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.

 

Tag Teaming Pork

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A new season is upon us.  My first born is now old enough to use a high powered rifle under supervision, a day I’ve dreamed about since before he was born. So my sons and I headed north last Friday for a weekend of hunting, scouting and deer season preparation.

At a quarter till 7, we were overlooking the alluvial flood plain of Lilly Creek, in what we call the Hauer bottom.  Pronounced in deep East Texas drawl as High-yer, it use to abut land owned by a German family who was at odds with Kaiser Wilhelm during the first world war.  He’d complain that German families could live off the farm land where my grandfather would turn his plow mule around.  Now, it’s the most remote area of our familial lands and gets the least amount of human pressure.  Surrounded by forest and accessed by a dry weather only road, it is where I learned to hunt. Squirrels abound in the encircling forests, wood ducks use the flooded timber as the creek rises, and predators lurk in the meadow just as I have since my middle school days. I shot my first deer here.

A short hike and we were seated in our two person tree stand drenched with sweat.  Oliver, less than thrilled by the sweltering 99% humidity, was nevertheless excited to be shooting at something besides a paper target.

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Our stand is in the shadows under the pine limb in top right.   This pictures was from a day or so before we arrived, regardless of the erroneous date.

 

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The view from our stand. The pigs in the above picture were just to the right of the barrel of my gun.

In less than ten minutes, pigs announced their presence with snarls and shrieks from the forest behind.  The first time you hear pigs doing their thing in the wild is quite an experience, which was not lost on my little man.  IMG_1139.JPG

At times it sounded like the herd was just behind us, and at others they seemed to drift further away.  We could hear them criss-cross the small spring fed creek that runs parallel to the pasture just 15 yards behind us. This went on for about half an hour.

Suddenly, a large lone boar shows itself to our right.  Black as coal, its gate was hurried.   I look to see if Oliver was taking aim, but he’s staring at me, mouth agape and pointing.

I nod to him to hurry up and shoot. He raises his gun, pulls the trigger…click.  Forgot to take the safety off.

Now the boar is about to escape behind a tree island so I fire quickly and he spins and drops.  He then stands up, growls and runs a half circle, as Oliver attempts to draw a bead.  The boar abruptly sits, and falls over.  He moves as if to rise again, and I tell Oliver:

“Choot’em!” in my best Swamp People impression.  He does and the porker quits moving.

About three minutes later, the pig hasn’t moved.  We decide to go check on him, and Oliver scurries down the ladder.  Leaving his gun with me, he doesn’t wait and gets halfway to the pig when I call out to him:

“Wait, he might not be dead.”

As if on cue, the sounder of pigs behind us let out another chorus of screams.  Oliver flies back to the ladder and was half way up and almost in my lap in no time.   We both had a good laugh recalling Steven Rinella’s recent bull moose episode.  (Which, by the way,  is one of the best moments I’ve seen in hunting television.) We waited another five minutes to see if they too were on their way to us, but I decided I had enough to clean.   We eased down and looked at our pile of pork.

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As excited as he was, Oliver did chastise me for shooting first.  Still, when I explained how he “finished” him, all was right with the world.  As a sign of the changing of the times, the first thing he asked after a few pictures was for my phone to text Mom the news.  I told him to call her instead and he told her and his 2 year old brother of our heroic encounter.  This is our second tag team effort, but O admitted he wants a solo kill soon.  This fall is going to be epic.

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We loaded  the pig into the truck and returned to my parents.

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As we rolled up to the house, my middle son who elected to forego hunting and play on the slip and slide with his grandmother, met us at the driveway and was equally excited to see the pig.  I think it’s important to be realistic with your kids and the outdoors.  Of course, I want my 5 year old to come hunting with me every time and become as entranced by outdoor manly pursuits as I am.  But the truth is, he had more fun acting silly with his aunt and grandmother than he would have been sweating and swatting mosquitoes with his brother and I.

After putting on some gloves, both boys pitched in and helped me breakdown the carcass.  I used the gutless method for the first time and though I didn’t do it quite right, I can see the method has potential.  Keegan was as excited about helping to clean the pig as Oliver was to shoot it.  Honestly, I wouldn’t have predicted he’d be into it so much.  That’s the magic of fatherhood, special moments are often spontaneous and unexpected.

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My oldest is a little more hesitant about getting messy. My 5 year old has no such qualms.

Alive at a quarter till 8 and cooling in the ice chest by 10, I found butchering the pig in upper 90 degree temperatures not as unpleasant as I had expected.

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Saturday morning I slept in.  We shot bows, did some scouting and the boys rode horses with their aunt.  The flood gates opened around 5:30 and without rain gear, we chose not to hunt.

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I stumbled upon this dude while scouting. I couldn’t find its head under the grass. Any idea what kind of snake this is?

 

They boys found time to do some trick riding with their aunt.

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We estimated the pig to be about 160-180 pounds, my biggest to date.  Packaged and frozen, I brought home about 85 pounds of meat including the bones.  I hope to shoot many more, and all signs at the farm point to being a great deer and pig year.  Hunting season is upon us my friends.  Rejoice!

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.

Kayaking, Kids, and the Cure for Lonely Fishing

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It was time.  Plans were made, research was done.  Reaching out to my favorite kayak forum, I procured a pair of kayaks for the rest of my clan.  An Ocean Kayak Drifter for the oldest and Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem for the rest. Used, but well cared for. The marsh can be a lonely place, specially when you have a 2, 4 and 7 year old back home playing while you are looking for redfish.  In fact, it can drive a man to quit fishing.  But now I can see an end to the lonely times spent on the water, and we couldn’t wait for my call weekend to end to try them out.  Below is the prelude to this year’s adventures.  Come on warm weather!

