, they verified it was empty.  Bows in hand they stalked within 40 yards and shot a peccary. It ran a short ways, turned and snapped its teeth repeatedly.  Not exactly a friendly sound, Wighty opted to shoot it a couple more times.

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Everyone was really fired up as we turned into bed.  Me and Reynolds decided to to hunt an area near Doug and Wighty where they felt the herd they saw were bedding.  I really wanted to hunt an area where I could see a long distance, and this sendero went for miles.

Saturday morning I awoke before my alarm.  The weather up until then, had been cool to pleasantly warm.  We set up on the long sendero with the ability to glass about a half mile in one direction until the road formed a Y,  and 2 miles the other.  We could see a lot of fresh sign, like this recently nibbled prickly pear.

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I felt bad about scaring Casey with my call….I mean scaring his javelinas away the night before, so I told him to take the first shot opportunity of the day.   At 7:50 I spotted a two about 250 yards away and we began our straight line stalk.  By straight line I mean, walking up the road to them.  I thought we’d be able to weave in and out of the brush as we approached but its so thick you can’t.

Covering the first 150 yards, we slowed our pace significantly once within 100.  I whispered the distances to Casey as we crept,

“100 yards”

“85”

As we got within 80 yards, we only moved only when their heads were down feeding.  I edged along side Casey, thinking since there were two we would time our shots.

“62”

By now, we were moving really slow.  I felt good out to 35 yards, I knew Casey was good to 40 at least.  He’s been bow hunting for years.

“38”

To my surprise, Casey draws and lets his arrow fly.  Too high.  The skunk pigs, take off.  Casey sighs, pauses and then questions me,

“You sure that was 38 yards?  I don’t think it was.”

“Nope, it was.  I mean, I suppose my range finder could be broken.”

Grinning, but frustrated he says, “No way that was 38 yards.”

Never to miss an opportunity, I respond, “38?  I didn’t say 38.  I said 18.” Knowing full well it was 38.

Nonetheless, we both stuck to our stories. Later, I did apologize in front of everyone that I couldn’t get him closer than 18 yards.

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Scene of the 18 yard miss.

We resumed our positions: Casey at the top of the hill, me at the bottom, and our ATV between us. 45 minutes later a group of javelina, about 9-10, entered the road beside the ATV.  Casey was much closer, and by the time I fished the phone from my pocket, most of the group had slipped into the brush.  I recorded the stalk as best I could.

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The travelling javelina left little time for a stalk, so we saturated the sendero with corn.  The temperature rose as we watched for the next herd to come through.  The sun proved relentless.   By noon desperation crept in.   Our best efforts at shade were weak, and we needed to do something different.  Casey said,

“Lets jump into the stock tank.”

Best. Idea. Ever.  In the tank we went.

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While the rest of the country is in the grips of winter storms, I put on some SPF 50.  The water,about 70 degrees, ended any threat of heat stroke in the 94 degree weather.    Refreshed, we returned to the hunt, this time pulling out a tarp to create shade. IMG_3525

We waited.

Around 2, Casey moved to the top of the small hill, leaving me watching the Y.  Shortly, I see more javelina have appeared because Reynolds goes into full grrrrr mode.  He’s up and stalking.  He let an arrow fly, but an unseen limb sent his arrow wayward.

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I walked up to get the report.  While recounting his tale, we glassed about a mile away and there a dozen or so javelinas come tumbling out of the brush surrounding a brush blind.  Looking closer, we see a woman sound asleep.  We watched as they fed for a good five minutes until she stirred and sent them running. She awoke startled and we laughed.

I moved back down hill, and resumed my position watching the Y.

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Not the Y I hunted, but similar.

 

Another hour passed and out walks a loan boar at the end of the Y opposite Casey.  There’s about 45 minutes of daylight left.  The pig fed my direction, and my range finder said 350  yards.  I shoot pigs often, so I decided to hold out  for some javelina action.

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Another 15 minutes passes, and I decide I might as well move into position at the fork of the Y, so I can still see up the hill while I wait for the hog to feed his way to me.  The sun is at my back and the wind is blowing cross-ways, north to south.  Not the best wind, but doable.  I figured I could shoot the hog before he came through my crosswind.  He’s now only 150 yards away and will probably cross just before dark.

Suddenly, I hear lots of grunts, squeals and I look directly across from me and see about 15 yards into the brush a herd of pigs making their way toward the Rhino and corn laden sendero.  As they approach the sendero, see the Rhino, and abruptly stop.  Unlike the javelina, these pigs are not comfortable coming out right beside the vehicle.  They scrambled back into the brush.

