Note: All photos come from ranches hunted by Adobe Lodge Also: Click on an image to enlarge it.
9-22-19 How many of us have been in a deer stand for a long, long time without seeing anything that was of interest. What we are looking for is a set of horns to make our hormones bubble, our breath to quicken, our pulse to start pounding. But all too often, the opposite happens. We see nothing that melts our butter.
The same disappointments can come from trail cameras. An entire week's collection without anything remarkable. And from several different locations, too. Dick Irons, leaving town for a few days, left the photos below while admitting he had found nothing to get excited about. They are posted below just to give you a look at some different scenery.
The final three photos come from our recent cattle roundup for pregnancy-checking our cows and weaning their calves. As dictated by "The Code of the West," the gathering crew was on the back side of the mile-square pasture at daylight to pen the 50+ grown females plus some calves. It took that helicopter less than 20 minutes to move the entire group to the corrals. Charles Goodnight, the legendary pioneer cattleman and the first to bring bovines to the Texas panhandle back in the 1880s, is turning in his grave.
Just last night came the first census report from one of the ranches hunted by Adobe Lodge clients. This early look shows some remarkable numbers. Get this: buck-to-doe ratio of 1:1.24 (or 10 bucks for every 12.4 does). The fawn crop is an astounding 94%, indicating the health and well-being of the deer herd as a whole. An average fawn crop is around/about 65-70%. In a super-tough year, it can go down into the 20s. But this year's number is about as good as we've ever seen.
Over the next month, more helicopter flights will count the deer on several more ranches. Each time, we learn many things about our deer herd. But getting such optimistic numbers from the very first report is super-encouraging.
In this outfitting business, cancellations are unavoidable, due mainly (and sadly) to health reasons. We now have a couple of single slots open on a couple of hunts before Thanksgiving. Check the "Deer Dates - 2019" page. Maybe one of them will work for you.
A few hours after this message above, a deer census from yet another of the ranches we hunt came to us. Their Buck:Doe ration was 1:2.1; their fawn crop was 77.7%. Both numbers are outstanding. Indeed, the count showed three times as many mature bucks as we had planned to take.
9-15-19 September his half-over, proving once again that time flies. Our first hunt begins October 27, a date which will be here mighty soon, given that flying time phenomenon. By the way, we still have one slot open on that date, just in case you can make it.
Before he moved all the trail cameras to new locations, Dick Irons furnished the photos below. This will be our last look at the cottonseed, the High Lonesome water point and the River Pasture trough. The photos were collected during the first days of the month, and it's easy to see the variation in the horn growth. Some bucks are already in hard-antler; others are still wearing their velvet.
Other photos have a variety of interesting things to note. One fellow has what appears to be a growth of some kind near the tip of his tines. Might be a trick photograph of course. Who knows? We also get to see a classic "crab-claw" ten-pointer, still in the velvet. The drop-tine buck hasn't changed all that much, with that lower appendage about as long as it's likely to get.
Encouragingly, Dick collected a photo of a super-tall ten-pointer with a small neck, an indication he's a relatively young buck. No telling what he might grow into as a mature animal. Another seems to have near-10" G-2s, more good news.
The photo of the two small bucks in a fight is interesting because it was one of three-in-a row of the same scrap. The duration between shots is unknown, but the fight seemingly lasted a long time. The photo of me in the Gator shows that the camera waits some brief period of time when motion is detected before snapping the photo. Otherwise, the photo would be only of the front part of that machine. How that all gets done is way above my pay-grade.
One photo says the current temperature was 108 degrees. To be sure, one of the afternoons earlier this month reached that level. Indeed, hot, dry weather continues unabated. No rain is mentioned in the forecasts for the next several days, either.
When this month stays this dry this long, I always have to call my friend, Andy Smith, to get him to tell me "The September Story" one more time. Kind of like "The Christmas Story" or "The Easter Story," there is a strong message to take to heart.
The history lesson comes from a super-dry spell fifty-some years ago. Andy was ranching family land, but it was mighty dry. Things were plenty tough with nothing positive on any front. The pastures were as bare as was the bank account. Livestock markets were in the tank. Day after day, the heat and the dust continued. A neighbor asked about leasing Andy's big ranch. It was his escape route from disaster. At least he could scrape by somehow with the lease money. So a deal was made. Legal papers were drawn up to finalize the agreement.
Andy remembers when he signed the document in the lawyers office, as he was dotting the "i" in "Smith," he heard thunder. Over the next two weeks, it rained about 15 inches. The lamb market went from 11 cents a pound to almost double that amount. If only he had just waited a little longer.
So when we start with a dry September, I always get Andy to tell me "The September Story" all over again from the beginning. Somehow, it gives me hope.
9-8-19 I apologize for my failure to post new photos last week. Reason: Jeri and I went to Colorado to see family and friends. Their bow season started while we were there which reminded me that our own Texas deer hunting is not far off. The pre-hunt paperwork to all our booked hunters was mailed the Tuesday after Labor Day. I trust that all this information arrived by now. So that's the first big event of the new year.