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Entry went fine

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Handles well.

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Little brother is intrigued–and he too wants to float.

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Looking good, but I wonder if the kayaks are stable enough for them?

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Mom and baby jump into the fray

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Toddler wants to paddle

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Rumors of a pirate activity

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A hostile boarding, what could possibly go wrong?

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Pescado de Matagorda and a Kid Fishing Primer

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“Dad, I’m freeeeezing!”

“Ok partner, lets go home.”

“Nooooo!  The sheepshead are running! We are staying till dark!”

Goofing off with supper.

Goofing off with supper.

Such was the conversation between my eldest son, Oliver and myself.  Keegan, four, said he was fine but to hand him another Gatorade and more jerky.  We’d been on the pier in Matagorda for about 20 minutes.

The key to boys having fun is action.   Think about puppies.  They wrestle and fight and chase things.  Human puppies aren’t any different.  So when I take them fishing, we target fish that are amenable to biting a hook.  Save sight casting for bonefish around Islamorado when they are older.  We want the pole bent, and to accomplish this I turn to shrimp.   Everything in the ocean loves shrimp.  We’ve caught sharks, bull reds, sting rays, whiting, croaker, Spanish mackerel  jacks, Atlantic spadefish, black drum, mangrove snapper–you get the picture, all on the lovely little crustacean.

The weigh in.

The set up is simple:

  • Size 1 or 2 circle hooks and smaller
  • Fresh dead shrimp (shrimp that’s too old for the shrimp fishermen to sell as table shrimp)
  • Various weight sizes from ¼ to 2 ounces.
  • Whatever fishing rods you have
  • Little Red Wagon to pull your gear down the pier.

How to:

  • Eagle claw makes some fine little steel liters with various sized hooks.  Tie one of these leaving yourself about 18 inches of excess line.  To that tag end, tie the smallest sinker you can that will keep the shrimp on the bottom.
  • Bait the hook with the shrimp.  Presentation is not important, but thread the shrimp in such a way your bait won’t be stolen. I think using the whole shrimp works best.
  • I cast the baitcasting and spinning rods for the boys.  I don’t use a lot of spincasting reels, but we have a few they use.
  • Be patient.  Prepare yourself for tangled rods, being hooked and losing some fish.  It’s all about them enjoying the experience.  Hopefully in the future they will take you fishing.
  • Stay comfortable.  Little monkeys don’t want to suffer while fishing.   Make sure they are well clothed, hydrated, and fed.  I failed miserably on the clothing aspect of our trip.
  • Keep it short.  Even when you are hauling fish in left and right, I’ve found it best to keep the outings to less than 5 hours.  Most of ours are no more than three.  When we do stay longer, we usually take a long lunch break or dig a sand castle, or something of that sort.

We had a great time, but Oliver began to turn blue and shiver.  Despite his protests I called it a day after 2 hours.

Scaling

Scaling away. Prepare to wash your little ones hair when they are done.

Scales were flying everywhere as Keegan and Oliver dove into the fish cleaning.  We opted to cook the fish whole on my new grill.  Here’s how we cooked it.

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Leaving the head on is not optional.

Grilling a whole fish is easy and manly.  Grilling a whole fish you guided your sons to catch and taught how to scale and gut is even manlier.   This is actually a tasty recipe and will work well with your more prehistoric fish like black and red drum, sheepshead, whiting, and croaker on the Gulf Coast.  In the Pacific Northwest this would work well with all your black bass and assorted rock cod fish.  Go with pike, largemouth bass and buffalo in freshwater.   It’s not a dainty recipe, so don’t make it for the little princesses in your life.  Have lots of napkins handy and feel free to use your hands. Growl as necessary.

Serves 2

Prep Time 30 minutes

Marinade Time 2-10 hours

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cilantro
  • 2 cups of olive oil
  • 4-5 lemons
  • 1 cup of fresh oregano (grow it or buy it, must be fresh)
  • Salt
  • Coarse black pepper to taste
  • 1 whole two to four pound fish, scaled, gutted, head on.
  • Vegetable oil
  1. Puree half the cilantro, olive oil, oregano, a table spoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of course black pepper.  Add the juice from a lemon.
  2. Pat your fish dry with paper towels and liberally salt and pepper the entire fish. Be sure to get inside the cavity as well. Score the fish (cut lines perpendicular to the backbone) every inch and a half or so to allow the fish to cook evenly.
  3. In a large zip lock bag, pour the marinade over the fish.  Rub into cavity well.  Put in the refrigerator for anywhere from 2-10 hours.  The really lets the flavor penetrate the fish and the salt do its thing.
  4. Repeat step one and use as a garnish and dipping sauce.
  5. Be sure you are starting with clean grates on your grill.   I like cooking over wood, but gas and charcoal will work fine.  I like my fire to be medium, not too hot, not too cold.  A good test is can you leave your hand over the fire for 3-4 seconds.  Any longer and its too cold, shorter too hot.
  6. Using a basting brush or a paper towel, oil your grill grates well and then place over your fire.
  7. Grill the fish about 5 minutes on each side, for each inch of thickness.  For instance, if your fish is 2 inches thick, grill for about 10 minutes each side.  When the inner most meat near the spine is done, remove from the heat and drizzle with your marinade you set aside earlier. *
  8. Serve it hot with some saffron or Spanish rice and sliced avocado.

*  If your fire dies on you, which I’m not scared to admit I’ve had happen, finish under your broiler in your oven using the same time frame guidelines.

Learning

Soon to be slimy boys.