I hustled back to the ATV, knowing full well those porkers can’t resist corn.  Just as I arrived, they burst from the mesquite and began to feed 58 yards away.  Now Casey watched my stalk from his hilltop perch.

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The closest pile of corn is 32 yards.  The pigs fed a little toward me, then a little away.  Time running out preferred a shot at javelina anyways..  So I decide on an end run through the brush at the the back of the ATV.  I eased though cactus and mesquite, closing the distance to 40 yards.  I edge around a small mesquite when the snap of a branch beneath my foot sends the pigs bolting off the sendero.  I return to the base of the sendero fork bitter.

But, I look and this fat pig continues to feed.

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Maybe 100 yards closer, but not running towards me as I had hoped.

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5 minutes later and he’s now about 200 yards away–I go for it.  Sun’s at my back and the wind, while crossing, is not blowing to him.  His head’s down feeding.  I get to 100 yards away and go into full predator mode.

I get to 75, his butt is facing me.

I get to 60….and out runs the previous herd of pigs on the other side of him.

The sow promptly looks directly at me, and they haul hams back into the thicket.

Back at the Rhino, I look up to see Casey perfectly silhouetted at full draw against the skyline, a scattering of javelina in his midst.  Perhaps the most picturesque scene in my hunting lifetime.   Alas, no camera.

Meanwhile, Doug and I have an ongoing rabbit killing contest and are tied.  Despite the focus on rabbits, he nonchalantly kills a collared peccary at less than 30 yards, claiming it as the tie breaker.  I ceded victory, returning to camp without any pork and a rabbit short.

Doug's kill

With my best friend pregnant at home, I packed up camp and called it a hunt.  Said my goodbyes to the boys and camp and drove to the skinning pole to tell Doug and Wighty adios.  They had a surprise for me.  While skinning the javy, one of natures sweet denizens crawled into the light while they processed Doug’s kill.  Of course, they killed it and gave it to me with the condition I cook it and report back.  I agreed.

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This was a fun hunt, unlike any I’ve been on.  A unique country, unique quarry and definitely some unique dudes made this a trip I plan on making every chance I get.

Dallas Safari Club 2015 Convention

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As luck would have it, my sons’s  were swimming in the Winter State Games of Texas, which coincided with the Dallas Safari Club’s annual convention. They didn’t swim until Sunday, which left us with a Saturday to play in DFW.   During my stent in law school, I joined the Dallas Safari Club in the hopes of making contacts with attorneys in the Dallas area.  Of course, I came from a more modest background than many of the members, but this didn’t keep them from being a friendly bunch.

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Lots of fun for boys, but my toddlers legs gave out.

 

Where my friends might show each other polaroids (pre smart phone days) of the big buck or limit of dove they shot, the people sharing tables with me in the DSC monthly dinners would pass around shots of elephant, leopards and Cape Buffalo.  Immensely cool.

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But, I decided I didn’t want to be an attorney and started college over to become a CRNA.  I moved back to Austin. My membership remained in good standing and I would often get calls from professional hunters going something like this:

“Mr. Spencer, what are your safari plans for the upcoming year?”

To which I would respond:”Well, so far I’ve got a 2 day woodlands hunt planned in Camp County for fox squirrels, other than that, I’m wide open!”

Then of course they would let me know they had a late cancellation for a Marco Polo hunt in Kyrgyzstan, a bongo hunt in Cameroon, etc.  At the time I was living on student loans–a safari was out of the question.  But a man can dream can’t he?

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So when I saw the DSC convention was going on this weekend, I was stoked.  Though my wife doesn’t hunt, she likes the idea of going to Africa and many safaris cost about the same or less than hunts in Canada and Alaska.  It’s a plan in the works.

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Turning the corner, my dear wife is trampled by an escaped buffalo

 

 

This convention is perfect if you need information for planning a destination hunt, want to see some incredible taxidermy and gun collections, or just need inspiration for a dream.  Along with Africa’s professional hunters, outfitters from Alaska to South America are ready to regale you with stories from the bush. And really, who doesn’t need more bush stories?

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Well known clothing, boot, and optics dealers as well.    There was also some cool jewelry and lots of other conservation groups like Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance ready to share their causes.  Simultaneously, seminars are going on with guest authors and speakers lined up covering an array of topics ranging from planting a food plot to planning a safari.

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I think anybody who likes  to hunt, regardless of safari aspirations, would enjoy the convention.  So if in the Dallas area in January, make plans to attend.

