Moon Walking Hogs

February 2009 003
Moon Walking Hogs

Logic, plus trial and error, has caused my hog hunting methods to evolve over the years.  I have learned that hogs have incredible senses of smell by observing pigs raise their snout, sniff the air and then scram when wind changed on me while stalking in South TX.  I also watched hogs raise their heads in an alert pose and then tear off the ranch roads like a racehorse when they could hear gravel crunching under my truck or Polaris tires 400 yards away.  Walking quietly and cross-wind or into the wind greatly improves your odds. That makes sense.

Since hogs are mostly nocturnal, the next step was figuring out how to get after them when it was dark.  I walked miles with a flashlight and had some luck, but not much.  I hiked randomly until I figured out that whenever I could find fresh signs of rooting, the culprits would be back to that area the same are the next night. As I concentrated on those spots, my success moved up a notch.

I could see best when the moon was full or near full on clear nights.  At that time I can ditch the flashlight and use the faint moon illumination well enough for accurate shots.  I would sit up at dusk over fresh rooting sign with the wind in my favor and wait.  The big pale white moon would be moving up giving the landscape a soft silver hue. With binoculars, you will be surprised at the details you can observe.  I had some luck but more often than not would return home empty handed around 10:00 pm or so. 

June 2008 001

That is when I figured out another piece of the puzzle.  I have a first cousin that owns a wrecker service in Weimar.  He has fancy night vision scopes and binoculars.  The more pressure we can put on the hogs the better, so he has permission to go at any time to our ranch near Columbus to help wage our family’s war on hogs.  I would hunt until 9:30 or 10:00 then head home.  He would call me the next morning telling of killing a hog or two the same night.  He was called out to haul in wrecked or broken down vehicles along Interstate 10 at all hours of the night.  Once awake, he would travel to our ranch and find herds of pigs feeding and rooting about on the clearings.  It may be midnight or 3am.  It did not matter to my cousin since he was up and working anyway.

I started to pay attention to the timing of his kills.  It turned out most of his sightings were when the moon was at its zenith or straight up (12 o’clock high).  On a full moon, when the sun disappears in the west, the moon creeps up in the east.  The moon would be straight overhead near or slightly after midnight.  I was sleeping when the pigs were first starting to get active.

Three or four days before a full moon, the moon ascends into the sky around 3-4pm and will be directly overhead about 9-10pm.  That was when I was accidently having luck.  I could hunt at that time of the month and be home at a decent hour.

February 2009 003

Three or four days after a full moon, the moon ascends into the sky around 8-9pm and will be directly overhead around 3-4am.  To test my theory, I would set the alarm clock (among snide comments from my wife that I was crazy), travel to our ranch and snoop around and catch hogs happily feeding.  I was on to something with that moon thing.

So, watch the wind, be quiet, pay attention to the moon phase and try to be out when it is straight up.  While stumbling around in the dark, keep an eye out for snakes.  Except during cold weather, however as insurance I still wear my snake boots. Maybe my “research” will help you catch a few moon walking hogs. Good luck!

March 2009 002

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Antler Development in Whitetail Deer

I assume everyone knows that a deer’s antlers, or a deer’s “horns”, are grown and shed each year.  Antlers begin growth the end of March here in Southeast Texas and are fully formed in late July.  By the end of August, the velvet or hairy covering is rubbed clean.  I’ve seen bucks one day with velvet and the same deer one day later with taters of velvet hanging from their antlers and the antlers themselves are literally blood red.  From that point on a buck will be ready to breed doe.   Antlers are shed or cast starting in January and all have fallen off usually by late February.  Within a few weeks new growth begins.

It may surprise most people to note that the early development of antler material is high in water but the dry matter is mostly protein.  Studies in Michigan showed June antler material in healthy one-year-old bucks contained 80% protein.

It is hard to believe a complete set of antlers will be fully formed in five months.  That’s fast! Growth actually occurs at the tip.  As antlers grow, maturation involves ossification as the antlers approach their definitive shape.  As the final antler shape is coming into focus, there is an internal remodeling that results in replacement of the outermost spongy bone with compact bone.  There is no marrow in antlers as is found in an animal’s long bones.

Antler Development 3

Research has proven that antlers require a net accumulation of about 0.5 to 1.0 grams of calcium and 0.25 to 0.5 grams of phosphorus per day.  Most feed manufacturers selling pellet deer feed strive for that 2-1 ratio of calcium to phosphorous.  Other studies have proven that the rapid antler growth is such a drain on a buck’s system that the bone minerals needed for antler s were mobilized and robbed from the buck’s skeleton in order to meet this calcium/phosphorus antler need.  What puzzles many scientists however is that studies of mule deer have shown this bone mineral mobilization still occurs even when dietary minerals were high in existing plants the deer consumed.  This osteoporosis has been confirmed by measurements of bone density in three different studies.  Trabecular bone is the most metabolically active and resorption reached 25% of rib minerals during the middle period of antler growth.  Deer bone returns to normal shortly after antler growth is complete.

So, we know protein is needed.  We know calcium and phosphorous are needed and antler growth is so rapid, the deer robs these minerals from its own skeleton in order to “feed” the antler growth.  Some ranchers or managers may believe all they need to do is provide good water, shade and bags of feed that is high in protein with enough balanced calcium and phosphorus in it and they can grow giant deer on the Astrodome parking lot.  As always, in steps Mother Nature.