The next important annual affair is our staff meeting where each guide selects the hunts to work during the season. We also review other topics such as changes to blind locations, lock combinations, and phone numbers. The hamburger lunch was excellent, but the afternoon's dove hunt was poor. The birds were here in droves thirty days ago; now they are scarce. Imagine that. I guess they are called "migratory" for a reason.
After the sad death of my trail camera buddy, Max Sanders, our guide Dick Irons volunteered to take up the task. The photos below are his first submissions, and as most always, much can be learned from studying trail camera photos.
We'll start with the final photo below. A very distinct rub on a tree in a remote corner of the ranch was discovered three weeks ago. It was a super-large tree, too. But whitetails don't start making rubs in mid-August, do they? What in the world? The trail camera answered all our questions. An axis buck was the guilty vandal, a despoiler of valuable trees.
Feral axis deer are common in central Texas, around Junction for example, having escaped from high-fence, exotic ranches. But our area has very few of them. Our farmer, who often plows at night, has seen 4-5 of them down by our river. Other sighting of these spotted critters have been within a half-mile of the river. The photo of the axis was at least three miles from the river, so that was big news. Axis deer, for those who don't know, grow and shed their antlers the year around, unlike whitetails. A group of axis bucks might find one just shedded, one in the velvet, and one in hard-antler. Similarly, axis fawns can be born in any month of the year.
Anyway, now we know why that huge rub appeared in mid-August on that far hill in the High Lonesome pasture.
Dick Irons had to wade through hundreds of photos to find the ones below. His instructions were to keep the biggest and best bucks, plus any critters he might find, plus any large grouping of bucks. Dick noted there are oodles and oodles of immature bucks, good news for the coming years. From studying the photos, it is easy to distinguish a mature buck from a younger one by comparing the size of their necks. Older bucks also exhibit sagging bellies, too, kind of like us older guys.
Here in the first quarter of September, things are mighty dry. Not a green sprig anywhere. Wildfires are now a huge danger, what with the large amount of forage on the ground from last spring's bounty. Sage bushes are blooming, a good sign for a future rain, and a front is predicted for next week. We all have our fingers crossed that rain will be coming to germinate the winter plants.
8-25-19 Following the sudden and unexpected death of my long-time friend, Max Sanders, who had, for the past dozen years, graciously taken on the task of managing the trail camera photos, his family gifted his collection of cameras and paraphernalia to me. I have posted an obit about Max elsewhere on this website, but I will today change the formal wording of the obit to the text of my remarks at his funeral.
Recent pictures have come from only two locations - the pile of cottonseed and a nearby water point. A new location is added this week, and it provides some excellent, clear photos. Like the other water trough, there were scads of buzzards to delete, one right after the other since they usually flock to the water in the middle of the day when deer are not to be seen.
Several things are apparent from the new location: 95% of the bucks are still in the velvet with only a couple of small hard-horns being seen. There are oodles and oodles of modest sized eight-pointers, a fact which foretells a bright future for buck numbers in the coming years. In choosing photos for the website, most of these little fellows are not picked by your friendly webmaster in the belief that viewers are more interested in seeing the better end of the bucks. Indeed, probably 90% of the photos of bucks collected by the trail camera are of bucks that would be passed-over by 95% of our hunters.
But the plethora of "average" bucks found by the trail cameras reveals an important fact. It has been said that it is easy "to see what is there." It is more difficult "to see what is NOT there." As said above, mostly the largest and more impressive bucks are normally shown here. But as the countless "average" bucks are reviewed, what is not seen are small, inferior bucks this year. Very, very few "forkies" (4-pointers) have been found by the cameras. To date anyway, nary a spike has been found.
Such news is indicative, seems to me, of the kind of year we've had up to now. Nutrition for deer over the past 12 months has been nothing short of spectacular. Some deer biologists will tell you that spikes are more of a function of nutrition than is their genetic makeup. Such a subject is, to be sure, most controversial. Other pundits with similar credentials refute this claim. If you want to get a lively conversation going, just bring up the subject in a gathering of professional deer biologists.
Yes, there are probably some spikes out there somewhere this bountiful and legendary year. But the few trail cameras we are using have not yet found them.
Please check out the revised obit I am posting elsewhere for Max Sanders.
8-18-19 - Hit the bobcat jackpot this week. Four photos, even one with a bobcat/raccoon standoff. Who would win that fight? Are all the kitty-cat photos the same animal? As always with trail cameras, there are more questions than answers.
For the past several weeks now, there have been only two trail cameras at work. Although they are only about a quarter-mile apart, the really-identify-able bucks at the cottonseed are not being photoed at the water point. The only one that consistently shows up at both places is a cull six-pointer. It's impossible to distinguish the does, of course, who appear on the cottonseed location most always at dusk and dawn. During the dark of the night, most images there are of bucks.
At the water point, countless, countless photos of buzzards are collected. Who knew buzzards had such a thirst? You'll see 2-4 in lots of pictures, all during the daytime, as you would expect. And a few does and fawns frequent the water during the day, as well. Every now and then, a daytime buck will be seen, but not often.
What with the daily temperatures reaching 106 or so, it might be a good idea to put cameras at other water points, just to see what's happening. We are now in the last half of the lunar month with no rain in sight. Century-mark temperatures are predicted as far as their forecasts go. If the dry weather hangs on into the fall, the deer will need to make early reservations for a spot at our corn feeders.
