Thursday, March 31, 2016

Success Duplicated

Gobbler #2 of the 2016 Season

      Yesterday morning I experienced one of the more exciting turkey hunts I've been blessed with in quite some time.  I parked before dawn at our cabin, on the northeastern corner of the property and headed south along the river.  Eventually hearing a few gobbles on the south portion of the property I snaked my way along roads, hardwood bottoms, and pine plantations until I could get close to the vocal gobbler.  Once I did he got quiet and me, being one of little patience, moved on.  
      My original purpose was to scout a gobbler for the upcoming 44th Wilcox Academy Turkey Hunt and my old friend Barnett Serio who would be my guest for the weekend.  I already knew where a few birds would most likely be for us on Saturday morning, but the more knowledge I have of prospects the better.  I decided to make one sweep toward our southwestern property line before I called it a morning.  
       At my turning around spot, on the far west side of our property, I yelped.  A turkey answered.  He was no more than 150 yards away, in a pine plantation bordering a wet hardwood drain that is blessed with a great deal of beautiful cypress.  A turkey in this location is always going to want to walk the edge of the water and I knew I would need to be close to it to kill him.  But having no intention of such I stopped short of the water.  
       Again I yelped and again he answered.  I rested against a large pine and waited and soon he did just as expected and was 60 yards in front of me on the edge of the wet hardwood drain.  Back and forth he strutted and drummed for at least 15 minutes.  Then he proceeded to move to my right and eventually walked out of sight.  I decided to crawl closer to the water and just see if maybe I could call him back in the direction he just left.  
       I pulled out a pot call and asked him if he would be interested and coming back for another look.  He immediately answered a loud and boisterous "maybe."  He walked back closer to me and in good view through the open pines but stopped at 60 yards.  For the next 45 minutes he went back and forth between two areas in the pines and at each stop he strutted, drummed, and gobbled incessantly, stopping only to peer in my direction for the hen he was told was there.  
        Eventually he broke the routine and walked in the opposite direction and again, out of sight.  I pulled out the call again and asked him please would he come back.  He reappeared and this time his movement was directly at me and sometime told me he had finally committed to coming.  
        He continued to walk towards me and at 35 yards began to work to my left towards the edge of the water.  Time and again he stopped and strutted but always behind a large pine that prevented a shot.  He got nearly to a nine o'clock position before an opening presented itself for a shot. 
        But wait, I was only scouting....right?  Well, when he committed and came my way I decided that my friend Barnett would get to hunt another turkey on Saturday.  I had too much fun invested in this bird and having finally talked him into range I was going to have to close the deal.  
        I did.  And it sure was fun.  

(By the way, my walk for the morning tallied 4.5 miles.)     

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Turkey Time

I have a backlog of stories to tell and they are about to flow forth on regular basis.  Stay tuned....

Gobbler #1 from the 2016 Season


      After missing the first 10 days of the season due to work, weather, and trip to Disney World, my 7 year old Andrew and I finally got into the woods to chase a turkey last Friday morning.  Though we heard nothing on the roost, we got a turkey to gobble soon after fly down time and called him in to within 40 yards.  It's Andrew's first season to be behind a gun in the turkey woods, wielding a 20 gauge that we have borrowed from a friend.  The gobbler circled us and Andrew had to move a little to get in position for a possible shot if he came closer.  He moved a little much and the bird slipped off and disappeared into the pines.
       Our next hunt on Saturday was uneventful (though we did make a good haul from the coon traps later in the morning.)  Monday morning he did not have to go to school and we found a turkey gobbling over a cypress swamp early.  This turkey soon got quiet and out of time and my work beckoning, we headed for the truck. Walking along as we headed for the truck, we heard a gobble 100 yards off the road.  We quickly set up, called, and had the turkey coming to us in mere minutes.  Andrew, just learning the ways of the turkey woods, moved a little too much when the turkey was within sight but not range.  He again vanished back into the piney woods.
      Tuesday morning I returned to the swamp without my little buddy who had to get to school on time.  I heard two turkeys gobble early in a hardwood drain and I moved into position.  I feared I had gotten too close as once I sat down they got silent.  It was early and certainly not the normal flying down time.  I soon saw one of the gobblers on the ground in front of me, 60 yards away.  I yelped twice softly and he headed my way.  At 6:30 I pulled the trigger as he stepped to within 30 yards.  My first gobbler of the season was in the books.
       The turkey had a good, thick beard and no trace of spur, something I have seen a few times in my turkey feet collecting days.