Antler Development 2

Vitamin A is also vital for antler remodeling as ossification proceeds.  Carotenes in green leaves are converted to Vitamin A. Growing trophy animals is ALWAYS easier on a ranch with  good habitat that will give a buck that native green to make its rumen bacteria happy and smooth out all the mineral movement that is involved in growing a trophy set of antlers.

There have been entire books devoted to antler growth.  Condensing it into a single post is impossible.  If your goal is trophy antlers, the simple recipe one needs to remember is to provide a habitat that is not overgrazed by too many deer and livestock and supplement that native forage with protein.  Deer will always take the native food first. When protein is lacking, they will appreciate the hand-out of sack feed.  Now is the time.

 

On a side note…

Antlers are the fasting growing tissue in the world.  Some research has been done with antlers trying to gain insight on certain types of fast-growing cancers.

Of all the world’s deer families, moose are the largest.  Of the several sub-species of moose, the Alaskan moose is the largest of the lot.  In the short growing season in the northern latitudes where Alaskan moose live, it’s hard to believe their paddle-like antlers can reach spreads exceeding 70 inches wide.  The weight is incredible.

I once guided a man from Alaska in South TX.  He was after a trophy whitetail but as you might imagine, I was picking his brain the entire time regarding wildlife in his home state.  He was an avid hunter.

The one tidbit I vividly remember him telling me was one characteristic he uses to judge trophy moose.  The trait he looked for more than any other was the angle of the antler growth as it leaves the moose’s head.  He explained all trophy moose will have a dip or downward curve at the base of the antler or where the antler is attached to the scull.  Reason: As the antler is growing and still soft /spongy and somewhat pliable, the weight of the antlers cause the base to actually sag or bend downward.  About halfway through antler development, the bend is corrected and the antlers start growing outward normally.  I was in Cabela’s near Buda and studied all of the giant moose heads in their store and this trait was clearly seen.  I never knew that.

Aoudad 001 e
The Climb the Mountain Four Times Ram

It would probably be a good start to pull out a detailed map of the Big Bend area of Texas before we get too far along with this story.  The setting is The Quitman Mountains, just south of the small community of Sierra Blanca in Hudspeth County.  The Quitman’s are typical of many of the ranges there.  The Baylor, Apache, Eagle, Chinati, Sierra Viejas and of course, the highest of the lot, the Davis Mountains all are separate from one another and isolated by miles of flat to slightly rolling grasslands and desert shrubs.

I believe it was in the 1950’s that a few ranchers from New Mexico introduced an animal from North Africa called the Barbary Sheep (Ammotragus lervia).  Most people call this animal the Aoudad.  They drifted east along Palo Duro Canyon and are plentiful there.  They also drifted south into the Big Bend region of the state and are now numerous in all of the aforementioned mountain ranges.

They are robust—they have to be to thrive in this harsh environment.  Their habits are very similar to the Desert Bighorns of Arizona, SE New Mexico, Nevada, Sonora Mexico and the Baja Peninsula. Both animals have terrific eyesight.  Both can see isolated summer rains that may hit one mountain in the distance and overnight or over several nights, the animals will migrate to that site in order to take advantage of the fresh growth that follows.  This is one of the reasons they spread into Texas.

A Desert Bighorn hunt can cost up to $25,000.  The demand is high.  But, with both animals inhibiting the same terrain and sharing the same habits, an Aoudad hunt can be tens of thousands of dollars less but the thrill is the same.  Aoudads are often called a “Poor man’s Big Horn.” I was hunting desert mule deer in the Quitman Moutains and the ranch owner said if we bumped into an Aoudad that was a freebie.

Now think of this.  Look at your typical cell tower.  The tallest you see is usually 500 feet high.  Now envision 1,000 feet of almost straight up tumbled rock pile.  Some rocks as big as your car, and some the size of a baseball, then add a variety of thorny desert shrubs with an occasional cedar tree and you get the picture of these mountains.

It was still dark when I started my hike up the southern mountain.  I was carrying a Winchester Model 70 using 130 grain Speer Hotcore reloads.  I had binoculars and a walking stick, and that’s it.  The idea is to travel light. I shake my head when I see current TV hunting shows with the characters packing a bulging backpack.  During the 1,000 foot ascent I would sweep the horizon and scan the side draws looking for those hard to see grey mule deer standing stationary in their grey/tan environment when I stopped to catch my breath.

Up and up I walked, switch back in a zigzag pattern to lessen the steepness of the ascent.  Finally, I topped out and planted my rear end on a nicely shaped sandy spot with a small rock back rest.  I started glassing in earnest now.  After about 30 minutes, I spotted a lone Aoudad ram across the canyon on the north mountain.  He was bedded near an isolated cedar tree, an easy landmark.  As I watched, it peered across the landscape slowly chewing its cud. I assume he was thinking about past and future romances and battles.  As a crow flies, the distance to the ram was probably three-quarters of a mile.

I wanted this animal.  There was no option but to lose all of my hard-earned altitude, so down I went.  At the road back at my truck, I ate an orange, downed some water and then bowed my back and started up again, but this time on the north mountain where the old ram was bedded.

I decided my best route was the direct approach as wind was not an issue.  Because of the nearby cedar tree, I had him pegged for location but his bed site was just over a small rise and down a few yards of what was basically a small finger canyon.  He was lying at the head of this small canyon.

When I got within 100 yards or so, I really put it in slow motion.  Each step was deliberate.  I put my foot down, slowly tested the traction by adding weight gradually, then I moved for the next step.  The last 100 yards probably took 30 minutes.  As I approached the little rise where it was lying, I was bent over so it could not see me.  When I straightened up, I could see the curve of its horn and the small ears flicking unseen gnats away.