8-11-19 Here we are in the Dog Days of August, and it's plenty hot. Usually gets to 102-105 every afternoon. However, things aren't as hot after the sun goes down as other times we might remember. Anyway, the photos collected this week of our deer herd show, as always, numerous interesting sights.
The pile of cottonseed is never visited during the middle of the day - only from dusk to dawn. The drop-tine buck from last week is still around, as is the old boy with a couple of kickers on his left G-2.
Many, many images are collected of bucks still firmly "in the velvet" with antlers which look very soft and rounded. Most of these appear to be two-year-olds. There are many, many eight pointers, but this week, a few more ten's were found. Some of those soft-looking antlers might still be sprouting additional tines before the growth stops.
Over 600 images were collected at the cottonseed - deer only. No other bird or critter is ever captured on the trail camera. But the deer just love the cottonseed. Indeed, there were dozens of photos with 4-5 bucks at a time nibbling on the pile. Whereas a few does and fawns might be seen in the early morning light, most all the images are bucks-only in the dead of night. Encouragingly, only one buck with clearly inferior antlers comes.
Trail camera nuts get all excited anytime an image of a cat is collected. This week's batch found a dandy bobcat at that water trough passing by in the middle of the day when there is extra-good light. Like my old rodeo buddy Hal Churchill used to say: he'd rather be lucky than good, any day. The same applies to owners of trail cameras.
One thing for sure: raccoons just cannot seem to get along. There are always images of scraps and fights if more than one of the varmints is there at the same time. Most coon visits are at night.
Mid-day images of buzzards are quite common, as well. They come only in the middle of the day. It's not unusual to get two or three in the same photo.
Another rare photo is a fawn nursing his mother. But we got one at the cottonseed pile. Maybe I need to go buy a lottery ticket today?
On the new page "Latest News," photos will be posted later showing a prescribed, controlled fire on 539 acres on the Duncan Ranch, the purpose of which was to kill prickly pear.
8-4-19 I am indebted to Matt Hudson, one of our landowners, who furnished four of the photos below. The first three were taken from the window of his house. Matt entitled the fourth one "Rattle Snack." At first glance, I thought the bird that had fallen victim to the serpent was a whitewing dove, of which there are many on Matt's ranch. Zooming in, however, the unfortunate creature appears to be something else, perhaps some species of ground-nesting bird, according to Steve Nelle, our deer biologist who admits to knowing little about birds. Maybe we'll learn by next week, but it's too late for this week's issue.
The fifth and sixth photos below present a genuine showdown between a young buck and a raccoon. Gunfight at the O.K. water trough, so to speak. Before scrolling down to see the result, try to guess who won.
Water points are good places to find all types of wildlife, from birds to varmints, to deer. Best not to put a camera where domestic livestock might happen to be. For some crazy reason, cattle love to examine the camera. Horses will knock it over. But here in normally thirsty West Texas, a source of water is a mecca for all living creatures. Back before the days of windmills (now solar and electric pumps) when water could be found only in rivers or natural depressions, there were simply not as many critters back then. The development of water by ranchers has been a benefit to all. This fact goes unrecognized by many who hate cattle and are anti-ranching.
Here at the beginning of August, some good antlers are beginning to be seen. Many are still firmly "in the velvet" and will continue putting on inches for a while. Look closely at the images below. I saw a small drop-tine; there was the same buck from last week with a pair of kickers on his left G-2; and now the final photo shows a buck with a curled G-1 on his left side. Curious. What causes such things anyway?
The pile of cottonseed draws many deer. Over the past five days, 618 images were collected. Many, many of the frames will have three-four bucks. One picture was found with five of them.
7-28-19 To follow up on last week's prediction: the sage bushes were right. It did rain a wee bit most places when a cold front passed through. A few, small areas got up to an inch; most of us got only a couple of tenths. Those purple blooms don't promise an amount - only that rain is coming.
With Max Sanders still red-shirted from his trail camera duties, your bumbling webmaster collected photos from only one camera. The memory card in the other camera was not inserted correctly. Get well quickly, Max.
In sorting through the 810 photos collected over the past week to find the 20 shown below, here are a few observations:
There are a few 10 point bucks now to be seen, but 8-pointers dominate. Will they grow additional points, or are they done?
A close look shows the array of antlers to be in various stages of growth. Some seem to be approaching "hard-horn" status whereas others still seem to be round and covered with velvet - clearly still growing. These might the ones to put on more points.
When the trail camera overlooks a pile of cottonseed, we collect images mostly of deer only. One roadrunner passed by, but that was it. Thankfully, raccoons are not drawn to the cottonseed - neither are most other animals and birds.
There was a photo or two of bucks using the cottonseed as a bed, but not as many as last year.
One buck with a pair of kickers on his left G-2 was seen a few times. Another buck with extra-long eye-guards or G-1's comes often.
There were only a couple of photos of the deer fighting.
Probably 95% of the images are collected at night. The few daytime photos are sharper and clearer, but there are just not many of them.