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Notice the lions eyes are open.  2015/01/img_3053.jpg

Now blinking.  Freaky. 2015/01/img_3054.jpg

 

I’d like to return, with a specific trip in mind, about 5 years from now when the boys are older–spend about three days, learn all I can and visit the different hunting outfitters offering my hunt.  Most outfitters were offering nice discounts for signing up at the convention.  Until then, I’ll just dream.

 

 

A Covey of Quail

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I studied the scaled feathers of the quail, remembering my grandfather. He was good a quail hunter, and I loved hearing him tell hunting stories. Spending nearly thirty years in Abilene, he killed many quail in West Texas places like Coleman, Throckmorten and the Matador Ranch.    These were the first quail I’ve killed in 23 years.

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Keegan and I were just getting our stuff unloaded in preparation for an evening dove hunt.  Guns still in the truck, a large covey of quail erupted from beneath my son eliciting a humorous squeal and jump from the five year old.

“What were those daddy?” he asked.

“I think those were quail!”

My last quail hunt was with my grandfather in Olney, Texas when I was 13.  We had an amazing hunt, killing limits three days in a row.  If quail populations ever rebounded to those levels, I might not chase any other game.

I watched this covey glide and land fifty yards away next to a wild rose bush. I quickly retreated to my buddy whose land we were hunting, and made sure it was ok to shoot these quail.  Keegan and I ambled our way to the rose bush.  Word quickly spread of the quail and Michael’s son joined us.

We neared the rose bush, and I slowed our pace.  I was bookended by a five and 6 year old each about 5 yards from me.  I did not want an accident to happen.  Within a few feet of the rose bush, my heart was racing.  I knew that with each step I took, an explosion of feathers could take place.  Nervous anticipation, not unlike opening a can of biscuits, resulted in me holding my breath.  Sweat trickled down my face.

My boot crunched a live oak limb, and up flew four or five quail.  Emptying my gun, I missed completely because I aimed at the center of the flock rather than a single bird.  I laughed in relief,  thinking my grandfather would have slammed them. When two more got up, I calmly nailed the first, but missed the second.  Then, as we looked for the first one, I jumped another and killed it as well.

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Since he died two years ago, I’ve found myself thinking about my grandfather each time I dove hunt. My grandmother gave me some of his hunting gear when he died–a field jacket, hunting bucket, and an old camo cap bearing the name of some Dallas law firm’s First Annual Dove Hunt. As luck would have it, I was wearing his cap and jacket.  I like to think he was with me and perhaps had a hand in the covey of quail showing up at my buddies place for the first time.

 

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After showing my buddies, we resumed dove hunting.  The dove were pouring into the live oaks from all directions. I was shooting well and soon my barrel was hot.    Meanwhile, my little boys/bird dogs wore themselves out chasing down the falling birds, while I loaded shell after shell.  Though,  I could have killed 50,  I was more than happy with my limit of 15.

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Limit of mourning dove and two bobwhite quail.

Unlucky for me, Papa Dave didn’t live in the era of selfies and hero shots after every hunt.  But they did take some pictures.  I love old hunting photos and thought you might enjoy some of these from the 1970s.

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One of the few quail hunting pictures I’ve found of him, but typical. Hunting with his two sons, and a host of friends.

 

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You did not want to be a thirsty dove if Dave Spencer was sitting by your pond.

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Pheasants weren’t safe in Kansas either.

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I’m not totally sure what they were hunting, but I bet it was a good time.

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I want this station wagon.

 

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Pretty cool bowl of birds to clean.

 

 

 

 

 

Recipe: Venison Scrapple

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Today, if you offer someone a little hunk of meat pudding you are more likely to be given a restraining order than a “thank you.”   However, this meat pudding from Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic states should be made by hunters at least once in their lives.  It’s mostly a breakfast dish–think maltomeal pancake with a crispy outside and creamy inside with bits of meat–and makes an excellent vessel for your favorite jam, preserves, or syrup.

I’m fond of old recipes and this meat pudding is a close relative to the Irish white and black puddings, the Scottish Haggis, and German panhas.  It is definitely a working man’s recipe intended to make the best use of the entire animal and packing a days worth of calories into a meal. I eat it like I would French toast or pancakes.

Traditionally it’s made with pig, but I decided to take the trimmings from the doe I killed with Clayton and give scrapple a go. Don’t hold yourself to the exact amounts of cornmeal and flour I listed, because you are cooking it to texture.  I ended up using all of what I listed, but the amount of stock you finish with will vary from mine thus making the dry ingredients differ as well.