At this point, I was prepared for it to launch into a run at any moment and I was expecting to whittle it down while running.  Slowly, deliberately, quietly I crept.  Now standing straight and in plain sight behind it.  For a fleeting moment I thought this may be how a mountain lion feels on the last leg of its stalk.  Finally, the animal slowly turned its head and looked directly at me.  I had my rifle up at this moment and settled the crosshairs.  When the echo of the shot quit reverberating down the canyon, he lay dead in his bed with a neat entrance hole between the eyes.  The bullet never did exit.  It lodged somewhere in its heavy neck muscles and neck vertebra.

I sat a moment taking in all of the senses.  The beauty of an old trophy ram, the heavy dark rubbed horns, the slick tan coat, the long hairs along its neck and front legs called “chaps” stirring slightly in the dry cold breeze.   Below me I could see my truck looking like a toy.  I could see the white winding road and the meandering white threads of sandy arroyos treading their way off the mountain range into the desert flats to the east.  I was on top of that small section of the world.

Now the fun part begins.  I cut off the cape and carried it, my rifle and the back strap down to the truck.  Back up I went and this time made a purse with a rope and carried over one shoulder the hams and the other shoulder its shoulders.   This was a heavy stumbling load of 4 quarters.

When I staggered to the truck and flopped down, I chug-a-lugged a cold beer in record time!  My legs were aching and I thought that’s that.  When I dug through my pile of equipment and looked in and out of my truck, I could not find my cherished binoculars.  They had to be on the mountain so up I went and luckily found them near the solitary cedar tree that marked the bedded ram.

Thus the title of this tale – The Climb the Mountain Four Times Ram

  1. I climbed the South Mountain early morning and spotted it.
  2. I climbed the North Mountain and shot it.
  3. I climbed the North Mountain to retrieve a load of meat.
  4. I climbed the Mountain again to find my binoculars.

Again, look at a cell tower and double the height to roughly 1,000’ then climb that 4 times.

That ram is one of my most cherished trophies.  I never measured it.  It does not matter to me.  I know it was an old grandpa and I know I took it the hard way, fair and square in its natural habitat.   A spot and stalk hunt such as this draws out the drama over a longer period.  During the time between spotting the game and actually killing it, you have subdued excitement.  I made a perfect stalk and finished the deal with a perfect shot.

Aoudad 001 e
Its home on our fireplace

 

I have it mounted resting above our fireplace and my wife constantly nags me about taking it down but so far I have kept it there.  As I get older, every time I gaze at it I reflect on the time I was young and could generate enough oxygen through my lungs, had knees that did not creak when I walked and had enough iron in my muscles to carry me four times up and down extremely rough mountains to cleanly take an interesting trophy.  Every now and then I even imagine it as being a Desert Bighorn!

January 2017 007
Too Many Mouths

Cattle like grass first but will eat brush as a last resort.  Deer like weeds first then fall back on browse or brush as a second choice.  When I say brush, I mean woody plants like yaupon or trees like hackberry, elm and live oak, or vines like green briar, dewberries or even poison ivy.

Let’s concentrate on deer.  Deer ALWAYS prefer native plants over anything you can plant or pour out of a sack.  On good range with plenty of choice native forbs, acorns and browse, you can see it happen all the time.  Deer will not eat corn.  They are not hitting oat and wheat patches.  The deer are not touching protein pellets or cotton seed in free choice feeders. They will walk past or over the above to pick up water oak, live oak and especially white oak acorns.  With timely rains, forbs and clover will be popping out fresh and green and the deer will be concentrating on that.  Hunting becomes poor when nature is at its best.

What happens when there are too many animals?  Heavily consumed choice plants will eventually disappear.  A leaf on western rag weed is bitten off the second it shows itself.  When the small plant tries putting out another leaf that leaf is cut off as well.  Eventually the plant dies.  A dead plant has no chance of producing seed for the next generation.  Over a few years what remains are only plants that a deer does not eat or plants that are very poor quality.  The habitat is degraded.

Wildlife biologist and range scientists often call this, “Too many mouths.”  Overgrazed cattle ranges will end up with only poor quality grasses and overgrazed deer ranges will end up with only poor quality woody plants.  Sad but this happens fairly often.  Probably the main reason is greed.  A rancher sees 100 cows and wishes he had 150.  A hunt manager estimates 200 deer on his ranch and wishes he had 400.

I keep straying.  Let’s get back to deer.  Keep in mind forbs and acorns are seasonal.  Forbs are usually best during late winter and early spring.  Acorns hit the ground in the fall and that may not be every year.  The cushion or insurance policy all deer fall back on is browse.  When the browse is degraded then you have clearly gone too far.  It may be too late.  Body size will be smaller, fawn crops smaller, antlers smaller, deer will get sick easier.  The herd will be stressed.

One of the easiest indicators of too many mouths on a range is a browse line on the trees.  This can be seen easiest in the Texas Hill Country where live oak is the dominate tree species.  There will be a clear line across the landscape where all or nearly all brush leaves have been removed by browsing deer (it could be goats as well).  That line shows you how high a deer can reach while feeding.

When anyone sees this it should be a loud alarm clock ringing in the managers head that he has looming problems.  These photos are excellent examples of a ranch that has had its habitat degraded.  The only cure is to remove more of the mouths (deer).  Remember that the animal that competes for food the most with a deer is another deer.