A couple of fawn photos are shown and we are all expecting an above-average fawn crop when the census work is done this fall. Just now, you can hardly see a fawn due to all the broom weeds which are almost as tall now as a mature deer.
Please check out the new page elsewhere on the website. Interesting photos and/or activities will be posted on "Latest News" from time to time when there is something worthwhile to report. This week's subject was a huge cattle roundup where dune buggies instead of horses have been used to gather the cattle for the past ten years.
7-21-19 I'm looking forward to the day when Max Sanders can resume his job as Adobe Lodge Trail Camera Superintendent. Below is a photo of his worthless, no-count, good-for-nothing replacement in the Ranger. At least the trail camera got that image when the subject came into view.
As you will see, the deer are all looking good - fat, even. Except for a doe and a buck where their ribs can be seen. Are they aged and on the downhill slope, or what?
Got a photo of a fox this time, too. And a photo of a buck with an apparent left ear which is deformed. No doubt he will be easy to spot anywhere he goes this fall. It will be interesting to see if we get his image elsewhere.
But the real prize is the photos of the mama turkey with her brood of poults. We are seeing them often now. The young ones are about as big as chickens. Speaking of which: check out the open slots we still have for next spring's turkey hunts. Click "Turkey Dates - 2020" on the left menu.
There are a couple of photos of the sage bushes at the lodge which are loaded with blooms. For the past week or two, daily temperatures have hit the 100 mark in the afternoons, and there are few, if any clouds anywhere. But the sage bushes are great prophets and are reliable in predicting rain. Right this minute, it hard to see how it could possibly happen. Tune in next week for a report on the sage bushes' skills.
Finally, the most interesting photo came to me from one of our landowners, Drew Sykes. Drew, in a former life, was a professional photographer. So he knows how to set up a great photo. Assisting his cousin, Sandra (a.k.a. "Booj"), here was his note accompanying the photo:
Working cattle with Booj this morning. Found this rattlesnake in the pens and it was fat! Booj dispatched it and I dissected it. An adult Cottontail rabbit. Not many times one can have rabbit soup and rattlesnake steaks for dinner with one bullet. ;-)
Note the credit card in the lower right hand portion he used for scale purposes. Very well done, Drew.
7-14-19 To make up for posting so few photos last week (because I inadvertently deleted them), here you will find three separate sets of photos on three different subjects.
To continue with the theme last week, there are photos showing the tremendous amount of forage on the ground. History books talk about our first settlers finding "grass belly-deep to a cow." Now we are getting to see that very thing. Even so, a cow can be seen with prickly pear thorns in her face, clear evidence she has been eating that noxious plant.
We will be visiting all of our 100+ blinds and feeders to check the level of forage. Will things need to be trimmed so a hunter can see a deer? The horses and the bull near the feeder give an indication of the situation. Blind builders Darren Ambrose and Tony Kieffer, standing on either end of the Ranger, give another perspective.
Scroll down for photos of deer blinds being built. Finally, below that you'll get to see some recent trail camera photos of deer.
7-14-19 - Continued from above.
A frequent question from our hunters: what do you do in the summer? Among other things, we build blinds and feeders. Almost always, we build them four-at-a-time because four sheets of "smart-board" can be cut on the same pass with the skill saw. Indeed, three of them will be used to replace the last of our old plywood blinds. We started using Smart Board in 2005 and they have held up remarkably well. Even 15 years later, they look like they were built last week. The fourth blind is needed to replace the one lost in the tornado a month or so ago and photos were posted at the time showing the extent of the damage.
New improvements have come over time. We now have "shelves" in each blind (made from a 2x6) which helps stabilize guns. Windows are now held open with magnets. The new feature this year? Windows are painted black. The idea is that a deer will see virtually the same blind with the window open or closed. Some observers swear that a deer knows when those blinds are open. So we'll see. Spray paint is cheap.
Each blind built carried the initials of the builders and the date. Darren Ambrose, Tony Kieffer and Skipper Duncan were the labor crew in 2019. The 4' x 4' six-foot tall buildings are quite similar in size to the larger "shooting house" shown at our gun range where hunters check the zero on their weapon.
7-14-19 (third and final post of the day)
The trail camera are finding deer, for sure. The third photo in the collection shows a doe, and she serves as a good illustration of determining mature does from immature yearlings (half of which are button bucks.) We always advise doe hunters to look for those deer with long, long noses. This one has a nose that would make Jimmy Durante jealous.
Bucks horns continue to get bigger by the week. Although cottonseed can be found in several locations around the home ranch, most of the activity and consumption is taking place up on a tall hill. And 90% of the photos will be of bucks. Does seem to frequent the lower elevations. Reasons? Cooler relative temperature due to breezes; fewer insects; less ranching activity (cattle, vehicles); or who knows? But when fall comes, the bucks will begin to disperse far and wide. Anyway, having them concentrated for summer photos is handy for the trail camera duties.
Speaking of which: our regular photographer, Max Sanders, has been out of the hospital and home now for a week. His orders: take it easy. Don't rush into doing too much. We heartily endorse the prescription, but we can't wait for him to get back to his camera duties. No one is more eager, however, than is Max.