Ingredients

  • 10 pounds of deer trimmings and bones
  • 1 deer heart
  • 1 deer liver
  • 1 deer head
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 cups chopped carrot
  • 6 bay leaves
  • I cup of fresh rosemary
  • 10 pounds of cornmeal
  • 2 pounds of Buckwheat Flour (Can substitute Oat Flour or Quinoa Flour)
  • 1/2 cup of grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup of ground allspice
  • 1/4 cup of coarse black pepper
  • 2 TBS ground cardamom
  • Salt

Method

  • Save the trimmings, offal bones and head from your deer.  Sadly, my heart shot placement left me with only the liver to use.  092
  • Combine the well salted meat, bones, and offal with the vegetables, rosemary, and bay leaves.  Cover with water and bring to a simmer for at least 4 hours.
  • With a slotted spoon and tongs, remove the bones, meat, and veggies and allow to cool.  Discard the bones and veggies. Strain and save the stock.   DSC_0984_zpsee3c0270
  • Chop your meat to no larger than a quarter.  Skin the tongue, remove any gristle.  Mix the rest of the spices with the chopped meat and return to the stock.  Bring to a gentle boil.
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  • Slowly mix in corn meal, stirring constantly.  Stop adding cornmeal when consistency approaches “soupy maltomeal.”  Now begin to add buckwheat flour, careful not to allow clumps to form.  Your arm should now begin to hurt from stirring so much and for so long.  Do your best not to allow the scrapple to stick to the bottom of the pot.
  • When your stirring instrument, I used an over sized BBQ spatula, can stand up on its own, it is ready to be poured into a wax paper lined square loaf container.  I ended up using every single container I owned, regardless of shape.  Next time, I’ll buy some of those cheap aluminum rectangle containers from the store.  004
  • When ready to serve, slice off a piece, dust in flour and fry till crisp in some bacon fat.  Drizzle some maple syrup,  add a piece of ham , fry an egg and then dig in!

Have you eaten or made scrapple?  What do you think?

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A Fat Doe

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“So what do you want me to Shoot C-note? One doe? Three? A spike?” I asked Clayton.

He and his wife just welcomed a new baby last week, and I waited all the way until the umbilical cord was cut before hitting him up about a deer hunt at his family’s awesome ranch.  Cause you know, right after your baby is born you’ve got just tons of free time.

“Shoot a cull buck or a doe.”

And with that, he left me overlooking a green rye field at 3:00.  At 3:10 a giant (by Andy Standards™) 10 or 12 point came galloping from behind me.  I sent Clayton a text telling him about it and he said to take a picture through my scope. But it was moving so fast, I couldn’t get it lined up.  Soon it was gone.  I probably should have shot it, because if you are going by the King Ranch Cull Buck Definition, and not the Andy Standards™,  it just might have been a cull.  Maybe.  Actually, I doubt it.

Nonetheless, to my right appeared just what I was looking for: four fat doe.

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And on my left, about 250 yards away a few more appeared.

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I decided to go ahead and shoot one of the mature does.  She stumbled forward and died quickly.  Meanwhile, a nice young 8 point came out of the woods to inspect the strange noise.  I took this opportunity to mess with my friend. He’d just texted me to pass on the spikes, when I shot.

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Of course I didn’t shoot the young buck, who inexplicably stayed down wind of me playing around just for the fun of it.051057

 

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So then I guess he finally winded me and decided to leave.

 

 

 

 

 

But not before I took some more scope pictures.

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It was now 3:30 and we decided to we decided to get an early start on the skinning.   The doe was conveniently located next to the road.  We took the hero picture, loaded it, skinned it and were on our way home in no time.  The next day she was freezer ready

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My first go at fancy butchering.

Clayton and I have growing families and our free time is limited.  Still, it’s important to sneak away and have a good time.  This Christmas, I’m thankful for my pals who have time to slip away and do manly things with me.

 

 

Recipe: American Wild Boar Christmas Ham

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first

Some things are just simple.  I’d like to tell you this is a complicated recipe and only really accomplished cooks should attempt–but the truth is making the classic holiday ham is ridiculously easy. The most complicated part of this is acquiring the equipment you need–a giant bowl, smoker, kitchen scale, and refrigerator space.  Still, not that difficult.

I prefer the leanness of feral hogs to commercial pork.  It’s less greasy and the muscle fibers are more dense, so if you’ve got access kill a few.  When butchering, I leave the bone in because I don’t want to tie anything. Plus, hambones.  This is from the big boy my son and I shot in August.

