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.

 

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.

trophy jack

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.

wighty stink pig

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.