Although cameras are overlooking feeders dispensing milo for turkeys, we have yet to collect images of the baby birds. But we are seeing a bunch everywhere. So therefore, we will again be offering spring hunts for the Rio Grande birds next April. See the details elsewhere on this website regarding open dates.
7-7-19 Oh what I'd give to have Max Sanders back at his trail camera job. The work has fallen to me, and I screwed up big-time in trying to get the best of the 500+ photos collected this week posted below. I still don't know how it happened. All the photos I had selected somehow got deleted. And I had already erased the four cards. I won't do that again. I'll wait until everything is posted before deleting. Why are lessons so hard to learn, anyway?
So you will just have to take my word for what you would have seen. Here in early July, horn growth is already showing some mighty wide racks. A few eyeguards get longer and longer. Every now and then, a buck will be seen with decent-length tines, but most of them are still growing longer, seems like.
Also found on one of the trail cameras was a small axis deer buck. We've seen about five of them around the home ranch. No telling where they came from.
Also, and you need to send your children out of the room for this one - there was a photo of an unnatural sex act. Honest to goodness, a doe had mounted a small buck from behind. Maybe that cottonseed has properties that are as yet undiscovered?
Max is still in the rehab hospital, but I saw him walking down the hall with his therapists a couple of days ago. He wants to be sure he will get his old trail camera job back. And I can't wait for him to take it back.
The few photos posted below show the sheer volume of forage that is on the ground in West Texas. We have located some of our blinds and feeders in old, dry tank dams or ponds, simply because the visibility in such areas is good. But the rain grew Boone and Crockett weeds. One such spot on the Duncan ranch had to be shredded just to get access. For sure, a deer could not be seen standing under the feeder.
6-30-19 Bad news, amigos. My trail camera buddy, Max Sanders, underwent emergency, major back surgery about a week ago. Max, who has already suffered from a number of similar medical procedures, comes out to the ranch to walk and to check his trail cameras every Tuesday. Faithfully. I cannot remember a Tuesday Max was not there. But he won't be for a while. So I am taking on the job of harvesting photos from each of his two cameras. I always appreciated the laborious task Max had assumed. Now I know why.
Anyway, the buck's antlers are growing nicely, seems like. In a couple of the photos below, you can get a look at the tip-end of a growing antler and it almost seems hollow. Or concave would be a better description. And in a couple of the photos below, already some dandy eyeguard points (or G-1's) are evident. No telling how long they will eventually be. We see bucks fighting, or better said, sparring with their hooves. I doubt those antler-covered horns are used as weapons yet.
The feeder behind the lodge has been filled with milo to, hopefully, draw some turkey hens with their poults. Hasn't happened yet, but some of us have seen plenty of baby turkeys here and there. Just don't have any photographic evidence that will stand up in court.
While the wheat was being combined, our horses made their way through an open gate and located themselves down at the headquarters. Not only did they leaving their horse apples inside the barn, they bent the housing on the feeder behind the lodge and rendered it inoperable for a while. Thank goodness the vandals are now down in the River Trap. But that turkey feeder is attracting scores of doves, both mourning doves and whitewings.
Because of the super hatch of baby turkeys this spring, we will again be offering spring turkey hunting next April. If you are interested in locking-down a date for the big event, give me a holler. We will have plenty of slots open on the first three hunts.
Similarly, if you have questions about our deer hunts next fall, I am as close as your email or your phone. Please never hesitate to contact me anytime. If your call comes during my nap-time, don't worry. I will have my phone turned-off. But I will return your call a.s.a.p. Cancellations can happen at any time and it might be a few hours before I get an open date posted here on the website. So let me hear from you. We might just have a recent open date.
6-18-19 After a couple of weeks, finally a search was made for any damaged blinds and feeders from the tornado which hit a couple weeks ago.
Sure enough, one blind was totally destroyed and two more were blown over with uncertain but probably minimal damage. All this was discovered by our guide, Tony Kieffer who, despite muddy roads and debris, was able to take his four-wheeler to tour the area. Here is Tony's reports from today:
"The Twin Hills West blind looks like a stick of dynamite went off in it. It appears that the tornado picked up the blind and moved it through the air about 70 yards West - Southwest of where it had been standing. When the blind hit the ground it more or less exploded. The base, roof and a couple sides landed in some mesquite brush. Other bits and pieces are scattered around the area. The feeder remained within the pen but got beat up pretty good. The control unit for the feeder was beat to pieces and I had to do some looking to find the timer and battery. I brought the components back to the lodge and they are on a table in the skinning shed.
The Twin Hills East blind was blown over but should be fine once it is stood up again. The feeder is still standing.
The Twin Hills Fence blind was blown about 50 feet south of where it was standing and is laying next to some mesquite brush by the road that runs along the fence line. I will attach pictures of the blind to a separate e-mail.
The East Shack Fence Blind was blown over but should be okay once it is set back up. The feeder took a bit of a beating and I brought the control unit back to the lodge for some repair.
Lots of trees and branches down here and there and a couple of the trails are blocked and we will have to do some chain saw work to make them passable again."