This recipe is for a 10 pound ham, so use your math skills to match the ratio for salt, sugar and water in the brine; and for how long to brine if yours isn’t ten pounds. Everything else can be adjusted to taste.

Equipment

  • Big bowl
  • Refrigerator space
  • Smoker

Ingredients 

  • The back leg of a wild boar, with shank removed.

Brine

  • 1 gallon of water
  • 235 grams of kosher salt
  • 250 grams of brown sugar
  • 28 grams of pink salt

Glaze

  • 1/2 cup of dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup of Whataburger Mustard
  • 2 cups of brown sugar
  • 3 minced garlic cloves

Method

  • Dissolve the brine ingredients in the water and add to the bowl with the ham.  Make sure it’s fully submerged.   by putting a couple heavy plates on the meat.  Let it soak for 7 days in the fridge.
  • After a week, remove from the brine and rinse with cool water.
  •  Dry off the ham with a towel. Place on a cookie rack and let dry for 24 hours in the fridge.
  • Smoke the ham at 200 degrees for about 2 hours.  I like orange wood’s flavor and highly recommend it.  Hickory, pecan, mesquite are all bueno as well.
  • During the initial smoke, mix up the glaze ingredients until smooth.
  • Remove the ham, slap on the glaze and continue to smoke it until the internal temperature reaches 157. Add more glaze about every hour.
  • When done, add the remaining glaze.  Serve immediately, or allow to cool and refrigerate.  Rewarm it in the oven if you want.

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Recipe: Bohemian Lavender Sulc (Czech Head Cheese)

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Before I moved to Matagorda County, I was not aware of the local Czech population.  Now, many of my friends have a D, J, K, and Z in their name somewhere.  You better not call a pig-in-a-blanket a kolache, and their sausage rocks.  The Czech Mafia, as I call the locals, do not give away their recipes.  After a little investigation, I got a few key ingredients and fused it with Hank Shaw’s French version of head cheese.

You might remember my son and I tag teaming a big old boar, but it was August in Texas.  Hot.  We skinned him and got him on ice as fast as we could.  I didn’t save the cabeza, which I now regret.   But in October, I shot a pig right before church and I did save the head.  Only problem was he was a bit of a noggin shot.

So last Saturday I dug the skinned head from the freezer and made this Czech head cheese.  This is different than the bland stuff you sometimes see at the grocery store.  Sweet spices and hints of bread are offset by the fresh onion.   The result is a meat jelly miracle.  Dude if you are into making Alpha Male Food™ — this is it from start to finish.  Regardless of meat source, the first step is always, “Cut the head off of your pig/stag/bull/enemy/bear/goat.”   Lastly, wash it down with Ale.

Here’s what to do between the decapitation and downing it with beer:

Ingredients

  • The head of a wild boar
  • A handful of fresh lavender
  • A handful of rosemary
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 2 white onions rough chopped
  • 1 white onion finely chopped
  • 2 cups chopped parsley
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 8 whole allspice
  • 6 tsp of grated nutmeg
  • 1 TBS white pepper
  • 1 TBS black pepper
  • 3 cups of chopped celery
  • 2 cups of chopped carrot
  • 32 ounces of Shiner Bock or other equally fine Czech beer
  • 1 cup of red wine vinegar
  • 2 gelatin packets
  • Water
  • Salt

Method

  • Place the head in your biggest pot, and cover with water.  Add lavender, bay leaves, rosemary, black pepper, rough chopped onions, carrots and celery.  Keep at a simmer and scoop off the dark brown scum that forms at the top. This is also a good way to clean your skulls for a European mount.  Be sure to never let it boil, because you will cook the fat into the bone leaving it stained.
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  • After 4 hours, add half the red wine vinegar.
  • At 6 hours, check to see if the meat is separating from the bone.  If so, set out to cool and begin to pull the meat off the bone.  This is where I realized a shot to the dome makes head cheese a bit more complicated.  I had to pick out some small bone fragments and the skull lost its structure.  I couldn’t quite tell brain from meat.   Didn’t matter.   I just cut up everything soft into tiny bits.  You have to skin the tongue, before cutting it up.  Dice the ligaments, cartilage and other little bits leaving nothing larger than a quarter.  I voted to not include the eyes.
  • Put all the chopped meat into a bowl and toss with the rest of the spices.
  • Strain a quart of the stock, combine it with the beer and boil it down to half the original amount.  I add just a few drops of olive oil to keep the beer from foaming over.
  • Then add the meat to this liquid.  Salt to taste, making it a little saltier than you prefer.  This way, when it’s cold this will make it just right.
  • Simmer for another 15 minutes to half an hour.  Mix in gelatin packets.
  • In a saran wrap lined mold, layer meat, parsley and onion.  Don’t pack it down, you want a little space for the gelatin to do its magic.
  • Pour in liquid mixture just covering the surface of the meat.
  • Refrigerate.  After it sets up, enjoy with crackers, beer and mustard.  This makes an awesome sandwich and goes great with pickled onions, peppers and okra.