Nice beard but no trace of a spur

Monday, December 21, 2015

Early rut action?

Young bucks spar over a scrape


      I am seeing a lot of scrapes in our woods and have been since late November. I have eight cameras spread around the property, mostly all watching active scrapes.  What I find interesting is that what I see mostly working these scrapes is one and two year old bucks. The occasional buck that appears three years old will breeze by but almost never do I see an older buck working a scrape, especially at this point.
       We also saw several small bucks pushing does on a greenfield Saturday afternoon.  What we witnessed seemed more like a mid January day than a mid December day.  There is little doubt that much of this has to do with the younger age structure of bucks are working to establish the pecking order of their generation.  The older bucks are well suited in their dominance and they will stay out of the fray until the action really heats up.
        I tend not to believe that the actual rut varies much from year to year.  Sometimes I, as a hunter, get a clearer look at it than in other years, based on the days I get to hunt and the weather that greets me on those days.  What I do know is different this year is that the scrapes appeared early in the fall and most have been tended regularly since then.  I did not see that last season.  

Scrape action

A buck for Andrew

Cabin weekend
Alexander, a voracious reader


     The cool front that brought a brief but welcome change in temperature to south Alabama was well timed for our family.  In what has become a tradition for us, we all spend a night at our little cabin a few days before Christmas.  We settled in on Friday night and kept warm by a big campfire, listening to Christmas carols streaming on Pandora.  Andrew was dressed in his Auburn jersey and football pants and retreated from the heat of the fire to throw and catch the football deep into the evening.  My oldest, Alexander, stayed glued to his book as usual.  He is the intellectual of the crowd and will hopefully invent something great one day so we can all retire. (Wouldn't that be nice!)  
Campfire at the cabin

      At daybreak Saturday morning, Andrew and I headed out through the frosty hardwoods for a little squirrel hunting.  He dropped three in three shots with his single shot 410 before he started talking about the bacon that he was sure was being cooked by his mother and brother back at the cabin.  So an hour into our hunt, we were on the way back to camp. 
Andrew and his morning's harvest

       Alexander and my wife, Daphne, returned to town for the evening and left Andrew and I to enjoy one more night at the cabin.  For the afternoon we planned to sit in a stand and hope for a deer to show that might become Andrew's first deer.        

Daphne and Andrew preparing breakfast

      At seven years old Andrew had just learned to ride a bike earlier in the week.  It is not that he couldn't learn, but we had not pressed him or helped him enough to catch on until now.  He was instantly hooked on his new skill and wanted to ride his bike to the stand as I followed along behind him on foot.  
Biking to the stand
     We crawled into our largest shooting house stand on our largest greenfield around 3pm.  It would be coolest Saturday afternoon of December and the deer began to come out soon after we arrived.  It was a far cry for the warm afternoons we had endured on recent hunts, swatting mosquitoes in our shirt sleeves.  I knew this hunt would be far more productive and Andrew fed off my excitement and I off of his.
       We watched a half dozen does feed in the patch and they were joined by several spikes, a four point and a six point.  As fate would have it, the bucks were all at the far side of the field, a good 200 yard shot.  And so we waited patiently.
       Finally two of the bucks began to move closer and closer to our end until one got to within 125 yards.  Andrew steadied the .243 and began to ready himself for a shot.  But the buck would not turn broadside and give him the shot that he wanted.  And so we waited patiently.  
      About fifteen minutes until dark a larger buck, a 7 point that would weigh 180 pounds, charged out of the pine thicket and into the green field.  Andrew immediately recognized his larger size and turned his focus onto this newcomer.  
       The buck stopped and offered a 125 yard, broadside shot and Andrew took it.  At the shot the buck lurched forward and I knew he was hit.  He ran farther into the field, stopped, and then fell over.  Andrew proclaimed, "I got my first buck!"  
        We watched a few minutes to make certain the buck was down and then we headed out to see him.  Andrew stopped twice on the walk to give me a big hug and say "thank you."  Times like those will really melt your heart.  
         After a round of pictures we got the truck and took the buck back to camp to field dress him. We spent the evening grilling supper and staying warm by the campfire, reliving the hunt over and over as the buck hung on the pole nearby.  