January 2017 010 January 2017 007

January 2017 002
Introduce a Novice

I am extremely lucky to have had a grandfather who purchased ranches, as well as a dad that liked to hunt and encouraged me to hunt as well.  This background has given me thousands of hours spent outdoors over my lifetime.  I can recount a lot of hunting stories as my hair thins and turns grey, but I can honestly say some of the most pleasing episodes are those when I’ve introduced newcomers to the sport.

A while back, I started paying attention to the youth hunts put on by the Texas Wildlife Association.  It is a structured event where guides follow strict rules setting examples to new hunters, while at the same time promoting ethics.  I arranged for a “guide school” at our camp house and got a few friends of mine to attend. There is a lot of red tape involved with TWA, so we eventually split off from that organization but we continue to follow their blue print nonetheless.

Here is my team:  James Janda, Tony Janda, Alvin Emmel and I are the guides from Weimar. Richard Grobe, my Texas A & M classmate and resident of Columbus is the last guide.  Daria Emmel (Alvin’s wife) is the cook.  We’ve been together dozens of times.  We started by hosting hunts at our ranches and neighboring ranches.  There we were able to smooth out the rough edges to the process.  Later, we hunted in Medina County on ranches I had sold to clients.  Tom Arnett and Jim Thompson both of Houston graciously hosted us, and then later we hunted on another of Mr. Arnett’s properties in Kinney County south of Brackettville.  Our last hunt was on Randle Jones’ Diamond J Ranch in western Mason County.  Each of these ranches had spacious headquarters that allowed these youth hunts to be run in style. It takes a lot of space since not only do you have five guides and a cook, but you have five young hunters and their guardians.  It takes a minimum of 16 people just to take 5 hunters.  

Follow me on how this unfolds:

The first thing I do is contact the Weimar ISD and then Columbus ISD staff.  My goal is to get recommendations of good families that have children from 10 to 13 years old that have never hunted and do not have a deer lease or any relatives that hunt.  We target youth that have never hunted but are game to try.  Children too young can’t hold a rifle well, and kids in high school already have sap rising and are often too interested in holding hands with other hunters of the opposite sex to concentrate on deer.  We take both male and female hunters so you have to be careful.

Once selected, each hunter must purchase a Texas hunting license and they will be expected to pay for their share of the groceries.  Our last hunt cost each person $18.00 for the entire weekend.  Next, they have to pass a proficiency test with a rifle.  We arrange for the new hunter and his/her guardian (parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle) to meet at our camp house and learn to shoot.  Many of these children have never held a rifle.  I’m talking not even a .22 rim fire.   Each guide is responsible for their shooting instructions and they will provide a weapon.  Most of us use 223, 22-250, 243 or 6mm Remington. 

We’ve never had trouble with these newcomers skill.  It’s simple, they listen.  We teach them safe handling, how to support the rifle, how the rifle works, how to aim, the importance of trigger squeeze and deer’s anatomy.  When the child can regularly hit a pie plate at roughly 75 yards, they are then patted on the back and pronounced ready for the real deal.

The big day finally arrives and everyone meets after school then caravans in separate vehicles to the chosen ranch. We hunt Saturday morning and evening.  During the middle of the day it is all busy time with no lounging around the headquarters watching TV or playing video games.  The new hunters help cleaning game, then Tony Janda gives them his gun safety talk.  We do this in the field to demonstrate crossing fences etc. with a rifle.  I go to school with them and walk a bit out in the brush teaching them about what a deer eats and what he does not eat.  I go into some simple biology about deer habits and feeding routines.  Any extra time is spent gathering fire wood.

After the evening hunt and meal is the best part of the weekend.  All guides, guardians, cook and hunters gather in a circle around the campfire and one by one tell their story.  How they saw the deer approach, the number of doe and bucks each saw, how big the bucks were, how they waited for a good presentation, how they shot the deer, how they followed a blood trail, how they shook afterwards, the excitement and funny episodes are all rehashed.  No one is talking over each other but each having the spotlight alone.

January 2017 002
Success!

Even if they get a deer, they still return to the blind to observe wildlife.  We hunt again Sunday morning then everyone pitches in the clean the facilities, haul off trash, stack the remaining firewood and the last thing before leaving is to write thank you letters to the owner.

You never forget your first deer just like you never forget your first kiss.  I’ve been lucky in having given a lot of children the chance to experience deer hunting that may never have gotten the opportunity.  I was sitting at their side when they succeeded.  I am honored to have provided this chance and hope they remember me along with the animal.

PS:  Anyone reading this that has a child or grandchild between 10-13 years old that has never hunted and would like to try it please email me at jack@ranchlocator.com.  I will put you in my data base for future hunts.

Rocky 2
The Nursery

CHAPTER ONE:

 It was New Year’s Day.  No, let me back that up some.  It was about eight o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Day. My ears were still ringing from the band that played too loudly the night before and my head could feel a pulse, plus my stomach was still slightly off of level with a hint of a hangover.  I wanted to make my rounds feeding cattle and be home near noon to take in the series of bowl games.  While driving past a lease pasture of mine on the way to our River Ranch, I noticed all cattle were up and grazing but one.  She was stretched out flat on her side.

 I rolled some hay out at the River for the mommas there, plus the heifer pasture, then took a bale back to my lease tract.  All of the cattle came to my call except one.  I headed over to the down cow and found her in trouble.

 She was on her right side and did not try to stand when I approached.  All I could see was the tip of a calf nose and two front hooves protruding from her.  At least the calf was positioned correctly.  I grabbed hold of the calf’s front hooves and pulled and moved the calf about three inches but that is all I could do.  Luckily, I had some nylon cord that was about a half-inch wide and fairly long in the back of my truck.  I drove the nose of my truck right up to the rear of the cow and tied the cord around the calf’s front feet then to my bumper.  When I took the slack out I was far enough away to see the cow while craning my neck to see over the truck’s hood.