 

Do you get rid of the heads on your pigs and deer?   After making this, I totally encourage you to keep your head at all times…

Hanging Out with Hank

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“Why are y’all shooting at a dead goose?” I asked my four companions in the blind. We’d all just emptied our shotguns at the lone speckle belly goose who’d made the poor decision to fly low over our heads.

“Nice shot Andy,” they all chuckled in one version or another.

I’d already explained my questionable belief that I kill every duck when hunting in a group.  Now when I’m alone, I miss some ducks. But this honker is a prime example. It came in on my side of the blind, I took aim, emptied my gun, it fell dead. The others guys shot too, but clearly my pellets dropped the unlucky goose and every other bird killed that day.

This was the first of three days I got to hunt, cook, and discuss assorted manly things with Hank Shaw. Dude runs an awesome blog, Hunter Angler Gardner Cook, and chances are you’ve seen him on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods or Steven Rinella’s MeatEater. I honestly can’t remember when  I discovered him–but I can tell you why: I’m sick of eating game chicken fried, in Campbell’s mushroom soup, or wrapped with bacon and a slice of jalapeno.   Some form of these constitute the cooking arsenal in most hunters kitchen, like it had mine.

So when he announced he was coming to my tiny gulf coast town to host a hunt and cooking school, I was in like a fat girl at the buffet line. As luck would have it, a couple of my friends signed up independently making my anticipation for the three day event sky rocket.

The Hunt

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No kidding, just as I found it.

There is a certain pride I think we all develop for our local hunting area. Where I live, hunting and fishing can be epic.  I’ve had killer hunts here for ducks, dove, pigs, deer, etc. So I felt an awkward responsibility for the slow hunting and bad luck we experienced.

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The first day found us hunting a Ducks Unlimited project pond.  We saw a few flocks before sunrise, but they were travelling high and fast and didn’t want to land in front of us. I did manage to kill my first Speckle-belly goose and I shot a coot which fell into tree like a tacky Cajun Christmas tree ornament.  The second day, we made our way to the bay for some diver shooting.  Despite the unseasonably early cold weather, the redheads simply hadn’t made it South.  It was a bust.  Hank did show me the edible plants I’ve so often trudged through while fishing and hunting. I now know I can survive at the beach, and my sons are pumped about going back and grabbing some greens.

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Our only take on day two…but pretty cool nonetheless

The final day, we’d planned on goose hunting, but the ATV broke down and sunk in the mud—right in the middle of 1500 snow goose decoys at 4:30 am. We switched spots and managed to scratch out a few more ducks and had a fun time jump shooting coots.  I also finally nabbed a wigeon which had eluded me through the years.

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I’m not above shooting coots…

 

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The divers only wanted to land on the color change you see, about 100 yards past our dekes.

 

 

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Rob was ready.

 

The Cooking School

But really, I was there for the cooking school which was THE BOMB!  If like me, you want to elevate your kitchen skills, you owe it to yourself to sign up for one of Hank’s cooking schools.  The lessons were clearly planned yet still kept an informal and extemporaneous feel.  He encouraged us to interrupt him with questions and we went off on many tangents.  It was a convivial atmosphere, more like hunting with a new friend who happened to be a talented chef than a dry lecture series.

We started with breaking down the birds.  He explained which birds to pluck, and which to skin.

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We all took a bird, rough plucked it (basically plucked about 50-80% of all big feathers) and left the down. We dipped the birds in wax and finished plucking them.

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These were from the week after the Hank Hunt. Dipped and ready to pluck.

He then had us cut up the birds, all the while discussing things like making stock and broth, rendering fat, sausage, etc.  I’ve read quite a bit of his work, so it had a deja vu quality hearing him describe what I’ve seen in print.

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Robert breaking down a bird.