Andrew's first deer, a 180 lb. 7 point. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Endless Summer


     Our endless summer in the south continues to roll along.  We are now a week past our first frost of the season and have seen just two frosts thus far.  One benefit has surely been the food plots that I was as late as ever in planting.  For the first time in my memory, I did now sow seed until November had appeared on the calendar.  The warm days have provided the wheat and oats a great head start before cooler times surely arrive.
     My little hunter Andrew and I chased squirrels and a few deer over Thanksgiving.  We had much better luck with the squirrels than deer.  The warm weather has just stifled the deer movement.  On the other hand, I have seen more scrapes for this time of the year than normal.  I have several cameras watching over scrapes and trails at this point and have gotten a look at numerous young bucks working them.  
       The hogs are scarce.  Movement on the cameras has been almost exclusively at night.  We have a bumper acorn crop which is mostly going untouched except by the squirrels.  The hogs are rooting in the pines and making brief runs through the hardwoods in the darkness.  All that will change if and when the mercury falls.  
        Andrew is determined to kill his first deer.  We have a few small bucks and one quality buck coming to our best greenfield.  Hopefully we will all arrive there at the same time on a cold day in the near future.  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

South of the Border

Rancho San Enrique - Mexico - 12/26/15


      Last December, on the day after Christmas, I joined Leigh and Travis Creekbaum on a trip south of the border into Mexico for the deer hunt of a lifetime.  They had first hunted this property known as Rancho San Enrique the prior year and returned to tell tales of the most amazing deer hunting they had witnessed in all their travels around this country.  
      We flew into Laredo and met the outfitter, Patrick Starnes, and the ranch owner, Wyo (spelling may or may not be correct).  After eating lunch we drove across the border and then drove northwest, somewhat parallel to the border and the Rio Grande River for about fifty miles, before turning off the highway onto dirt roads that led through various properties for miles and miles until we finally reached the ranch we would be hunting.  
       The entire property, 45,000 acres worth, was owned by three siblings.  We would be hunting on a third of that property during our stay.  The landscape was mostly flat, with some hills and overlooks, and was filled with every type of cactus and thorny bush you can imagine.  And deer and javelinas.  And lots of both.  
        Friends George and Ann Morris, from Birmingham, also joined us for the trip as well as Jeff Ensor, Rusty Camp, and Joseph Maier who would be running the cameras for a few episodes of The Chase tv show.  
         There were four of us hunting: George,  Travis, Leigh and myself.  The first afternoon Joseph and I settled into a ground blind alongside a road that ran through the endless expanse of cactus.  A little corn had been dribbled along the road and a few piles dumped in front of us.
         In the first hour we heard javelinas and soon they were in front of us.  Javelinas are often confused with a cousin of the wild hog but instead they are of the rodent family.  They have big teeth and smell like a skunk, which leads to their nickname of "skunk pig."  They have a very good sense of smell and very poor eyesight.
         As a group of them came into view out of our blind window I drew my bow as Joseph rolled the camera and an arrow quickly found the sweet spot on a javelina.  We heard it crash just a short piece away so we exited the blind and recovered the javelina, then returned to the blind for the remaining two hours of the evening.  
        We saw several nice bucks meandering through the catcus, in and out of the road, as the evening progressed.  Just as the sun was starting to set I raised up and peeked out the window to see a big bodied buck in the road just twenty yards in front of the blind.  We were instructed to shoot nothing less than a 5 to 6 year old buck and when I saw this one I felt we had a shooter but I wasn't sure.  Joseph, half my age but having filmed since he was 17 years old for Buckmasters and having seen way more mature bucks up close than me, quickly confirmed that the buck was indeed a shooter.  
         Moments later I sent a Wasp Jak-Hammer through his shoulder and he jump high in the air, giving a mule kick, and then he disappeared into the cactus.  
          It didn't take long for Patrick, the outfitter, to come for us and we found the arrow in the cactus, with much help from the lighted nock still glowing.  We found  blood and began to follow.  After a while we decided to back out and give the deer a little time to make sure he was dead before we risked pushing him deeper in the cactus.  
          George had also killed a great buck on the first afternoon and we celebrated with him over dinner and then all returned to look for my deer.  It did not take long to find him and indeed he had been dead since I shot him.  
          The trip and hunt of a lifetime was just beginning for me.  Since I had my buck I was able to spend time exploring the ranch with Patrick and Joseph, shooting more javelinas, and taking in a piece of the world that I had never seen before.  
          This hunt with air on Tuesday, October 27, at 6:30pm CT on "Scentblocker's The Chase" on The Sportman Channel.  It will air again on Thursday, Nov. 5, at 9am CT as well as two more  times later this fall.  
          If you have ever wanted to take the deer hunting trip of your life, I can not say enough good things about this destination.  See for more information or send me any questions you might have.  