Rocky 1
Rocky after he was pulled

  I then S L O W L Y backed up inch by inch. The cow stiffened her rear legs out but the calf slid out with no problem.  I expected the worst.  The calf had to be dead from its appearance.  No telling how long it was trapped in the cow’s birth channel.  His head was freakishly misshapen and swollen to twice the size and its tongue was bigger than normal with purple dots here and there lolling out the side of its mouth.  When I approached to take off the nylon cord, low and behold the thing blinked its eye at me.  I went back to my truck and got a couple of thick paper shop towels and wiped the mucus out of the calf’s nose and mouth.  It blinked its eyes another time then I depressed its ribs and it made a slight barely audible cough and I noticed its nose flare with its first breath.  Well look at this!

Rocky 2
Rocky about an hour later

 I drove back to our camp house to retrieve a bottle.  When I returned to the patients, the cow was still stretched out on her side so I slowly approached her, patted her side a bit, then reached down and milked the two teats I could reach and retrieved perhaps three or four ounces of precious milk containing the important colostrum that all baby calves need.  That was easy but getting it down this deformed calf head was a problem.  The calf had a feeble suck reflex, but due to its swollen head, mouth and tongue, nothing was going down.  It could barely swallow.  I knelt by its side, held the head up, and slowly and methodically pressed its lower jaw/tongue against its upper palate working milk out of the bottle.  Once every minute or so the poor thing would swallow so I guess a little milk was working its way home.

 Goodbye football games.  Goodbye nice noon meal.  I stayed with that poor calf from mid-morning until around four o’clock in the afternoon.  After about two hours, the momma struggled to her feet and wobbled off.  She had a pinched nerve and limped badly but she could travel fast enough that my milk supply was gone. It didn’t matter.  I did not think the calf would live.

CHAPTER TWO:

 About a week later, at the River Ranch, I noticed a cow that appeared to have twins.  She was alone and had two babies that although I never saw both nursing, were acting like they belonged to the single cow.  The next day both were still near the same cow.  How cool is that?

 The weekend rolled around and it was a pretty day so my daughter Kate and I were tootling around in my Polaris Ranger looking at the cattle.  When I found the cow that supposedly had twins there was only one baby obviously attached to her and a different cow was at her side worrying over a calf.  I told Kate I guess I was wrong about the twins since this momma clearly belongs to the other calf.  Keep in mind calves were dropping all over the place.  About 20 calves had hit the ground in two weeks.  All were from the same bull.  Do you think he was busy? 

 A few more days passed and when I came to the ranch in the morning, low and behold there is a starving drawn up baby calf about one mile from the pasture the cows were in and it was following my horses trying to nurse (to the amusement of my horses!).  It was weak as a noodle with flanks caved in.  Here was the other twin. 

 Unfortunately, cows can’t count.  One of the twins likely took a nap while the other sibling and mother moved off.  The cow is content having one calf nursing and she continues about her routine while the other baby wakes up, calls for momma but due to distance or wind she can’t hear and the napping twin gets left behind. 

 I think this calf nursed for a couple days and then had roughly 3-4 days of nothing.  The poor animal wandered around aimlessly and luckily saw some animals to approach, so I found it in our horse trap.  I prepared a bottle and it readily gulped the entire package.  By this time, the calf had lost its peculiar smell. The momma did not recognize him so she would not have anything to do with the stranger.  It was up to me to be the nurse maid.

 

bottle calves 004
Feeding the babies with my dog Bonnie (back) and neighbor’s dog BB standing guard

 

My nephew, Tye Gunn, named the first calf “Rocky” because he is a fighter.  To come back and survive the rough start he had is miraculous.  I named the second calf “Deuce” since it is a twin.  My wife and I bottle feed both at our home.  Both come to my driveway early morning then again late evening for their 2-3 quart feeding.  Often, Rocky walks over our shallow cattle guard drive way and follows me into the yard and I actually close the door on his nose while he tries to follow me into my home office where I now sit typing these words.

 

may 2014 004
Banner Day for Hogs

 

It’s not often when you get the drop on feral swine.  I’m convinced they are some of the smartest wildlife in the state.  I’m sure they use deductive reasoning during their everyday life.  If hunted hard they turn nocturnal.  If one or two are trapped, the others in the group that witnessed the door slam shut will never be trapped.  If run by dogs, they quickly learn to never stop and fight, but to keep running and eventually wear down the chasing dogs or swim a river to get away.   Those animals are smart rascals for sure.

A couple of years ago I had a wonderful ranch leased for cattle near Rock Island, TX.  The northern one-third of the property was wide open with the exception of a few scattered wild rose hedges.  At one time, that section of the ranch was farmed for rice.  The place was flat as a pancake.

While checking cattle one evening, I spotted a pair of coyotes trotting across the prairie about 500 yards away and made a mental note of it.  I was more concerned with a corner of the field that had huge rooting holes torn through the turf.  From the size of the holes, it looked to me as if it was a solo old boar. This got my blood up.  It was time to wage war.

I learned a long time ago the swine are most active at night whenever the moon is straight up.  It was several days past the full moon which would put the moon at its zenith around dawn. The next morning I left my house early, stopped in Columbus for a donut and coffee, and then cruised slowly towards the ranch.  I had two rifles with me that morning.  One was my old Winchester Model 70 30-06 that was built in 1937.  This was for an old boar.  The other was my dad’s Sako Vixen 222 magnum.  This was for coyotes.  I was set for anything.