Other news: our mechanic, Lalo Flores, was at the lodge last Sunday. He saw three hens with 12, 14, and 16 poults. Today, I drove under a tree next to a water point that was loaded with babies - too many to count. As mentioned in an earlier report, baby turkeys are almost impossible to see in the super-tall grass.
6-13-19 Max Sanders collected and sent the photos below a few days ago, but your problematic webmaster has been negligent in getting the images posted. Blame out-of-town doctor's appointments and funerals. Plus broke-down equipment at the ranch. While grubbing cedar on the skid steer, it was either a tribe of Comanche Indians or a pack of Islamic terrorists which drove a large mesquite limb through the front door. Glass went everywhere.
Re/funerals: attended a big one today for an 87-year-old rancher. As you might guess, there were many others of that profession in attendance. At the social gathering following the formal ceremony, all those wearing boots and big hats agreed that range conditions are as good as anyone can remember seeing.
There have been a few sightings of baby turkeys, but frankly, with pasture grass 3-4 feet deep in spots, who could see a little one? Even mature turkeys are showing only the tops of their neck and head with the rest of their bodies hidden in the forage. On periodic trips around the countryside, only a few deer will be seen, but they seem to be extra fat. You'll catch a glimpse of a fawn occasionally, but again, the depth of the forage in the pastures hides much of the wildlife.
We have learned that the tornado which so severely damaged the huge, ancient Oak Motte on the Bryant Ranch also found one of our feeders and blinds farther on across the ranch. Haven't yet found either. A search will be made soon to check the rest of the units.
We now have a few slots open on the first date of the 2019 season, just in case you might be interested. Check out the details on the Deer Dates page.
6-5-19 D-Day is tomorrow. May we never forget the events of that date, June 6.
Despite the record amount of rainfall and the abundance of forage for our deer and domestic livestock, we have put out cottonseed in a couple of places just to see what happens. Our trail camera specialist, Max Sanders, was ready to get his cameras back into action. It will be interesting to follow the buck's antler development over the next few months.
Below you will see some of the early photos collected by Max. Horn growth on the bucks is coming along. How big will they get? No one knows. But for sure, their level of nutrition has never been better just now.
We learned today the recent tornado moved across one of our blinds and feeders. Neither has, so far, been located. No doubt, they will have been damaged beyond repair. When, if they are found, we'll try to post photos. Just glad no one was there hunting at the time.
5-26-19 What with all the recent events, it takes two separate postings this week show what's going on.
Range professionals are confirming that the plethora of winter weeds is akin to alfalfa for both livestock and wildlife. So will deer be drawn to cottonseed in the midst of the weed bonanza? Last year, we were able to monitor the horn growth on the bucks by studying the photos taken over piles of cottonseed. To see if deer would, indeed, come, a small pile of the fluffy seeds was dumped behind the lodge. Our faithful and fruitful trail camera amigo, Max Sanders, was "called in off the bench" to place a couple of his units to monitor the feed. As you will see below, in just four days of activity, Max did find a few deer already coming, despite being knee-deep in nutritious and palatable weeds everywhere they look.
No, there were no bucks, but the does shown appear to be super-pregnant and just about to give birth to their offspring. At this time of year, bucks hang-out elsewhere, so yesterday a pile of cottonseed was off-loaded in their sanctuary. Over the coming few weeks, we'll be posting photos of Max's efforts.
As a matter of interest, the daylight photo of the cottonseed shows numerous birds in flight. They are mostly whitewing doves attracted to the milo being dispensed by the nearby feeder. We hope to learn if mother turkeys will be bringing their new poults to this feed. Maybe we can get a handle on the size of the hatch. Turkeys, unlike deer, are most difficult to census accurately.
5-25-19 The post before this one, found below, mentions a storm which moved through exactly one week ago. At the time, we thought there was no damage. Little did we know.
Now that the ground has dried out, a couple of our guides joined me in tourning one of the ranches we hunt - the Bryant - to see if there was anything of note. There was.
In the southwest corner of the 10,000 acre property sits a huge oak mott. It must cover five acres, and sits below a huge dirt tank damn. As guides Buryl Williams, Tony Kieffer and I approached the area, we could see major tree damage to the pecan trees below the Oak Mott - historically a sho-nuff turkey roost. The tops of the trees had disappeared.
As we got closer to the ancient Oak Mott, it became apparant that at least half of it was gone. The giant, majestic live oaks had lost half of their top branches. As had the pecan trees on down the draw.
An old tin shed, formerly used to store winter feed, was completely destroyed. A nearby windmill was torqued and twisted like a soft aluminum can and was totally destroyed. We found tree limbs at least a foot in diameter that looked like so many splinters. Trees had fallen over fences; destruction was abundantly clear everywhere. Much cleanup will be done over the coming days and weeks.
This collection of photos comes from Tony Kieffer who had his camera along on the trip. Thanks, Tony, for "being prepared," like the good Boy Scout promoter he is. The first photo below shows a tin shack, intact, located elsewhere on the ranch. The stong winds completely demolished the structure that was in the path of the tornado. Most expensive damage, of course, was to the windmill tower.