Arrow with lighted nock strikes the buck

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

First Squirrel!

Andrew and I waiting on squirrels


       Sunday afternoon my six year old son Andrew and I sat down beside a big oak on the edge of my uncle's property alongside the Alabama River.  He was determined to kill his first squirrel and I promised him that if he would be quiet and patient, an opportunity would likely present itself for that to happen.
       Typically a young hunter cuts his teeth on small game before moving up to big game, but Andrew took the opposite approach, having killed two hogs already.   But our two previous squirrel hunts had been unproductive mostly due to the limited patience of a youngster in waiting for the woods to settle down and come alive with the forest critters.  
        We had ridden through a pine plantation to the edge of the hardwoods that bordered the backwaters of the river and as we walked toward the big oak, which looked like the perfect spot to sit for a while, we saw plenty of fresh acorns on the ground.  Twenty minutes passed and we saw our first game, two turkeys that flew into a nearby tree and apparently began to find something to eat there.  It was too early for roosting and they jumped and flew from limb to limb in search of whatever suited their fancy.
        Forty five minutes passed and Andrew's patience was wearing thin as the sun was not far from setting over the water.  And then in the stillness of the afternoon I saw a branch, high in a tree, move. Then I saw the squirrel and Andrew did too.  For the next few minutes we watched the squirrel go from a tree on our left, run across a series of limbs and a few other trees to a tree on our right.  He would stop briefly and then go back in the other direction.  Andrew steadied the 410 on a small sapling and tried to get a shot but the squirrel would not stop long enough in view for the trigger to get pulled.  Eventually the squirrel darted off through the pine thicket nearby and was gone.
      A few minutes later another squirrel emerged from the treetops and began to work his way along the lower limbs of a nearby tree. We moved closer and the squirrel ran down a cypress tree to the water's edge.  Again, Andrew steadied the gun on a sapling and worked to get the little 410 pointed in position to shoot.  The squirrel stopped on the ground and then ran back up the trunk of the cypress to a height of around ten feet and stopped.  Andrew pulled the trigger and hammer fell on the little gun and so did the squirrel---dead.
      My little hunter handed me the gun and rushed forward to claim his first squirrel.  He was mighty proud.  I was too.

First squirrel!