 

may 2014 005
The Arsenal

It was a clear morning, cool.  The eastern horizon was just turning silver and the tree line along Skull Creek looked like black lace against the sky.  The pale yellow moon was straight up and added a misty glow to the land.  I was oozing along the paved county road that bordered the eastern part of the ranch and thought I saw some black dots in the field with my naked eye. Binoculars showed me about 20 hogs milling about but drifting north.  I knew with the sun on its way in about 30 minutes they would be off the property heading towards the nearest heavy timber on the Glascock Ranch.  A steady south wind was blowing.  My hunter instinct took over and I planned an ambush.

I quickly did a three-point turn on the narrow county road and headed to the NE corner of the property.  Here was an old gate and gravel road that led into the middle of the pasture where an oil field location once stood.  I inched down this road not wanting to make too much crunching noise as my tires rolled on the gravel road. The hogs were about 1,000 yards away and starting to travel towards me in a more determined manner.  They had quit feeding and were heading home to their bedding area.  My  brown truck blended in with the old poisoned rose hedges that had turned a similar shade.  I circled to the north of one of the clumps of dead brush, and nosed my truck into the hedge.  Just the roof of my vehicle would be visible to the pigs.  I grabbed both rifles, eased my door shut without making a noise, then I climbed into the back of the bed.  I held the 30-06 in my hand and laid the little 222 magnum on the roof of my cab and waited.  I felt like Davy Crocket with a spare musket leaning on the Alamo parapet looking at Santa Anna’s troops marching my way!

This was a perfect trap.  The movement of the hogs looked like  a long black snake weaving but heading directly to me.  The wind was in my favor and my truck was hidden.  I had two loaded rifles with roughly 20 hogs approaching on a wide open prairie and being in the back of my truck gave me a little elevation.  This was going to be EPIC!

Closer and closer they came.  I distinctly recall their ears were flopping as they trotted towards me.  I had the crosshairs solid on the leader with no wobble on my hold when he got to within 25 yards of the truck and abruptly stopped.  He lifted his head to study something that apparently seemed unusual to his beady pig eyes. Perhaps he could see a gleam from a small part of my windshield.  The other pigs were bumping into each other as the whole group came to a stop.  That was the last thing the leader saw.  A 150 grain bullet crashed into its chest dropping him in his tracks.  That was a layup shot.

When the rifle boomed, the herd exploded to action.  Imagine a fireworks display and a star burst.  That is what happened next—pigs of all sizes ran in every direction.  I swung on a hog running to my left and dropped it.  He was only 40 yards away. Another pig was running at about a 45 degree angle on my left side and about 75 yards out and I cut down on that one.  When the bullet hit his ribs it did a flip and slid on its back in a cloud of dust and weed seeds. My fourth and last shot with the big rifle was a straight away hog that required no lead.  This guy was out about 125 yards or so.  Down it went.  Four down with four shots and three were running!  I was in a groove.

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The Aftermath

I laid down the empty 30-06 and snatched up the little Sako.  Now I concentrated on the right side of the truck.  By this time, the hogs were getting out there a bit, and I hate to admit it, but my first shot with the light rifle was a clean miss.  I did not lead enough or stopped my swing.  I corrected on my next attempt and rolled one that was almost 200 yards away.  My third shot with the little 222 magnum hit a hog in its flank.  This slowed the animal and gave me a chance with the final shot to dispatch it with a good hit to the chest.  I took my time on the wounded hog and planted the little 55 grain bullet right on the heart. This last pig was laying about 250 yards away. 

All of the above action took place in about 20 seconds.  Now all was quiet except for the shrill ringing in my ears from the rifle reports.  The air was spiced with burnt cordite.  I watched the survivors racing across the prairie in the distance for a bit then checked the hogs I had just shot.  All were still except for one that had a hind leg limply wind-milling the morning air in its last dying reflex escape attempt.   Slowly the leg relaxed then all were still.  There are no close neighbors to that ranch but if anyone heard the hot action, I bet they thought the Third Infantry Division was wading ashore.  Eight fast paced shots bagged six.  My first shot was standing the others running.  One clean miss and one hog took two shots to put down for good.  I was pleased and expect it to be a long time before that episode will be repeated, though I do carry more ammo now just in case.

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Aging Deer

Anyone wishing to grow trophy whitetail deer knows one of the main ingredients of getting a buck to maximum size is age.  From a fawn until a deer reaches 3.5 years old, the deer’s body is still developing so a large portion of its nutritional intake goes toward growing muscle and bone.  Think of a 3.5 year old buck as being a teenage person.  Once the buck reaches 4.5 years old, its frame is basically through growing and now most of the bucks food can be funneled towards antlers. Bucks that are 4.5 years old deer = 21 year old man.

 It’s pretty obvious, even to a rookie hunter, the difference between a 1.5 year old deer vs. a trophy is pretty obvious–no brainer.  It is also pretty easy to determine a 2.5 year old buck from an older one. The problem lies in the average hunter being able to make a fairly sure estimate on a 3.5 year old buck vs. a 4.5+ year old buck.  This is where most mistakes are made.  A landowner or ranch manager has invested 3.5 years into a nice looking buck with eye-catching antlers but that deer needs that extra time to really bloom into a heavy, dark antlered trophy.  Most hunters look at antlers, and if excited, fire away.  What a shame.  That buck was almost there regarding antler potential but he certainly won’t grow more with a bullet through his lungs.

