Note: All photos come from ranches hunted by Adobe Lodge Also: Click on an image to enlarge it.
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.
3-31-19 Spring turkey season opens this weekend in our part of Texas. But for the first time in twenty-some years, we have no hunters in camp. It's a sad time around the old Adobe Lodge.
Back in August of last year when it became clear that once again, for the third year in a row, our hens had produced a virtual zero-hatch, we cancelled our 2019 spring turkey hunting and refunded all the deposits we had received from booked hunters.
Now that the season is upon us, the cancellation was the right thing to do. Yes, we do have turkeys as you will see in the photos below. But we are putting out signs at all the feeders to instruct the gobblers and the hens:
BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY
Hopefully they will bring forth a bountiful crop of babies in June. All our landowners are on alert to be on the lookout for the little ones in early summer.
Very preliminary reports from a few local turkey hunting pundits report a slow beginning to the season. We hope for the best, but for sure, 2019 won't make the record books.
Max Sanders, our ever-faithful trail camera amigo, has been monitoring several feeders where the birds congregate during the late winter. He has been collecting images of unusually large numbers of foxes. He admits to forwarding only a few, but Max says he is impressed by how many he sees. Indeed, some of the contestants in San Angelo's varmint-calling contests during the winter months will collect 50-60+ foxes in just one night of calling. Could the spike in the fox population cause the decline in our area's low rabbit numbers?
Our West Texas pastures are now as colorful as they have been in years. Wild flowers are as good as we've ever seen. Most all of these plants are highly nutritious and palatable for both wildlife and livestock. We are all hoping for rain to keep things lush.
As a side note, my recent email regarding the Oregon mule deer and elk hunting produced much interest. Here are the only open dates left:
Mule Deer Oct 2-5 $6500/ea. 2 slots open
Elk Oct 23-27 $6000 1 slot open
Call or email and I'll put you in touch with that rancher. He has neither a website nor a brochure. But when you talk to him on the phone, you will quickly learn he knows his animals and how to hunt them.