One of our corn feeders situated now well out in the water behind the tank dam has disappeared. We had photos of it sitting in several feet of water after last fall's record floods. It should be seen in the photo of the lake below, but it's not there. The tornado has relocated it permanently to somewhere unknown. Yes, we will find it. May be underwater in the lake. But no, it will no longer be useable. Many of our former hunters have hunted this Oak Mott location on the Bryant and can identify with the location.
Kyle Lange, a helicopter pilot, has photos on Facebook of the path of the destruction he took while on a flight across that area. We'll try to get them to post later.
5-19-19 Before daylight yesterday, a huge storm moved over our Home Camp and on to San Angelo and beyond. Much thunder and lightening, plenty of rain, and damaging wind. A tornado finally touched down about 30 miles east of us.
By the time I got to the Home Camp around mid-morning, the ranch roads were way-too wet to travel, so long overdue chores around the old camp finally got tackled. Our photo-history collection got updated with the 2018 Home Camp Buck of the Year.
Shown below, after the photo of my beautiful wife in a field of flowers, is an overall view of the photos which date back to our first year of operation, 1985. Glare from the cover of the board prevented taking photos of all the different years. But I managed to get decent shots of the first few years, and the most recent four years. You'll notice we had two "winners" from 1992. Reason: the largest was disqualified because the Texas hunter's bullet took off one of the antlers. So Donald Harris from Mississippi got the title. As a matter of interest, we still correspond with Donald who vows to return once again to the scene of his triumph. He is always cautioned to not expect to collect another buck of that caliber.
If weather and road conditions permit, we hope to once again be collecting and posting trail camera photos in the next week or two. With conditions so good just now, deer are not moving around too much, but the few seen show budding antlers sprouting from the tops of their heads. It is always instructive to follow the growth process during the summer.
5-18-19 After posting the text below and after sending it to our consulting biologist, Steve Nelle, here is what he had to say in his reply, all most interesting:
One of the most eye opening things that person can do is to try to hand collect what one deer (or sheep or cow) eats in one day. It gives a great appreciation of what an animal has to do to fill their belly each day. I guarantee that you will give up before you collect one day’s worth of forage. For a 100 lb deer, they eat about 3.5 lb per day dry weight basis. For these weeds which are at least 65% water, that means they eat 10 pounds fresh weight. Try plucking as a deer would eat 10 pounds of weeds and browse. Deer are selective nibblers, eating only a few leaves with each bite.
5-12-2019 Happy Mother's Day as we give thanks for our own mothers and the mothers of our children.
We've often talked about our West Texas weeds and their importance for both livestock and wildlife. Recently on a tour of my ranch, a great illustration of this fact was easy to see. So I took photos yesterday to demonstrate, beyond any doubt, why weeds are such a huge part of a deer's diet.
First, a little background. The NRCS (Natural Resource and Conservation Service - a new name for the old Soil Conservation Service) has an ongoing program on my ranch which calls for, among other requirements, several "Exclosure Pens", which prohibit any grazing by domestic animals or wildlife. Such pens allow you to easily see how much grazing is going on.
There is one such pen up in the High Lonesome pasture. For a variety of reasons, this one-section, square-mile, 640 acre piece of land has had no livestock grazing for the past year. To be sure, there are plenty of deer. Indeed, the fall census counts done from a helicopter find extraordinary numbers of deer in the High Lonesome, primarily due to the heavy infestation of brush - mainly cedar. Deer love such a sanctuary.
The exclosure pen, seen in the photos below, obviously prohibits grazing by most all animals. Yes, yes, rabbits can get in, but these days, we have almost zero bunnies - another story for another day. Since deer are unable to graze the weeds in the pen, you can see how much grazing of weeds they have done OUTSIDE the pen.
The weeds are providing one heck of a level of nutrition for all grazing animals. But their time grows mighty short. When the hot summer days finally get here, the weeds will soon be gone. Cows will begin to eat grass; deer will revert to eating browse and summer forbs.
5-5-19 During the fall hunting season, a frequent question comes from some of our clients: "What do you do when the hunting season is over?"
May and June are equi-distant between last year and next year, but even so, there is plenty to do - just not much involving hunting. Below are a few photos showing activities around the old Home Camp last week.
My grandson, Wyatt, graduated from Texas Tech a year ago, but somehow he had to arrange his fraternity's spring shin-dig. He asked about using our river park, a good choice now that our river actually has water running over the dam. The photos below show what the area looked like. A couple of our neighbors called asking if we had produced another "Woodstock."
Thank goodness I was gone after dark when the "vintage Rock and Roll band from the 1980s" showed up. I could have made a deal with them: if they don't play any of my songs, I won't play any of their's on my guitar. I doubt they know any Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard or Flatt and Scruggs.
Cattlemen who want their calves to start coming in mid-February are just now turning out bulls with their cows. Females are coming in heat, and the bulls are all-too willing to accommodate their grandest dreams. Our neighbor to the east has 19 yearling bulls that escaped their pasture and traveled over a mile to get to our herd of 38 yearling heifers. The rascals were finally found in three bunches - eleven, two, and six. It took two days to get them rounded-up and back home after the fence they had torn down was fixed. Let's hope it stays that way. I now fit a recurring description - "Full of Bull."