There are a lot of indicators to help determine age, and most of them require focusing on the animal’s BODY.  Neck size, how the neck relates to the shoulders, sagging stomach, swayed back and loose facial skin are good clues but most of those traits really take practice and a keen eye.  The average person that hunts casually a few times a year lacks the expertise to use many of the above methods.

The one trait I use more than any other when trying to determine the age of a whitetail buck during the hunting season and when the rut is either over or taking place is the tarsal gland.  The tarsal gland is on the inside of what most laymen would call a deer’s back knee. (The true knee is actually higher on the leg bone).

Part of the courting ritual for whitetail bucks is making scrapes.  Scrapes are basically areas about the size of a small welcome matt at your back door where a deer paws away grass and weeds making a clean spot on the soil.  He next hunches his rear legs together and semi-squats while urinating over this gland on the inside of his back leg.  His urine mixed with glandular secretions is the olfactory fingerprint of each buck.  I will not go into the rut ritual at this point but simply wanted to give a background to this gland.

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2.5 year old deer
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3.5 year old deer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4.5 year old
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5.5 year old deer (note streaks going down legs, down to hooves)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is what you should remember –

A 2.5 year old buck will have a tarsal gland that is tan and might even have white edges.

A 3.5 year old buck will have a tarsal gland that is dark but probably has a few light hairs around the edge.  There may be faint staining below the gland but not heavy.

A 4.5 year old buck will have a black gland.  There will be absolutely no white hairs along the fringe of the gland.  The gland itself will appear larger plus there will be a very noticeable staining streak running down each rear leg under the gland itself.  The streaking is important.  If there is a stain running down that buck’s leg, he is mature.

A 5.5 and 6.5 plus year old buck will have a very black gland.  It will be large, about the size of the bottom of a soda water can.  The stain running down each leg will be very prominent and the discolored hair will reach all the way to the deer’s hooves.  It often appears as a black line down the back of each leg.

 This gland is one of the easiest indicators of age.  The appearance of the buck’s tarsal gland has never proved me wrong.

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Co-ops

A wildlife co-op is a group of adjacent landowners that manage wildlife together by pooling their acreage.  These landowners treat their combined acreage as one giant ranch.  The trendy word now is to call a co-op a wildlife management association (WMA).

 Gonzales County was home to one of the earliest WMA’s.  Another was between Brady and Mason in the Texas Hill Country.  I am not sure if either of those still exist.  The oldest WMA in what I call the “modern era” is the Harvey’s Creek WMA.  I started it.  Here is the story…………….

 Back in the mid 1980’s, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) tried to streamline their method of taking antlerless deer.  TPWD wished to drop the hassle of paper permits.  “Doe Days” were introduced.  If someone owned property in an area of any county where there were Doe Days, you were allowed to kill doe without a permit any time during those days.  In areas of the county where there was a low deer density, usually only one weekend was allocated.  In areas of the county where there was a high density, sometimes up to 10 to 14 days were allocated. This method forced landowners to make a decision on how many doe were to be killed on their prospective properties.

 The Doe Day experiment resulted in an uproar of protests from landowners and hunters.  Everyone said they were going to do the right thing, but their neighbors were going to kill everything that walked.  Blame was placed on neighbors.  A lot of finger pointing was happening.  Newspaper ads and letters to the editor of local newspapers were dripping with indignation. I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Save doe, kill Wildlife Biologists!”

 I knew the problem was too many bucks being killed, not doe.  It was the perfect time to try a new approach since deer management was a hot topic.  I picked up the phone and called Mr. Dokus who managed the Hermes Ranch.  I asked him if the Hermes Ranch would work with the Holman Ranch to do a deer census, and then cobble a harvest plan together that would assure that the doe harvest not get out of hand, and more importantly assure young bucks the chance to reach 4.5+ years of age. His reply was, “Yes we will but only if you can get the Kearney Ranch to do it and I know they will have no part in that!” I called John Kearney next.  His response was, “Great idea Jack, but you will never get the Hermes Ranch to do it!”

 I used the leap-frog method from then on, calling two properties away then backing up to get the property on board that I originally bypassed.  In a single week, I put together 5,700 acres.  The following year, the co-op grew to 10,200 acres and we were up and running. I think it is close to 35,000 acres now.

 All of this was possible because the local TPWD Wildlife Biologist, Royce Jurries, was at my side giving advice and present when we had our first landowner meeting.  He led the way, promoted the idea and was a huge factor in this concept getting off the ground.  Each landowner was trained in how to determine the deer densities on their property.  Each landowner counted bucks/doe/fawns to determine sex ratios and fawn crops.  All of the data was pooled, and the combination’s average was used to determine a harvest plan that would slowly build a buck herd with older aged deer.

 As you can imagine, there was a lot of doubt from the general public.  The majority of landowners and hunters in the area literally laughed at our attempt.  Plenty of snide remarks were made at local cafes, bars and barbershops.   But that tone started to change in a few years.  Guess what?  My plan worked!

 When landowners started bagging old trophy bucks three years later, other landowners wanted to participate.  The Sandy Creek WMA was formed south of Weimar with the help of my old friend and high school classmate Edwin Anders.  The Colorado County WMA was formed downstream from Columbus.  Central Colorado County WMA started as did the Northeast Colorado County WMA.  The neatest thing was a rural housing subdivision actually formed a very successful WMA called The Oakridge Ranch WMA.

