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.

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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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?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

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It’s been awhile.  Work stuff, unexpected knee surgery, a brief bout of vegetarianism–it all led to me taking a hiatus from most things I enjoy.  But last week we ventured behind the pine curtain to my family’s land in Northeast Texas, and now I’m officially rejuvenated heading into my favorite season of the year.

The first order of business was to put my boys onto some big catfish.  River Monsters and the A-Team have been the majority of my kids’ TV diet this summer, so an interesting fascination with catching freshwater fish and vigilante justice has consumed my oldest son.   Growing up fishing the salt water, fresh water holds the same allure as salt water once had on me as a child.

Armed with our medium sized surf set ups, Abu Garcia 5000’s on stiff 7 foot rods, I thought we might have been over-gunned for the catfish in this pond.  Thinking we’d be reeling in 2-3 pound fish, I was pleasantly surprised when screaming drag proved me wrong.   We caught the first two on a synthetic bait used to catch whiting, sheepshead and other salty fish on the coast: Shrimp Fishbites.  These baits, though pricey, taste good to fish and last more than one hook up.  Cut into smaller portions they’d be deadly on spawning bluegill as well.  My dad  also scored a bucket of the something nasty from the local bait shop that made my hands smell like dead minnows for about a week.

It’s really time for me to get a GoPro.  My iPhone video is weak but demonstrative:  

As you can tell, I had to quit filming at the moment of truth.  In the next video, you can see the thematic influence Mr. T has had on my boy after a summer of watching the A-Team on Netflix.

 

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Enough for a fish fry

 

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I haven’t filleted many 10+ pound catfish. This was more like a butcher job. I found on the others it was better to go ahead and gut them before filleting.

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Captain is 48 inches and ways 45 pounds. This channel cat is 24 inches and 9.5 pounds.

We also started getting ready for bow season and checking the game cams.   I shot my bow at fifty yards, and was happy with the accuracy.  Though, with my elk hunt falling through, I’m going to turn my focus to local game, shorter distances, and smaller targets.

Rocking Chair Buck

This guy has me excited.  If you look closely, it seems to have a pair of tines that swoop backwards.

We tried out the new stands placement, seems to meet the little tree elf’s approval.

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Another cool thing we discovered is that Oliver grew into his youth rifle.  I have been coaching him about the mechanics of shooting and emphasizing slowly pulling the trigger so that it would be a surprise when it fires.  He did such a good job, I thought it was accidental at first.  But the target showed he was nearly perfect on his first shot.  My goal for him was to be just on the paper.  So I did two quick shots first, to make sure it was reasonably on target.  Turns out, his shots were much better than mine.  One of my lifelong dreams and most anticipated moments is the day I get to watch my boys take their first big game animal.  Now we are a step closer.  

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My shots were the lower two on the target.

 

This fall is shaping up to be an exciting one.  We are returning to Wisconsin for fishing, hunting and general outdoor recreating as well as cruising back to North East Georgia for some mountain time.  Of course dove and squirrel season will need some attention.  Also,  I’m getting to duck hunt with none other than Hank Shaw, my favorite food writer and chef.  Incredibly, he is coming to my home town to hunt ducks and geese and I get to tag along.  Moreover, he’s going to be doing a cooking school, about which I’m pumped.

What cool events do you have planned this fall?

Coach’em Up

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I’ve been busier than the men’s room at Golden Corral on chili-mac and cheese night, coaching two little league teams. After learning 23 names, managing 22 games, and having about 25 practices I’ve learned to leave the gear in my truck, don’t forget the water, and have everyone visit the bathroom before the first pitch.

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I think we want all boys to lead active lives and build confidence in themselves through success after hard work.

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In a sense, I am always coaching; be it lining their knuckles up in while holding the bat, keeping their feet floppy in the free style, reeling in a redfish, or saying the dinner prayer.

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I’ve found my boys learn in waves. For instance, swimming the fly is a learning progression depending on timing and the kick. But if you tell them everything they must do before swimming it correctly, they will almost be paralyzed with information overload. Break it down into simple steps and after a few short sessions, they suddenly get it.

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No sense trying to explain the intricacies of the infield fly rule to a 7 year old.

I get excited and have fun. Go ahead and smile, yell, and get fired up with the boys. The younger they are the more they love it and learn to feed off your energy. Encourage them to celebrate and be goofy when they succeed. 20140515-092451.jpg

It’s all about the fun. When my wife grabbed a few tennis rackets at a thrift store, obligatory sweat bands were in order. Sadly, I couldn’t find any painfully short shorts to complete the 1980s look of these burgeoning McEnroe’s.

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The other night we set up a practice elk camp in the back yard, building a fire, roasting some dogs, and breaking out our new backpacking stove from MSR. The boys spread the sleeping mats and bags out, and scattered army men over the floors of the tent. You know, the essential stuff for an elk hunt.

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One of Davids song lyrics says “Children are a gift from the Lord, they are a reward from Him,” and it’s true. If you have children in your life to mentor, train and coach don’t hesitate to do so. If sports aren’t your thing, coach them to do what you like. Whatever you enjoy, teaching a kid to do what you like and do it well creates a satisfaction way beyond your own accomplishments. I’ve been on some fine hunts, scored touchdowns and caught a bunch of fish but nothing is like seeing kids you’ve taught do the same. While it takes patience and time, the reward far outweighs the cost.