 

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Fatty Duck Butt

 

I do love reading, but this cooking school proved hands on training is where it’s at.  Even if you’ve read most of his work, there is still lots he didn’t cover in his books.  Take a look at this short clip where he was going over the fine points of cooking duck breast:

And it wasn’t just show and tell.  In this video, he’s showing a chubby dude how to cut up a duck.  Let it be known, chubby dude had enjoyed a couple Southern Comfort and Diet Cokes, and caught some flak for his drink choice by both Hank and fellas that were supposed to be friends.   Apparently it’s not a “manly” drink unless coeds are involved.  Nonetheless, his duck cutting skills greatly improved after this session, despite his unwieldy use of the knife.  Oddly enough, they didn’t find his sweet Filson hat all that studly either. 

The Food

Straight up, I gained 12 pounds in 3 days.  I’ve never eaten so much good food in such a short span of time.   At first, I was bashful.  Slow to get seconds, thirds and fourths.  After the first dinner, it was on.  My buddy Rob described it as a “food blur” because we had so many great dishes it was hard to keep track.

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This piece did not last long.

 

Each of us have been attempting to recreate the dishes back in real life, and while only at about 80% the awesomeness, still damn fine fair.

Many of the guides missed dinner while out scouting and we made sure to eat their portions.  Now, I’m no Holly Heyser, but this was our first dinner: 033

Grilled quail with semolina gnocci, wildboar sausage and collards.  Many of the dishes were new to me, or they were just so much awesome they might as well have been new.  Appetizers like gulf shrimp tossed in olive oil, habanero, and cilantro. Wild boar this and that, venison smash burgers, Hungarian goulash, and some of the best cookies ever put in this mouth. Oh, and we of course snacked on wonderfully seared duck breast each evening.

Hank’s Texas Duck Hunt Event combined the primal satisfaction of finding and killing your own food, the artistic pleasure of cooking well, and the camaraderie of friends in the field. Fun times.  So if pursuing and acquiring wild food is your thing, go out and purchase Hunt Gather Cook:  Finding the Forgotten Feast.  Also, check out his latest book Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese, Both Wild and Domestic which is fantastic.  Then sign up for one of his cooking school and hunts.  Plus autographs!

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The Most Expensive Deer

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IMG_2272After hunting all day Saturday and until 4 on Sunday, I load the family up and drive the 6 hours home.  At the 5 hour 50 minute mark, about 11:30 at night, out jumps a buck from the oncoming traffic lane and waylays my SUV.  Susan and the boys transition from deep REM sleep to ear piercing screams.  I brace for a shower of  glass that never comes. Side airbags deploy.

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I neither tap the breaks nor swerve.  Cruise control maintains my speed and I slowly gather my wits.  Thankfully, no one was hurt.  We are less than 10 minutes from home, on a highway that dissects a couple thousand yards of San Augustine grass, which isn’t exactly prime deer habitat.

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The Expedition is running fine, but my driver side light doesn’t work.  With 140,000 miles and airbags deployed, I figure it’s totaled.

The irony is not lost on me.  Turnabout is fairplay.  I get it. Officially, the buck caused $12,700 worth of damage–or roughly a guided Dahl Sheep Hunt.  I now have another reason to fill my freezer this fall.

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The inside smells like poorly butchered deer.

 

On a happier note, the next night my dad proves half camo and a Ricola hat is all that is needed to exact a certain measure of revenge on Bambi’s dad.  IMG_2281.JPG

Anybody else hit a deer before?  What’s your most expensive roadkill?

Texas

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Of course, I’ve killed squirrels in Texas already, but you know, pics or it didn’t happen.  Last week I had a fun evening hunt on the San Gabriel River.  The Balcones Fault Line separates the river into a limestone bottomed river on the west, and a muddy bottomed river to the east.  I hunted the eastern portion in the Blackland Prairie.  The sticky black soil allows ancient oaks, native pecans, and fat fox squirrels to thrive.

 

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Let more than one come out, and then drop the hammer.

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They were, uhh, mostly males…

 

 

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Tremendous Top Ten: 10 Tools for Better Dove Hunting

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Dove season is one of my favorite social events.  Laughing, shooting and good times had by all.  I also love the way dove taste. Here are some tips to make your next hunt tremendous:

1.  Bring a stool or bucket.  Unless the action is super hot, you’ll want to sit.  A bucket with a spinning top gives the added advantage of allowing you some storage, but I prefer a folding stool since I use a backpack for storage.  This lets me shoot any dove I see on the way to my spot.

2.  Wear a bird hunting vest.  When I’m walking to retrieve my downed dove, I often have other dove fly over head.  With a vest, I have a place for extra shells and somewhere to put the birds once I’ve picked them up.

3.  Don’t forget your retrievers.  My favorite are little kids under 10.  They love chasing down your birds, and it’s an easy way to introduce them to hunting.  They don’t have to be still or quiet, and its action packed.  Do bring a BB gun for them to play with in case the birds aren’t flying.  Or bring your dog.