 This was not the end.  The same blueprint Harvey’s Creek WMA used was copied in other counties.  Gary Homerstad was the TPWD Technical Guidance Biologist in Victoria County and he help organize what eventually became The Texas Organization of Wildlife Management Associations (TOWMA).  Through his encouragement, WMAs spread like wildfire across the State.  At its peak, there were approximately 3.5 million acres, mostly in southeast and central Texas, that were a part of some type WMA.  Gary Homerstad was the strongest voice the State had regarding promotion of WMA’s.  He helped to literally change the way wildlife management was approached in areas with small acreage ownership.

 This concept, which grew into a movement, all started with a simple phone call.  As far as I know, that is always how these get started.  There is always one individual that believes the idea will work, then that individual contacts one landowner, and another, and another, etc.,  until a sizeable chunk of land is put together to make managing wildlife more effective.

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Original Harvey’s Creek WMA 1990
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Harevey’s Creek WMA 2016

                                            FRAGMENTATION

Fragmentation is the term used when a landowner wills his/her property to his/her heirs.  Let’s start with 800 acres.  Grandpa leaves this to his two sons.  One son sells his portion but the other keeps his and wills it to his 4 children.  Now instead of one 800 acre tract you end up with one 400 acre tract and 4 100 acre tracts.  Each of these owners eventually produce children and they invite friends to the property to hunt.  Now the 800 acres, as far as habitat and nature is concerned, is the same.  But today you have dozens of more people roaming the ground whereas 50 years ago there was only one person using it. 

 The example maps are happening all across Texas and other states as well.  The map with red boundaries is the landowners of the original Harvey’s Creek WMA in 1990.  The green and red boundary map is the current map of landowners in 2016.  Acreage is the same for that section of the WMA but there is much more pressure being exerted on the wildlife due to fragmentation.  WMA’s are an outstanding tool to keep the harvest rates manageable.  Treat the area as one ranch.  No matter how many landowners eventually own that section of the county and no matter how many partition fences are erected, manage the harvest as if there are no fences.  People simply have to take turns

 Keep this in mind—there are three choices on how to manage land:

1.       Do nothing.  Keep doing what you have always done.  This will guarantee fragmentation will eventually swarm you under

2.       Construct a game fence

3.       Co-op

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Those Days Are Gone

One of the neatest ranches I hunted was along the Rio Grande River not too far west of Langtry, TX.  Yeah, that Langtry, home of the infamous Judge Roy Bean.

december-2007-015As I recall, the property was roughly 36,000 acres with about 15,000 acres or so south of U.S. Highway 90 and the remainder north of the highway.  I shared this lease with a group of hunters from the El Paso area.  Preferring whitetails, they hunted the north end since that was where most of the whitetails roamed.  This is the area of the state where whitetails and desert mule deer overlap.   I had desert mule deer on my wish list. I concentrated south, where the land was rougher as arroyos turned into canyons before dumping into the river.

There was an old abandoned ranch house out of which I swept the cobwebs and dirt, patched a window and got a bucket with rags and a mop and scrubbed the kitchen.  After a day it wasn’t too bad.  The land owner saw I was attempting to salvage the building so he rewired the thing and installed a water heater. From then on, it was nice.

I hunted there three years.  The bonus was fishing in the Rio Grande.  It took careful driving with a little prayer sprinkled in, but eventually with my Polaris Ranger, I could navigate down to the water.  It was pretty easy to get a dozen or so blue catfish with worms on the bottom.  The ranch was beautiful.  I loved the solitude and remoteness with no traffic noise or train whistles in the distance.  On clear nights, the stars were stunning.

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Jack fishing in Rio Grande
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Brother Phil with his sheep

It was an all season lease and I went there a lot.  Dove hunting was fun sitting at a water trough, and later in the year I got plenty of cardio vascular work chasing scaled quail.  Another exciting byproduct besides the fishing and birds was a large herd of Corsican sheep had migrated into the ranch.  This exotic game was icing on the cake.

Then things began to unravel.  One day I noticed something orange far to the south into Mexico.  I found the item in my binoculars and realized it was a wind sock.  Someone was putting an airfield across the border.  About two weeks later I came back to the same area and was stunned to see a graded road dropping off the high mountains in Mexico right down to the water’s edge.  On my side of the border, I could barely make it to the river in an ATV, but across the way anyone could approach the border in a Ford Mustang. Drug cartel—smuggling I assumed.

Well as you may guess, this bothered me.  I was often on the ranch by myself.  These guys were not seeking work in the U.S. but carrying drugs and money back and forth, probably with AK-47’s in hand.  Not good!

Two things happened to make me leave.

1 – As I parked my pickup near the house to unload gear on my next trip to the ranch, a black suburban raced up to the parking area in a cloud of dust.  Three men jumped out wearing bulletproof vests with large block yellow initials stamped on their windbreakers.  They did not have weapons drawn but they had their hands on their side arms.  “What are you doing here?”  they demanded.  I explained who I was and that I had the right to be there.  At that point they told me I had tripped a motion sensor which caused them to close in on me.  They gave me three phone numbers to call every time I entered and left the property, The Border Patrol, Terrell County Sherriff’s Department and the DEA.  They told me dozens of drug cartel carriers would cross the river at night, each with a 25 pound bag of drugs on their back.  They would deposit the bag in a ditch somewhere within the property I was hunting, then get GPS coordinates to their pick up contact on the U.S. side.  That carrier would tear down fences and travel cross country in one of those big military style Hummers with no flat tires.  All this was happening while I was sitting around a camp fire or sleeping alone in the old house.  Wow.

2 – I watched the movie No Country for Old Men.