Then, one of my bulls got with the wrong set of cows and had to be penned - a monumental chore since he refused to be moved to a set of pens where he could be loaded and moved to a secure location. Had to hire a couple of sho-nuff cowboys and their horses to get this done.
But the bulls go to the vet tomorrow to be fertility-tested. I hope to have them with their respective set of cows by Monday afternoon.
Range conditions are as good as they've been in decades. All livestock and wildlife will benefit. In about a month from now, we should begin to see fawns and baby turkeys. We will have some trail cameras out to monitor the situation.
4 - 22 - 19 With no trail cameras at work, it is pert-near impossible these days to get photos of wildlife of any kind. Reason: as you will see in some of the images below, forage on the ground is almost knee-deep. Beyond keeping critters hidden from sight, most all the weeds are highly nutritious keeping bellies full and movement very, very limited.
Years ago following a prolific wet spell, a photo was taken of the then-normal flow across the dam on our river. Yesterday, a photo was taken of this old picture to compare with what we are seeing now. Yes, the flow is much diminished, but after several years of the old Middle Concho being completely dry, the trickle of water seems mighty nice, indeed.
There are two photos of a turkey hen, but you will have heck seeing her. All you can see are her head and neck. She is just to the left of the large tree which is just to the right of the center of the photo. When Jeri and I were touring and looking on yesterday's beautiful Easter Sunday afternoon, we spotted the lone hen and captured her, barely, on film. As the old-pro turkey hunters will tell you, a lone hen is a strong indication she is out tending her nest. And since it was about 5 p.m., they say the old girl is getting way-toward the end of her egg-laying and will be sitting on her nest soon. We hope she and countless other hens will be doing this very thing to help rebuild our turkey numbers.
There are a couple of photos to show the wild flowers, all of which are nearing the end of their cycle. Jeri is standing out in the wheat to show how tall it is - most unusual for around here.
Next to last is a yellow-headed black bird known locally as a "Rain Crow." Old timers swear their presence predict a coming rain storm. Let'er rip.
Finally, there is another photo of a photo which hangs in the lodge. Several years ago during spring turkey season, two rattlesnakes were filmed while in a desperate two-hour long battle. Literature on the web says it was two males fighting for a female somewhere.
So spring is in the air. All the baby animals are coming. Thank You, Jesus.
4-15-19 Happy Tax Day, amigos. I hope everyone made enough last year to pay taxes.
One week ago today, I had full replacement knee surgery on my right side, so needless to say, I have not been too productive. After kind of over-doing things on Friday, I learned that the best place to be was in my recliner with ice on my leg. The horrendous swelling went down to a reasonable level by this morning and I could hobble about without that walker. First real rehab session later this morning will be instructive.
With a new hip last year and the new knee now, I have had this thought: when my time comes and if I am lucky enough to get as far as the Pearly Gates, the credentials committee might not recognize me and I'll have a fair chance of getting in.
Finally we had a good rain - almost an inch. But large hail stones left dents in all our hunting trucks. Add those to the thorn scratches and there is little to no cosmetic value left in any of them. Thieves will pass them by.
Dutifully, our faithful buddy Max Sanders sent the attached turkey photos. He notes that all the feeders he monitors are now running out of corn and he expects to harvest no further photos. No matter. From his capable efforts, we learned what we needed to know: yes, there are birds to help replenish our numbers. This is the best spring we've seen in years. There is no reason to not expect a bountiful hatch. Our fingers are crossed.
Our Oregon rancher friend still has a couple of mule deer slots and one for elk available. Holler if you know anyone who wants a good chance at an exceptional animal.
4-7-19 This week's collection of photos have nothing to do with hunting, but some of our faithful readers might enjoy a bit of history and news.
The great majority of our hunters over the past 30+ years have seen our beloved donkey, Nevada, along side the ranch road leading to the lodge. Sometimes our guides would stop their vehicle to show their hunters how Nevada would come up to the window in hopes of a treat, such as a slice of apple.
The first photo shows her capture 34 years ago. She died around December 28th last year and was buried in the very pasture where she had lived most of her life. Nevada was completely and totally worthless, never having done an honest day's work her entire life. But we loved her dearly and we will miss her begging for a head scratch and ear rub, in addition to the super-expensive "senior equine" horse feed she received daily. Nevada's history and biography can be found in my first book, "Characters and Critters" described elsewhere on this website.
During the past couple of months, I have learned a great deal about the Butterfield Trail and had the opportunity to photograph a monument on a private ranch which severely limits visitors. No, I didn't sneak in, but was invited by the ranch foreman to see the site of the stage stop. A local historian, in doing extensive work on locating the trail, has determined the stage line ran within a half-mile of our hunting lodge, just across the river. The St. Louis to San Francisco stage line existed only three years until the Civil War began. After the war, the trail was used to drive cattle north (avoiding the dangerous Comanche Indians in what was to become Oklahoma) by Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, the first to pioneer the famous route.
Finally, there are several photos of our spring flowers. Almost everyone one of them is a delicious and nutritious meal for both wildlife and livestock. All these plants germinated back last fall during that monsoon rain we had before deer season. They are quickly approaching the end of their cycle, but the seeds they produce will be there for years until another super-wet autumn comes along.