4.  Mojo Dove.  This and other decoys aren’t necessary, but are fun when they work.  I’m not sure how much longer they will, because ducks wised up pretty fast.  But for now Mojo’s are still pretty effective.

5.  Off/Thermacell. Forgetting this can ruin your hunt.  The sun, poison ivy, cactus and snakes will usually be present yet avoidable.  But if the skeeters are active, you have little hope.

6.  Drinks.  I don’t know how many times I’ve had to walk back to the truck for a drink and watched as dove flew right over where I was sitting.  Bring something cool to drink.  

7.  Neutral colored, light weight clothing.   I’ve killed limits in blue hospital scrubs, blue jeans, and even a floral Hawaiian shirt,  but I think the birds flare more if you wear bright clothing.  You can do it in shorts, but long pants help when the birds go down in high grass or thorns.

8.  12 or 20 gauge shotgun and  7.5 or 8 shells.    I’ve killed hundreds with an improved cylinder and modified choke.  However, with an increase in the number of Eurasian Collared Dove, or if there are pigeons where you hunt, 6 and 7s kill a little better.

9.  Game Shears.  I pluck the vast majority of dove, but not their wing tips.  These get snipped in the field along with their feet.

10.  Friends.  Dove hunting is a social event and should be treated as such.   Multiple hunters improve hunting by keeping the birds on the move.   Share the fun.

Pretty simple list, but if you forget any of these it can negatively influence your hunt.  If you dove hunt regularly, what do you consider a must have when you go out?

Illinois

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There’s something ominous about river bottoms. Flood washed forest floors and treetop flotsam testify to violent river tendencies.  Today there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and after a healthy dose of OFF I sit in comfort, the mosquitoes just kind of hovering nearby. The Kaskaskia Wildlife Management Area is one of the largest state controlled public hunting opportunities in Illinois. A tributary of the Mississippi, the Kaskaskia river runs roughly 300 miles before entering the Mississippi 10 miles north of Popey’s hometown of Chester, Illinois.

I started hunting at about 3 o’clock.   I think in the early fall with leaves on the trees, the canopy is good for hunting.   Tree tops aren’t completely visible, but you quickly learn the difference between how a bird and a squirrel shake leaves.  The added cover gives them a false sense of security and keeps you out of vision.

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I hadn’t been sitting long, when from the tree I’m sitting against, comes a fat fox squirrel running down the limb directly above. He totally owned me.  I jump up trying to circle the tree to get a shot while its timbering. No chance, the leaves quit shaking so he must have gone in a hollow.

I move across a small field and make another stand.  Four minutes later, a grey squirrel comes bounding across my line of site about 30 yards away.  He hops behind a bush, reappears and I take my shot.  The squirrel is nowhere to be seen.

I hustle up to where I lost him, and see the bushytail scurry out from under a giant log and to the other side.

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You can finish a squirrel at short distance with a shotgun if you take careful aim at their head, and so I do.  These tend to be bloody messes even though the meat is spared.

So after these two shots I ease deeper into the bottom. I come upon a remarkably open place with massive Burr oaks and persimmon trees. I lean against an ancient tree who’d lost a battle with prior floods.  Large acorns and persimmons intermittently crash to the forest floor.

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Scanning the tree tops, something green catches my eye as it falls and lands a yard or so to my left.  I continue looking into distance when whatever fell next to me begins rustling the leaves.  I look to my left and a snake is trying to crawl underneath me!  I’m instantly on my feet high stepping like an NFL running back but nowhere near as graceful.

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It’s clearly nonvenomous, but the damage has been done.  I don’t do well with close encounters of the reptile kind.

I walk a little further and sit down giving the snake his space and my nerves a rest.   I’m now at the forest’s edge. From behind one of the Burr oaks, comes a fox squirrel with a giant acorn in his mouth.  I level him.  No tracking required.  I let him lay.  After fifteen minutes, another squirrel edges down a tree trunk to my right.  Bam. Dropped him.  I pick the two up, and leave the Burr oaks and start to the truck.

On my way, I see a squirrel timbering fifty yards ahead of me.  I hustle trying to catch up, fire twice wildly.  I guess I missed because he moved  like his tail was on fire and disappeared into the forest.  The sun was now getting low in the sky.  I called it a day.

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As far as natural beauty is concerned, river bottoms are underrated.  Full of wildlife, often remote, and fairly accessible I love to hunt in them as well.  Illinois’s Kaskaskia is no exception.